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View Full Version : Asking a potentially dumb question (wine, spirits, and days of yore)



Buttercup
2014-Mar-15, 08:22 PM
I'm sure most (likely all) of us here are more than well acquainted with atrocities of times past, including "witch hunts" and the like. Paranoia, suspicion, false accusations, strange imaginings, and heinous acts.

How much of that might have been due to bad water, and people being half-crocked nearly all the time from wine or beer/meade/ale or liquor ingestion? Sure, tea and coffee were also drunk (pardon the pun), but I'm under the impression that booze was freely flowing.

So how much of all that tawdry, horrible history might have been due to alcoholism combined with rank superstition?

I don't know, am asking (this isn't ATM, so don't ask me to "defend" this). Just wondering!!

kevin1981
2014-Mar-15, 08:52 PM
I would imagine a lot of bad decisions have been made in the past due to the affects of alcohol ! Now sure we could actually put a number to it though !

Paul Beardsley
2014-Mar-15, 09:00 PM
I think the effect of alcohol was probably trivial compared with the lack of a bedrock of rationality.

Chuck
2014-Mar-15, 09:19 PM
There are witches being hunted in parts of the world today. I haven't heard anyone blame it on what they're drinking.

Noclevername
2014-Mar-15, 09:19 PM
The main method of making grains and fruits capable of longterm storage was fermentation. The alcohol content was generally lower than today's wine and beer because their purpose was preservation, not getting crocked.

It's been suggested that the "witchcraft" of the Salem Witch Trials were largely attributable to hallucinations cased by Ergot (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ergot) fungus.

SkepticJ
2014-Mar-15, 09:29 PM
Puritans (such as those involved in the Salem Witch Trial) kept their alcoholic beverages weak: strong enough to remain potable, but not strong enough to be fun. They weren't big fans of fun; they banned plays in England under Oliver Cromwell's regime, and some of them even denied their children toys.

Tightly wound, crazy people, even in their own day.

Buttercup
2014-Mar-15, 09:31 PM
There are witches being hunted in parts of the world today. I haven't heard anyone blame it on what they're drinking.

Maybe they're ingesting peyote, or other hallucinogens.

Just a thought.

Noclevername
2014-Mar-15, 09:35 PM
Maybe they're ingesting peyote, or other hallucinogens.

Just a thought.

The witch hunters are ingesting superstition and scapegoating, two of our oldest and deadliest drugs.

SkepticJ
2014-Mar-15, 09:40 PM
They don't have peyote in Sub-Saharan Africa, and no, they're not ingesting anything else mind altering in these circumstances. It's just rank superstition; bad stuff happens to them, it *must* be a witch.

Buttercup
2014-Mar-15, 09:50 PM
Right, but not just related to witches and superstition. Certain parts of history, even related to war, saw really dumb decisions; and the "ministers of war" often drank throughout the day. Sure, probably some of THAT due to misinformation, sloooooow information, ignorance. But then again, some decisions were so bone-headed I've wondered how "smashed" General so-and-so was at the time. :p

If they'd had good water back then, and mostly drinking water-based stuff (tea, coffee, water itself)...the Enlightenment might have happened lots sooner? :lol:

Paul Beardsley
2014-Mar-15, 09:57 PM
I'm not saying your idea has no merit, Buttercup, but it isn't compelling. As I understand it, alcohol can slow thought processes, and it can encourage people to take risks, but it doesn't turn rational people irrational. Drunk mathematicians don't suddenly think two plus two is five.

Buttercup
2014-Mar-15, 10:00 PM
I'm not saying your idea has no merit, Buttercup, but it isn't compelling. As I understand it, alcohol can slow thought processes, and it can encourage people to take risks, but it doesn't turn rational people irrational. Drunk mathematicians don't suddenly think two plus two is five.

But Paul...how many drunk mathematicians have you known?? ;) Joking.

I totally see the points being made.

Gillianren
2014-Mar-15, 11:50 PM
It's been suggested that the "witchcraft" of the Salem Witch Trials were largely attributable to hallucinations cased by Ergot (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ergot) fungus.

Suggested, but not terribly probable. I can go into detail, if you're interested.

swampyankee
2014-Mar-16, 01:02 AM
At the time of the Salem Witch Trials, there were similar trials going on all over Europe and British North America, so I think that ergot is probably not the definitive cause of those in Salem. Interestingly, in many parts of Europe, there remained effective routes of appeal.

