By the time this column is published, I’ll be a hypocrite. Having spent months – no, years – empathizing with those of my kind, I will join the ranks of the elite the minute I am eligible. I will accept the sanction of legitimacy from the very authority I have tried, for years, to undermine. The elite I speak of are, of course, the of-age, and I join their circle readily, but not without reservations.

I’m fairly appreciative that my nation will soon deem me old enough to operate a two-ton vehicle, drop bombs on civilian populations and to have a glass of Chardonnay afterward. I’m a little concerned, however, that it’s all going to seem a lot less stimulating now that the challenge is gone. For instance, the whole delightful dynamic between me and the bouncer is going to disappear now that he is obligated to let me come in and spend money. I felt a potent bond with all of those burly men who looked at me, then at my ID and decided that the difference between me and the 5-foot-1 Asian girl pictured was a new haircut. Those moments of silent union are rare between strangers, and they will be rarer still after Friday.

There also seems to be some sort of compulsion to drink responsibly, now that the game is over and access to the goods is no longer contingent on the whim of a large, scary man. It used to be that getting into a bar was reason enough to indulge copiously, but now that the strained resource is money rather than alcohol, I doubt that extra shot will seem necessary.

These are trifling concerns, the passing preoccupations of the American university student. I expect I’ll soon forget what it is like to watch reruns of “Seinfeld” while my friends – older and wiser, by the law’s estimation – enjoy their government sanction. But that is precisely why it is important to reflect now on what exactly it feels like to be an adult who cannot, without resorting to the indignity of deception, ask another adult for a beer.

It’s true that I’ll miss that bit of tense energy I used to feel every time a bouncer glanced at the Asian version of myself, but it should strike everyone as disturbing that I – as a very normal university student – have become so addicted to breaking the law that I will be disappointed when I no longer have to do so. My inclination toward petty crime was born with alcohol policy and may well die there. But, as a middle-class university student, I have explicit motives for keeping a clean record. This is not true of every 20-year-old in this country.

The fact that the drinking age has now become a part of our culture rather than a subject of debate obviously relates to the fact that so few young people vote; only 36 percent of those aged 18 to 24 in the last presidential election. But the causal relationship works two ways. Alcohol policy, rarely obeyed and spottily enforced, engenders disrespect toward law enforcement and apathy toward legislation. It’s a very tangible example of ineffective lawmaking, and it affects a group that is already politically alienated. Such laws are more useful as political capital and fuel for empty rhetoric than for the well-being of society, and, in the absence of countering political action, the only response is cynicism.

In September Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) held a congressional briefing on the problem of binge drinking on college campuses; six students had died from incidents at the University of Connecticut in the past year. His brilliant solution? Tougher law enforcement. Perhaps Lieberman should think a little harder about his days at Yale, when such incidents were somewhat less common – and when the drinking age was 18. Are students really that much less irresponsible that than they were 20 years ago, when the law was changed in Connecticut? It seems blatantly obvious that, even if tougher enforcement will lower the total amount of alcohol consumption on a college campus, such enforcement will either increase binge drinking or have no effect at all. There is a paucity of research on the subject, but a study from the University of Indiana reported no change in heavy drinking in American university students before and after 1987, when the national policy changed.

Of course, writing to students about lowering the drinking age is, in effect, preaching to the choir. But it’s a strangely silent choir on this particular issue, especially for a campus as politically charged as Georgetown. There are surely students who are passionate about the matter, but perhaps the fire burns out once the ban is inevitably lifted. Every objector becomes neutralized when the debate is no longer personal, and the voices of reason become quieter as the calendar advances. The indignant drop out of the debate to enjoy their new freedoms. And by the time this column is published, one more may have fallen silent.

Kerry Howley is a senior in the College and can be reached at Infinite Regress appears every other Friday.

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