MIXED BLESSINGS: In our house, when an elbow is bent heavenward and spirits get hoist, our dance of lips and limbs is typically accompanied by a blessing that sounds very much like, “Slahnj-eh-vah.”
It’s a Gaelic thing; you wouldn’t understand. I’m betting not even the Gaels do either.
Naturally, the Gaels choose to spell this phrase different ways depending whether they originated in Ireland or in Scotland. Neither spelling makes a lick of sense even to those trained in the convoluted judo of phonics. Neither bears any remote resemblance to the sound of the word itself. This was no doubt a clever ruse devised to keep the British, their colonial subjugators, in the dark.
The Irish, it turns out, spell the salutation, “Shlainte Mhòr.” Those who kiss the tartan, however, insist on the alternate spelling of “Slàinte Mhath.”
Either way you do the math, the meaning is the same: “To your health.” Which is kind of hilarious — though only in a bitterly ironic way — when you think about the devastation alcohol is wreaking upon the species with increasing ferocity. Even before the onslaught of COVID, the CDC just reported that booze was wiping out 140,000 of us annually between 2015 and 2019. To put that in its proper Prohibitionist perspective, that’s even more than the 100,000 souls lost to opioids. Worse yet, two-thirds of these casualties were in the alleged primes of their lives, people ages 20-49.
Not a good omen.
But with the world population poised to hit the eight billion mark next Wednesday, maybe it makes sense in a dark, Malthusian way. When I was born, that number was three billion.
Worse yet, we have subsequently learned that the speed with which liquor is killing off our best and brightest has markedly accelerated under COVID. Deaths by self-inebriation jumped by 26 percent in the first year of COVID. Before that, we’d been posting steady increases of 7 percent.
Of course, all this is part of a broader death spiral in which the average American life expectancy just dropped by three years since 2019. We used to live to be 79 years old; now it’s just 76. No other so-called civilized-industrialized-pseudo democratic nation has experienced anything like it.
Leading the charge of the lemmings in our race to the bottom are our White males. Political scientists like Howard Rosenthal have made a lot of noise over the fact that the median income for White males — the voters most inclined to vote for the likes of Donald Trump — has not experienced any appreciable gain since the 1960s. On the flip side, the top one percent has experienced an increase of $50 billion in their collective assets. Rosenthal made a career tracking the increased polarization of our political process; in fact, he reduced it to a mathematical formula that allowed him to predict with uncanny precision the results of national elections.
Yes, it’s definitely about racism. But it’s not all about racism. It’s also about the money.
Sign Up to get Nick Welsh’s award-winning column, The Angry Poodle delivered straight to your inbox on Saturday mornings.
I’d like to tell you that Howard Rosenthal predicted the results of this year’s election. But Rosenthal died this July at age 83 of a broken heart. His algorithm was too right.
Despite the enormity of the collateral damage inflicted by liquor, peoples the world over drink for good reason. Several, in fact. Mostly it helps us get along in a sociable way without wanting to kill each other. But after one “Shlainte Mhòr” too many, we hit that tipping point. That’s when we feel the impulse to kill each other again.
The trick has always been finding that sweet spot.
I bring this up in this historical moment — some might call it an inflection point, though I prefer the term genuflection — because the recent election results indicate that our party of yin and their party of yang remain very much stuck with each another. Joined at the hip, moving in opposite directions, and armed to the teeth. Yes, we dodged the Big Red Tide — much predicted by those who think God is an algorithm with a mean streak — but still not a pretty picture.
I don’t pretend to have a plan going forward. But look at the good news: Things could, in fact, be worse. How many millions of people — and I do mean millions — perished during religious conflicts between Shia and Sunni Muslims throughout much of the Middle East? These are people who fundamentally agreed on all the Fundamentals, yet spilled each other’s blood by the barrelful over such burning issues as whether angels have been endowed by their Creator with a capacity for disobedience. Or whether their religious leaders should be divinely appointed. Or on the proper role of self-flagellation as an expression of religious faith. Hey, we’ve all been there. And of course, it’s more complicated. Whenever we talk about religion or God, we’re talking about something else. Like control over water, oil, or land. Or in this country, women’s bodies and the bodies of those who insist on the right to choose their genders.
There is cause for some hope.
Just look at the Irish and Scots. At another time in history, they would have waged bloody war over the proper spelling of the phrase starting with “Shlainte.” Worse yet, they would have written great songs and powerful poems that would make us all weep and want to kill even more over the heroic tragedy of it all. There’s a reason when you go to Ireland that the bars have signs proclaiming, “No singing.” They learned the hard way that singing leads to fighting. But then, what doesn’t?
The point is this: If the children of the barley can differ on the proper Gaelic spelling of “To your health,” without killing one another, then maybe we can get out of this alive.
If not, you can always drink. Either way, Shlainte Mhòr to you. And Slàinte Mhath, too.