Spare us 'when I was in college...'
Here's the wrong way to go when discussing what appears to be a plague of underage drinking among students: "When I was in college..." It doesn't matter what we (I) experienced a generation or two ago during those first heady years of college. Th...
Here's the wrong way to go when discussing what appears to be a plague of underage drinking among students: "When I was in college..."
It doesn't matter what we (I) experienced a generation or two ago during those first heady years of college. The "Animal House" lunacy of my era has no significant bearing on the binge-drinking culture afflicting young people today. The current "generation gap" of social science fame is a disconnection borne of influences that are so pervasive and so persuasive they could not be imagined in the 1960s and 1970s.
It's a new world, and it's within the framework of that world that alcohol abuse must be addressed. Looking back through rose-colored glasses to the good ol' days of college partying is no more than self-serving nostalgic piffle. It's a flimsy refuge from confronting the smarmy complexities of today's problem.
If we don't get it, read the letters and commentary on this page. The theme is the same in nearly all of them: Drinking to excess - to oblivion - is no big deal. The column by Fargo South graduate and University of Minnesota student Jessica Ruth (who ought to know better) says it all:
"It's all about finally being free from parental control," she writes, "finding where you fit in the world, developing a life and identity, and being able to do what you want, even if it is illegal drinking." (My emphasis.)
Well, OK. We've all been there.
But when "being free from parental control" morphs into routine illegality and chronic alcohol abuse, something else besides proclaiming one's independence is at work. If "finding where you fit in the world" includes destructive behavior that will guarantee your becoming a misfit, then you have it wrong. If "doing what you want" means it's OK to kill yourself while your friends blithely serve up the means of death, then somewhere along the road to maturity, young adults either did not learn or have rejected basic human values.
Which raises troubling questions: What's going on? Are the currents in modern society so corrupting that the easily corruptible have no chance? Are young people so enamored (bamboozled) by the doctrine of personal responsibility they use it as an excuse to absolve themselves of responsibility to each other?
It's a mistake to put all young adults in the same binge-drinking basket. Social scientists tell us that overall underage drinking is down. But among those who still drink, binge drinking is up. Among binge drinkers, the risk of alcohol poisoning and booze-related death is up, as we've seen in Fargo-Moorhead during the last couple of years.
No easy answers. No comfortable platitudes. No resorting to "when I was in college..." Today's life-threatening style of alcohol abuse must be seen in today's social context. As one Forum editor said: "We have to meet them (the students) where they are." That's no easy task for those of us who understood that even the booze-swilling characters in the "Animal House" movie could count on friends who knew when to say stop.
Zaleski can be reached at email@example.com or (701) 241-5521.