First published on Wait A Minute Now! as part of a monthly column
Anarchy and Alcohol is the kind of zine where you immediately think of friends who need to read it, but you probably need to read it too.
The zine begins with a reminder: dependency on alcohol can make many lives miserable, repetitive, and broke!!!! This is not brand new information. Even when we been knew, many of us got curious anyway. Then another reminder follows: inducing that dependency is so profitable. Intoxicating as many of us as possible makes a handful of people set for life.
It’s this insistence on relating habit to profit that makes Anarchy and Alcohol a punchy read throughout. When someone picks up this zine at our stall, I usually say that it’s about unpacking your relationship to alcohol, or the role alcohol plays in your life.
Released by decentralised anarchist collective Crimethinc, Anarchy and Alcohol set out to get a lot done with its two essays. It covers intoxication culture, offers strategies for sobriety, and overlaps the history of beer with the history of civilisation.
The first essay of the zine very dramatically frames us as sedated complacent actors at war with corporations. When we get wasted, we lose. Drinking only funds “their war against all of us” and therefore domesticates us as “we perpetuate our own culture of defeat.”
(In a note after the first essay, the writer/s own up to this take being a little extra, and requests readers not to take this zine “as gospel or anathema”, but as an invitation to balance your perspective by considering that “another world is possible.”)
Part one of the zine calls out addiction culture as a whole, then segues specifically from substances to alcohol, and the pattern of communication issues that emerges: from rebellion as an entry point into the habit, to the emotional and physical labour of dealing with drunken family / friends / collaborators, and of course, the role of alcohol in sex and power dynamics (“Few forces interfere with this communication like alcohol does.”)
We associate a proximity to booze as proximity to being a grownass adult. For many of us, what was once mysterious and forbidden fruit is now finally accessible with some time, privacy, and money that is entirely ours to spend however we damn please.
But drinking also keeps you in the same place (sometimes literally), and more and more of us are getting stuck there together. Malaysians spend over RM2 billion on alcohol every year. Many of us start drinking as early as 15 years old. Seven years ago the World Health Organisation (WHO) ranked our small nation the world’s tenth largest consumer of alcohol in the world. It doesn’t take much to connect this national habit to our mental health issues, dangerous driving, and violence in and out of the home.
We may not have recent numbers of our rankings since then, but it’s clear that Malaysians are drinking more and more every year. And most of what we down is beer.
Beer has always been there. The second part of the zine proposes that “the history of civilisation is the history of beer.” It talks about how phasing out hunter-gatherers in favour of sedentary farming communities had a lot to do with us learning to convert wheat and barley into booze.
Introducing beer as a key element of world history was a fascinating way of making me see both beer and world history in a different light. Did you know that before the invention of money, beer was used as currency for trade? Or that the association of witches to cauldrons had much to do with how women were respected brewers of peasant villages? Even if you aren’t open to rethinking the drink at the moment, you’ll still enjoy the beer history in Anarchy and Alcohol.
I appreciate how this zine brings alcohol from the background to center stage, and along with it the connection between booze and apathy, the patriarchy, capitalism, history, and being revolutionary.
According to the anthology Sober Living For The Revolution, Anarchy and Alcohol is “the most widely read critique of intoxication culture articulated within the contemporary anarchist movement,” and it’s not hard to see why. But you don’t need to be an anarchist to find this zine helpful for reflecting on life in a culture of intoxication. You just have to be someone who knows that part of adulting is unlearning, claiming control over your decisions— whether it be about your identity, your choices, or simply where your money goes.
So maybe you wonder how well being woke goes with being drunk. Maybe you wonder if being woke and being drunk go together at all.
Cheers to that,