Because of a law passed 25 years ago, you must be 21 years old to legally consume alcoholic beverages in the U.S. I just read a story at http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/09/16/mccardell.lower.drinking.age/index.html which argues that we should allow states to lower the legal drinking age from 21 to 18 or even younger without the states being penalized. Currently, states lose millions in public transportation money if they legalize drinking under 21. The story argues that making drinking illegal has only made it more clandestine. It hasn’t curbed underage drinking; it’s just made it harder to supervise and control. But there is a real problem with the reasoning of Mr. McCardell. The faulty underlying premise of the editorial is that we should only have laws that people want to follow.
I don’t want to drive lower than the speed limit. Should we change all speed limits to 100 MPH and rely on safe driving classes and graduated speed permits to educate drivers so that they will self-moderate their driving? Are you kidding me? But that’s the argument of Mr. McCardell as he suggests ways to overcome the horrific problem of underage binge drinking.
The answer isn’t to be more permissive while improving education. That approach didn’t work either, and it is part of the reason the laws were changed in 1984. What we need is for people of every age to practice a little self-discipline and personal responsibility by respecting the law. We’re free to work peaceably to change the laws in this country, but we aren’t free to just ignore them and do whatever we want because we feel like it. That, however, is what underage drinkers are doing. We don’t help them by surrendering to their whims. We help them–and society as a whole–by being sure our laws are based on wisdom and enforcing them fairly. Should we continue to educate young people about the physiological and sociological dangers of alcohol? Absolutely. But in case basic wisdom doesn’t prevail, we have laws and penalties for those who choose to ignore social standards and pursue wrecklessness.
For anyone who believes in God, this approach shouldn’t sound novel. God, since the very beginning, has given us laws to live by. When we decided to ignore God’s laws and do our own thing, God didn’t sit back and say, “Well, that didn’t work, maybe I should lower the standard.” Instead, God pointed out the consequences of dangerous behavior and reminded us that his laws are intended for our good.
I’ll readily admit that there is a difference between the laws of God and the laws of men. God didn’t establish 21 as the preferred drinking age; this is something we have chosen to do. But the goal of our law and the goal of the biblical mandate to maintain sobriety are pretty much the same. We want to keep people safe and in control of themselves. But it is clear that too many people don’t make wise decisions for themselves which, again, is why we have laws. As oxymoronic as it sounds, a free society must have limits and standards. Without them, we have anarchy, which is a fool’s freedom.
Sometimes some of us don’t like those limits. But they are there for a reason. If you want to make a difference, start by being responsible for yourself. Encourage responsibility in your friends. Show respect for others in your society by learning to live within the law. Don’t pretend that illegal drinking is funny, comical, or courageous. It’s consequences are often deadly.