When people live in nature their whole lives, they develop an immune system to reflect that environment. Most tribal folks drink from streams or rivers, when they get thirsty; and many of the tiny organisms living in that water are completely familiar to their gut biome. Give the same drink of water to a city dweller, and they will probably not handle it as well. They may get a little queasy, or be sick for days; but you can’t really blame the water itself when a native can handle it just fine.
Granted, some of those people are in tribes where every member has some kind of condition related to drinking living water all the time. The group survives as a whole nonetheless, and generations keep coming even if they are all living with parasites or the occasional death by water. It’s not until people remove themselves from nature that finding fresh water gets hard.
Cities come with a ton of benefits, but cramming a whole bunch of people into a relatively small space requires some serious lifestyle changes. For one thing, you have to find a place to put all that waste; and for another, you need to make sure everyone has plenty to drink. These might not sound like monumental problems, or related issues; but bad plumbing can ruin a place pretty quickly, and tainted water can turn a situation like bad plumbing into a disgusting disaster even faster.
Water is an important part of life for all of us, and we can judge the quality of a person’s life by how hydrated they are. As simple as it seems to turn on the faucet and pour a glass of liquid life, there’s really nothing simple about it. That water has been treated so it doesn’t have many of the basic elements of what runs through our rivers and streams. We can be glad for that, since people have been dumping all kinds of nasty things into our planet’s water sources for some time now; but we also don’t have the ability to live naturally in the world once we’ve been conditioned by drinking it. The immunities we develop are triggered by regularly consuming chemically treated water, which actually inhibits our ability to adapt even more.
Not every city treats their water the same way, after all; and when you go from one country to another, the difference can be even more dramatic. For a long time I knew I shouldn’t drink the water if I went to Mexico; but I didn’t realize they tell people coming to America the same thing. Everybody lives with a different cocktail of impurities in their daily drink, whether it’s the castoffs of chemical processing or the reality of what living water really means; but we’re also used to the water in the place we come from, and our bodies are prepared to deal with that unique mixture of whatever we swallow along with our water.
This all sounds kind of horrible, especially if you’re one of the people trying to figure out how to get potable water to every section of a city. You have to store it, at some point; which means you have to treat it with something. Water starts to get super nasty almost right away when it sits still, and good luck making it available on demand if you can’t keep it somewhere. Of course, whatever you’re storing it in will have some effect on it; so you’ll have to add other treatments to counteract that reaction. Water is very hard to keep clean, no matter where you store it; and if you keep it too close to any kind of sewage, you can ruin a perfectly treated batch of water pretty fast with a little leakage.
It’s enough to drive a city planner to drink.
Which leads us to the not so distant past.
Quite simply put, it’s a hell of a lot easier to store alcoholic beverages than water. Beer and wine will keep at room temperature for some time, when properly stored; and spirits stay drinkable almost indefinitely. When you compare the volatile state of water to the much more forgiving makeup of liquids that come with a nice buzz when you drink them, it’s no wonder plain old water is something reserved for the furthest ends of the civilization spectrum.
You can fill a barrel with water and head out on a journey with it on your back, but it better be a pretty short trip if you don’t have some sort of treatment mixed in with your water. Fill that barrel with beer or wine, though…and you can get pretty far before getting concerned about hydration. The people and scenery may be considerably more interesting when you’re tipsy all day, as well; and hardships might just seem a little less hard. You can put booze in your barrel, if you’re not a fan of beer or wine; but you should probably do what the pirates did with their rum and what some dive bars do with all their hard stuff, and water it down. You don’t want to be trashed before you get hydrated, after all.
Also, you’ve got all day to catch a decent buzz.
Take it easy.
Much of western civilization is built on the desire and ability to explore, and it should be noted that most of that exploration was done by people in various stages of drunkenness. Pioneers were courageous, to be sure; but they were also a bunch of lifelong alcoholics. They don’t call booze liquid courage for nothing, and we would be remiss not to wonder if all those risky ventures and violent takeovers might have gone differently if potable water was more portable back then.
The most interesting part of all this, at least to me, is that a lot of what we hold sacred today was built by a bunch of drunks. Many of the laws that still govern our population were written with blurry vision, and even the documents that define us as a country were composed in a time where pretty much everybody drank all day long. Maybe it’s amazing that things aren’t more screwed up than they are…after all, we’re following a map drawn by drunks down a road built by them.
Or perhaps that’s what we’re missing.
Maybe we all just need to start drinking all day, like they did.
It might not make things better…
But it would make them seem better.
Thanks for reading!
All the best,