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COLUMN

Booze Isn’t the Problem

Andrew C. Thomas

Too many recent events on campus this year have had alcohol as the central focus. I suppose that scrutinizing booze makes it easier than actually blaming people for the problems we face in the world, since we discover almost constantly that Band-Aid solutions often cover up misdiagnosed problems.

Along with cigarette smoke and religion, alcohol and its associated society are a part of our culture because of some seminal events thousands of years ago -- someone burnt a substance by accident and it smelled good, someone asked why they were there (wherever there happened to be) and why a glass of juice tasted so funny after it had been left alone for too long, and why all of the above gave such pleasant sensations when they were first discovered. They also all ignited debates carried forth to this day.

There is no disagreement that alcohol contributes to both good and harm in the world. There is the inevitable short term feel-good gain of the buzz or drunkenness, but there is also the deadly car crash. Responsible drinking and group awareness help to reduce the negatives associated with it. Many lives, however, have been taken by irresponsible drunk drivers; many more are taken by alcoholism or the effects of alcohol abuse such as cirrhosis or other liver diseases. Does this mean that alcohol is inherently evil? Of course not. Painkillers can be taken benignly but still cause addiction; lives are taken by irresponsible or poorly trained sober drivers far too often.

Since I was unable to control the national change in the 1980s, and since I lack a vote in the current government, there is little I can do but shake my head in amazement. The whole idea of the drinking age is a first-order approximation to suggest (falsely, I believe) that age and responsibility are somehow directly correlated. But irresponsibility with alcohol is found across the planet, no matter what the drinking age, from the official, blackmailed American age of 21 to the observed French age of one.

I strongly believe that nothing can be truly taught, not physics nor bike riding, and that everything we think of as education is based on experience and guidance. Alcohol is no different; how many times have friends said “never again” after a long night at a party followed by a long nauseating morning in bed?

Still, I hope that it takes less than a painful experience to demonstrate to the masses what responsible use of alcohol is. We cannot possibly train everyone to avoid all negative effects of alcohol, especially routine hangovers, but we can certainly reduce the instance of dangerous drinking habits or DUI charges as a society.

I find it a great shame that fraternities are inexorably linked to alcohol, as if they were the only places where drinkers live. But groups of guys living together make trouble no matter whether they wear Greek letters or brand names across their chests, and certainly do not need alcohol.

As social organizations of young men, fraternities are invariably high risk zones for alcohol abuse. The recent punishment of TDC for recent violations, some involving alcohol, does include an educational component, which appears to be a positive sign of things to come. However, the picture that I’m sure comes to the minds of most of this education consists of first listening to lectures by professionals, then a repetition of these lessons to an equally disinterested crowd.

Alcohol is a key economic and social component of our society, and will be for the long foreseeable future. We cannot possibly hope to remove all instances of abuse, nor can we hope to find the magic bullet solution that will reduce these instances in one shot. Barring the construction of “vomitoria” on campus to demonstrate firsthand the negative symptoms caused by alcohol abuse, the only effective educational tools will be those that make people feel responsible for their actions.

Homer Simpson believes that alcohol makes baseball a more interesting game to watch, and that it is the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems. When we stop thinking of alcohol in such narrow terms, maybe we will get a little more collective experience -- and spare at least one campus janitor the pain of cleaning up a mess the next morning.