"THEY call it ‘wreck-the-hoose-juice’.” My brother Greg is the best repository of modern Scots I know, and I hadn’t heard this one before. I’d been rhapsodising about my recent embrace of lager, and pint drinking in wee old men’s pubs. I’m finding it a longer experience, and — compared to wine and spirits — a more diffuse hit: its explosives are weaker, as it were.

And pubs are an environment I newly appreciate. Men of all ages and stages, sitting and sipping in the gloom: not being judged for their performance, facial hair, clothes or conversation. A refuge from the endless performativity of life in 2017 (except, of course, for the harmless pirouetting of men in shorts on the monitor).

Well, anyway, that was my booze story for that day. In the light of the UK Supreme Court’s ruling in favour of the Scottish government’s Minimum Pricing Policy on alcohol, I recall it with a certain ruefulness. Aren’t those long journeys to Euston, stuck on a crowded train behind a Scottish family loudly detailing their drinking practices, some of my worst ever? What the hell am I doing?

What I’m doing is speaking from the culture of alcohol drinking in Scotland — the way our way of life has drink as a near constant background reference, or as an interwoven behaviour, across many class and social divides. “Freedom and whisky aye gang thegither”, “A drunk man looks at the thistle”, and ‘a that.

We can beat ourselves up for a national pathology — or congratulate ourselves for leading the world in self-chastisement (or do both). But it might be more interesting to outline the underlying history, and biology, of what has provoked these world-first regulations in the first place.

The initial point to make might be that regulating alcohol consumption is a practice almost as old as distillation and brewing itself. In 2014’s Alcohol: A History, Rob Phillips notes that most civilisations have had to manage the impact of their intoxicants: “Allow people to drink because it makes them happy and is a gift from the gods, but prevent them from drinking too much”, says Phillips. He cites the ancient Greek example of the “symposium”.

An occasion for considered intellectual work, you might think. Well, yes — but in the context of a very long, though very well regulated, drinking session. The wine was mixed with water in a “krater”, an inscribed vessel: the rules were that participants were given a first bowl for health, another for pleasure, and a third for sleep.

The fourth century BC comic poet Eubulus elaborated: “When this bowl is drunk up, wise guests go home...The fourth bowl is ours no longer, but belongs to violence; the fifth to uproar; the sixth to drunken revel; the seventh to black eyes. The eighth is the policeman’s; the ninth belongs to biliousness; and the 10th to madness and the hurling of furniture.”

It seems the founders of Western philosophy knew all too well about the potentialities of “wreck-the-hoose-juice”.

But ever since we have known how to efficiently separate potable ethanol from fruits and grains, there have been anxieties about binge drinking. The Chinese are generally agreed to have been the first organised brewers (7000 years BC). But their Shang dynasty (1750–1100 BC) is recorded to have collapsed due to an excessive culture of rice-wine drinking among the political elites.

Afterwards, notes Phillips, “rulers not only warned against excessive drinking but made it punishable by death.”

Prehistory shows traces of alcohol being involved in ceremonial or religious events — Egyptian pharaohs taking mini-distilleries with them into their crypts, shamen using it to enhance their trance states and powers of divination.

But the further back you go into the human record, the more urgent that contemporary questions about our appetites for alcohol become. What explains our basic human susceptibility to alcohol? Suspend for a moment the historic attempts of regimes and states to manage the supply of, or access to, booze. How deeply rooted is the demand?

Extremely deeply, says evolutionary psychology. The “drunken monkey” theory – as outlined by Robert Dudley of the University of California – suggests that early humans, like their simian forebears, found an advantage in being able to sniff out ethanol on the air.

This would lead them to very edible, overripe fruit — not just packed with calories, but also actually protected from infection by the ethanol in its fermentation. The warm brain-glow induced by the ethanol was an extra reward for seeking out such excellent, species-enhancing nutrition.

This is in the same evolutionary zone as accounts of our modern weakness for sugar. For the majority of our evolution, sweetness brought us a neurochemical pleasure-payoff — when it led us to rare calorie-rich fruit, or kept us sucking at the sucrose-rich flow of breast milk. But now, when snacks appear in every flicker of our eyeline... our sugar button, once rarely pressed, is now jammed down.

If alcohol/ethanol journeys down the same brain pathways as sugar, then the argument that minimum pricing reduces the accessibility of alcohol seems very strong, on a basic biological level. On a number of fronts, we are wising up to the many ways that corporate capitalism triggers and tweaks our evolved natures.

But the ancient human record also points to the other side of the balance — that alcohol is deeply tied to human sociability. Alcohol’s centrality to celebration and ritual might even have been a factor in hunter-gatherers settling down in the first place — building their agricultural settlements around these holy, ecstatic places. And, of course, cultivating grains that would make beer and wine easier. (The ethanol is also a way of ensuing safe and drinkable fluids for town and city dwellers).

Believe it or not, this brings us all the way back to my rhapsody about the pub, and to some of the class objections to minimum pricing. Namely, that it deprives the working poor of the little relief and escapism they can have, in lives of alienating and frustrating grind.

I am very sympathetic to the warning that Holyrood’s regulatory zeal, especially over matters of character and healthy, is a poor replacement for real powers over economy and resources.

If the impact of alcohol is to flood the brain with chemicals that loosen our grip on reality and its pressures — that’s what it does for me, anyway — then that can go both ways. If there was more economic and civic empowerment, where reality felt much more in the hands of the mass of our populations, the escape to oblivion wouldn’t be so avidly sight. The left-wing case for independence was never so acutely made, from the perspective of alcohol abuse.

But that same alcoholic bliss is also a deep and ancient practice of bonding and joy — a way for communities to confirm their identity, but in a joyful, boundary-meeting way.

We need a policy that also supports good ways for people to come together pleasantly through alcohol. Minimum pricing achieves this negatively — it may curb private domestic drinking, and steer people out to their local pubs and clubs, where at least some may know your name. What are the positive drinking cultures and places that we could collectively encourage? Again, laugh at the hipsters and their “craftivism”. But in their micro-breweries there is at least a vision of alcohol as an expression of local creativity and ingenuity — rather than a speedy means to numb your alienation.

If we had a decent 21st political economy in Scotland, with citizen’s income and shorter working week, it could give us some distance from the relentless demands of the marketplace. And maybe we could explore new ways to reconnect drinking to community-making, rather than community-wrecking.

But I don’t think temperance should be the implication of Scotland’s bold step towards minimum pricing. Human nature, and human history, has been too entwined with alcohol for that position to be credible or effective.