As many of you may know, I have been very active in the alumni association of my alma mater, Williams College, currently serving on the Society of Alumni’s executive committee. Whenever we discuss the problems of drinking on campus and ways to promote responsible consumption of alcohol, we learn how the drinking age hamstrings the college, making it difficult to develop a sensible policy.
Such discussion have been ongoing at least since I was an undergraduate.
Rather than discouraging the irrational consumption of alcohol, the drinking age actually promotes it. It turns the types of beverages human beings have been drinking in ritual celebrations as well as social gatherings for as long as we have recorded our history into a kind of forbidden fruit.
Euripides records how the prissy Pentheus was punished for failing to honor Dionysus, the Olympian whose bailiwick included wine (among other things).
When people see wine, beer and other (potentially) intoxicating spirits as beverages to enjoy with their elders, rather than those to consume on the sly, they will be more likely to drink responsibly, particularly by learning about drinking from those who have been drinking responsibly for a generation (at least). If you start drinking among a group of adolescents, the age at which we are the most irresponsible, you will likely drink more irresponsibly as you’ll be drinking among those with the least capacity to control their actions and with a spirit inclined to excess.
Studying in Germany, I saw many of my Teutonic peers drinking on regularly basis, yet encountered none of the binge drinking I had observed on American campuses. They grew up drinking beer. They did not see consumption of their national beverage as something to do just with your peers, but also as an activity to enjoy with your parents–and their peers as well.
. . . over 130 college presidents, as part of something called the Amethyst Initiative, have called for an end to the drinking age of 21. [Read more…]