Without Wine, Wisdom

In a commentary piece Camille Paglia wrote for the May 19 issue of Time, she says that it's time to let teenagers drink again. While she has some valid points, several of her arguments are specious at best (and historically inaccurate at worst).

 
Paglia's first two paragraphs lay out her feelings on the issue quite nicely: by maintaining our thirty year old law against underaged drinking, the United States is on par with "small or repressive countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates" (p2). I have two problems with that statement–one, all six of those countries are predominantly Muslim and as you, dear reader, have doubtlessly read in other articles, Muslim culture tends to be more restrictive than secular cultures. (Why else would Iranian women be happily doffing their hijab on Facebook?) Second, Muslims aren't allowed to drink! (5:91: "Satan only wants to cause between you animosity and hatred through intoxicants and gambling and to avert you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer. So will you not desist?") How can you compare wanting to keep our young people safe from alcohol to being of the same mind of countries where alcohol consumption isn't even permitted by right of religious law? That makes no sense!

Paglia complains that the alcohol law is "dictatorial" and "the government is not our nanny" (p3), yet she continues to say that the decrease in drunk driving deaths is "partly attributable to more uniform seatbelt use" (p3). I don't know what things are like on the east coast (where she presumably lives, since she teaches in Philadelphia); but here in Michigan, we only have "uniform seatbelt use" because of government oversight! I wonder if Paglia has completely missed the seatbelt checkpoints that have sprung up over the last several years? She must have been a clever driver to miss all those checkpoints; because if she'd driven through them, she certainly would be bitching that they, too, were "dictatorial" and complaining–again– that "the government is not our nanny"!

What's even more hilarious is that Paglia continues to say that learning about drinking is a "basic lesson in growing up" (p4). She states that "[beer] was a nourishing food in [ancient] Egypt and Mesopotamia, and wine was identified with the life force in Greece and Rome…" (p4). "Nourishing"? She does remember that water was unsafe to drink back then, right? And Egyptians drank a lot of unfermented fruit juices as well. (I realize Michelle Moran's work is historical fiction, but I don't think she would've included shedeh so frequently in Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen if it wasn't an extremely popular drink!) The only time I hear of water being consumed in ancient times is when authors mention watered wine–presumably because the alcohol content kills any bacteria in the water. (I have one of my characters offered a goblet of water in my last book with the assurance it came from the aqueduct–but I'm not even completely sure that was safe!)

Calling the 1984 drinking law "cruel" (p5), Paglia states that young people lost "safe" places to party and socialize, thus inducing the "scourge of crude binge drinking at [fraternity keg parties]" (p5) and even suggests that the drinking law is the cause of date rape! Wow, she sure has a lot of faith in alcohol's ability to cure social ills, doesn't she?

I'm fairly certain that "keggers" would continue, even if the drinking age were lowered to eighteen. I've seen kegs at plenty of parties in the past…why wouldn't lowering the drinking age be further encouragement for binging? Does Paglia really believe that drinking only happens in bars? To me, lowering the drinking age would just be more encouragement to stay home and drink irresponsibly, since there are no bartenders (and presumably no parents) to cut you off.

As for her blame of date rape and the increased use of roofies, I assume Paglia means to imply that if more people drank at a younger age, they would be more ready to have sex and there would be no need for rapists to use Ketamine and other drugs. Wow, Camille…are you seriously suggesting that it's a good idea to make it easier for date rape to occur? What about the people who don't drink? Would you encourage the continued use of drugs then? How about the issue of consensual sex? Are you prepared to personally deal with the increase in teen pregnancies that will surely come when the drinking age is lowered? (I'm sure she'd say, "But that doesn't happen in other countries!" Oh, try it, my dear! Raise the drinking age for three years, then put it back where it was and see if teen pregnancies spike–hello, open invitation for uninhibited sex!)

"Alcohol relaxes, facilitates interactions, inspires ideas and promotes humor and hilarity." (p6). Of course, alcohol "relaxes"–it's a central nervous system depressant. Anything that slows down CNS/ANS responses is going to "relax" you, whether it alcohol, pills or simply meditation. As for "facilitating interactions" and "promoting humor and hilarity", alcohol also lowers inhibitions. The stupid things that people have said and done while under the influence of alcohol could fill an entire library. In fact, it has filled entire libraries–how many movies in the history of film have involved people performing moronic actions because they're inebriated? Too many! Especially if it involves underage drinking!

Oh, but Paglia doesn't stop there…her mention of "alcohol inspiring ideas" is a commentary on the lack of authors who drink! But I'll get there in a minute.

"But deadening pills, like today's massively over-prescribed [sic] antidepressants, linger in the body and brain…half of the urban professional class in the U.S. seems to be doped up on meds these days." (p6).

Oh, sweet Mother Goddess! Do not, do not, DO NOT get me started on antidepressants, Paglia! I think you think that you know what it means to be me, but I'm pretty sure you don't have the first bloody clue! (Any questions, see this entry.) What, are we all crybabies? Do we all need a swift kick in the ass? Is that how you propose to solve depression and panic disorder? I notice you say in that same paragraph that the chemicals present in antidepressants seem to be responsible for "a recent uptick in unexplained suicides and massacres", yet you don't supplement your accusations of an overmedicated country by providing numbers on how many people have killed themselves (and others) because they weren't being treated by mental health professionals! Why…are you afraid that number would be exponentially higher?

 

(I probably just lost my chance at being Freshly Pressed by letting this go from a well-reasoned essay to a rant against Camille Paglia, but I can't help myself…her ideas are completely outlandish and totally unsupported.)

 

What really hurts beyond all measure–and I honestly didn't realize it hurt, until I came down to this last bit–was that Paglia said in her second-to-last sentence, "…the age-21 law has also had a disastrous affect on our arts and letters, with their increasing dullness and medocrity." (p8). Wow, so you really have the unbridled audacity to say that I'll never be a great writer because I rarely drink? That I'll never be even an eighth as amazing as Stephen King, because I've never had his problem with drinking? That I'll never know the inside of a great villain, because I've never been so strung out that I had to stop shooting a movie like Jamie? Are you going to stoop so low as to say I'll never be a bestselling author because I'm a single, Caucasian virgin? Because I'm a Goddess-worshipper? A Democrat? A cat-lover?

I'm sorry you don't see the prudence in my choice to indulge in alcohol sparingly. You may quote the Romans with "in vino, veritas"; but thanks to Google, I can quote Latin right back: "sine vinum, sapientia"–without wine, wisdom.

Author's Notes:

  1. "P#" refers to the paragraph number that the quote appears in. The original article can be found on page 22 of the May 19, 2014 issue of Time.
  2. The links that show up in the text are links to the source material. The photos have been linked to their original source for the reader's convenience.

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