April 20, 2007

A very irresponsible article in the IDS.

No, I do not have a sense of humor. Let’s just get that out of the way so we can get to the heart of why the Kirk Nathanson’s article in Wednesday’s Indiana Daily Student (a fictional illustration of a drinking “race” between freshmen, Greeks, seniors and alumni) was so completely irresponsible.

I am all for having a good time, and while I personally do not drink I do not have a problem with alcohol. and I think that this society’s attitude toward drinking has actually made problem drinking worse. Rather than accepting alcohol as a normal part of life, American society simultaneously shuns and embraces it, making it a taboo. We all know the cliché about how people react to the forbidden fruit. Many people also incorrectly believe that the Bible prohibits drinking alcohol.

Alcohol abuse (specifically binge drinking) is a serious problem on college campuses. There have been many news stories the last few years about college students who have drank insane amounts of alcohol and tragically died of alcohol poisoning. Alcohol abuse is also tied to rape, clouding the judgment of a man or making a woman more vulnerable to an opportunistic pervert. It is not something to make light of.

One of the examples of the unbalanced way we view alcohol is the drinking age. I have believed for years that we should reduce the drinking age. It makes no sense that someone can be asked to fight for his country but cannot legally drink alcohol. If someone is mature enough to be maimed or killed in armed combat, he is mature enough to have a beer in the privacy of his own home. The legal penalties for underage drinking may actually make it less likely that young people will seek medical attention for a 20-year-old friend who has had way too much to drink.

My main problem with the minimum drinking age, though, is that it is set by the federal government and tied to highway funds. Even if a legal minimum of 21 is a good idea, it should be done at the state level rather than the federal level. This is a clear Tenth Amendment issue. A federally-mandated minimum drinking age would have been unthinkable 150 years ago, but as the federal government has grown far beyond the boundaries set for it when this country was founded fewer people object to such a power grab from one city on the East Coast.

What we need to do in this country is reach a balance on drinking. We need to recognize that alcohol itself is not bad and can part of a healthy life, but that binge drinking and alcoholism are to be the targets of shame rather than a wink and a nod. After spending a week in Europe earlier this year, I think European culture offers a good model for how we should view alcohol. The question is, how do we get there?