Countries with strict social rules and behavioral etiquette may foster unruly drinking cultures and characteristic bad behavior, according to a new report on alcohol and violence released today by International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP). The report also lists 11 cultural features that may predict levels of violence such as homicide and spousal abuse.

And the culprit is, of course, not just alcohol, but men.

We cannot change the male propensity for aggression, but we can channel it into appropriate and socially acceptable forms. In particular, we need rites of passage for young people that offer challenge and a route to adult status and recognition. The aim should not be to completely suppress male aggression, but to utilize and channel it constructively.

But alcohol and men together make things worse. Apparently, lacking big animals to hunt, a night at the bar starts to resemble gay porn.

The male-to-male bond is a hard-wired hangover from our hunting past, the context of our mental and emotional development. The process of bonding among males, particularly in all-male organizations, is a precursor to aggression. To “cut off” or consummate such aggression requires consummation of the bonding process. Where there is no prey to capture together and kill, the orgiastic release made possible by alcohol simulates the triumphant conclusion of the male bonding process.

Yikes. Men, this is why you should only talk to women in bars. Of course, there are other factors too. Anne Fox, PhD, anthropologist specializing in drinking culture and director of Galahad SMS Ltd, says violent drinking cultures will have:

•A culture of male domination.

(so, all of them)

•Conspicuous inequality in wealth;

(so, all of them)

•Violent sports;

(so, all of them)

•Corporal and capital punishment;

(apparently, serial killers do not drink)

•Belief in malevolent magic;


I can go on but there's no point. This is clearly an indictment of ... the United Kingdom. Yes, if 'malevolent magic' did not give it away, apparently the UK has a violent culture because you can buy beer at the football game. Now, the UK countries of Scotland, England and Wales hold the top three spots in the western world for violent crime, that is no secret, but gun-rights advocates could just as easily claim violence is higher in the UK because people cannot own Uzis to defend themselves, so at-home break-ins and burglaries are much more common than in a place like the United States where gun ownership is legal.

In fairness to her argument, if you've ever been to a football match at Cardiff you might well feel that alcohol should not be given to any bald, young men. A higher than normal preponderance of young men is a factor, she agrees, along with general male domination. And alcohol. And rules.

Young males are not so bad. Here, two Cardiff youths come to the assistance of a friend. Take that, anthropology!

But, maybe not all male-dominated cultures are the problem, maybe it's just the western/Christian ones.

It has been noted that adherents to particular religious faiths are more likely to abstain from alcohol or to drink in moderation than nonreligious people. A seemingly logical explanation for this phenomenon would be that the individuals are heeding the proscriptive doctrines that forbid such indulgence. For example, the Koran clearly states that “...intoxicants and gambling, all are an abomination of Satan’s handiwork… and hinder you from the remembrance of God, and from prayer; will you not then abstain?” (Holy Koran 5:90–91) The Bible, however, is more ambiguous, in some parts even encouraging consumption: “Give intoxicating liquor, you people, to the one about to perish, and wine to those who are bitter of soul. Let one drink and forget one’s poverty, and let one remember one’s trouble no more”.

So there you go. Islamic cultures must be less violent than everywhere else, despite the male dominance. Bring on the Sharia Law!

Not so, says Fox. Islam's spread by conquest and the Plains Indians of America, two exceedingly violent cultures in the past, did not drink alcohol at all, she notes.

Likewise, exceedingly violent South Africa culturally drinks very little while large alcohol consumers Italy are lovers, not fighters.

The real problem occurs when a lot of these factors are combined and there is a culture where alcohol is regarded as 'liberating' - alcohol activates 'reward circuitry' in the brain so culturally being freer from consequence when drunk as opposed to just male dominance is a big factor.

But alcohol decreases testosterone, she notes, so the relationship between alcohol and male violence is not causal, though the alcohol reduction in serotonin might offset that.

So what is the difference between men being violent drunks or not? Studies found that even people (by people, we mean men - apparently women are as awesome drunk as they are the rest of the time) who were drunk to the point of passing out did not become violent if the drinker had a cultural incentive to control himself.

You'd think a polite society like the UK would be on the least violent list but drunk 'culture' is also a subset, so fostering a 'macho' culture among certain men will override that (like skinhead football fans) but those people are violent regardless of the alcohol so we're back to wondering about causality.

Why mention all that? Well, the study was commissioned by the International Center for Alcohol Policies and they clearly have an agenda. Groups with agendas often spin their press releases to match their goals and this one is a doozy. If you go by their press release, UK society is at fault for having manners and for allowing alcohol at all - and maybe men.

Fox really says just the opposite - that alcohol is a scapegoat and that instead "bonding, violence, and aggression are part of our heritage and genetic make-up." If it's part of heritage and genetic make-up, how do we explain Denmark? Danes were once Vikings and they still drink like fishes but you don't see them head-butting you and carrying off your treasure very often these days.

Instead, alcohol fuels what she calls 'fundamental human needs' (apparently, that would be violence in men again) so making it more a part of peaceful, communal celebrations is the answer.

Otherwise, watch out for those Danes.

Alcohol And Violence: Exploring Patterns And Responses, Commissioned by the International Center for Alcohol Policies 2008, Anne Fox, Director, Galahad SMS Ltd.