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Proving Adulthood

As I inch closer to senior citizenship — gallop really — few things cheese me off more than continually having to prove I’m old enough to buy a drink. It’s been 33 years since I became an adult (36 really, but they changed the definition from 18 to 21 while I was in between the two). Of course, what it means to be an adult is quite the loaded question. The standard responsibilities, obligations and rights include voting, the ability to enter into contracts, marry and several others, including of course, drinking alcohol. The fact that these standards vary from nation to nation, and culture to culture, should convince you that they’re a product of each individual community, and really ought to reflect the values of the populace. And once upon a time, they did, but in my lifetime those values have been hijacked by a minority of fanatics who are committed to forcing their own values on the rest of us.

While the common sense argument that fighting for one’s country should include at least the ability to vote lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, the reverse of that argument was used to raise the drinking age from 18 to 21. People 18 to 20 could be counted on to protect our freedoms — and die for their country — but neo-prohibitionists argued that they weren’t ready to enjoy a beer. A specious argument to be sure, but they managed to tie raising the drinking age to federal highway funds, and no state could afford to remain sensible.

But for anti-alcohol fanatics even that wasn’t enough, it was just a start. And neo-prohibitionists ever since have been working tirelessly to tighten the noose on all manner of restrictions on alcohol. I remember when I was in my early 20s, signs at cash registers warned that if you look 25 or older, be prepared to show your I.D. By the time I was in my 30s, the signs had changed, too, saying roughly the same thing but making 30 the threshold. As I’ve aged, the needle keeps moving. A few years ago, Tennessee passed a law that every person, no matter how old, has to prove they’re at least 21, even if they have one foot in the grave, no exceptions.

People invariably tell me I should be flattered to look so young, and chuckle as they say it, as if I should be amused. Well, I’m not. It has nothing to do with youth. It has to do with control, and having to keep proving I’m an adult is a ridiculous indignity that grows more insulting with each passing year. We live in an increasingly Kafkaesque world where as the older I look, the more I have to prove it. As late as my 40s, I was refused service because I left my wallet at home, despite there being little doubt I was more than twice the age of majority. It’s become the modern equivalent of having to “show us your papers” (say it with a thick German accent), a sad cliche become real. Adulthood has responsibilities and obligations, of course, but it should also have a few benefits, like not having to carry our “papers” with us wherever we go.

But now Somerset, the county in southwest England, has taken this absurdity one step farther. According to a story in the This is Somerset newspaper — a Grandfather, 77, falls foul of shop’s booze rules — an elderly gentlemen was refused his purchase of beer because he was shopping with his teenage grandson. Apparently, the overzealous cashier thought the 77-year old man was buying beer for the teenager, but even after he confirmed they were related, the sale was still refused. He sent his grandson outside, but the cashier still wouldn’t budge. Commenters to the story insist that she was right to refuse the sale because that’s what the law says. And that’s probably correct, but it’s the law that’s wrong. We have to stop trying to make a perfect society through such absurd legislation. When an elderly man can’t shop with his grandchild and buy something he’s legally entitled to purchase because he could potentially turn around and do something illegal with it, that’s going too far. That’s trying to fix a perceived problem by creating a different problem for many more people than were affected by the original problem. But this is the neo-prohibitionist strategy in a nutshell. They want to make it as difficult as possible for as many people as possible. It’s using a bazooka to kill a fly. It’s about punishing everyone who drinks, not about keeping alcohol away from minors.

And so neo-prohibitionists insist that 4/5th of the adult population, or more, has to suffer on the off chance a 16-year old might get his hands on a beer. That’s not what it should mean to be an adult in any society.

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