Thursday, July 10, 2008

Beer: The secret to the rise of humanity

As a friend of mine has also said, I also don't always agree with George Will, but he never says anything that sounds stupid to me.

Case in point, his recent article on beer. In it, Will argues credibly that beer is one of the indispensible secrets to the rise of European civilization. This might sound spurious, but grain alcohol was one of the earliest inventions of civilization in the Old World, along with bread, since the two processes are inextricably linked.

As humans migrated into the cities, they came into closer contact with one another. These closer quarters, combined with poorer nutrition and a lack of sanitation, meant a faster spread of disease, particularly water-borne illness. Alcohol, although it technically is toxic to humans, is by and large free of water-borne illness, as the fermentation process kills of those pathogens on the way to beer.

Now, who gets to reproduce more, the one who dies of water-borne illness in his childhood or early adulthod, or the one who lives into his 40s before dying of cirrhosis of the liver?

Being able to digest alcohol and break down the toxins faster became an evolutionary advantage, in other words, that made urban dwelling possible for larger numbers of people. Cities gave way to civilizations and all their markings: science, mythology, religion and philosophy, and of course to the trade routes that the cities depended upon to get the supplies their populaces need.

Without beer, we're just a bunch of farmers scattered all over the delta. Add beer, Will argues, and we build cities, kingdoms, empires and civilizations.

I'll drink to that,

3 comments:

Brucker said...

Trying to "nettle" me again?

marauder said...

Not particularly. Why, am I succeeding?

(I would have thought if any post nettled you, it would have been this one.)

Brucker said...

Nah, that's just pure flattery. I suppose I need to do a piece on children learning Esperanto and link to you profusely.