Whenever something happens, tragically or comically, we tend to say afterward, “Perhaps we’ll learn a lesson from this.”
No more. We won’t. Society as a whole doesn’t learn lessons. When someone does something and screws up, perhaps that person learns not to repeat that specific action again. But it’s obvious that pretty much no one else inclined to do the same thing is in any way deterred from trying it themselves.
At least that’s the way it appears.
Over the past few months, we’ve now seen a handful of incidents in which teens have been partying with alcohol, gotten caught by Columbia County deputies and had their names listed in the paper after they are cited for being a minor in possession of alcohol.
As best we can tell, subsequent parties, including the two busted this weekend, haven’t yielded any repeat offenders. But there certainly were offenders who were keenly aware that what they were doing could get them in trouble and embarrassed if they were caught.
And right there are the key words: if they were caught. It’s a pretty safe bet that every one of those nearly three dozen under-20-somethings cited this past weekend for drinking at parties thought they’d get away with it. Heck, after three drinks they probably thought they were invisible and invincible anyway.
In that sense, they’re like every drunken driver and shoplifter and petty criminal, thinking their activity has a pretty good risk-to-reward ratio. In the unlikely event that they’re caught, the penalties are pretty soft. But if you aren’t caught? Sweet.
I know some of the kids busted this past weekend. Those who I know are all good kids, most of them with good parents. And undoubtedly that will be a large part of their contrite comments when they appear before a judge to answer for their citation: I’m a good kid, my mom and dad are here with me, I’ll graduate in a few weeks with good grades, I’m planning to go to college, yada yada yada.
They’ll stoically, or tearfully, accept the warning and fine and stern finger-wagging from the judge, and go forth to be more careful to not get caught the next time they party. Wait, I meant go forth to sin no more. Yeah. That’s what I meant.
Maybe not with this batch, because they were still operating under the old assumptions, but perhaps it’s time for us, collectively, to reach some kind of decision on this activity. We need to either de facto condone it by just agreeing to look the other way as long as no one gets hurt, or crack down so hard that the kids involved will have a panic attack just from seeing a beer ad.
After all, nothing else seems to work, and the parties go on. While we’re at it, should we perhaps reopen the discussion about whether it was a good idea to let the federal government bully all the states into raising the drinking age to 21?
We certainly haven’t seemed to learn any lessons from that, either.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/