Jeff Nadel | We are criminals
Give Me Liberty | The minimum drinking age law has failed and it’s time for us to speak out against it
March 22, 2013, 12:37 am·
Give Me Liberty
Have you ever pictured yourself behind bars?
It would be a fair assessment to say most Penn undergraduates are criminals. Every weekend, college campuses across the country are transformed into hotbeds of crime by misguided laws with track records of abysmal failure.
In effect, the 21-year-old drinking age criminalizes young people. It makes all young people less safe, and it has proven to be nothing but a failure since Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984.
The premise underlying the law is that we’re not mature enough to handle alcohol. Yet, our achievements suggest otherwise. We excel at academics at an Ivy League institution, start businesses, run nonprofit organizations, organize events, advocate for social and political change and so much more.
But I don’t need to convince policymakers that we’re productive and responsible members of society — the other laws they pass indicate that they clearly understand this. It is hypocritical at best to entrust 18, 19 and 20 year olds to serve as soldiers, sailors and marines on the hot desert sands of Iraq and Afghanistan and to fight our wars, while simultaneously denying them the right to sip a beer when they return home on the basis that they are not responsible enough.
We are taxpaying adults — individuals considered to have attained the age of majority for every other conceivable purpose in American society — and are denied the right to drink alcohol. People our age pilot fighter jets and drive 67-ton tanks head on into enemy fire. The trust bestowed upon these young people to take up arms on behalf of the United States and defend the freedom and security that we hold so dear does not, apparently, extend to the enjoyment of inebriating beverages.
There are those who decry the danger of alcohol and who support prohibitionist policies in the interest of keeping it out of the hands of “vulnerable” young people. Alcohol is, without a doubt, a substance that can be dangerously misused to disastrous effect.
However, the solution is to implement smart policies that make drinking safer, not to double down on those that have demonstrably failed. Seventy-one percent of eighth graders say that it is “fairly easy” or “very easy” for them to get alcohol. Clearly, blanket prohibition is ineffective.
History instructs us that when the consumption of alcohol is outlawed, it becomes more dangerous. Neither use nor abuse decreases in any meaningful way. Dangerous habits are not curbed. The environment in which people drink becomes infinitely more hazardous, and the results of the forbidden fruit effect pervade: people drink more, and they do it ever more dangerously.
Should this really be a surprise to us? This type of behavior can be seen in toddlers grasping eagerly for a cookie denied to them by a concerned parent, and it was mimicked by 1920s mobsters and bootleggers nationwide.
But if we want our laws to change, we must speak up. While drinking is seen by most to be a merely social activity, it’s not enough. It’s time to stop letting weekends fly by without considering both the political statements we are making in our social lives and the prudence of laws that affect our social atmosphere.
We must stop flying below the radar. As long as we treat the drinking age as just a seemingly trivial regulation to flout with fingers crossed, we are handing a victory to the prohibitionists. Their goal is to convince society that we are utterly ill-equipped to make decisions as adults about our own lives. Unless we stand up and vocally refute them, we have traded our rights and dignity for a drink … again.
It is incumbent upon us to switch from a coping mindset — “I’ll be 21 soon anyway” — to an activism mindset: “We won’t tolerate being treated as second-class citizens.”
Modern-day prohibition makes drinking more dangerous for us and our friends. It denies a most basic respect to all young adults. And it is a chapter of history that now, more than ever, we must close.
Jeffrey Nadel is a College sophomore from Boca Raton, Fla. His email address is email@example.com. Follow him @theseends. “Give Me Liberty” appears every other Friday.