Drinking to lower standards?

One way to be more satisfied with life is to lower your standards. People seem pretty hesitant to do this most of the time. And fair enough: who wants to be satisfied at the expense of everything else they care about? Happiness isn’t that great.

If only it were possible to feel like you had lower standards without actually settling for the very easiest career that would pay for your tent, noodles, and blow up companion.

I wonder if this is a significant reason people drink alcohol.

It seems that when people drink they lower their standards for many things. For what to laugh at, for what’s worth saying, and for who it’s worth saying to, for instance. They enthusiastically eat things they would find barely passable sober, and are thrilled by activities they usually find beneath them.

Yet this standard lowering is constrained in time, so as long as you don’t become permanently intoxicated you can spend most of your days having high standards. And since there was a specific identifiable reason for your low standards (even if purely social), it need not contaminate your image as a discerning person. At least not as much.

Is this an actual common point of drinking, or just a side effect? I don’t know – I don’t drink enough, and apparently this isn’t considered a good topic of party conversation. Maybe my observation is wrong, and people raise their standards in some ways when they drink, for instance coming to want more socializing than they do the rest of the time. I’m not sure about that. It’s also not clear why choosing to drink when you are sober wouldn’t count as having low standards at that point. But people are regularly forgiven for things they do while drunk, so it seems we generally don’t hold people so responsible for such indirect decisions.

30 responses to “Drinking to lower standards?

  1. The most impressive correlations that I’ve seen regarding heavy drinking are with psychopathy and clinical mania (with 70% of manics engaging in heavy drinking). These correlations point to sensation seeking as a major cause of heavy drinking. In this light, people will have “lower standards” when they drink if the standards in question restrain sensation seeking. In other words, it’s not that their standards are lowered as that their drive to seek certain sensations those standards ordinarily restrain is overpowered by the augmented sensation seeking.

    If this is right, people will eat food with strong flavors that taste bad when they’ve been drinking, but they won’t eat food that’s below their standards because it’s dull. The inebriated character in Stendhal’s “The Red and the Black” comes to mind: he rudely rejected the food served as inferior. That is, his standards were not lowered, but his taste for exciting food was heightened.

  2. This again is a post of yours, dear Katja, which somehow is beyond me.

    1st
    What is a ‘standard’?
    It is an ingroup societal norm.
    If e.g. Your peer group is heavy drinkers, then You rise within that group, if you drink more.
    From an outside-perspective this maybe is ‘lowering’ the standard.

    2nd
    Nobody in his right mind intentionally lowers his standards.
    It is then changing peers, if anything.
    If You are redneck, then ‘lowering standards’ would mean killing less Vietnamese subhumans. Soon you drop out and eventually become a peacenick.

    3rd
    Why are -and have been- so many poets and literates not addicted, but quite heavy drinkers?
    Eg Hemingway, or even Goethe?
    ‘Lowering standards’?
    No.
    It is completely different.
    It is an altered state of awareness, they were interested in, and profited from.
    See Steve Jobs or Francis Crick.
    (…Nobel Prize genius Crick was high on LSD, when…)
    Goethe was heavily stuffed with red wine, when he made his geological excursions.
    Be sure he knew his doses.

    So, the -careful- use of mind-altering substances is a cultural/individual feat, which has nothing to do with ‘lowering standards’.
    See e.g. Indian tribes, who use mushrooms in tribal ceremonies.

    4rth
    Sometimes it actually maybe necessary to ‘lower standards’, because Your partner is so -fill in your words- dull that you actually feel a need to do so.

  3. S. Diamond: You’re selecting out a subgroup that doesn’t follow the general norm Katja seems to be pointing out.

    Groo: You’re definitely romanticizing the common reason people drink and conflating it with other substances. First, you say you don’t understand what the post is about, but then, you show that you do by critiquing “ingroup” successfully–to wit, you can have competing standards simultaneously. Second, no, drunk people lower their standards, not “right” minded people. And they do so because staying right mind all the time is hard work, and stressful, and drinking while lowering standards is a way out. Third, you fail to make a satisfactory distinction between heavy drinking and addiction. There are successful addicts out there. Doesn’t mean that they weren’t/aren’t addicts. Fourth, you provide a very good reason for lowering standards. Excitement. Keeping high standards all the time can be boring! So you Do understand the post.

    Katja, I’d only argue that people don’t necessarily drink to lower their standards consciously, but that it is a byproduct, or a socially accepted norm. Your post seems to make it sound like we agreed to doing it and then went out to obtain our goal.

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  5. Study the neurology of booze in the brain.

    • I’ll admit, this was my instant reaction. How can you begin to discuss the behavioral effects of alcohol without considering the neuro-physiological ones. But the reality is that brain studies aren’t yet able to decide such issues. (Consider that anti-depressants are designed based on considerations of brain physiology, yet the product often fails, despite having the physiological effects that seem associated with success.)

