It’s weird–or maybe not so weird, really–but reading certain news items my reactions are almost entirely filtered through my years of training as a science fiction reader. Sometimes I read the story and suddenly see all kinds of comparisons between some real world event and things I’ve read–either direct connections, or analogies. Sometimes I read something and can’t help but try to process the potential real world ramifications by working out “what kind of stories could you write from this…” (or perhaps more accurately imagining the different angles stories could take–I’m no writer, but I can see some of the obvious roads.)
The story today about scientists working on a synthetic intoxicant, for example:
An alcohol substitute that mimics its pleasant buzz without leading to drunkenness and hangovers is being developed by scientists.
So first the story (especially the comments about the instant sobriety pill) triggers associations with all kinds of stories and novels I’ve read–stuff dating back more than 60 years in some cases.
But secondly, and more interestingly, I’m trying to work out what something like this could mean in the real world and I can’t seem to do that without constructing stories and scenarios.
Take some questions:
How would this be commercialized? What companies would get involved? How would this be marketed?
Would it be initially taken up by a youth population? (They are traditionally the ones most interested in drinking to get drunk, and the ones least invested in the traditions, rituals, and subtleties of connoisseur-style drinking. It’s not too far a step from coolers and Boone’s, right?) Does this cause generational stress? Or just a bunch of stories in the papers about “the new binge drinking”? Does the drinking age change?
That kind of question would, of course, be inextricably linked with questions of regulation and legalization–how would our societies, and especially the relatively conservative and reactionary legislatures that trail behind social change, deal with something like this? We don’t normally act particularly rationally, and without the thousands of years of precedent that alcohol has how would this be viewed?
Would traditional brewers/distillers/vintners oppose something like this? They have a fairly healthy lobby as well–how does that interact with legislative questions?
Let’s assume we get past those hurdles–what are the broader social implications? Don’t you actually lose any of the high end cachet that certain kinds of alcohol have? I mean you can’t be a connoisseur in this case, can you? You pretty much flat out admitting that you’re drinking specifically to get drunk. That’s no change for a lot of people, but how does a widespread acknowledgment of that change the way we perceive alcohol and drinking as a society? The wine expert, the master of cocktails, etc? Is there little to no effect because this is just another choice–kind of an advanced case of Mike’s Hard Lemonade–or is there actually some kind of cascading effect?
And how does something like this get acceptance without altering society’s fundamental stance towards recreational chemicals? Or rather, making the illusion that the exceptions that we pretend ethanol and caffeine (and to a lesser extent nicotine) are less easy to sustain.
And, of course, where’s the line between recreational pharmacology, like this new booze, and medicinal pharmacology? Once we accept that taking drugs to achieve a desired mental or emotional state is both OK and common, how does that not blend into things like anti-depressants, or stimulants, etc?
And really, how do the social rituals change with the differing effects? What does it mean to “get drunk” without mood swings? Does the end of the night pick up experience change–either in what actually happens, or in how we perceive it? Without the possibility of addiction, do we lose the Bukowskis and the Parkers?
Does this actually lower crime rates and health care costs? Or do we find that people find ways to make it destructive, or tend away from it to something more damaging for the many and varied reasons people behave perversely?
And the purists? Do people keep drinking old style booze, even with all the negative effects? Because it’s not “authentic” otherwise? Because it’s not self-destructive enough otherwise? Because it tastes wrong otherwise? Does old school booze eventually become outlawed as a potentially harmful drug? And does that lead to a fermentation and distillery underground? (It’s pretty easy to make booze–underground “labs” can be built with technology that’s thousands of years old.)
I could see myself breaking the law for some black market “real oatmeal stout”.
I see hundreds of stories.
(And that’s without even looking at the whole “de-booze conventional alcoholic beverages, add in NuBuuze, and use the harvested ethanol as fuel” angle. There’s a couple dozens stories in there too.)
I can’t actually work out what it might mean, of course, because I can’t see a way to get something like that effectively legalized in North America… but it’s interesting to chew on some of the questions anyway.