“Eat That Question” — primary source portrait of Frank Zappa

“The thing that sets the Americans apart from the rest of the cultures in the world is we’re so fucking stupid,” Frank Zappa declares during the documentary, “Eat That Question.” He adds, “This country has been around for a couple of hundred years, and we think we are hot shit. And they don’t even realize that other countries have thousands of years of history and culture, and they are proud of it.”

Zappa continues, “When we deal on an international level, with foreign policy, and we try going in as this big American strong country, they must laugh up their sleeves at us because we are nothing. We are culturally nothing. We mean nothing. We are only interested in the bottom line. We have Levi’s, designer jeans, hamburgers, and Coca-Cola. We have REO Speedwagon. We have Journey.” He sardonically concludes, “(But) we also have the neutron bomb and poison gas so maybe that makes up for it.”

His words are a sharp critique of American culture, but they also point to the militarism of society. The United States would much rather develop and export deadly weapons to the world. It would much rather globalize capitalism and make money than invest in art and culture. And although his words were uttered more than two decades ago, the essence of his remark still carries great resonance today.

RTFA. Please. Watch the trailer up top. Find the movie and watch it. Learn to sing “Who could imagine…?”

The truest roots of our civilization – in beer

Human beings are social animals. But just as important, we are socially constrained as well.

We can probably thank the latter trait for keeping our fledgling species alive at the dawn of man. Five core social instincts, I have argued, gave structure and strength to our primeval herds. They kept us safely codependent with our fellow clan members, assigned us a rank in the pecking order, made sure we all did our chores, discouraged us from offending others, and removed us from this social coil when we became a drag on shared resources.

Thus could our ancient forebears cooperate, prosper, multiply — and pass along their DNA to later generations.

But then, these same lifesaving social instincts didn’t readily lend themselves to exploration, artistic expression, romance, inventiveness and experimentation — the other human drives that make for a vibrant civilization.

To free up those, we needed something that would suppress the rigid social codes that kept our clans safe and alive. We needed something that, on occasion, would let us break free from our biological herd imperative — or at least let us suppress our angst when we did.

We needed beer.

Luckily, from time to time, our ancestors, like other animals, would run across fermented fruit or grain and sample it. How this accidental discovery evolved into the first keg party, of course, is still unknown. But evolve it did, perhaps as early as 10,000 years ago.

Current theory has it that grain was first domesticated for food. But since the 1950s, many scholars have found circumstantial evidence that supports the idea that some early humans grew and stored grain for beer, even before they cultivated it for bread.

Brian Hayden and colleagues at Simon Fraser University in Canada provide new support for this theory in an article published this month…in the Journal of Archeological Method and Theory. Examining potential beer-brewing tools in archaeological remains from the Natufian culture in the Eastern Mediterranean, the team concludes that “brewing of beer was an important aspect of feasting and society in the Late Epipaleolithic” era…

Once the effects of these early brews were discovered, the value of beer (as well as wine and other fermented potions) must have become immediately apparent. With the help of the new psychopharmacological brew, humans could quell the angst of defying those herd instincts. Conversations around the campfire, no doubt, took on a new dimension: the painfully shy, their angst suddenly quelled, could now speak their minds…

Some evidence suggests that these early brews (or wines) were also considered aids in deliberation. In long ago Germany and Persia, collective decisions of state were made after a few warm ones, then double-checked when sober. Elsewhere, they did it the other way around…

Beer’s place in the development of civilization deserves at least a raising of the glass. As the ever rational Ben Franklin supposedly said, “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

Several thousand years before Franklin, I’m guessing, some Neolithic fellow probably made the same toast.

I agree. Even though I stopped drinking beer a decade or so, ago. Perhaps, I should start again.