REDEMPTION! Or at least, some form of redemption, as apparently another one of my gadfly Krusty Old Fart™ predictions has come true. Seems that college presidents are now lobbying to lower the drinking age. And these are not the pater familias of South Miami Dade Bartending School, these are the presidents of W&L, Maryland, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth, Tufts, Syracuse and even (gads) Dook, among others. They all state that raising the drinking age in the mid-1980s has only encouraged binge drinking.
People like Ron Slepitza, president of Kansas’ Avila University (affiliated with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, no less) said that talking sense to 18-year-olds was working before the 21 law passed, but now students just binge “underground and off-campus.”
Back in the Dark Ages, known to you and me as the year 2003, I wrote: “My guess is that a sort of “speakeasy” vibe has taken the place of a keg, a clandestine knock that is answered with a bottle of unmarked Pabst. Or maybe students get smashed on Rumplemintz in their dorm rooms, and then drive over to the party.”
Even last year, I bitched and moaned that the drinking laws were “leading students to take five shots of Jägermeister at the beginning of the evening, effectively erasing the slow buzz of a casual evening out with the girls, and replacing it with a season-ending barf at 8:30pm.”
It has always been my position that history views “the restriction of basic human desires” as a virus and finds a way around it; when The Man told college kids they couldn’t drink until they were 21, it didn’t foment self-actualization and encounter groups, it made fraternities buy laminating machines in order to forge identification.
about to enjoy a LEGAL Sun Country Wine Cooler, April 1986
The drinking age should have stayed at 18 for the same reason that Sun-Tzu warned to “keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer” – the only way to neuter a potentially bad habit is to make sure it remains in light. The 21 law made alcohol more precious than gold, and it became a means unto itself, rather than a social lubricant.
Like John McCardell (president emeritus of Middlebury) said:
The 21-year-old drinking age is bad social policy and terrible law. It is astonishing that college students have thus far acquiesced in so egregious an abridgment of the age of majority. Unfortunately, this acquiescence has taken the form of binge drinking.
This is the hard lesson of prohibition that each generation must relearn. No college president will say that drinking has become less of a problem in the years since the age was raised.
In fact, if all these university presidents are on the right track (and my own experience bears out), the 21 age limit has put tipsy kids behind the wheel, set the scene for date rape and unwanted pregnancies, and actually created alcoholics. Nice job, Congress! The United Arab Emirates, Oman and us have the most Draconian drinking age laws on the planet, and it’s workin’ like a charm!