Clash of the Titans XLVI: The Drinking Age

August 31, 2007, 12:00 pm; posted by
Filed under Debate, Job, Tom  | 2 Comments

In this corner, saying we should lower the drinking age, is Job!

And in this corner, arguing to keep it at 21, is Tom!

I’ve never had a drink of alcohol in my life. I had it in my mouth once by accident — I was toasting a friend at his wedding and was told it was sparkling cider. I spat it into a bush. This status of complete restraint might seem to make me incapable of making an argument about the drinking age in America, but I disagree; as the kid outside the fishbowl, tapping the glass, I may look oblong and distorted by the refraction, but everything in the tank is clear to me.

And as that boy, I support getting a cute “no fishing” sign, buying a few more colorful rocks, and lowering the drinking age for the guppies.

If you don’t think alcohol is more of a threat to America — physically, mentally, emotionally and socially — than terrorism, then you’re reading this at Miller:30 anyway. It is the fuel for the engine of sin, rending this nation apart with almost surgical precision, through crumbling marriages, sexual hubris, and enough wrecked vehicles and bodies to drive an IED to, well, drink. Bars are our temples, Friday nights the new Sabbath, and the tithe given to this liquid and its orbital vices far in excess of 10%. Alcohol is an immovably entrenched American religion, with zealots of greater number and passion than our own. I can only hope to somehow alleviate alcohol’s oppression and shocking effects.

As I think about this drug, I am most immediately aware of the sheer irresponsibility accompanying its use. Current federal law requires an American to be 21 before imbibing an alcoholic beverage and making a fool of themselves at Jeff’s party — by then, the drinker can vote for 3 years, die for his country for 4, and may be graduating from college (or if Steve Maxon, finishing his doctorate), having babies, and living on his own. This sheer amount of societal load (and expectancy) implies an almost-certain furtive use of alcohol before age 21. This use is best defined as rebellion, usually accompanied by reckless behavior and the instilling of certain attitudes that will forever accompany the use of spirits.

My argument follows a simple equation. (The vast amount of alcohol in our country + its glamorization + the legal restraints on its use) x (Ample access to it anyway) = Almost-universal illegal use, overwhelmingly without parental knowledge or supervision. The parental relationship has always served as the tonic to societal malfeasance, and in light of the immense destruction alcohol causes our country, we must strengthen this relationship.

I would lower the drinking age to 17, and the purchasing age to 18. This would require parental knowledge of its use, with proper instructions and expectations. Perhaps it would even produce an unsettling amount of introspection after seeing its effects on our youth, with a small mirroring effect on an adult’s own use. With a problem as powerful as potent potables, we need to flush the enemy out of the shadows and away from punk kids who meet behind the old mall on Saturdays to share a fifth. As with most societal problems, we need to return the responsibility to parents, rather than relying on a law that tries to do the parenting while neutering a parent’s ability in the same stroke.

Theories abound regarding the benefits of lowering the drinking age in the United States. Proponents laud continental European nations where drinking ages effectively do not exist, yet cultural expectations toward alcohol seem vastly more healthy than America. They cite increased parental involvement with newly legal teen drinkers, leading to a much-needed steadying hand while the youths negotiate difficult terrain. Finally comes the oft and proudly cried, “If you can die for your country, you ought to be able to drink a beer there!” However, these arguments fail to ring true for me.

Nations such as Spain, Portugal, and France are often put forward as the new model for dealing with alcohol in the United States. These Romance- language speaking nations have relatively lax policies toward youth and alcohol, and manage to enjoy low rates of alcoholism and alcohol- influenced crime and death.

However, to claim these laudable statistics came about only because of early exposure of youths to alcohol is ludicrous. England, a country with a long-standing legal drinking age of 18, is widely renowned for the binge-drinking propensities of its young people, at home and abroad. The culture of Iberia and its environs seems steeped in alcohol, and that’s the secret to the apparent lack of youth fascination with it there.

But in the domains of the Anglo-Saxon, a more Puritan view of alcohol has lent it an aura of mystique youths are incapable of escaping. Lowering the drinking age will not result in an overnight change to our nation’s culture, nor a reversal of alcohol’s taboo status.

Claiming that lowering the drinking age will encourage parents to take an active role in teaching their children the proper way to approach alcohol is similarly ridiculous. How can we expect a nation of parents, who through ignorance or apathy ignore the illegal drinking of their children, to step up and oversee their legal drinking? Parenting must be left to the parents, I’ll agree with that every time, but when the life at stake could be an innocent, I’ll let society trump the average parent every time.

Arguing that youths are able to join the armed forces at 17, but must wait four long years to drink legally, seems like disjointed logic. Taking up arms to defend one’s country is a very important responsibility, yet absolutely zero well-founded medical studies have shown military training to have an adverse affect on the development of a teenager’s brain. The miracle that is the millions of electrical connections which together form the seat of our cognition is not fully understood, but what is understood are the facts that the brain continues to evolve well into the twenties, and that it is absolutely, unquestionably and negatively affected by alcohol use.

We are a nation founded on freedoms. But sometimes the greater good to society of decreasing brain damage in the upcoming generation outweighs Junior’s right to tap the Rockies after prom.



2 Comments to “Clash of the Titans XLVI: The Drinking Age”

  1. Steve on August 31st, 2007 12:04 pm

    Welcome back to Job!!

    Lowering the drinking age would cause problems.

    16-19-year-olds are already the most dangerous drivers on the road; lowering the drinking age would make it more likely that they’d be drunk too.

    The pressure to drink would extend into every middle school; if 18-year-olds can legally buy booze, there won’t be a single party where it’s absent. It’s a lot tougher to get a 21-year-old to buy it for a high school party.

    The hope that parents would lay down ‘proper instructions and expectations’ implies that they understand them to begin with — and the dream that they might curtail their own drinking after seeing their kids’ response is the very definition of a flight of fancy.

    But — I also don’t favor the current policy of a federally mandated drinking age tied to highway funds, and I am at least a little partial to the idea that treating people like adults makes them more likely to behave that way.

    Now that being said, any adult who has a party at their house and lets underage kids drink is a criminal and a moron.

  2. on September 3rd, 2007 12:46 am

    Aren’t those two things usually connected- being a criminal and a moron?

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