      Still, we know generally that alcohol depresses the frontal lobes and for this reason impairs judgment and foresight. And it’s pretty clear that this impairment is one of the things sought out in immoderate drinking is this impairment. This isn’t exactly a lowering of standards as their _weakening_ But perhaps I’m splitting hairs.

  6. 1. I got the novel I to which I tried to refer. I actually had in mind Thomas Mann’s “Magic Mountain” (for the inebriant and his personality, including “high standards.”)

    2. fundyouranalyst: Your link points to my profile. I don’t care (perhaps I should be flattered), but perhaps it’s an error. (Or is it a joke?)

    3. fundyouranalyst: Don’t understand your point about a different subgroup. Different drinkers experience inebriation differently? Could be, but why assume it. In any event, mine was an attempt at understanding why alcohol _seems_ to cause a “lowering of standards,” but doesn’t do so consistently.

  7. fundingyouranalyst,

    I am afraid we are talking about two different things here.

    One.
    Loss of control.
    Which is not voluntary, and has nothing to do with willful lowering of status.

    Two.
    (getting) ‘drunk’ is more of a process and not so much a state.
    The question is, where to stop it.
    a) you can (culture)
    b) you can’t (addiction)
    As an addiction, ofcourse, this is pointless: You cant.
    As a cultural habit, so to say, it is controllable, and has always been.
    May this be the Oktoberfest, or the chewing of coca-leaves in Bolivia, or ancient Greek vine-orgies.

    Those were/are processes, carefully integrated into the whole edifice of society, and has nothing (or veeery indirectly) to do with ‘status’.

    That someone is deliberately lowering his/her status by taking drugs of any sort is to me, sorry to say, completely unconceivable.
    I refer to the possible aspects in my above post.

    We are not talking about some drunken dumbass on some party of some other dumbass, right?

  8. Stephen, the link is an error. My point was that your example is of a subgroup of the population, and Katja’s example is why people drink generally, not why heavy drinkers drink heavily.

  9. to strengthen my point;
    American Indians have been devastated by alcohol, a drug they have not been used to.
    Over and above Jared Diamonds arguments.

    The Chinese and the Japanese suffer the same problem, but did not fall prey to this drug, which was alien to them and their culture.
    I wish You would discuss the collapse of chinese/indian/american indian pride w.r.t. that, and other factors.

    Heroin in the 19th century was a war-like drug against the Chinese by the Brits and other western nations.

    This to me seems much more important than status/drug discussions in a baby/bathtub discussion, which seems not even applicable.

    Thank you

  10. Seems to me I’ve seen at least 2 studies that reported that people went drinking (in both the US and in Europe) with the explicit intent of raising the odds of a sexual encounter – to wit, to get laid. (And I saw lots of supporting anecdotes of this when I was in college.)

    This could either be viewed as deliberately supressing one’s “standards” for sexual partners, so as to actually participate in the “market” rather than just spectating.

    I suppose it could also be viewed as a way to raise one’s sociability, to encourage entry into the “market” of sexual partners.

    • Bryan Willman: At least two factors are involved regarding sexual encounters. The first is what the pursuers are most aware of: a lowering of social inhibition. Many persons say they are better at socializing after drinking. The second is the one that might be seen as involving a lowering of standards. Pick-up bars are highly competitive places for males; the ratio is very adverse, at least 5 men to one woman in my day, long ago. If a male wants sex that night, he might have to settle for a woman he finds unattractive. He may want the sex and companionship but at the same time, he might be turned off by the prospects: he might not even be able to perform due to his distaste. This is where Katja’s hypothesis gains credibility. But I don’t think there’s an across-the-board lowering of standards. Sex can come easier because it’s an exciting, sensation-rich activity. Thus, people might have “high standards” for what they do with their time; they avoid wasting time on boring, meaningless tasks, say, playing solitaire. They might wish to lower this kind of standard in themselves, so they have something to occupy themselves with. But alcohol won’t help them there, because, pace Katja, alcohol doesn’t lower standards, it increases sensation seeking. (Pot is the drug of choice for dealing with boredom.)

  11. I believe you are correct, and this topic has certainly come up among the people I party with.

    A related issue that my friends and I have discussed at parties is the issue of lowering your standards in the quality of alcohol itself. People who spend too much time developing refined tastes are only sabotaging themselves. The extra bit of enjoyment you get from the $60 bottle of wine comes at the expense of living with potential disappointment every time someone serves a bottle of wine that isn’t up to your standards. And the point of the wine isn’t to make the wine more enjoyable; it is to make other things more enjoyable.

    Same with coffee. BTW, one of the top electronic music hits on the charts right now is Sander Van Doorn’s “Drink to Get Drunk”, which is a mildly clever tune even if you’re not drunk.

  12. “Loss of control.
    Which is not voluntary, and has nothing to do with willful lowering of status.”

    I”m not entirely sure the post is referencing an explicit voluntary lowering of status so much. Drinking does a lot of other things that serve as a proxy for lowering status (allow us to laugh at things we normally wouldn’t, talk to people we normally wouldn’t, or sleep with people we normally wouldn’t), whereas doing the acts without the drinking results in more permanent lowered status. In short, drinking allows one to partake in acts that are considered lower status but maintain high status. At least that’s my read.

    “(getting) ‘drunk’ is more of a process and not so much a state.
    The question is, where to stop it.
    a) you can (culture)
    b) you can’t (addiction)
    As an addiction, ofcourse, this is pointless: You cant.
    As a cultural habit, so to say, it is controllable, and has always been.
    May this be the Oktoberfest, or the chewing of coca-leaves in Bolivia, or ancient Greek vine-orgies.”

    There’s a lot of easy ways for these things to be intertwined. I might be an addict who attends Oktoberfest, or, for instance, an addict who knows when it is appropriate to stop drinking (before my status is permanently impacted). Being an addict doesn’t just mean that I get loaded as much and often as possible. There are lots of very conventionally successful addicts. So, I don’t buy your culture vs. addiction distinction.

    “Those were/are processes, carefully integrated into the whole edifice of society, and has nothing (or veeery indirectly) to do with ‘status’.”

    I’m entirely not sure about this.

    “That someone is deliberately lowering his/her status by taking drugs of any sort is to me, sorry to say, completely unconceivable.
    I refer to the possible aspects in my above post.”

    Perhaps it is “really” their ability to be involved in low status activities and then revert to previously held higher status.

  13. Katja: “One way to be more satisfied with life is to lower your standards. People seem pretty hesitant to do this most of the time.”

    They do it all the time, but they don’t call it lowering their standards. They call it being realistic. I can’t have what I really want; nobody can have what they really want; so it’s best for everyone if we all agree to want only what we know we can have. (Except that, in the end, everything is taken from you; so the height of wisdom is to want nothing at all.)

    A side effect is that people who still have standards, ambitions, etc get hammered down by those who are resigned to life as it is, because it reawakens their own pain. Or the hammering down can even be “tough love”: save these naive young people from the disaster that awaits them, by preempting their mistakes.

    This is one of Celia Green’s contributions to psychology (Jeremy Griffith has something to say too) – highlighting the psychology of resignation, and developing the basis of an alternative.

    • This is getting interesting. Combining Mitchell’s observation [although whether he's describing a process in "real time" isn't clear to me] and Katja’s theory, we should be seeing a period of increasing alcohol consumption. (No idea whether this is the case.) Generally, alcohol use would then serve as a response to resignation (in the affective sense). People who are resigned will tend to drink; social periods (like the present one) characterized by greater resignation will see greater alcohol consumption.

      If people become more resigned when they drink–the argument being that resignation is a lowering of standards and alcohol lowers standards–it would be a drug of choice for maintaining a servile populace.

      All of this has clear, but to me unknown, statistical implications for alcohol consumption’s demography.

  14. “it need not contaminate your image as a discerning person. At least not as much”

    I think this is the key point here. If people know that their standards are going to be lower while drunk, and they know that other people know that their standards will be lowered while drunk, ad infinitum, and if people have some idea of HOW their standards will be lowered while drunk, then we should be able to bypass the drinking altogether (it’s costly) and skip straight to doing whatever we’d be doing while drunk.

    But having an image as discerning is valuable, and as you mention at the end, we don’t actually hold people fully accountable for their behavior when they’re drunk. Homo hypocritus seems to fit here – drinking lets us lower our standards without giving up status, cause we can always point to the alcohol after the fact. People don’t hold each other accountable for choosing to drink sober because they’re all doing the same thing anyway.

    “Is this an actual common point of drinking, or just a side effect? I don’t know – I don’t drink enough, and apparently this isn’t considered a good topic of party conversation”

    I think it’s one purpose of drinking, not a side effect, but I would expect people to claim otherwise.

    • “I think this is the key point here. If people know that their standards are going to be lower while drunk, and they know that other people know that their standards will be lowered while drunk, ad infinitum, and if people have some idea of HOW their standards will be lowered while drunk, then we should be able to bypass the drinking altogether (it’s costly) and skip straight to doing whatever we’d be doing while drunk.”

      Perhaps according to the _homo-hypocritus_ model, but in reality, I don’t think so. It isn’t just–probably not even mainly–because we fear censure from others that we need an excuse to escape practicing discernment.

