Lower the Drinking Age—Because Alcohol is Good!

pagliaWe haven’t heard much recently of the idea of lowering the drinking age in the U.S. back to 18. It occasionally comes up. Instead we tend to hear proposals along the lines of lowering the Blood Alcohol limit for drunk driving. I’ve long been a proponent of lowering the drinking age back to 18, if only because that would remove a glaring hypocrisy: The 18-year-old can vote, kill in warfare, drive and be convicted of a crime as an adult and even be put to death…but let’s not let these children drink.

In any case, I want to point your attention to one of the most interesting arguments I’ve read for lowering the drinking age back to 18, delivered by none other than Camille Paglia, a cultural critic, art critic, iconoclast and a wonderful writer. If you want to read about Camille, her Wikipedia page is a good source. But consider this, Camille has said she is willing to have her entire career and her entire body of work judged based on what she describes as the most important sentence she has ever written: “God is man’s greatest idea.”

However, it’s her argument for lowering the drinking age to 18 that I really want you to read. Her case rests on a variety of interesting propositions:

“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.”

“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.”

“Exhilaration, ecstasy and communal vision are the gifts of Dionysus, god of wine. 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…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. This tyrannical infantilizing of young Americans must stop!”

You don’t see it very often from proponents of lowering the drinking age, but here Camille has made the case that lowering the drinking age is a good idea because consumption of alcohol is a good idea.

Right now there are hypocritical social engineers and prophets of nannyism across the country spitting up their non-alcoholic drink as they read this. I would pay a hefty admission price to watch Ms. Paglia go tete a tete with these folks in a debate over this issue.

The important question is this: Is Ms. Paglia correct that the spiritual, emotional, communal and social benefits of drinking are such that they outweigh the dangers of letting an 18 year-old soldier drink a beer or a glass of wine or a mug of hard cider?

Posted In: Culture and Wine

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9 Responses

  1. Larry Chandler - April 24, 2014

    Lowering the age to 18 is a good idea, but it would have to be the same in all the states. Otherwise, people who are 18 but lived in a state where the limit was 21 would then drive across a state line and drink as much as they could before driving back home.

  2. Patrick Shabram - April 24, 2014

    Prior to the 1990’s, Colorado had laws that allowed 3.2% alcohol for 18-21 year-olds with regular alcohol available to those 21 and over. I always thought that was a great training period, legal consumption but withhold the harder stuff. (Kind of reminds me of the California driving age laws that allow 16 year-olds to have a license, but limits when and with whom they can drive.) Some abused it, but then again there are many underage drinkers with the 21 year age requirement. Unfortunately, wine doesn’t fit into that 3.2% limit. It would be like to find a way to introduce 18 year-olds to wine.

  3. harvey posert - April 24, 2014

    of course it’s a good idea and one hopes on its way to drinking age abolition. readers should consider (as i do) writing letters praising the european method of early introduction as a way of ending binge drinking at colleges.

  4. Joe - April 24, 2014

    Lowering the drinking age back to 18 simply because it encourages conversation and improves arts and letters is one of the worst arguments I’ve ever heard.
    “The number of alcohol-related traffic deaths among 16 to 20 year-olds in the U.S. decreased from 5,244 in 1982 to 1,987 in 2008 in large measure because of the legal drinking age of 21 and Zero Tolerance Laws.”
    http://report.nih.gov/NIHfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=24&key=A#A
    There are actual statistics showing that the drinking age being at 18 caused there to be many more drunk driving accidents and deaths.
    Is that worth the trade off for letters?

    • Larry Chandler - April 24, 2014

      It would be good to see the statistics on 18-20 year old drivers, rather than 16-20 year olds. No one is suggesting the age be lowered to 16. And what about accidents by people who are 21? And 22? And 35? And this same study does show that kids who start drinking at 15 are more likely to get into accidents, so there is definitely work to be done there. Also, the legal minimum drinking age was raised in 1984. Yet the decline you show compared 1982 to 2008. Were there other factors at work after 1984?

      The point was not simply about “arts and letters” but that if the state determines you are an adult at 18 for purposes of military service, marriage, contracts, etc. you are an adult. And there still is a serious problem of adults drinking and driving. There does need to be a better understanding of alcohol and control (esp. on the part of parents), but not by arbitrarily making the minimum age 21.

  5. Carl - April 24, 2014

    Having grown up in New York State when back in 50’s was (I think) the only state with an 18 year drinking age. I don’t think the death rate at that time was any higher than other states.

    It was handy in senior year of high school to go after track practice to the adjacent bowling ally and have a couple of beers before grabbing a bus home.

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