Tuesday, March 04, 2008

what to do about alcohol?

I've blogged on alcohol before. I'm hoping that this post doesn't seem to be at odds with that one... because it's not. 

The news article that I've linked to is about a push in Vermont to lower the legal drinking age from 21 to 18. Here's what the article offers initially as the rationale for this: 
Proponents say the higher age hasn't kept young people from consuming alcohol and has instead driven underage consumption underground, particularly on college campuses. 

Now, I can appreciate the danger to the kids who are drinking underground. That young, potentially ignorant of the reality of the effects of alcohol, without supervision, etc. this is a bad situation. However, I also recognize the message at the center of this: we haven't been able to prevent underage drinking, so we should allow it. 
Consider that... we outlaw underage drinking--thus it is presumably bad--but because we haven't done well at preventing it, we should just allow it.
From the sound of the article, this likely won't come to pass. Still, the attitude irks me immensely. They hope to alleviate the dangers of underage drinking, not by enforcing the laws against it more strictly (which most certainly can be done), but by simply encouraging it to come out into the open, where "responsible" drinkers can keep an eye on the youth.

In my afore-linked post on alcohol I made it perfectly evident that I don't think drinking is a sin; there are nuances to the position, of course, but I'll stop there. Here, allow me to draw out quickly my other main sentiment regarding drinking: I think it should be totally outlawed. 

That's right, I'm a prohibitionist. 

Considering I've already explained that I don't think drinking is a sin--unlike my prohibitionist ancestors of the 1920s--one may wonder why I hold such a conviction. The answer to that is fairly simple, and it's grounded solely in my own experiences and observations of life. The answer is this: I feel that the pleasures of drinking cannot be justified when brought up against the often-negative results of it.
I don't have any up-to-date numbers from research in front of me to buttress my position, but they're actually entirely unnecessary. If one person dies in a year because of drunk driving, if there is one death from binge drinking, if one marriage is destroyed because of alcoholism, then the pleasures of drinking are no longer justified, and, of course, all three of these criteria are met. Is an individual's enjoying of a good brew reason enough to allow for there tragedies? Absolutely not. I also hardly need point out that these aren't the only sort of tragic ends that can come from alcohol consumption.
Legal drinking ages are in place to try and prevent such things. The thought behind them is that the older, wiser, more responsible individual will be able to discern (despite their impaired judgement) when to stop, what not to do. Living in a college town with more than 10,000 'responsible' legal drinkers of 21, I can assure you that there is nothing magic about that number. There's no age at which one suddenly can handle whatever is thrown at them or suddenly makes wise decisions. Alcoholics can be found of all ages. My solution? Prohibit alcohol use entirely. (Note: I have no issue to take with alcoholic substances used in certain Christian--and perhaps other--religious observances; the two scenarios simply aren't comparable)

Yes, this is unfair to those who are responsible drinkers. No, I don't care. They can go explain to every widow or orphan of alcohol-related tragedies out there why they should still be able to drink, how they propose to fix the problem. Once that group has been converted, I'll begin to listen to what they have to say. Some folks would counter my reasoning with something like this: 'Oh, but can't cholesterol kill? Should we go ahead and outlaw all unhealthy food?' That's not necessarily a bad idea, but I don't think the analogy holds. Alcohol is already controlled substance in our society, i.e. we've already designated it as something harmful that must be regulated. Once we see that regulation doesn't sufficiently filter out the negative consequences the next logical step is to make the regulation more strict. My solution is the logical extreme... and unlike most people with most arguments, I'm perfectly fine with it.

If those countering my suggestion brought up cigarettes, I would just concur that they should be prohibited.

Again, this is not a strictly religious issue--a disclaimer for all those who would immediately attack it for that very reason, if it were--while my religious convictions do look towards the alleviation of suffering, that is not the only drive here. This is a humanitarian issue, and I just hope to see everyone honestly take some time to ponder it.


Josh said...

Wow, Nance. That's provocative.

JWD said...

Interesante. So you've predicted your own acquiescence should such a prohibition be put into effect, but would this be a policy you would actively pursue?

Nance said...

I think my 'active pursuit' will be best seen in things like this very post. I'm not really able to elect officials with such platforms (the Prohibitionist party candidate in November will likely lack any real qualifications for the Presidency, and I'm afraid I disagree with the philosophy behind their politics qua a political philosophy). I personally lack the time and resources to dive into any political endeavors... so I think that my responsibility may be to simply communicate my sentiments as often as I'm given the chance to.

JWD said...

Well said. Your assertion has made me consider my own thoughts on the subject. I hadn't ever sincerely considered prohibition an option. However, in thinking about it, I'm afraid it contradicts my base theology and political standpoints. You've got a good point there though. Does the preference of the many outweigh the loss of the relative few?

Rev. Daniel McLain Hixon said...

I'm going to have to disagree rather completely with you Nance. First of all your article begs the question: what is the purpose of law and the corollary, when is it appropriate to legislate against something.
I do not believe your own observations or sense of the cost/benefit ratio of legal drinking could be, in and of itself, a solid rationale for banning alcohol sale/consumption. We would need hard data: number of deaths/broken families/shattered lives per bottle or something like that. The line of argument that you are pursuing could equally be used to ban: guns, cars, marriage, the internet, sports, and freedom of will in general, since all of these things can be used in such a way as to destroy people. Unless you have a solid formula or rationale for showing a "danger threshold" beyond which a ban is appropriate, I doubt you will find a sympathetic ear among many.

