In Vino Hateful Ranting?
By Bryan Caplan
I never heard of John Derbyshire until a few days ago, but The Nation‘s inventory of his earlier controversies got my attention. The most interesting: The Nation accuses Derbyshire of “defending Mel Gibson’s racist comments.” A more accurate summary is that Derbyshire excused Gibson’s racist comments on the grounds of human frailty:
The guy was drunk, for heaven’s sake. We all say and do dumb
things when we are drunk. If I were to be judged on my drunken escapades
and follies, I should be utterly excluded from polite society, and so
would you, unless you are some kind of saint.
What about in vino veritas? Aren’t we seeing the real Mel here?
Isn’t the courteous, civilized, thoughtful Mel just a mask he wears to
deceive us? Well, duh, of course it is! That’s what civilization means
— masking the Old Adam with good habits, good manners, nice clothes,
social graces, well-constructed sentences full of soft words. The Old
Adam is still there underneath, as anyone with any self-knowledge at all
knows perfectly well. Fill up Christopher Hitchens with liquor, or
Jonah Goldberg, or Kathryn Lopez, or Deroy Murdock, or John Derbyshire,
and see what you get. Chances are, you won’t like it half as much as you
like the stuff we put out when we’re sober. Chances are not negligible
you might hear something offensively insulting about Jews, or Gentiles,
or blacks, or whites, or Brits, or papists.
I oppose human weakness. If Derbyshire correctly describes the effects of alcohol, no one should ever drink. But is he correct?
Probably not. I suspect that Derbyshire is making the common mistake of overgeneralizing from his own self-knowledge. Some people – personality psychologists call them “high in Neuroticism” or “low in Emotional Stability” – do indeed harbor strong negative emotions that social norms urge us to conceal. Derbyshire seems to fit the bill by his own admission. But plenty of other people simply don’t feel much anger. Maybe the distinction between the “happy drunk” and the “mean drunk” is a Hollywood invention, but it rings true.
I do not drink. Neither do I associate with anyone who drinks heavily
in my presence. So in all honesty, I can’t speak from first-hand experience about the effects of alcohol on human behavior. Maybe what rings true to me is wrong. If you know something I don’t, please share.