Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Drinking Age

According to AP, presidents from about 100 universities have signed a petition to lower the drinking age in their states from 21 to 18. The thinking is that the higher drinking age "actually encourages dangerous drinking binges on campus," as well as being discriminatory. Groups like MADD are opposing the move.

The reason this news item caught my eye is that it so completely reverses the arguments of my own college days. Then the drinking age was 18 but the voting age was 21. The argument then was that if the young men fighting in Vietnam were old enough to die for their country, they were old enough to vote in it. Subsequently, the voting age dropped and the drinking age rose. Now the soldiers fighting in Iraq are old enough to die for their country and to vote in it, but (mostly) not to drink in it.

Somewhere in all these conflicting claims there is surely sense, but I can't find it. Traffic fatalities have fallen since the drinking age was raised to 21; that's well documented. But if a young man or woman is old enough to carry an M-16 on a life-threatening mission...surely he or she is old enough to have a beer?


Steven Francis Murphy said...

If you'd been in my barracks before we deployed to the Persian Gulf around December 27th, 1990, you might just revise your assessment about how dying for your country should give you the right to get hammered in it.

Besides that, soldiers never let the age limit get in the way of a beer. The law is openly flouted in most barracks, least it was in my day (1989 to 1993 plus two more in the Kansas Guard).

In any case, I often wonder if we shouldn't adopt the European cultural tradition concerning alcohol and age. They seem to be more sensible about the issue over there. Here, when a kid finally does get their hands on alcohol, drinking past their capacity seems to be a rite of passage. Not a particularly healthy one either.

Further, I wonder if these colleges are hoping to benefit by selling alcohol on campus to more customers?

S. F. Murphy

Orion said...

The legal drinking age is not the real issue- responsible behavior is, and that's where we Americans have a big problem. It's not such a big issue in most places in Europe, where kids are introduced to alcohol early as part of family life, and therefore they don't treat it as a rite of passage or find anything particularly rebellious or thrilling about drinking. Numerous studies in the U.S. also show that kids who learn to drink with their parents at home drink less as adults and have fewer problems with alcohol in general.

So, the real problem appears to be how we as a society approach alcohol. In general, American 18-year-olds are irresponsible drinkers because they've never been taught how to be anything else, and our national mythology has made things worse by telling them that it's normal for teenagers to drink illegally and get really trashed.

No, the issue is not the drinking age at all. The issue is our national drinking culture, which fails to prepare kids for alcohol, romanticizes its abuse by them, and then raises the drinking age in an attempt at damage control.

John Nicholas said...

"Traffic fatalities have fallen since the drinking age was raised to 21; that's well documented."

Documented in a way that is linked to underage drinking? Or is just that coincides with greater safety equipment in cars or better DWI enforcement in general or some other reason?

Mark said...

I must agree that it's not the letter of the law, rather the sense of responsibility. This concept also pervades other parts of life: road behavior, movie theater behavior, restaurant behavior, etc.

Here's an observational thought: In Europe and Asia people seem to be more...cooth, civilized. They also see quite a bit more of each other. The population density's higher and more people use mass transpo. There may have been a time/circumstance where America's personal distance and isolation contributed to a positive strength, but is that isolation now causing society to be uncivilized, stressful?

mas in Mesa.

TheOFloinn said...

American 18-year-olds are irresponsible drinkers because they've never been taught how to be anything else

Have they been taught responsibility in any other matter?

Julie Woodman wrote:
"As far as I can tell, the concept of the hormone-crazed teenager is coeval with suburbia. I don't think this is a coincidence. I think teenagers are driven crazy by the life they're made to lead. Teenage apprentices in the Renaissance were working dogs. Teenagers now are neurotic lapdogs. Their craziness is the craziness of the idle everywhere."

TheOFloinn said...

And once more Nancy shows herself somehow plugged into the electronic Zeitgeist. Not long after she wondered about the drinking age, there appeared this comment on another blog, the comment originating in Britain:

Mansfield endorses Solzhenitsyn’s claim that "Legalism is [the West's] substitute for virtue: You don’t have to distinguish good from evil and do good while avoiding evil; all you have to do is obey the law."

Indeed, we can take that even further. Since a legalistic society finds it hard to account for any
prima facie moral obligation even to obey the law, the rule of conduct eventually degenerates to "Obey such laws as are effectively enforced."

