Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Centrism and Alcohol

Today Danville, KY, is voting on whether go from "moist" to "wet."

UPDATE: Danville went wet, 57% to 43% in heavier-than-expected turnout (2,508 to 1,911).

For those outside the South this whole concept may be odd. When we moved to Danville twenty years ago it was dry, meaning that selling and serving alcohol was illegal. A few years ago we voted to go "moist." Restaurants that seat at least 100 and get at least 70% of their revenue from food were allowed to sell alcohol by the drink. What all this means is no bars, no liquor stores, no downtown cafes selling a glass of wine. This kind of minute regulation of alcohol distribution is fairly common in all the Baptist-majority counties of the South. I can tell you, though, it is a very difficult concept to explain to, for example, a traveling group of Irish actors or Russian musicians, as has happened at Centre.

Today we are voting on whether to go "wet." This would allow liquor stores, beer and wine sales in other stores, smaller restaurants and cafes, even bars. No town in Kentucky has gone from moist to wet before, and I really do not know how the election will turn out.

I have been torn about how to vote. I am a teetotaler, so I my own consumption is not the issue for me. But I do care about the health and well-being of my neighbors, and the economic health of the town. I also do not want to see bars in Danville. I think they are a danger anywhere, but are a menace in a small college town.

Nonetheless, in the end I voted yes.

What does this have to do with centrism? I believe that alcohol is an irreducible part of human society. I don't care for it myself, but I know that others enjoy it. I think alcohol in moderation is OK. Jesus made wine - it can't be all bad.

Instead, I believe that we should actively and persistently promote, teach, and model moderation in alcohol consumption. This is especially important for adults teaching young adults, such as the hundreds of college students in our charge. I have long favored drinking licenses for 18, 19, and 20 year olds. I think the adults of the community should teach the young how to drink moderately. Drinking is not the menace; drunkenness is.


randy said...

well...as i recall from my own days as an 18y/o centre freshman in 1982; good old centre was an oasis of alcohol in the dry desert.

there was NO shortage of beer that i was ever aware of.

but surely a loud little college town bar w/bands and all the usual whoop de doo would fit right in on main st in danville?

Kerri said...

I think that, for Danville's purposes, there wouldn't be as much of an audience for bars (or, what a "bar" would be in a city like Lexington or Louisville). Many of the bigger restaurants that sell drinks have a bar area, anyway, so the bar experience is available but tempered by the restaurant atmosphere (usually- Reno's might be an exception!).

I do hope more music venues pop up-- but, if the size restrictions are gone, we can have more places like 4th Street Deli and the Hub where music is already happening.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

Hopefully, this will result in the recognition that alcohol is not a morally neutral substance (that is, one that might be used for good or ill, but doesn't essentially tend in one direction or the other), but something essentially good.

The incorrect way the moral debate has often been posed (whether alcohol is permissible rather than whether alcohol is good) has largely resulted in the public debate being carried on in utilitarian terms (whether the financial benefits of alcohol outweigh the social costs). If the moral debate focuses on the inherent goodness of alcohol, then the public discussion should focus on how to encourage the proper use of alcohol and discourage the improper use.

Anonymous said...

As a Presbyterian Youth Worker in the South (volunteer, not professional,) I have often bemoaned our lack of ability to model responsible consumption for our young people.

I don't deny that abuse of alcohol is a major problem on college campuses (and even in our high schools.)

I also don't deny that anti-social overuse of cellphones (and other personal communication devices) is a problem among many of our youth (albeit certainly not as life threatening.)

The difference is that I can easily model responsible use of personal communication devices, and very effectively help to shape the values and behavior of the youth I work with.

With alcohol effectively banned from (public) religious life in the South, I have no way to effectively model responsible consumption (with the exception of talking about it.)

On more than one occasion (in fact, on many occasions,) I have had private conversations with young adults who are about to move off to college for the first time. Those conversations often center around a fear of being caught in the middle of a culture that values alcohol consumption - something that they have no experience with. The best I have been able to muster up in those conversations is this advice: "If you decide to experiment with alcohol, please do it in a safe context. Please have a sober friend with you. Please be somewhere where noone has to drive. Please stop while it's still fun, realizing that you will shoot past fun into 'oh crap' very quickly."

I would vastly prefer it if a responsible member of the young adult's faith community - someone who takes seriously their baptismal vows - could be that sober friend.

Black Sea said...

It has long been said in the South that the Baptists and the bootleggers are in league to keep their localities dry, or at least, not entirely wet. I would guess that this is still so.

Booze does indeed cause many a problem on and around college campuses. I have my doubts as to how much the modelling of "responsible" drinking behavior will change that. Young people are often risk seekers, with short time horizons and an underdeveloped appreciation for consequences. Plus, they tend to get drunk easily, due to lack of sustained exposure to alcohol. I'm not saying that they shouldn't have access to alcohol, in part, because you can't prevent it anyway, but some very unpleasant experiences, and a certain number of tragedies, will certainly ensue.