Look what progress throws up

DrunkWomanThe sight of young women throwing up their nightly intake of booze, passing out in the street or fighting in pubs is now commonplace – and not just in the downmarket parts of town.

Nor is it just downmarket girls who do that, as a feature in the Mail shows. On the contrary, the ladies mentioned are all middle class. One such girl has “a string of As and A*s in her GCSEs and A-levels” and “a degree in contemporary art”.

Yet come Saturday night this academic overachiever drinks two bottles of wine, followed by 10 shots of tequila and “a nightcap of Bailey’s or two”. In spite of being a 5-foot wisp of a girl, she gets into fights and staggers home all covered in “scars, bruises and cuts”.

The paper states that drinking toxic amounts of alcohol once or twice a week is pandemic among such girls. It also provides helpful statistics: over the last 20 years the number of alcohol-related deaths among women has increased by 80 per cent, and by 130 per cent among young women.

The article helpfully explains that women can’t drink as much as men. Their body mass is lower as are their levels of water, while their fat content is higher. Also their livers produce less of the enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase that breaks alcohol down.

However, the piece begins to falter when trying to explain why women do this sort of thing. And an explanation is needed because pandemic drunkenness among women is a recent phenomenon.

British men have always consumed more than the European average. Young men in particular have traditionally acted the way women act now. Hence male boozing has no novelty appeal, nor much of any other. It just is.

A rite of passage is probably involved, a visible assertion of masculinity. Real men, which the boys aren’t yet but seek to become and, more important, seem, are supposed to hold their own when drinking, fighting, driving and whatnot.

Call it silly, infantile or puerile by all means, but please don’t call it unnatural. This is how things are, always were and always will be.

Perhaps one may argue that today’s young lads, including those upmarket ones like Cameron, Gove or Johnson, who belong to drinking clubs like Oxford’s Bullingdon, may be drinking more than their fathers did at their age. Yet this is only a difference of degree.

Conversely, young women wallowing in their own vomit every weekend represent a qualitative shift, something rarely seen in their mothers’ generation and never in their grandmothers’. When things change so drastically from one generation to the next, serious analysis is called for, and the Mail’s attempts don’t qualify as such:

“Young middle-class women are more likely to go to university than ever before where… there is an institutional acceptance of binge drinking”. But the absolute number of women at university doesn’t matter. What matters is how many of that number wake up on park benches covered in vomit.

“Bad habits then become ingrained as aspirational women pursue careers, delay children, become stressed and overworked…” But surely a woman of, say, 50 years ago wasn’t exactly stress-free. She had to run a household full of children and old people, working her fingers to the bone trying to make both ends meet.

For example my mother, along with millions of other university-educated Russian women, had a full-time job, yet every evening she’d queue up for hours to buy some food, carry heavy bags on overcrowded transport, then cook in a communal kitchen and do a backbreaking amount of housework.

Yet, though Russia can hardly be described as a teetotal culture, I don’t recall knowing, or indeed seeing, many women like my mother who associated a good time with drunken stupor and public fisticuffs.

What else? “Another contributing factor… is the seductive marketing employed by the drinks industry…” Now it’s getting silly. Even after 30 years of writing ads, I don’t have such boundless faith in the power of advertising. An ad may inspire a girl to choose WKD over Smirnoff Ice, but not to drink 30 units of either in one sitting.

The real reason is that the girls described in the article as “intelligent and educated” are in fact neither. For real intelligence and education aren’t synonymous with A-levels and degrees in contemporary art. They are what happens as a result – or doesn’t, as the case usually is these days.

These girls drink not because they’ve been to university or seen a clever TV ad, but because they have no inner spiritual resources on which they can rely. Barren spiritually, intellectually and morally, they’re like ships cast adrift with no navigation devices.

This is what modern progress is all about: material enrichment going hand in hand with spiritual impoverishment. Because these girls’ lives lack purpose, the process of living becomes its own purpose. This wastes the advantage of being human, for – all the A-levels notwithstanding – purely material lives differ from those of animals only in insignificant details.

Their schools taught them to look for the truth only inside themselves. So they do – and find only themselves there. That’s a shattering discovery, and many are indeed shattered.

As I wrote in my book The Crisis Behind Our Crisis, “We have replaced religion with (at best) religionism, freedom with liberty, wisdom with cleverness, sentiment with sentimentality, justice with legalism, art with pickled animals, music with amplified noise, statecraft with politicking, love with sex, communication with sound bytes, self-confidence with effrontery, equality before God with levelling, respect for others with political correctness – in short, everything real with virtual caricatures.”

And, I might have added, pleasure with drunken oblivion. The girls’ will remains free, of course, and it’s not all society’s fault. But much of it is. Many young women have nowhere else to go but into a puddle of vomit on a grimy pavement.





1 thought on “Look what progress throws up”

  1. Advertising may well be about increasing market share rather than overall consumption across all brands but most advertisements now contain subtle and not so subtle messages about selfishness and the smartness of having shallow attitudes to everyday problems.

    How do we stop or counter the morally destructive messages from the broadcast media and the Internet? Churches of any kind have few followers so are hardly fit for purpose. Religious and so-called faith-based schools serve to preserve their dogma rather than teach ethics or morals. The Catholic schools of my acquaintance are awash with bullying, cheating and other dishonesty. Faith schools of many stripes are presently receiving bad publicity for bad governance, and hiding grossly immoral conduct of the staff.

    However, making sure that staff and students do no harm to each other is not enough if the educational content is merely a series of placebos. Schools and universities (or rather their managements) just cannot resist the temptation to hand out sugar pills. Even the sugar is of a non-digestible variety so cannot sustain life except that of the people who dish it out.

    This shallow approach to knowledge does not impart wisdom, sense of self, morality or purpose. Lambasting religion and the educational institutions does not solve the problem, so is there any hope for us? Many years ago, when I and a number of other brash twenty-somethings of my acquaintance realised that we had argued ourselves into the atheist camp, we knew that we had to rely on our own resources. It was easier then because the population at large still retained the more palatable customs and moral beliefs handed down from the religious past. Thus each person of our group could engage in a rigorous Socratic examination of himself and his beliefs. This self-knowledge and sense of purpose is only obtainable by this challenging process if we can examine all or at least several of the available options. It would be difficult today for many young people with a modern education to be aware of many options or of the Socratic method itself.

    I like to end on a positive note so I suggest that something may evolve out of a technique called ‘mindfulness’ if it becomes more popular. Do not be put off by the name, which makes one think of the psychological equivalent of ‘alternative medicine’ and the ‘wellness’ industry. It has its origins (again, don’t be put off) in a Buddhist practice and may well develop into a method of self-examination and to self-knowledge.

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