April 29, 2014

Paglia on the Drinking Age

Filed under: Check It Out,What the hell?,Youth Rights — Katrina @ 10:53 pm

While it’s always nice to see articles in favor of lowering the drinking age, I’ve learned not to get too excited right away. The other day, a TIME article by Camille Paglia came out in favor of lowering the drinking age. Let’s have a look…

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act, passed by Congress 30 years ago this July, is a gross violation of civil liberties and must be repealed. It is absurd and unjust that young Americans can vote, marry, enter contracts and serve in the military at 18 but cannot buy an alcoholic drink in a bar or restaurant. The age-21 rule sets the U.S. apart from all advanced Western nations and lumps it with small or repressive countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

While I don’t care for the “it makes us similar to these piece of shit countries” argument, since its entire basis is “ewww… THOSE countries… THOSE people…”, the rest is right on. The drinking age is a violation of young people’s civil liberties and carries with it some nasty repercussions.

She goes on to briefly compare MADD with 19th century temperance activists (which seems a little unfair to the temperance activists :P). Then she mentions the marijuana legalization and uses that as a jumping point for lowering the drinking age, citing also that “The decrease in drunk-driving deaths in recent decades is at least partly attributable to more uniform seat-belt use and a strengthening of DWI penalties.” Which is the general argument against the pro-21 side’s “Raising the drinking age saved ALL OF THE LIVES!!!!”

She brings up learning responsible drinking being part of growing up “as it is in wine-drinking France or in Germany, with its family-oriented beer gardens and festivals.”

Wine was built into my own Italian-American upbringing, where children were given sips of my grandfather’s homemade wine. This civilized practice descends from antiquity.

Good, good. This is another point in lowering the drinking age or at least relaxing it considerably. Proof that, yes, you in fact can use alcohol responsibly at a young age. That you won’t spontaneously combust for having a sip of schnapps at age 20 and 11 months. Alcohol is a widespread cultural thing.

But hang on, there’s more…

What this cruel 1984 law did is deprive young people of safe spaces where they could happily drink cheap beer, socialize, chat and flirt in a free but controlled public environment. Hence in the 1980s we immediately got the scourge of crude binge drinking at campus fraternity keg parties, cut off from the adult world. Women in that boorish free-for-all were suddenly fighting off date rape. Club drugs — ecstasy, methamphetamine, ketamine (a veterinary tranquilizer) — surged at raves for teenagers and on the gay male circuit scene.

“Cut off from the adult world.” Oy. You know, I guess this argument is fine from someone like Camille Paglia. I mean, I’m not wild about the “fight unsafe drinking” point often used in favor of lowering the drinking age. For one, it’s flimsy as all hell. Also, as seen here, it is still very infantilizing and disrespectful language, implying that the whole point of a lower drinking age is to allow more adult control over young people (even when those young people are legal adults themselves apparently). Then again, that’s my reason that those who are promoting youth rights as a whole should not use it. Those who are single-issue? Makes sense. And if that argument resonates with people whose eyes gloss over at our talk of youth equality and thus brings the conversation to the wider public, I’ll take it. Not to mention that the first line above, about a lower drinking age meaning safer spaces for consumption, is a good one, even if her subsequent reasons leave a bit to be desired.

But then come the last three paragraphs…

Alcohol relaxes, facilitates interaction, inspires ideas and promotes humor and hilarity. Used in moderation, it is quickly flushed from the system, with excess punished by a hangover. But deadening pills, such as today’s massively overprescribed antidepressants, linger in body and brain and may have unrecognized long-term side effects. Those toxic chemicals, often manufactured by shadowy firms abroad, have been worrisomely present in a recent uptick of unexplained suicides and massacres. Half of the urban professional class in the U.S. seems doped on meds these days.

You know… I’m not so sure such alcohol-worship is really our path to salvation. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest it’s what got us to this point to begin with. Not to mention that this claim that prescription drugs (which encompass a LOT, by the way) are as a whole deadly while totally downplaying how dangerous alcohol actually is. It’s beyond a hangover punishment, you know! And I can go to the liquor store and by as much alcohol as I want, while prescription drugs are a lot more controlled (hence the prescription being required).

As a libertarian, I support the decriminalization of marijuana, but there are many problems with pot. From my observation, pot may be great for jazz musicians and Beat poets, but it saps energy and willpower and can produce physiological feminization in men.

Umm… what?

Exhilaration, ecstasy and communal vision are the gifts of Dionysus, god of wine.

Eh, after that dickhead made Theseus abandon Ariadne on that island, I don’t want his gifts.

Alcohol’s enhancement of direct face-to-face dialogue is precisely what is needed by today’s technologically agile generation, magically interconnected yet strangely isolated by social media.

Wait, wait, wait. So… alcohol good, social media bad? And apparently face-to-face dialogue in the absense of alcohol is impossible. With this impossibility of sober dialogue, we disappear into Facebook, in a universe where drunk-texts don’t exist. And this usage of social media is harmful and terrible because… reasons!

Clumsy hardcore sexting has sadly supplanted simple hanging out over a beer at a buzzing dive.

I don’t even…

By undermining the art of conversation, the age-21 law has also had a disastrous effect on our arts and letters, with their increasing dullness and mediocrity.

As Wikipedia said when it was missing an article about the 1948 Triple Crown winner… [citation needed]

This tyrannical infantilizing of young Americans must stop!

First sensible thing she’s said since the first paragraph. Too bad it’s the last line.

You know, I totally love seeing more and more pieces out there, whether popular or obscure, in major publications or on little tumblr blogs, in support of youth rights. But sometimes I hope it’s not asking too much for their points to at least sort of make sense. I don’t like thinking “hey, great, someone who supports lowering the drinking age… the hell did I just read?”

And yet, this is just another reason I’m always telling youth rights supporters to keep writing (if, looking on here, I should take my own advice). Because everything written about youth rights is going to have something wrong with it, even if some have more things wrong than others. If something may take the correct side on an issue but has a host of other issues, then maybe something else on the same topic will do it better. It varies from person to person, so different things will be problematic or resonating for different people, so we need the variety of voices. And that, my friends, is how you build a big tent! 🙂

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