Furthermore, I believe you need to examine cultural issues as well. I understand from others that in countries with no "drinking age" whatever, the number of deaths or instances of binge drinking are actually much lower. In our culture, because of our Revivalistic past, alcohol still has an aura of "rebellion" or "wild freedom" that it does not have in other cultures. This may diminish as we become increasingly multi-cultural (or increase depending on which cultures grow fastest). However these cultural differences that I have heard tell of would also, of course, need to be verified and understood as far as possible. If it holds true, it would simply suggest that Americans (or perhaps culturally-Protestant Americans, regardless of actual religious beliefs) are just less responsible with drink than others. But this aura of rebelliousness associated with alcohol, would certainly be reinforced by an attempt at prohibition, thus perhaps INCREASING the dangerous usage among teens and twenty-somethings which (I assume) you are actually seeking to discourage.

Nance said...

I think I offered my response to your slippery-slope mentality in the post itself, Daniel.
I understand the laws of our country as preserving the rights of the citizenry, most fundamentally the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness... in that order. The pursuit of 'happiness' as manifest in the pursuit of alcohol in the US should be protected, but only after other protective measures have been established, and only insofar as it is not contrary to those preeminent measures.

As for the cultural difference... well, you said it yourself: "it would simply suggest that Americans... are just less responsible with drink than others." We are in America. The restrictions should be appropriate to the people. I've not offered any reflection on international drinking trends--though that was not explicit in the post; my apologies--but in America I still see this as being the right course of action.
I never expected to "find a sympathetic ear among many"... doesn't necessarily make me wrong.

Unknown said...

Ok, so this didn't send properly the first time...it might be delayed or something. So if this is a double-post, pardon.

I've long maintained that drinking is wrong, and yet I don't think that's justifiable from a religious (specifically Christian, obviously) standpoint. So I'm in complete agreement with you on that.

However, being an anarchist, I can't agree with making any law, for any reason. I realize that's a completely subject, though, and I have no intention of hijacking your debate, so I'll leave it at that for now.

I do want to share what I think would be a good compromise, of sorts, on the drinking issue.
Usually this is something I relate specifically to the issue of drunk driving, though I think it would make great strides in solving the more generalized problems that you've cited here.

I think we should issue drinking licenses (at age 18, though, because I think it's rather strange that the government can draft you, force you to go to another country and shoot people, yet doesn't judge you mature enough to handle the responsibility of drinking...but then, again, that's another discussion).
Currently, the punishments for drinking and driving include jail time, fines, and the loss of driver's license, the durations of each increasing in increments for each successive conviction, up until the fourth (I believe), at which point it stops increasing.
All of these punishments are detrimental to society as a whole, and especially detrimental to the incarcerated individual. I'm not saying that someone who takes the lives of others so lightly particularly deserves freedom, but I tend to believe that so thoroughly destroying someone's life and livelihood is a swell way to turn them into even more dangerous criminals.
The drinking license would allows an alternate form of punishment, and that punishment could be extremely harsh. For instance, rather than a first offense resulting in:
* Driving privileges suspended for up to 90 days

* Up to six months in jail

* Fined up to $1,000, in addition to court costs

, it could result in simply losing your drinking license. Full stop.

The only reason people don't lose their driver's license forever is because cars = livelihood in the modern world. Driving is pretty much requisite for survival in the United States. Drinking, however, isn't actually required for anything. It's gravy. So completely revoking lifetime drinking privileges on the first offense isn't overly harsh. I'd wager it's harsh enough to make someone think twice about drinking, though.
On top of that, as I said, I think the punishment that is currently in place, though lenient, is harmful to everyone, because think about it...you take an individual with a normal job and remove his driving privileges for 3 months, and he's going to likely lose that job. He's going to be desperate, he's going to drink more, and he's going to be more likely to break the law in other ways.
Another way I believe a drinking license would help is that it could be used to help enforce the laws already in place on underage drinking. How do underage people get drinks?

1) Fake IDs (granted, a drinking license would likely not solve this problem at all, but I suspect this is fairly rare, as most underage drinkers are too ignorant to make such things themselves and probably don't know anyone who is both intelligent enough and willing to do so)

2) Given drinks by older friends (If providing drinks to an underage person were punishable by permanent loss of the ability to purchase alcohol legally, I feel that people would be much less likely to do so...maybe I'm wrong)

3) Not asked for ID by the seller (From talking to people who've sold alcohol, I believe that a large amount of alcohol gets into the hands of minors because they look like they could possibly be old enough to buy it...and the seller does not want to offend them by asking for ID. With a drinking license, it would be feasible for an 80-year old to not have one, so it wouldn't be offense in the least to ask each and every customer to produce it.)

As to your problems with drinking, the drinking license could be used in these cases as well. For instance, if someone is found guilty of domestic violence under the influence, then, in addition to the other penalties for domestic violence, that individual could lose their drinking license.

Additionally, I think that history has proven wide-scale prohibition to be unworkable. Alcohol is simply too easy to make. If you make it completely illegal, then enough people will produce it illegally that it will be able to get into the hands of everyone who wants it. If only a small percentage of the population had their drinking privileges revoked, due to some drink-related infraction, I think it is unlikely that many of them would produce their own, and this population group would be small enough that it would not build a strong enough demand for illegal alcohol that it would be easily attainable. In short, I think an alcohol license would effectively prohibit irresponsible drinkers from acquiring alcohol, something that prohibition failed to do. Obviously the flaw in this system is that at least one crime would have to be committed by each individual before this prohibition would occur, but I think it would drastically reduce the number of such crimes, for I believe the majority are committed by repeat offenders.

The reason I share this is because if I really thought that laws were legitimate at all, I would likely support the idea of prohibition (I could get on a soapbox about prohibition of tobacco-smoking, as well), and with that in mind, I feel that a driving license would be the closest workable thing to strict prohibition.