Read Eric's bio and previous columns
September 8, 2008
Rethinking Responsibility and Prohibition
is something about the maddening way we treat responsibility.
is possible, in this country, for an 18-year-old to enlist in the
military and get the highest possible security clearance in order to
work with highly sensitive multi-million dollar communications
equipment. It is not permissible, however, for that same 18-year-old to
stop on his way home from doing that and buy a six pack of beer.
kind of paradox is only possible if you don’t think about it too much.
again, the way we treat intoxicating substances has never been based on
anything resembling sensible thought. Mostly what we do is simply make
them off limits, or restrict access to them. So far, this approach has
never achieved the desired goal of stopping people from using the stuff.
The same is true if you’re talking alcohol or marijuana.
encouraging to see a number of college presidents across the country
open up debate on the issue by suggesting that we address dangerous
binge drinking by lowering the drinking age.
There is merit to the counter argument, which is that lowering the
drinking age means increasing the number of drunks on the road. This is
what Mothers Against Drunk Driving responded with.
two are different issues. That’s to say that we should wish to lower
both binge drinking and drunken driving, none of which are simply going
to go away by keeping the drinking age at 21.
more helpful approach would be if MADD advocated for more money for
more, better and cheap public transportation, and providing places where
people who’ve had too much to drink can park overnight without fear of
being towed or ticketed. Make the penalties stiff enough, and people
will have plenty of motivation to do the right thing.
might be a few years away from something like that, which unfortunately
means that we’re probably even farther away from a sensible approach to
war on drugs has never affected the availability of drugs. In fact, a
study a few years ago uncovered the fact that high school kids have
easier and more ready access to illegal drugs than they do legal
substances like tobacco and beer, but which are tightly regulated.
this, we sink millions and millions of dollars every year into police
agencies, and fill up prisons with people who haven’t committed violent
crimes. Tough laws, which always sound good for politicians on the stump
(bullies naturally target those who won’t or can’t fight back), haven’t
done a thing.
Prohibition of drugs has been just as effective and successful as
prohibition of alcohol was early last century. That’s to say that we’re
still making the same basic mistake in assuming that people can be
legislated into making good choices or that morality and the law are the
They’ve never been, which accounts for why no attempt to outlaw
intoxicants has ever turned into anything but a dismal failure.
sensible approach requires that we first figure out what’s worked and
what hasn’t. Since everything we’ve done has failed, that’ll be a simple
and short process. But that requires being honest with ourselves about
it and what we’re trying to do.
drugs, that means rethinking the entire idea of prohibition. Considering
the failures of prohibition is also wise when addressing the drinking
age, but even more important is being broad-minded enough to try to
achieve two good things at once, rather than assume that they have to be
North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
Click here to talk to our writers and
editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.
To e-mail feedback
about this column,
click here. If you enjoy this writer's
work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry
This is Column #
Request permission to publish here.