      At least that’s my perception, but what’s the evidence? One fact I think of is that some people drink alone. If the purpose is to escape censure by others for exhibiting “lower standards,” solitary drinking would need a separate dynamic. But people drink to lower standards even when they drink alone, don’t they?

    • “I think this is the key point here. If people know that their standards are going to be lower while drunk, and they know that other people know that their standards will be lowered while drunk, ad infinitum, and if people have some idea of HOW their standards will be lowered while drunk, then we should be able to bypass the drinking altogether (it’s costly) and skip straight to doing whatever we’d be doing while drunk.”

      Perhaps according to the _homo-hypocritus_ hypothesis, but in reality, I don’t think so. It isn’t just–probably not even mainly–because we fear censure from others that we need an excuse to escape practicing discernment.

      At least that’s my perception, but what’s the evidence? One fact I think of is that some people drink alone. If the purpose is to escape censure by others for exhibiting “lower standards,” solitary drinking would need a separate dynamic. But people drink to lower standards even when they drink alone, don’t they?

  15. Perhaps according to the _homo-hypocritus_ hypothesis, but in reality, I don’t think so. It isn’t just–probably not even mainly–because we fear censure from others that we need an excuse to escape practicing discernment.

    At least that’s my perception, but what’s the evidence? One fact I think of is that some people drink alone, but If the purpose is to escape censure by others for exhibiting “lower standards,” solitary drinking would need a separate dynamic. People drink to lower standards even when they drink alone, don’t they?

  16. This post seems mostly correct to me. Note that standards can be driven by multiple distinct emotions, but those which feel discretely unpleasant to violate rather than vaguely disappointing are driven by the disgust/guilt emotion, which feels unpleasant and which is also low status to acknowledge, and thus to work to overcome. Experiences acquired while it is suppressed, however, can reduce its future force in relation to the subjects of those experiences. As a result, experience with alcohol gives people better social skills, adjustment, etc, as has been discussed on occasion on Marginal Revolution.

    • Your comment contains valuable information, but I have one quibble. While disgust is low status, I don’t think guilt is. On the other hand, shame is low status. And alcohol allows people to act shamelessly and disgustingly, but not guiltlessly. In fact, the drunken often are exhibitionistic in their profuse expressions of guilt.

  17. Interesting thought. I think that the last sentence in the key one though (at least in my experience) – people are regularly forgiven for things they do when they are drunk. In my experience, it is that aspect that I think leads to more outlandish decision making than any lowering of expectations. You can sleep with people outside of your social/status circle, make off-color jokes, discuss random ideas etc. without putting your reputation on the line.

    I guess the distinction that I’m drawing is that most of the experiences I’ve had while drinking aren’t ones that would fail to entertain me sober, but rather ones that I don’t want to have permanently associated with my reputation (e.g. I will happily argue sober whether a bear could kill a lion, but I don’t want to known as the guy who brings it up at dinner parties).

  18. Yes, a bear can kill a lion if the lion is cornered. And a tiger would easily best a lion.

  19. Now that we are down in the boondocks of human misbehavior, we could even refer to misbehaviors of our beloved co-creatures as in ‘the gods must be crazy’.

    A quick check (with my standards of checking, ofcourse) reveals:

    …A review of drug-test data compiled by drug testing firm
    Sterling Infosystems Inc., shows that cocaine is losing its favor among investment professionals. What drug is their choice? Marijuana.

    http://blogs.wsj.com/deals/2010/08/20/wall-street-drug-use-employees-giving-up-cocaine-for-pot-and-pills/
    Aaah.
    Seems to be ‘status enhancing’, to switch drugs. Or what?

    Maybe we should just put up a status-pile of bullshitters, who are high on drugs.

    But wait: There are the good people: Steve Jobs-on-LSD, Indians-on-mushrooms.
    Any status-aspects here?

    Could You clear-viewing people please make up your minds?

    And poor Katja her categories?

  20. I am pleased that comments are now exhausted, and poor Katja finally finds time to make up her mind.
    Maybe by listening to Anouar Brahem .–le voyage du sahar-, Like i do, to breathe some fresh air through her mind.
    Being a bayesian estimator often is a right thing to do.
    But not always.
    The dark side of of our minds is not always wrong.
    Listen to ‘Voyage de Sahar’ of Anuar Brahem, and You possibly notice, that there is something beyond GMU-ideology, singularity and this other silly bunch of near-far and status and whatsoever thinking.
    Being a Zen-Buddhist helps in the first place.
    At least for ‘real’ men.
    Women?
    I do’nt know.
    Women have to qualify.
    There are no female-buddhists.
    Why?
    Explain, please!
    Would help, if women would stop emanating silly propositions, echoing those of silly men.
    Amen.

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