Noclevername
2014-Mar-16, 04:00 AM
Suggested, but not terribly probable. I can go into detail, if you're interested.

Sure. I would like to learn the correct history.

Gillianren
2014-Mar-16, 06:36 AM
The first issue is that not all members of any given family were "afflicted." Most often, it was younger girls--between about nine and twelve, for the most prominent group. Their parents were sometimes afflicted, but not always. It is extremely unlikely that any contaminated rye would consistently affect some members of the household but not others. Ann Putnam, Sr., and her daughter, Ann, Jr., were both afflicted, but no one else in the family. Her father was an official of the court, but he was not a "witness."

Another problem is that the symptoms came and went essentially on command; if an accused witch was testifying, the afflicted would all pretty much in unison go into their fits, claiming to see the walking spirit of the accused and be tormented by it. Often, the affected people would claim that they were being forced to imitate the accused's actions. (Which would have been awfully stupid of the accused to do in court, but this never seems to have occurred to the judges.) This makes ergot unlikely as well, because the people suffering from its effects would have had no control.

There are also a lot of religious, political, and economic tensions at play. Salem was really two communities, Salem Town and Salem Village, and the dividing lines were often fairly important to how people lived and what their role in the events was. The trials started at a time when Massachusetts technically didn't have a royal charter and were technically lawless. Then, the new charter came in during the events and made much of what was happening flatly illegal. It's also worth noting that at least one of the condemned had been arrested for witchcraft once before and gotten off; it's hardly as though the events in Salem were as isolated as all that. I read a book last month about the case, and various other trials--including convictions--are mentioned. The important distinction with Salem was the scope. Literally anyone could be accused, from a slave to the richest couple in town.

jokergirl
2014-Mar-16, 09:12 AM
Here's an interesting link for you: http://leslefts.blogspot.se/2013/11/the-great-medieval-water-myth.html

Of course yes, high-ranking and high-income people did drink during the day, and people did drink a lot. But they still do that in other countries. It's quite common in Germany, for example. Beer is treated like so much water. France, Italy and Spain too. A glass of wine or beer with lunch/dinner is considered the norm. And you can't really call any of those an underdeveloped country any more, can you?

I'm more surprised that we survived the 1920s-1950s. People in spy novels and series really did drink hard spirits all the time!

;)

profloater
2014-Mar-16, 09:40 AM
You can see people acting strangely in any stage hypnotism show and similar behaviour to the alleged witches in well documented religious conversion ceremonies, we don't talk about hysterics so much now as Freud did but hysteria and mass hysteria are still around to see. personally I think there is a link to a person's belief system that affects susceptibility to hysteria but ethical issues make it hard to study properly. placebo and nocebo are linked, and in other words we are not as in control of our minds as we like to think we are.

Buttercup
2014-Mar-16, 01:22 PM
It's quite common in Germany, for example. Beer is treated like so much water. France, Italy and Spain too. A glass of wine or beer with lunch/dinner is considered the norm.

Thanks for the link; I'll check it. As for beer or wine with lunch - presuming it's a working person, whether factory or office, that's a huge NO-NO here in the States, as you probably know. Could get you fired.

Once in a blue moon I'll take a nip of vodka during my workday (employed in my home) to steady nerves if I'm feeling unwell. But it's no more than a teaspoon. And I probably shouldn't even do that.

Quite a difference to Europe (or parts of it), apparently. :)

swampyankee
2014-Mar-16, 01:42 PM
Thanks for the link; I'll check it. As for beer or wine with lunch - presuming it's a working person, whether factory or office, that's a huge NO-NO here in the States, as you probably know. Could get you fired.

Once in a blue moon I'll take a nip of vodka during my workday (employed in my home) to steady nerves if I'm feeling unwell. But it's no more than a teaspoon. And I probably shouldn't even do that.

Quite a difference to Europe (or parts of it), apparently. :)

Alcohol during "working" lunches used to be quite common in the US; it stopped when the IRS changed its rules about what was deductible: the "three-martini lunch" was not a myth. There were also numerous people (engineers, not marketeers, so they weren't on an expense account ;)) who I witnessed slugging down a few cocktails with lunch. About 30 years ago, at least two companies that I know of served beer in their company dining halls (one of these has stopped; the other is not in the US and I've no knowledge of their current practices). Some occupations have quite severe restrictions on alcohol consumption, for obvious public safety reasons (gee, doesn't that count as big government in action?), but most employers have to offer counseling and treatment before they can fire a person for drinking on the job (the presumption is that if you can't go the work day without a drink, you're an alcoholic, and need treatment).

schlaugh
2014-Mar-16, 01:54 PM
I used to work at IBM and in France the office cafeterias sold beer and small bottles of wine. Probably still do.

