Drinking and Thinking

by Paul "Bub" Cathcart | 10/12/00 5:00am

On average, Dartmouth students drink 1, 2, 3, or at most 4 drinks when they party." Statements like this have been plastered on bulletin boards all over campus since last fall. It's called the "social norms campaign," and it's a benevolent effort to reduce alcohol consumption on campus.

Frankly, I find it completely insulting.

As far as I can tell, I'm not alone. Student reactions I've overheard fall somewhere between "yeah, right," and "so?" Though brief and sardonic, these are valid criticisms.

The first criticism, skepticism towards statistics, is a predictable post-modern phenomenon, an understandable consequence of the general feeling that one can manipulate figures to support any hypothesis (see "Campaign 2000").

I'm much more interested, however, in the second criticism: so what? Get past the adolescent sarcasm and realize what is actually going on here: a poster tells me that most people do one thing, but I ask, why should I care what most people do? I love Dartmouth College because Hanover is not cluttered with "most people." It's a relatively isolated, intellectual place where I can learn to think for myself, without neon signs, television screens and billboard advertisements telling me who to be. An Epicurean garden.

Then one day I was staring at one of these posters, and I realized that it was the "cool kid" from a television after-school special. It was pressuring me into doing what everybody else was doing, or NOT doing, for that reason alone.

The social norms campaign takes for granted in Dartmouth students the same flocking behavior and susceptibility to psychological suggestion that I hope to educate myself out of over the course of my remaining three years. Though arguably effective, such ads belittle the intelligence of the student body. They base their implied discouragement of excessive drinking on a shallow reason ("nobody else is doing it,") and thus solve the problem for individuals in the short term only.

College is an intermediate, relatively safe environment where students experiment with various schedules, academic subjects, and social behaviors so that, after commencement when the stakes are higher, we are prepared to make our own decisions. Then there will be nobody holding our hands, reminding us not to drink too much, protecting me from the alcoholism of my grandparents. Eventually, we must decide, on our own and as individuals, whether or not excessive drinking is something we want in our lives.

So, in good Dartmouth form, I scoff at these posters and take it on myself to make up my mind, through thought and introspection. Is it worth the consequences? Is this what I came to college to do? Is this what my parents are paying for? Am I still in control?

Best of luck to us all, on our own in the unknown future.

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