A good example of this is Britain’s efforts to combat alcohol abuse among the young. So far their strategy has been to pass increasingly strict legislation. The result? Fewer young people think it worth the effort to try to drink, but those who do drink with greater abandon.(*)

Time was that they frequented pubs under the supervision of older drinkers and bartenders, who could establish reasonable communal norms regulating their drinking. Now laws have replaced those norms . . . and the laws are disregarded.

(*) http://tinyurl.com/5ttmkd

Mark said...

Right on Mike Flynn! I have noticed something about many of the people who were in enforced discipline environments (military, prison, parents sometimes) and then got "free". Many of them didn't know how to behave or run their own lives. It makes me glad that there are some organizations that these people are able to join (I'd count some corporate or private employers among these) so as to tell them how to act.

I've also seen people put themselves, or be forced into, such organizations that turned them postal via not allowing them the wiggle room they needed.

"Character is doing the right thing when no one else is looking."-Anyone know the source of this great quote?

mas in Mesa.

TheOFloinn said...

"Character is doing the right thing when no one else is looking."-Anyone know the source of this great quote?

I've seen it attributed to former congressman, J.C. Watts.

g d townshende said...

I have noticed something about many of the people who were in enforced discipline environments (military, prison, parents sometimes) and then got "free". Many of them didn't know how to behave or run their own lives.

Careful! You never know who around you is ex-military. I was a military brat for the first 17 years of my life, and then was in the military myself. Air Force, in both instances (although the latter came damned close to being Navy - I qualified for and was interested in a career in the Navy's nuclear power program, but then changed my mind and went into Air Force telecom).

When you're a military brat, you learn to behave, especially in school, or your father suffers consequences for your actions, and then you suffer for them, because, after all, shit rolls downhill. It's very much a life that's a contradiction in terms: when you're in the military, or a military brat, you're living in a socialistic environment which is meant to defend the democratic ideal. When we lived in England, there were families who got sent State-side because the father couldn't keep his children under control.

Admittedly, it's hardly the ideal environment in which to grow up. An incredible number of families end up like the cliché military family, where the father decides to run his family as if he was the commanding officer. And then, of course, there is the pervasiveness of alcoholism within the military. And yet, despite this, I can tell you that everyone I know who was raised a military brat (and I'm currently in touch with a LOT of people I went to high school with in England) the overwhelming majority of them would tell you that they wouldn't change a thing about the life they were forced to live. It was very much a privileged existence, because of all the travel you got to experience, as well as a hellish one, for obvious reasons.

I was fortunate. My father was not an alcoholic, and neither did he run our family like a military unit. In most of the places where we lived, we did not live in base housing. We lived on the local economy, with the natives as our neighbours, playmates, and friends.

Most of the military brats I know, like myself, have mothers from other cultures, so we grew up knowing first hand what other cultures are like, not only because we lived in other cultures, but because our family lives reflected both cultures of our parents, too. My own mother is Brit, and with the British blood that's on my father's side, that makes me, by blood, more than half Brit, and just as proud of that as I am of being an American.

As for teenage alcohol abuse, it's simple rebellion. It has far less to do with the alcohol than it does with the culture. That much of what has been said here has been correct. I got to try alcohol at a very young age, under my parents' supervision, so neither my brother nor I really abused it much. Rather, we found other ways to rebel.

The one thing I find most interesting about my fellow military brats is how a great many of them reacted to the travel once they got free of that environment. The majority of them have grown roots like nobody's business. Me? I'm still an itinerant soul. The idea of living in one place is so abhorrent to me that the only way I can stomach it is to do a lot of travel: either staying in the same town, but changing my place of residence, or just getting out and seeing different parts of the country, or going abroad to see places I've not yet seen. At last count, I've lived in and/or visited 18 different countries on three different continents, and 39 of the 50 states. Earlier this year, I went to my girlfriend's native Portugal, and while I was in Europe, she and I spent several days in Pisa and Florence, Italy. Come the first part of September, she and I will be going to NYC, because she's never been there. And then, of course, there's the travel my sons and I did when they came to stay with me for the summer.

People ask me all the time how I can afford all this travel. It's simple. I live on less than what I make, and the rest I save up to quench my insatiable wanderlust. It's a matter of priority.

As for the ex-military I run across in my life (I work in telecom, so I run into them all the time), it's a very special thing, as it means an instant connection, even if they were in a different branch of the service. In fact, I recently learned that a co-worker was assigned in England when my family was there, and I was in high school. He may not remember my father's name, but it's very likely he not only knew him, but also worked with him, since they were in the same field of work. The people I connect with are devoted to their jobs, as well as their families, and seem to have no trouble running their lives. They may have a penchant for preferring a more structured lifestyle, but beyond that, I've not seen much that would be indicative of an inability to behave or run their lives.

Mark said...

GD: Strange how we share much background yet some of our perceptions are different. It must be my Cynical and sarcastic side (Insert Evil Satanic Face here).

Among the things that I did like about being in the USAF (Nellis, Nevada) was the "can-do", to use a cliche attitude that many of the people did have. For the last year + of my term I was on Swing Shift, 1600 to Whenever. Since I was assigned to the training wing (57 Fighter Weapons Wing) and most of the training missions were day runs, the planes were down or on the way back and all we needed to do was form teams, divide up assignments, sign out tools, and drive out to the flightline. Because of this we were able to secure the shop by 2300! Of course we all enjoyed the free time that such a concentrated, no-waiting-around schedule allowed us, but for me the prouder moments were when I had to accomplish a hairy rewiring job so a plane would be available the next day. Those were the times when a Day Shift troop would show up around 0500, having been called in early to relieve me and my trainee. Ok, so I missed the free billiards at the GI bar down the road, but I got a kick out of seeing that plane take off before I crashed out.

Re-reading your post I realize how many topics you hit on. As far as the ideal growing up environment, I'm convinced that 99.9%+ of the population "had it rough" growing up. One of my friends sent me an email about how hard it was being a teen in 1980: No cell, no texting, no GPS, NO INTERNET (! Horrors!), etc. etc. I did find it hilarious. I'm no exception to this, but I must say, although not everything was great, there was much that was. Life goes on.

One thing that really hit home in your post was about the parents having legal responsibility for the deeds of the children. Some may see this as too harsh. I wish it were so in the civilian environment today. I live in a large complex where the kids regularly run around unsupervised. And this place isn't the worst I've seen. A couple of friends have the neighors from Hell. The over 18 year olds absolutely refuse to take responsibility for their kids' trespassing, damaging others' property, etc. And when we tried calling the police and Child Protective Services about it, all we were told is that there's very little they could/would do.

Anyway, we're using muchas palabras on Nancy's blog here. You two enjoy NYC. I recommend visiting McSorley's Old Ale House on 7'th St. between @'nd & 3'rd Aves. They were micro-brewing before micro-brewing was kuhl, like about 150 years before.

mas in Mesa, Az

TheOFloinn said...

the kids regularly run around unsupervised.

So did we, back in uh the mid-50s to early 60s. Usually, we went hiking - one time over the top of the hill and down to the Delaware and up the old tow-path. Or we'd just hang out in the woods and cook wieners and beans over an open fire. We'd also bicycle all over South Side. We drew maps, too; and called ourselves the Explorer Club. Sometimes we would play backyard baseball or street football; or just climb trees. Other times we'd build rockets or write SF stories. One time we tried an electrical experiment and blew the fuses in a friend's house. None of this was supervised except altar boys and Little League baseball (which was not then the parental egotrip it is today).

A big chunk of my childhood would be illegal today, or greeted with shrieks of horror, I think. Come sunset, all the mothers on South Side would go out to their back porches and set up The Cry, calling out the wayward child's name and the command to come home. Sorta like the muzzein's call to evening prayer. If the cry included your middle name, you were in deep trouble for something.

Mark said...

One of my high school teachers had a hobby of collecting antique books, including testbooks. One of those that he brought in to show us was a mid to late 19th century etiquette book for kids. Of the activities that the book specifically advised against was putting dynamite on train tracks to be run over. Not firecrackers or M80s, dynamite sticks.

But what I meant about the kids running around unsupervised is stuff like undiapered (naked) 2 year olds running down the middle of the street toward the other end of the block. Maybe if a cop or CPS officer actually, out of coincidence, saw this, some action may have been taken, but "there's never one around when you need one." The other kind of running around is running into our backyard, taking or breaking things, even climbing up onto our roof.

I lived in an apartment once where this wouldn't happen. All the apartments in the building are studios and 1 beds, hence not legal for kids. Also, about two thirds of my neighbors there were gay, bi or swingers. That sure kept the bible-thumpers away:-))

José Iriarte said...

After reading this, I was conversing about it with someone who used to be a college professor, who had an interesting take on it. According to him, colleges favor reducing the drinking age simply because it lessens the legal liability they bear for the actions of inebriated students.