Focus on the Problem, Not the Not-Problem, Part II


This morning, inexplicably, AP was listening to AM talk radio. The topic being discussed was the legal drinking age, and whether it should be lowered to 18 (or some other age less than 21)

The arguments typically go like this:

For lowering the drinking age:
-The age of majority should apply to everything, and when you are determined to be an adult, you should be able to vote, drink, serve in military, get married, enter into contracts, etc.
-Other countries have lower drinking ages and kids do not have the same taboo about drinking that causes them to binge.

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Against lowering the drinking age: -Drunk driving will go up if you lower the age, as will drinking & driving injuries/accidents.

I am not interested in this argument, per se. What I want to talk about is how we frame the debate. On the radio show this morning, they said they did a poll, and it was about 50/50 for and against. But what if this was the question:

“Do you support lowering the drinking age to 18, provided that EVERY car was equipped with a breath analysis device and the car would not turn on if the driver was over the legal limit?”

I imagine that more people would say yes. So how about the argument that under the current laws, 21 year olds buy alcohol for their younger friends, and if we lower the drinking age, 18 year olds will do the same thing, and we will have really young kids drinking. Well, think about this question:

“Do you support lowering the drinking age to 18 provided that every beer bottle was made with DNA analysis software and the bottle would actually not allow any beer to be dispensed unless the drinker was over 18?”

Obviously this would only happen in a science fiction movie, but do you see the point? These arguments have to do with drunk driving, and underage drinking–NOT THE DRINKING AGE ITSELF.

So many times this happens in debates–sides draw lines in the sand and make emotional arguments based on associations they make with the behaviors in question. More often than you would think, people actually agree on the majority of what they are arguing about. We need to focus on the actual problems.

In the case of the drinking age, we endorse and arbitrary and unfair practice. Rather than using the drinking age as a proxy to try and control drinking and driving, we should focus on simply stopping drunk driving–take out the middle man, so to speak. The act of drinking is not itself an evil act. Failing to drink in a responsible way is the problem, and this is what we should try and address.

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