Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Habits become character and when character deteriorates, culture does along with it.

Theodore Dalrymple had a wonderful essay in the Autumn, 2008 issue of City Journal entitled "The Quivering Upper Lip". Dalrymple is a physician who is very familiar with English culture and he observes the remarkable deterioration of civilized behavior in one generation in that country. He ends his essay with these words:

Habits become character. Perhaps they shouldn’t, but they do. Therefore, when I hear that some American states seek to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18, on the grounds that it is absurd that an 18-year-old can join the army and die for his country but not drink a beer in a public bar, I experience a strong reaction. It is a more important goal of government to uphold civilization than to find a general principle that will iron out all the apparent inconsistencies of the current dispensation.

Not long ago, I attended the graduation of a friend’s son at an upstate New York university. The night before, and the night after, I observed the students through the windows of their frat houses getting drunk. They were behaving in a silly way, but they were not causing a public nuisance because they did not dare to step out of their houses. If they did, the local police would arrest them; or, if not, the university authorities would catch them and suspend them. (This, incidentally, is powerful evidence that drunks do know what they are doing and that the law is absolutely right not to accept drunkenness as a negation of mens rea.)

No doubt the student drunkenness in the frat houses was unsatisfactory from an abstract point of view; but from the point of view of upholding civilization, to say nothing of the quality of life of the townspeople, it was all highly satisfactory. In England, that town would have been a nightmare at night that no decent person would have wanted to be out in.

So I say to Americans: if you want your young people to develop character, have the courage of your inconsistencies! Excoriate sin, especially in public places, but turn a blind eye to it when necessary—as it often is.

I live in Brockport, NY a college town, and when I walk the two blocks from my home to my private office to see private clients on Saturday mornings through the downtown village there is vomit on the sidewalk from college students who have overindulged in village bars.

Over the years, while it has gotten better the drunken behavior of college students has driven families from the village with potted plants being stolen from porches, students urinating on doorways in in bushes on neighborhood lawns, and noise at 2:00 AM that would make one believe he/she was in New Orleans for the Mardi Gras.

The fact is that while 18 year olds are still innocent and naive enough to want to go and die for their country at the behest of deluded politicians intent on staying in power, they are not mature enough to hold their liquor in a responsibile way. When a 19 year old student at Geneseo is provoked by his frat buddies to literally drink himself to death with a BAC of .55 while they turn away and let him die, it makes one wonder what our civilization has come to.

Thankfully, there are some people in our culture who still advocate for decency and responsible behavior. You would think we could expect the same from educators such as College presidents, but alas, they support lowering the drinking age to 18 which has already proven to be deadly for too many adolescents.

At GCASA, we support 21, responsible use of alcohol, and civilization.

1 comment:

John Bennett said...

I think our society could learn new ways of teaching young people to use alcohol in a moderate, socially acceptable manner. It doesn't have to be socially acceptable to party your face off at college. It starts at home!!