Neurological pharmacology–a fancy way of saying “what drugs do to brains”–is a subject with which I have a special fascination. Some of them accentuate specific aspects of personality, some create hallucinations and religious experience, some relieve depression, some kick the sex drive or the bonding drive into high gear. In a lot of ways, though, for my money, I’d nominate alcohol as the most interesting for one reason:
In vino, veritas. Pliny the Elder nailed it: Wine tells the truth. It doesn’t make you do things so much as it lets you do things. You can learn a lot about yourself, and about your friends, by watching what happens when they’re well-buzzed.
National holidays can do the same thing to people–and not just because of the amount of alcohol people tend to consume given half an excuse. Like all things, love of one’s country can come in a lot of flavors. Soviet dissidents, for example, loved their country while hating its system–they loved its culture, its geography, its weather, the shared history in which their identity was rooted. Members of totalitarian systems, on the other hand, are trained to identify the system with the country, and to see non-conformity as so unpatriotic as to deserve death. Some people are patriotic about countries where they’ve never lived, so much so that they’ll move across the world to live in them, because they’ve fallen in love with the ideology, or the people, or the culture of that country. You can learn a lot about a person by watching the flavor of their patriotism.
Writing a political thriller series these last few years, I’ve carefully watched the political micro-climates around the world and studied how they relate to the version of love of country I carry around in my own psyche. Call it a love affair with the Jeffersonian vision of freedom: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
This year has been an amazing year around the world for the struggle against different forms of tyranny, and as an Americans it’s been more exciting than I can say to watch the most action-packed year of calculated struggles against tyranny since the late 80s and early 90s (it’s also more than a little embarrassing how little my home culture seems interested in carrying on their struggle on the home front, but that’s a topic for another time). It’s quite possible that the Arab Spring, the Iranian struggles, and the other protests and revolutions around the world will all come to bad ends in the same way that the revolutions of the twentieth century almost all ended in dictatorship, civil war, and genocide; still, I have a thin hope that some of the people who are laying down their lives–for reasons as simple as the next loaf of bread or as idealistic as bringing democracy and universal suffrage to cultures where such notions are without precedent–may have read history and learned from the missteps of the last hundred years.
Because of that, in celebration of the first revolution that actually worked (if imperfectly), I’ve dedicated Free Will (my new book about revolution) as follows:
This volume is dedicated to the men and women
Who sat in Tahrir
Who crossed the Wall in Berlin
Who fell at Tiananmen Square
Who bled in the streets of Tehran
Who lost their lives in Boston
And all those like them before and since.
To them we owe a debt we cannot repay
Save that we make their dream come true
I’ll be seeing you soon, with the rest of the book. Have a safe weekend–and spend it however you want to. The ability to make that choice is a remarkable thing in the history of the world.