Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sign me up for DAMM!

The story of the college presidents supporting lowering the drinking age is old news by now, but when the news first came out I was too angry at some of the arguments around it to write about it calmly and rationally. Anyway, the news has been dominated by the snoozer Democrat convention. Yes, there's the war between Russia and Georgia but I haven't read or heard anything that makes a compelling case for me taking either side. And there's Hurricane Gustav, but there's not much I can write about that, except to say that I hope this time people have learned to take action on their own rather than wait for the government to come to the rescue. Of course. there's John McCain's VP pick, Sarah Palin, who I hear is somewhat libertarian leaning. So now instead of being 100% convinced to write in Ron Paul, I'm only 95% convinced with a 5% possibility that I might vote for McCain. Interesting but not significant.

So, back to the topic at hand. We all know that prohibition doesn't stop the activity it's meant to stop, whether it's substance use, a particular sexual practice, or another form of recreation, such as gambling. In the case of alcohol we acknowledged this as a society 76 years ago. So it would seem that the college presidents were just accepting reality by suggesting that a policy that is a proven failure with population at large could ever succeed when it was aimed at a group of people who are legally treated as adults in every other way.

Of course, prohibition has only been a failure in the sense that it fails to eliminate the targeted activity, causes needless suffering, increases crime, and generally costs more lives than it saves. Prohibitions of all kinds have been successful in increasing the power of the state and turning more people into second-class citizens for the self-righteous to scapegoat and look down upon. That is what MADD and similar organizations (such as the Partnership for a Drug Free America) are really all about. At the grassroots level there may be some dupes, with critical thinking deficiencies, who believe that they are really helping "THE CHILDREN™," but the leaders of these organizations know that their real mission is to get on the Big Government gravy train while patting themselves on the back about how superior they are to all of those dirty drunks and druggies.

After all, why would the prohibitionists ignore the fact that most of the rest of the world has drinking ages of 18 or lower (the major exceptions being the barbaric Islamofascist countries that ban alcohol altogether). While drunk driving fatality rates compared to the U.S. are higher in some of the countries with lower drinking ages, they are lower in many of the others. (Note also that South Korea with the highest level of drunk driving fatality rates has a drinking age of 19, lower than in the U.S. but higher than average). Obviously, being allowed to drink before age 21 does not automatically turn every young adult into a booze guzzling motorized murderer. But what about the studies that show drunk driving deaths are down among 18-20 year-olds since the federal government used the federal highway funds to blackmail the states that did not already have a 21 drinking age to enact one? (And by the way shame on the states for being so dependent on federal funding that they could allow themselves to be bullied this way). Well, I don't know the exact year that the last of the states (or the District of Columbia) knuckled under to the federal browbeaters but I know it was sometime in the late 80s or early 90s. Drunk driving among 18-20 year-olds probably came down since then AS IT DID FOR THE POPULATION IN GENERAL! It could be harsher penalties and better enforcement of drunk driving laws (Generally I support these, though random checkpoints are harassment and should be replaced by monitoring drivers showing signs of recklessness; also 0.08 is unnecessarily low as a BAC level cutoff, significant impairment does not result until BAC reaches 0.15. Still, it is true that before the 1980s police, prosecutors, and judges were often too lenient with drunk drivers). Besides the laws there is a much greater awareness of the dangers of drunk driving and much more social disapproval of DUI than there used to be.

Not that all young people will act responsibly, even if they do know the dangers. One of the points the college administrators brought up is the issue of binge drinking; binge drinkers don't show a lot of concern for their own health and safety, nevermind that of others. But as the school officials point out, binge drinking largely takes place in a prohibitionist atmosphere, where alcohol is a forbidden fruit and contempt for rules that deserve contempt often leads to contempt for societal norms and standards that should be respected. There is no doubt that binge drinking and other unsafe drinking practices could be reduced if 18-20 year-old drinking was allowed to come out of the underground and into the light of day. For those still worried about DUI, how about requiring breathalyzer devices that prevent a drunk driver from starting the car on all vehicles driven by an under 21 driver (it goes against my grain to suggest a new law, but I can accept one if it means the repeal of a much worse existing law).

But even if lowering the drinking age (possibly combined with other policies) lowered the total number of alcohol-related deaths (including the drunk driving deaths) to zero I doubt that that would matter to MADD and its allies. As I have said elsewhere, like the debates about medical marijuana, or opiates to relieve the terminally ill and chronic pain sufferers, any amount of horrible suffering is worthwhile if it prevents just one person from experiencing government disapproved pleasure. The anti-pleasure lobbyists will always have an excuse to continue their holier-than-thou quest for constant nanny state expansion. Which is why, though they are a fictional group, and I would never seriously encourage drunk driving, I am tempted to say "Sign me up for Drunks Against Mad Mothers!"

No comments: