A (Brief) History of Vice

This is a book I am currently reading for my book club at work. I wanted to write some notes down for better retention later. A (Brief) History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built Civilization.

Main Takeaways

  • The definition of a “drug” could be quite broad
  • We are too afraid of drugs. We need to re-embrace vice.
  • Evolution has made alcohol attractive to our species because it was a ready source of calories. Understanding some of the physiological mechanisms behind the craving could help push back on it.
  • Music is humanity’s oldest intoxicant. Use the power of music to get more out of your meditation.

1) The First Bartender

“The date palm tree was one of earth’s first bartenders”

  • Author opens with his experience with “hobo jug wine”, similar to the sort of thing our primate ancestors enjoyed.
  • Lots of species like alcohol: elephants, pen-tailed tree shrews.
  • Some plants manufacture alcohol: bertam palm, Phoenix dactylifera (date palm tree)
  • Our ability to metabolize alcohol and get drunk originated in some of the first primates on earth.
  • enzyme ADH4 allows us to digest alcohol
  • Why is this adaptation useful?
  • Because of the calorie-density of alcohol.
  • The ability to smell alcohol is part of the search for calorie-dense foods.
  • Pen-tailed tree shrews like to drink nectar of the Bertam palm (3-4% ABV)
  • Alcohol is the most widely-consumed intoxicant on earth, used for fun and sacred purposes
    • Dionysus (Greek/Roman)
    • Blood of God (Christians)
  • Palm syrup can reach 4% ABV in just two hours.  It doesn’t keep for very long though, and is usually consumed within a day or so.
  • Honey takes a very long time to ferment.

2) Music, the first drug

“Modern raves and music festivals aren’t some sign of modern decadence ushered in by the hippie era. Rather, they’re a very old piece of human culture reasserting itself…”

“Ancient Humans lived in a world with few man-made sounds”

  • Drug : “any substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body”
  • Is sound a drug?
    • Is it a substance? Sound waves are atoms, which do have mass.
    • Sound does have a physiological effect on the body.
  • Helps ADHD sufferers. People with ADHD have a variant of the normal dopamine receptor in the brain. Mutation DRD4-7R. Associated with novelty-seeking behavior. They can benefit from therapy that will release dopamine when they are sitting and reading quietly (i.e. listening to music).
  • fMRI machines clearly show music’s dopamine release in people and it lowers blood pressure.
  • The right rhythm can alter human consciousness. Simple, repetitive music can achieve a trance-like state.
  • Stonehenge: a giant sound system? Definite acoustic properties. (Built 3000 – 2200 BCE) Bluestones ring when hit. Full-scale model of Stonehenge built by Sam Hill in Maryhill, Washington. Inner stones are concave, and the outer stones are not.
  • Hertz: number of counter per second of sound.
  • 10 Hz, 150 BPM can cause Stonehenge to hum like a Tibetan prayer bowl.
  • Sleeping, theta brainwaves, 4-7 Hz
  • Relaxed or Meditating, alpha brainwaves, 8-14 Hz
  • Binaural beats
  • Suggested that humans have been making music longer than we’ve been making fires.

Further Reading:

  • Origins of Music, 1999

3) Celebrity Worship

“Shouting and body odor were the original Facebook.”

  • Our obsession with celebrities is not just an effect of internet and mass media. It comes from a older, deeper place.
  • Monkeys housed in pairs. Choose between juice alone, or a different amount of juice with  a picture
    • Juice
    • Extra juice + low-status monkey face (basically bribed to take it)
    • Less juice + high-status monkey face
    • Less juice + monkey butt
  • What do monkeys get from looking at pictures? Knowledge.

Like so many posts before this one on my blog, this one is half-finished. But here it is anyway.

4) Drunks who changed history
5) Bad behavior
6) Sex Work
7) Drugs, the birth of religion
8) Ancient Greek Acid and the birth of science
9) Tobacco and Marijuana
10) Drugged cultures and acid wars
11) The shrub that conquered the world
12) The coffee-drinking bad boys of Islam
13) Evolution of Kinky
14) Highjacking of Genius, History of designer drugs
15) Salamander Brandy

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