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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Bottoms up, kids!

Camille Paglia sure knows how to start a good argument. Here she is on our past-its-prime drinking age:

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Drinking Age Act, passed by Congress 30 years ago this July, is a gross violation of civil liberties and must be repealed.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.

[. . .]

Learning how to drink responsibly is a basic lesson in 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. Beer was a nourishing food in Egypt and Mesopotamia, and wine was identified with the life force in Greece and Rome: In vino veritas (In wine, truth). Wine as a sacred symbol of unity and regeneration remains in the Christian Communion service. Virginia Woolf wrote that wine with a fine meal lights a “subtle and subterranean glow, which is the rich yellow flame of rational intercourse.”

I've seen this a lot lately from libertarian-leaning commentators such as Glenn Reynolds, who is also big on the "old enough to fight, old enough to drink" argument. He's even urged the GOP to take it up as a way to get out the youth vote in the presidential race.

Boy, dunno. Paglia evokes an image of sipping wine at Grandpa's knee, but I'm thinking "drunken frat party followed by insane driving antics." It's especially worrisome to be talking about this while we're seeing the growing infantilization of American young people. Hey, they can't get jobs after college, so stick them in the old homestead's basement and let them stay on Mom and Dad's insurance till they're 25. If they've been drinking since they were 18, they'll know how to get content in a hurry.

There is something to the argument about easing kids into the drinking world gradually under adult supervision. But it's also true that all the ills associated with alcohol -- mental physical and otherwise -- will begin earlier, too, and I'm not sure that's good for us overall.

And a final point about all the other things people can do at 18 -- marry, sign contracts, join the military, vote. How well or wisely do they do those things now, given how development their brains are by that time? How much worse will they be at them with their impaired judgment? Why do we assume that the kids will drink in moderation when they don't do any single other thing that way?