Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Adults Have the Right to Drink Alcohol

A group of 100 college presidents called the Amethyst Initiative has publicly declared its support for lowering the drinking age to 18. I agree with its statement and objective.

The legal principle of "age of majority" establishes when a child legally assumes the responsibilities and obligations of adulthood. Although children vary in their rates of maturation -- some children at 12 are more mature than others at 17 -- the law must establish a general norm at which children are recognized as adults. That age is 18 in the United States. At 18, a child legally becomes an adult and can enter into legally binding contracts governing property, money, and their bodies. Despite this legal recognition of responsibility to enter into contracts, be subject to criminal laws, and to have complete freedom to use their own bodies as they choose, our government infantilizes young adults by banning the drinking of alcohol.

In comparison to the awesome, legally-recognized freedom that comes with adulthood, the drinking of alcohol is a minor matter. To ban it is to insult the very concept of adulthood.

The signers of the Amethyst Initiative observe that the young 18-20 year-old adults routinely violate the 21-years drinking age. Young adults sense the contradiction that they have a legally-sanctioned freedom of action in every matter except one trivial area, the drinking of alcohol. On college campuses, they seek to violate this law, as they should.

The 21-years drinking age should be abolished. It is a contradiction to recognize the greater part of the freedom of adulthood and to deny adults the minor part of that freedom. The ban on under-21 drinking has done that; it infantilizes adulthood. Legally permit the drinking of alcohol and recognize that adults are responsible for their own lives.

Minor edit 8/20/08: Changed to "recognize" from "bestow" second sentence, last paragraph.


Joseph Kellard said...

It's interesting, isn't it, that when people take your side on this issue, they often defend it by saying: "If I'm old enough to die for my country, then I'm old enough to drink."

Why this appeal to military service in defense of drinking legally at 18? I suppose, at least implicitly, the idea is that if one is old enough to defend America -- that is, the individuals rights it upholds, including the right to drink alcohol -- then one is old enough to enjoy that right.

softwareNerd said...

Good to see college presidents ask for a lowering of the age.

One article on the issue mentioned that polls show a majority of Americans support keeping the age limit at 21. That's something I don't understand.

Apart from lowering it to 18, states should also do away with the rules that prohibit parents from allowing their kids to drink even below that age. (Some states have such rules.)

I know I was sipping beer from my dad's glass ever since I was really young. Later -- not sure of the exact age, could be high school or a little earlier -- I was allowed to have my own glass, (at first, quarter or half-full).

I always look back at this as being one reason I was never a big drinker in college. I had friends who wanted to buy the cheapest liquor -- so they could get lots of it, and drink it as fast as they could. I know that one of them actually became nearly alcoholic later in life.

The 21 year line is really stupid!

Galileo Blogs said...

Joseph Kellard: I agree with your analysis. Fighting as a soldier is something adults do; soldiers should be recognized as having the full rights of adults. As for my argument, I deliberately left out the soldier argument to see how strong it would be without it. However, the soldier argument is a good one. (Incidentally, I believe that U.S. soldiers on active duty are exempt from the 21 drinking age, and can drink as early as 18. That doesn't change the fact that everyone should be able to drink at 18.)

Software Nerd: Your experience mirrors my own. In fact, in my early 20s, I had the odd experience of drinking a martini for the first time, but I had discovered that the taste was familiar to me. My parents used to let us taste their drinks even when we were little. As a result, I probably "had" (sipped) my first martini at the age of 8 or so! That didn't make me an alcoholic; far from it. Rather, it took some of the mystery out of alcohol.

I also observe that in other countries, such as Germany, England, and Japan, youngsters can drink at earlier ages. I don't know what the exact laws are, but I heard that in Germany, they say that if you are old enough to sit on the bar stool, you are old enough to drink. In my travels there, I did not detect greater levels of youthful drunkenness than I do in this country. As for Great Britain, you do see young adults getting "hammered" at night, but I think that has more to do with the fact that the pubs must close at 11 there.

I like your contention that parents should be able to give their children the freedom to drink at ages younger than 18. That is an explicit recognition that children mature at different rates. I have met many mature 16 year olds who can drink responsibly; that should be their parents' call.

The bottom line: If we want kids to act like adults when they grow up, we should not treat them like children in matters such as alcohol consumption. It probably also is a reflection of Christian hypocrisy that people put up with blatant college drinking by under-age young adults, but then piously proclaim that "no one shall drink unless they are 21."

Right... that remonstration goes up there with Christian prohibitions against premarital sex, blasphemy, etc.

Valda Redfern said...

"As for Great Britain, you do see young adults getting "hammered" at night, but I think that has more to do with the fact that the pubs must close at 11 there." That is no longer the case - pubs in England are no longer forced to close at any particular time. Young Brits still do binge drink, though, unlike their Continental neighbours. I think that does have something to do with the idea of alcohol being restricted, desirable but dangerous, and thus to be guzzled whenever the opportunity arises.

But yes: good on Amethyst for promoting the right of young adults to do what they want with their own bodies in this respect as in others.

Galileo Blogs said...

Thank you for the clarification, Valda. I am glad for the Brits that their draconian pub closing law has been repealed.

By the way, I love British pubs, but then I guess most Americans do!

James said...

On the "mystery," at 19 I decided it was time to demystify myself one weekend with friends, and wound up extremely drunk on a variety of alcohols, getting sick, and then developing an aversion to all alcohols for nearly two years. I can't totally blame the government and my parents, because my own explicit reason for not drinking prior to that was religious. Even still!

Only now, nearly 5 years later, have I started to enjoy alcohol for all of the good reasons people do. Namely, the tastes.

inpatient treatment said...

Consider the fact that even people at the age of 21 and above are having a hard time in regulating alcohol consumption. Then what can an 18 year old do, when the adults can't handle alcoholism by themselves. Others even seek the help of rehab centers just to treat their alcohol addiction. The government should assess more of the matter so that innocent lives will be spared from alcoholism.