Whatever the Republican Party's candidate for the Supreme Court did or didn't do during his rich, privileged, elitist education, one consistent theme that runs through all these sad stories is the widespread abuse of alcohol in such settings. With so much at stake in this controversy, thinking about the plague of alcohol abuse (including and especially underage alcohol abuse) is obviously only one of many more pressing concerns. Even so, and setting aside for the moment all the other important issues and the personalities involved, I keep wondering how and why have we as a society gotten to such a place where being drunk can be thought of as common and routine among many young people? Whatever else did or didn't happen in all these stories, drinking and getting drunk seems central - for the alleged attacker, for the alleged victims, and for whatever witnesses were present.
Admittedly alcohol abuse is nothing new and has always been a major problem in many societies. A century ago, Prohibition was an ill-conceived - and ultimately unsuccessful - extreme attempt to address this issue in the United States. Some societies seem more successful than others in fostering more balanced cultural attitudes about alcohol usage. It does seem to help somewhat when alcohol usage is predominantly associated with home and meals and when public displays of drinking and drunkenness are socially scorned. Part of our contemporary problem may be that, while we have made such significant strides in some areas, out-of-the-home drinking remains a widespread epidemic in certain age groups and social situations - while no longer receiving the appropriate amount of public scorn necessary to counteract it. At present, all sorts of behaviors that were once more common and socially accepted are no longer socially accepted and so have become less common. Do we need a comparable social re-evaluation of public drinking?