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On responsibility (and alcohol)

BY ZACH WAHLS | SEPTEMBER 10, 2010 7:20 AM

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More than any other value, responsibility is the signature American characteristic.

In our founding documents, the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" were guaranteed, so long as we conducted ourselves in a responsible manner. In this context, such behavior is understood to be one that does not bring unreasonable harm to others.

To that end, we have sets of laws that encourage responsible conduct. In theory, if we break those laws (i.e., infringe on the life or liberty of others), we are punished. For the most part, we are free to do what we please so long as we do not harm our fellow human beings.

My reason for this brief exercise in philosophical abstraction is simple: I want to be recognized as a competent, responsible adult.

I'm 19 years old. In the eyes of the law, I'm old enough to fight and die for my country, capable of operating a motor vehicle (which is saying something, considering 33,808 Americans died in traffic accidents in 2009), and I'm expected to exercise the most fundamental of civic duties. I have served on a ministerial search committee for my church, work part-time for the UI's IT department, and am an Eagle Scout — all in addition to being a full-time student.

You'd think that amid such responsibility, I'd be trusted to responsibly enjoy an alcoholic beverage.
Nope.

And in Iowa City, I can't even enjoy the company of those enjoying alcoholic beverages (and let's be frank, most drunks are pretty amusing). Not in bars after 10 p.m., anyway.

To be honest, I'm not terribly upset about that last bit. In fact, I don't even really mind not being able to legally consume alcohol. I do, however, take umbrage when my government, the one I support with my tax dollars, tells me that I am not responsible enough to have a glass of wine with dinner.

It was only when I sat down and began typing this column that I fully began to understand the Tea Party movement. Most Tea Partiers — or the ones I've met anyway — seem to be pretty responsible, if occasionally boisterous, people. They live within their means and work hard.

This seems to be completely opposite to the greed and excess of Wall Street and, apparently, the federal government. While I can't sympathize with much of the hard-right social morality associated with the Tea Party, I'm beginning to see where the movement is coming from.

But back to the beverage at hand.

As a Millennial, I'm all about responsibility, too. In fact, despite claims that my generation is filled with self-centered brats, most of my peers are fighting for something — and fighting hard.

Some are working to protect marriage equality in Iowa, others are literally creating the green economy, and even more are working in the fight against cancer. (UI Dance Marathon raised more than $1 million last year. Beat that.)

By the time we're sophomores, we're expected to declare our majors, a major life decision. It's news to me if that doesn't signal a significant level of maturity.

So here's a proposition: UI officials, sign onto the Amethyst Initiative. City Councilors, repeal the 21-ordinance. Let us drink.

We'll do it responsibly, for the most part. There are always a few bad apples. In exchange, go ahead and double — or even triple — the fine for public intoxication or possession of an open container in public. We won't mind.

Even though members of our generation are accused of feeling like we're all "special," this is at least one instance of us wanting to be treated the same.

We want to be treated like what we think we are and what the law tells us we are — responsible adults.


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