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Not that long ago I heard a famous man say something like this on TV: “The alcoholic is a child, someone who can never grow up until he gives up drinking.”

To be fair to him, he’d been through hell himself with booze and it nearly killed him before he packed it in — but that’s as fair as I was prepared to be. My first thought was that he probably had his own reasons for saying something like that, so I could forget it. He had some infantile weakness in his own personality that meant he couldn’t drink like an adult and couldn’t bear to think that the rest of us are any better. I decided that we are better, all of us who are not like him.

But then, cracking open a Belgian beer, I remembered the logical fallacy in the ad hominem argument. That’s the kind of thing that cracking open a Belgian beer can do to you. It puts strange words into your mind. I couldn’t prove him wrong by trashing him. I’d have to trash what he said and leave him out of it.

I began with a question. What is distinctive adult behaviour? One answer is that adults have to rely on themselves. They face up to things and don’t hide from troubles, however serious or upsetting they might be. They accept who they are and where they are and don’t pretend that things are different.

The trashing process wasn’t going too well so far. I seemed to be proving the bastard’s point for him. Doesn’t everybody know that drunkards use booze to escape from reality? Even allowing that as long as drunkards don’t get mean or take other people down with them, isn’t it still pathetic? Aren’t they like little kids, just as the man said, hiding from what they fear? Or dressing up — dressing up their personalities in booze and pretending to be what they’re not?

When it looks like you’ve lost an argument, cracking open another beer and thinking about something else can be a good idea. The drinking game that invites you to name a famous Belgian is supposed to be funny for about thirty seconds, especially if you’re French. I didn’t like the idea of picking on the Belgians, so I tried to prove to myself that the game wasn’t funny, even for thirty seconds, because there are plenty of famous Belgians. Five minutes later, after much concentration, I’d come up with one name. Initials: S.A.

But while I was letting them down, the Belgians were helping me. This idea that drunkards are children looked different when I examined it again. I recalled existential phenomenology (I’m sorry about this — it’s the Belgian beer I tell you. At least I didn’t try saying it). This is where an eclectic approach to ideas comes in   handy; you pick and choose whatever theories, aphorisms and quotations suit you best right now. You can do this even if they contradict each other and you contradict yourself. After all, Whitman and Emerson -(“consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”) never worried about contradicting themselves.

Yes, this existential stuff was going to help. The basic point of the theory is that you never escape from reality, even if you go completely whacko. Reality is whatever you think it is—it follows you around wherever you go in your head. If you truly believe that you can walk through walls then you can. That you haven’t convinced other people yet, or any of the walls you know, it doesn’t matter. Not while your reality is set the way it is. So, you can change your reality, but you never get away from it. And that’s what drunkards do; they change their reality for a while. They don’t pretend it’s different. They actually make it different. Changing reality sounds much better than hiding from it; much more creative, no?

What’s a sensitive adult to do, confronted with a dangerous world in which appalling things are happening to people all the time. Despair? Departure? No, you can’t let it get to you like that. Far better to change it for a while so that you don’t mind it so much when you change it back again. More people go crazy by denying that they have stress than by accepting the fact. They’re the ones who don’t face up to their troubles, not drunkards. Drunkards see the world all too clearly, they take some medicine for their stress. Yes, all right, don’t let it rule you, don’t go on a bender for a year, don’t let it make life even worse — we know, we know, we’re not children. That aside, as long as a booze binge makes the world look better for a time, then going on one is the responsible thing to do. It’s the adultthing to do.

I haven’t mentioned that the famous man I quoted, once he got sober, built most of his fame and fortune as a comedian who dressed as woman. Fair enough. He can cross-dress all the way to the bank. But it’s not a way I’d ever want to make money. I don’t care how much I could earn or how pretty I’d look. So, cracking another beer, I decided that the average drunkard is indeed better than that man. I’d been right all along. But the evening hadn’t been wasted. I’d remember these arguments the next time some condescending creep tried to degrade drunkards indiscriminately.

Ad hominem arguments aren’t always bad, whatever the philosophers say. They can save you the trouble of taking seriously the opinions of an obvious weirdo. Childish of me to think so, no doubt, but having thought so, I used the rest of the Belgian beer as it should be used, to dress my own reality in a good man’s suit. Then I tried to think of another famous Belgian.

—Jim Baxter

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