Spending Inauguration Day Sober
An act of resistance in a world yearning for distraction
Tomorrow, the presidency of the United States of America will be turned over to Mr. Donald J. Trump.
We rarely get such warning of a true world-changing event. Natural disasters, for instance, are rarely predicted ahead of time, so we are stuck watching with shock and surprise; rivited by details, stories and near-misses.
We absorb every detail because we are aware, we want to know, and we want to understand what happened and whether or not it could happen to us. But when we know something bad is on the way, we want nothing more than to shut it out of our minds.
Tomorrow will be a fateful and historical and frightening day for many, and the beginning of a new direction. It is tempting to treat this day as one to pre-empt with alcohol, drugs or distractions, but I urge you instead to watch, feel, and experience it all — sober.
In Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World, a society exists in which all the unpleasantries, all the things that go against one’s programmed conditioning, can be gloriously swept away by a drug, soma, bringing people to take “mind vacations” from whatever is bothering them with no hangover. It it tempting to react to something so unpleasant, so jarring as to tip the scales of our cognitive dissonance by drowning it, supressing it, and forgetting it.
“I don’t understand anything,” she said with decision, determined to preserve her incomprehension intact. “Nothing. Least of all,” she continued in another tone “why you don’t take soma when you have these dreadful ideas of yours. You’d forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you’d be jolly. So jolly.”
In Orwell’s Ninteen Eighty-Four citizens are given a ration of “Victory Gin” for the same purpose. Dull your senses a little and you won’t wake up to realize how horrible things have gotten for you.
It was his life, his death, and his resurrection. It was gin that sank him into stupor every night, and gin that revived him every morning. When he woke, seldom before eleven hundred, with gummed-up eyelids and fiery mouth and a back that seemed to be broken, it would have been impossible even to rise from the horizontal if it had not been for the bottle and teacup placed beside the bed overnight. Through the midday hours he sat with glazed face, the bottle handy, listening to the telescreen.
The simple reason for maintining your sobriety tomorrow is this: distraction, diversion and distance are not the mindsets that resistence requires.
In Huxley’s vision, the society exists in a state of total oppression because they aren’t able to discover that they are oppressed, thanks to the constant doses of bliss they are able to give themselves. In Orwell’s, it is doublethink: the access to gin geels like a freedom, but it is the freedom to make it easier for yourself to accept the unacceptable conditions around you.
To resist is to feel it all, to be aware of it: to listen to the speeches; to listen to what’s said; to listen to what isn’t said. The truth needs to be experienced to be maintained, memories need to be crisp and un-tainted.
Due in part to the fact that I write about beer, I spent the earlier part of last week thinking about strong, high-ABV beers to recommend to people wanting to blot out the political events that would be unfolding on Friday. But as I sat down to pen those recommendations, I had a thought. If we’re all drunk, then who will pay attention?
I, for one, am choosing to be present as a witness to history. For better or worse, I want to remember this day in its entirety, so it can be the start of the stories I tell in the future about the day when everything changed. No soma, no Victory Gin and no beer can distract me from the beginning of the new world.
Gather with your friends and family to share in the moment and disperse the pain and the fear with love and support and resilliance.
Tonight, I’ll be drinking. But tomorrow, let’s resist the temptation to distract ourselves, and committ to become witnesses to history.