The Aggregate: Sobering Statistics About Millennial Drinking Habits // A Refreshing Perspective on the Issue of Modern Tribalism
“Aggregate is a unique word. As a noun, it indicates different elements brought together in the same place. As a verb, it seeks to collect and assemble disparate pieces to create a more cohesive whole. This column seeks to do both of those things; breaking down some important stories in print journalism each week and presenting them in more bite-sized pieces.”
All Hail the Mocktail
The Atlantic – Amanda Mull, “Millennials Are Sick of Drinking“
Initially, I was as surprised as anyone to read this headline. However, after reading through the article and spending some time thinking about many of the social settings millennials have become increasingly familiar with, I realized the pervasive reality of exactly what Amanda Mull describes throughout the piece. All sorts of shifting cultural norms contribute to the new lens through which many young people view their social obligations, and to what extent alcohol is involved in their daily lives.
“In the past few weeks, I’ve heard from more than 100 Americans in their 20s and 30s who have begun to make similar changes in their drinking habits or who are contemplating ways to drink less. They have good company: Public-health efforts have helped drive down adolescent drinking rates, and American beverage manufacturers are beginning to hedge their bets on alcohol’s future. Media too have noticed that change is afoot. Recent months have seen a flurry of trend stories about Millennials—currently about 22 to 38 years old—getting sober.”
Mull points out that “sober” in this context takes on a new, generationally-inspired meaning. She writes that while some millennials are interpreting sobriety in the traditional sense – moving away from alcohol altogether – but some people are simply cutting way back on their consumption. There are a number of reasons for this shift, and many of those are factors that are key to the millennial identity.
“A few decades ago, marriage and children might have moved urban, college-educated young adults away from social drinking naturally, but fewer Millennials are taking part in traditional family building, and the ones doing it are waiting longer than their parents did. Now the structure of social life isn’t that different for many people in their mid-30s than it was in their early 20s, which provides plenty of time for drinking on dates and with friends for them to start to get a little tired of it.”
Not only do these new social spaces and timelines allow for changing attitudes toward alcohol, but other forces at work (outside of the bar, if you will) have had a significant influence on young people choosing to opt out of drinking on a regular basis.
“A 2017 study found that in counties with legalized medicinal cannabis, alcohol sales dropped more than 12 percent when compared with similar counties without weed. Recreational legalization has the potential to bolster that effect by making cannabis products even more broadly accessible.”
The legalization of recreational cannabis (and the absence of a hangover that comes with it) have made it an increasingly appealing alternative. Mull also points out that young people are more likely to maintain an active, healthy lifestyle – something into which marijuana fits much better than alcohol. Even with the current data cited in this article, Mull concedes that some of the most dramatic change is probably yet to come.
“Statistically, it’s Generation Z, the age group currently in high school and college, that might force a sea change in America’s relationship with alcohol. Gen Z is drinking at lower rates than adolescents have in generations, and so much about a person’s lifetime relationship with substance abuse and consumption is set by use in early life.”
While this doesn’t negate the fact that Gen Z has its own set of troublesome habits (nicotine use to name one) this is a fascinating statistic with the potential to shift social settings as we know them in interesting, unforeseen ways. As a best case scenario, this could come to mean a healthier generation of young people overall who are ready to take on (and less likely to drink about) the responsibility they are being increasingly saddled with.
We vs. Me: Reimagining Individuality and its Place in Society
TIME Magazine – Nicholas A. Christakis, “The Surprising Link Between Cooperation and Individuality“
Tribalism is a word we have seen appear with increasing frequency in recent years. Whether or not we understand what it means in each subsequent social scenario is an entirely different issue, and one that Nicholas Christakis unpacks with an interesting new perspective in this article for TIME Magazine. The human tendency to form groups based on similar needs, beliefs, etc. is almost as old as humanity itself, but has taken on new meaning in our modern social and political climates. There are two sides to every coin, however, and the metaphorical “tails” to tribalism is human cooperation, which we come to find out in Christaki’s article, may be strangely tied to the human concept of individuality.
“[T]ribalism and cooperation have arisen from the same evolutionary wellspring. And how exactly we go about enacting our natural cooperative instincts can make the difference between a harmonious society and a disordered one. […] Tribalism starts early in life and does not vary much with age, suggesting that the capacity for recognizing group membership is innate. Brain scan studies pinpoint particular regions of the brain devoted to social categorization.”
While “social categorization” may be inevitable to a certain extent, it does not necessarily mean that tribalism is the only method by which humans can sort themselves or come to identify with others. The tendency to form groups or ideological tribes, interestingly enough, has often been the catalyst for human cooperation, yielding positive results for one group at the extent of “others.” Christakis explores that idea further as he states:
“Evolution forged this capacity for tribalism in parallel with cooperation, blending them like an alloy within us. As early as 1906, sociologist William Graham Sumner argued that the propensity for warfare with outsiders actually made it possible to maintain peace within a group, and vice-versa […] Detailed mathematical analyses of human evolution that that model inter-group interactions show that, because of the foregoing costs, neither tribalism nor cooperation can easily arise on their own. But tribalism and cooperation can indeed emerge from the evolutionary welter if they appear together. In fact, in order to be cooperative, humans had to be able to make distinctions between us and them.”
The classic “us vs. them” dichotomy has lent strength to many of today’s most polarizing debates (think border security, media disputes, etc.), but there may be hope for a way to circumnavigate this divisiveness altogether. Christakis looks to psychological research to supplement this refreshing new perspective.
“Can we ditch tribalism and still stay cooperative? Fortunately, our evolved psychology has given us another tool to support cooperation that is much less destructive. We have also evolved the capacity to see each other as individuals and to choose our cooperation partners based on who they are and how they have acted rather than which groups they belong to.”
This very well may be the silver lining to – and possible avenue in which we can move away form – the issue of modern tribalism. Christakis pays special attention to the human capacity for recognizing and emphasizing individuality, offering it as an alternative means of fostering cooperation that does not involve the creation of a stigmatized “other.”
“Attending to our uniqueness is not only a part of our evolutionary past, but also a prominent part of American history, where the value placed on individuality has always run parallel to the value placed on group solidarity. From our founding principle of “one person, one vote” (grievously misapplied at times, to be sure) to Martin Luther King’s invocation that people be judged as individuals based on the “content of their character,” we have long recognized that people cannot be reduced to their group memberships.”
Coming back to the idea of people as valuable, unique individuals in the context of a larger social context serves to extinguish the concept of “outsiders” and “others,” while simultaneously fostering the possibility of cooperation between peoples and groups of different ideologies.
Thanks so much for reading, and we’ll see you again next week.