Buttercup
2014-Mar-16, 02:02 PM
Thanks for that info, swampyankee.


I used to work at IBM and in France the office cafeterias sold beer and small bottles of wine. Probably still do.

:o

And I'm feeling guilty about an occasional/rare "nip" of vodka here in the home office, if I'm not feeling well. :rolleyes:

I have wondered how many of my "coworkers" (whom I'll never meet, haven't ever seen) do imbibe throughout the day. :lol: Of course if it started reflecting on their work performance (we're under oodles of standards and requirements)...

profloater
2014-Mar-16, 02:04 PM
I did not realise USA had gone that way despite my frequent visits. In UK client lunches are no longer tax deductible but theys till happen and plenty of alcohol is consumed but I notice now drivers are much less likely to imbibe than say 20 years ago, that message is getting across.

PetersCreek
2014-Mar-16, 04:03 PM
(gee, doesn't that count as big government in action?)

Let's not have any more toes on that political line please.

Trebuchet
2014-Mar-16, 04:10 PM
I read a lot of naval-historical novels set in the era of 200-250 years ago. As a result, I also read a good deal of non-fiction on the same subject. The amount of alcohol consumed aboard ship was pretty prodigious. Common seamen were entitled to a ration of one gallon of beer per day. It was probably pretty "small" beer, but still, that's a pretty fair amount. Once the beer ran out, they got a pint of rum mixed with water. (Grog) Officers provided their own, and a lot of it. Even at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, they managed to have cases of French wine aboard.

This, of course, isn't anything special about the Navy, but a reflection of society as a whole. They drank a LOT.

Gillianren
2014-Mar-16, 05:21 PM
I'm more surprised that we survived the 1920s-1950s. People in spy novels and series really did drink hard spirits all the time!

The thing that astonished me about reading The Thin Man (set during Prohibition, mind) after having seen it a bunch of times is that Nick Charles drinks more in the book. I had not previously realized that was possible.

SkepticJ
2014-Mar-16, 05:51 PM
I read a lot of naval-historical novels set in the era of 200-250 years ago. As a result, I also read a good deal of non-fiction on the same subject. The amount of alcohol consumed aboard ship was pretty prodigious. Common seamen were entitled to a ration of one gallon of beer per day. It was probably pretty "small" beer, but still, that's a pretty fair amount. Once the beer ran out, they got a pint of rum mixed with water. (Grog) Officers provided their own, and a lot of it. Even at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, they managed to have cases of French wine aboard.

This, of course, isn't anything special about the Navy, but a reflection of society as a whole. They drank a LOT.

Potable beverage. Would you rather drink a lot of alcoholic beverages, or almost certainly die from contaminated water? Remember, germ theory wasn't around yet.

Landlubbers could drink coffee and tea, which was safe because boiling water is involved in their creation (they didn't understand why they were safe, though) but boiling large quantities of water aboard a ship over two hundred years ago wasn't practical.

Buttercup
2014-Mar-16, 06:39 PM
I read a lot of naval-historical novels set in the era of 200-250 years ago. As a result, I also read a good deal of non-fiction on the same subject. The amount of alcohol consumed aboard ship was pretty prodigious. Common seamen were entitled to a ration of one gallon of beer per day. It was probably pretty "small" beer, but still, that's a pretty fair amount. Once the beer ran out, they got a pint of rum mixed with water. (Grog) Officers provided their own, and a lot of it. Even at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, they managed to have cases of French wine aboard.

This, of course, isn't anything special about the Navy, but a reflection of society as a whole. They drank a LOT.

Woah, ho - blow the man down! :p No wonder they were seeing mermaids and sea monsters, and hearing "sirens." :rofl:

And yes, I did see SkepticJ's reply. :)

jokergirl
2014-Mar-16, 09:50 PM
SkepticJ, that is what my link was about - people did indeed drink water in ye olden times, and there is much evidence that they did. Having a reliable source of water was of course important.

;)