Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Arkansas votes to ban first communion.

The Calvinist influence in America screwed up the country. Calvinists screw up most countries when they dominate and the Puritans dominated for far too long in America. One area where their moralistic authoritarianism got out of control was the issue of the consumption of alcohol. That silliness reached its height when Prohibition was passed. But don’t assume that puritanical prohibitionism is dead, not by any means. Any authoritarian piece of legislation can be passed in modern America if you just invoke “the children.”

That is what happened in that social backwater known as Arkansas. Dan Greenberg, a member of the legislature reports on a new anti-drinking law.
Here’s how the bill works: if you have control over private property, and you allow anyone under 21 who isn’t your relative to drink alcohol, or just to stay on the property after they drink alcohol, you’ve committed a class A misdemeanor. However, if you’re not on the property, you are free from criminal liability, as long as you’re not “present and in control of the private property at the time the consumption occurs.”
Let’s examine how this works in a bit more detail:
If the person who controls the property — call her “Mom” — sticks around while underage drinking occurs, she’s committed a misdemeanor.
Suppose, on the other hand, Mom hears a knock at the door and sees her daughter welcome her best (underage) friends Jane and Mary in; if Mom announces that she’s going across town to catch the 7:15 showing of “Bride Wars” and drives off, she’s free from criminal liability if underage drinking occurs.
Greenberg, who clearly thought about the issue, noticed a lot of problems. First, under this legislation first communion in many churches would now be a criminal offense. Of course that won’t hold true if the priest is giving the wine to his own child but that situation would raise eyebrows amongst the congregation.

Also note that the law basically requires that teens, who are drinking, do so without any adult supervision. This is what I find stupid. Dr. Robert Epstein, in his book The Case Against Adolescents, makes a strong case for ending the modern practice of treating teens like children. He argues that the results of such policies are counter-productive. One problem is that our modern culture compartmentalizes teens into one category. We actively separate them from the adult world. They learn their socializing skills, not from adults, but from other teens who are as unfamiliar with the adult world as themselves.

In American drinking is seen as an “adult” activity. Yet no teen, growing into adulthood, can learn to drink socially from his parents. Teens will drink, law or no law. And they can learn how to drink from other teens or from adults. But the politicians find it wiser to force teens to learn how to drink from inexperienced teens who know no more than they do.

That is what happens in states where adults can be prosecuted if teens drink on their property while they are there. As Mr. Greenberg notes, the law gives an incentive for parents to avoid being around when teens drink. Even more stupidly the law requires the adult to evict any teenager who has been drinking on their property. So if two parents arrive home late at night, and find their teens had some friends over who were drinking, they are now obligated to tell these teens, inebriated or not, that they must vacate the premises. To require them to stay where they are until they sober up would put the parents at legal risk. Some of those teens will drive with that alcohol in their system. Maybe they will walk home. Sure, I can see the benefits of sending drunken teenage girls out into the streets in the dark of the night to avoid legal prosecution.

One of the things that I had to get used when living in Europe was the different attitude toward alcohol. Many homes routinely serve wine or beer at dinner including to “underage” children. Young teens will walk around with beer in their hands and no one says a word. One event I won’t forget was attending a Beer fest at a German high school, but outside of Germany. It was a German-language school for Germans living in that particular part of the world.

The event was packed out. The school itself had several hundred students attending. And many from the local German community attended. My pleasure was perhaps less than others since I don’t drink beer. But there were more varieties of beer on tap than I knew existed. And anyone, of any age, was free to drink—and they did. I suspect that close to 100% of the high school students at this school were drinking on school grounds with their teachers and parents. And no one was horrified. That is an American reaction.

There is no sudden transition for these kids. They don’t suddenly turn 21 one day and acquire the right to drink. They have been drinking for years already. In Europe something like 90% of individuals in their mid-teens drink and the average age to begin drinking is 12. Yet an EU study on drinking in Europe, while acknowledging that “Europe has the highest levels of consumption in the world” they also note that “European drinking patters are among the least damaging in the world.” (page 96)

This study still recognizes that drinking still creates some levels of harm, so it isn’t pretending that there are no problems associated with alcohol consumption. Yet, if this EU study is correct, while Europeans drink more than Americans, and begin drinking earlier than Americans, their drinking does less damage than does American drinking. Could one reason for this be that European teens are not be “protected” the way American teens are?

Rep. Greenberg says the sponsor of the bill acknowledged that it had problems. That, of course, didn't prevent the moralistic wing of the legislature from passing the bill "for the sake of the children." The bill's sponsor told him they would fix the bill later. Greenber said: "I tend to think that the only way to fix the bill's problems is to run it through a shredder, incinerate the remains and bury what's left in a big hole."

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