Editorial Review

Competing editorials in the Bennington Banner of Vermont show the complexity of the drinking age question. On one hand is a high school administrator, who in his interactions with high school students experiences the problems and tragedies that occur with underage drinking. His reaction is understandable: strengthen enforcement of the current law. After all, the logic holds, if we want young adults to stop drinking, then cracking down on them hard would seem like way to do it. The following day, the editorial board of the Bennington paper, responded to the op-ed, taking the opposite view.

Ultimately, when those simplistic and repressive controls are finally lifted, there are no internal controls left to take over. . . . As a society, we somehow have to allow teens to drink, if they wish, in supervised, controlled venues — and we have to educate them — before they are allowed into bars and package stores. We can’t just hide the booze away and hope they wait until they are 21. Unfortunately, that’s what we are doing today.

And so we are left with two choices, to maintain the status quo, to accept that this is the best we can do, or to try something different, something new and innovative. On the surface, a 21 year-old drinking ought to help keep alcohol from reaching minors, by the fact that it makes alcohol illegal to consume and difficult to obtain. In certain cases that may very well be the case. But more often than not, those classified by the law as “underage” are obtaining and drinking alcohol. In the end, we are faced with a law that is out of step with our cultural attitudes towards alcohol, which encourages violation and breeds disrespect for law.

In the more than two decades that have passed since its implementation, the 21 year-old drinking age has created a climate in which terms like “binge” and “pregame” have come to describe young peoples’ choices about alcohol. The goal-oriented drinking that is now common under the current law, though dangerous, may more importantly be a consequence of the law itself. In an environment where drinking must be kept hidden from the law, the rituals surrounding alcohol consumption come to reflect those environmental pressures. As those rituals become empowered, they come to define and give weight to the culture of drinking itself. Thus, as drinking to evade the law inherently becomes an act of drinking as quickly as possible, those acts of goal-oriented drinking become part of a unique culture.

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