Thursday, August 21, 2008

Drinking Age Debate

Some college officials want to reopen this particular topic. Every year, colleges and college towns face ever increasing pressure to crack down on underage drinking, binge drinking, party atmosphere and the culture that comes from young people being away from mommy and daddy for the first time. Athens, Georgia goes through this almost yearly and though it inspires plenty of debate and name-calling, the problem never seems to go away.

For one example of how this is done, please see the 5th paragraph of the Wikipedia entry for "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party". Even though no behavior was changed, and the game is still played, and most fans still call it by the old moniker, the colleges, the SEC and the sports networks have made a cosmetic change purely as a response to interest groups.

Some of this can be traced to the overall philosophy of what college is really for, and of course, the wisdom of having a vibrant population of 18 - 22 year olds hanging around each other (half can buy alcohol, the other half cannot do so legally) in what amounts to a consequence-free zone.

It also comes down to issues involving the military, voting rights, marriage and the age at which someone can drive a car. To put a finer point on it, it is acceptable for us to send our 18 year old citizens off to experience the horror of war. It is acceptable for us to allow our 18 year old citizens the right to vote (since not many of them do it). It is legal in places for citizens younger than 18 to get married, however unacceptable it is to do so socially. The driving age keeps getting pushed higher and higher, but is still at 16 when this coming of age traditionally happens.

But the traditional drinking age is 21. Is it any wonder why folks between 18 and 21 flagrantly disregard such a law?

You also have to look at social ramifications of all of the above, and the factor colleges typically play in this debate. Citizens who join the military at 18 are, more often than not, going to bravely serve the US and make the choice to go to college later. These are the folks usually from lower economic backgrounds (that many leftist pundits point out for poltical purposes). Many of the middle to upper middle class citizens who go on to join the military do so by either going to college first or attending the ROTC program while in college.

Citizens who get married at earlier ages also tend to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. This also holds true for those who need the right to drive a vehicle to work at 16. If you are in a lower socioeconomic class, your need for transportation in order to work is higher.

But these are all reasons, as I see it, that the adamant resistance to lowering the drinking age and the persuit of draconian penalties for 18 - 20 year olds drinking comes from members of and interest groups centered in the middle and upper middle class. This is the category most likely to be the "helicopter parents" who are the most uncomfortable and fearful about their children growing up, becoming responsible for themselves and facing the real world outside the home the parents have provided and worked so hard for.

But this comes mainly from fear, and it is the insidious fear that the parent feels when trying to talk to their sons and daughters about topics like drinking and sex. Why take responsibility for your own kids, and - Lord knows - your own personal history - when you can advocate that college administrations take this burden instead?

This is a good debate to have, though I expect a very shrill opposition to even speaking about this from the nanny-state brigades.

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5 comments:

Dante said...

As you've already mentioned, 18-20 year olds have the right to vote and there are a lot of them. That they can't illegally drink alcohol is their own fault. In fact, last time a significant number of them got together to vote, drinking ages lowered across the country. So in reality, they can fight and die for their country but they can't be bothered to show up once every couple of years and spend five minutes waiting in line and pushing buttons.

DADvocate said...

I was about 19 when the drinking age was lowered to 18 in the early 70s. My oldest son is now 19 and in college. From what he tells me there is little if any difference now than in when drinking at 18 was legal.

I think all adults should have the same rights with exceptions for felony, DUI convictions and such.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Yes, if 18 - 20 year olds showed more interest than voting than they currently do, this situation would likely change. But remember also that, as the 24 - 35 voting demographic, we are supposed to be concerned with more than ourselves when it comes to public policy, and this issue plays directly into the bold libertarian streak that paints our generation.

But it looks like there are folks talking about it: if the issue is big enough for Brunswick, we may be onto something.

Also, I have to give some rare kudos to Representative Jack Kingston (R - GA) for his more progressive and reasoned view on the debate. Reckon he knows how deep the libertarian stream runs through Georgia (the state).

Dante said...

"But remember also that, as the 24 - 35 voting demographic, we are supposed to be concerned with more than ourselves when it comes to public policy, and this issue plays directly into the bold libertarian streak that paints our generation."

Personally, I'm not that into helping people who refuse to help themselves. That's also a big part of the "bold libertarian streak that paints our generation."

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

I don't think it is an issue of helping people who refuse to help themselves. As the 24 - 35 age group, we are faced with the fact that enforcement of such laws is carried out mainly by us. It also directly affects us, as our age group is also the one faced with the squeeze when it comes to enforcing such laws.

An 18 - 20 year old "helps themselves" to a fake ID in Athens, makes it into your bar and you get arrested. That's enough intrinsic self and existintial interest to show me that my age group needs to be involved in this debate, perhaps even louder than those it supposedly affects the most.