I said in my last entry that I would repost one of my old entries from my first diary next. (I would like to get into a pattern of reposting more of it. Some of it would be the first time I had written about things "out loud", and it shows in interesting ways, interesting to me anyway.)
Here it is.
Rain-shadows: strangely quiet controversies - 10/15/2000
“Rain-shadow” is the secret of the desert that lies over the mountains from the sea.
The wind blows in from the ocean, and then as the land rises and the air rises with it the temperature drops with the increase in altitude, and the water vapor condenses, and the rain is dumped on the slopes. When the air reaches the top of the slope and passes into the lands beyond, there is little water vapor left in it, so there is a desert after the mountains. Also as the water is condensing into rain, a lot of energy is released as the water changes state, heating the air again before it clears the mountains (indeed, the heat helps it clear the mountains), and the desert beyond the mountains is hotter than the sunshine there alone would account for.
Public interest/concern can operate the same way. This isn’t limited to a single political party - the relations between all parties can make rain-shadow effects. A mistake you can make is to assume that the various opinion-groups and the fights between them have the whole landscape of options covered - this is the equivalent of assuming that the pattern of thundershowers is the whole terrain. This does not have to be the case.
An example. I read an interview with Sharon Mitchell recently; she’s a 25-year veteran of the porn industry turned health activist who started and runs a health clinic for people in the industry. She says the porn industry is amazingly denial-based in protecting its performers from STDs and AIDS, that there has been no unified or consistent system of precautions in or between companies, and that the performers have to pay for their own tests, etc...
If true, this is astonishing. All that very visibly unprotected sex and there’s no “airlock” system?!? You would assume that they would have to have a screening system like the system of airlocks on a space habitat! They would HAVE to! And they’re just hoping for the best?? When, as Mitchell pointed out, even the guy who stacks the video tapes in the warehouse has regulations requiring him to have hepatitis shots?? It’s DANGEROUS for everyone on the screen!
I don’t have the detail to enlarge on this. I suspect a way to go might be to email Mitchell herself through her clinic’s website (http://www.aim-med.org/). But what interests me about it - besides just the simple fact that I do not like to think that the people I’ve sometimes looked at and been thinking well of might be in danger - is the priority/concern rain-shadow implied here. Why isn’t the porn industry required to meet safety regulations? Probably the answer is simple: because a) no politician wants to tar hi/rself and hi/r other priorities by showing a public concern for the safety of sex workers; and b) the politicians with a roaring concer about porn *would only like to ban it* - they’re only interested in the immorality or sexual-exploitation questions, not in the economic-exploitation/”sweatshop” angle. So the California big shots make OCEANS of money not having to worry about real health precautions (*which they could definitely afford*), and the people who are pulled in by the hefty pay to perform in front of the camera are put in major avoidable danger! And there will not be a political move to change it. No *LESS*-stigmatized industry could get away with this. It’s insane, but it has a weird logic of events to it.
(A speculation I have, although I’m just guessing, is that the Netherlands, Denmark, etc. may not have this problem, or not as badly. They are far more accustomed to planned toleration of the undesirable, and I would bet that health-screening requirements are in place, the same way that tax/licence revenues from legal prostitution in Denmark go straight to prevention of abuse of women. The plan was to regulate it *from the beginning*. We in the U.S. never even “decided” that pornography would be legal; the Supreme Court did that based on the First Amendment. And so there is this strange rain-shadow effect.)
I talked/wrote to two people about the porn-safety question before I got my head together to talk about it in here, and the one who answered - my mother - said 1) that in truth she did not really *mind* if a lot of “sluts” got diseases (I have no direct way to counterargue, I just disagree); 2) that those people ought to know that they should use protection in situations like that (this one I can argue with: if the director, etc. says “no condoms in this shoot”, the person in the job is not going to be protected by a condom assuming s/he performs at all - and meanwhile everyone on the set is saying, “I’m sure it’s fine...”), and 3), the most telling: that *the point of the whole thing is that there should not be porn at all*.
I have big problems with that last one. Saying that the difficulties should not exist because the question/situation should not exist is ... well, it’s an excuse for ANY rain-shadow effect at all, ANYWHERE, really. In any questionable match between the prioritysides and reality, this is like, instead of saying that the priorities should be adjusted or reapplied to address reality better, just saying that *reality itself just isn’t looking at things properly.* I see this as ludicrous moral self-indulgence - the line of self-indulgence being crossed at the point where it stopped mattering what the reality is, or what the consequences of our choicemaking could be. There should not be porn at all? Okay, is pornography foreseeably going anywhere? No? Therefore - what?
Which brings us to another, very different deserty example - which would this time be in Idaho.
Have I overstretched the rain-shadow metaphor? Not terminally. In this case, though, the rain-shadow is cast by a Message Being Sent.... and the best metaphor for *that* might be a desert mirage.
This is an interesting business: the Right or Wrong Message Being Sent. It can have nothing to do with any actual text or content involved; that can be totally separate. And the actual text or content can be completely true and sound, and be said to Be Sending The Wrong Message; the actual text or content can be extremely unreliable and even false, and be said to be Sending the Right Message. And what is the Message Being Sent? It’s a hypothetical implied conclusion about whether something is Okay or Not Okay, a conclusion that a hypothetical fantastically stupid, wilful, morally bankrupt, overimpulsive, illiterate, hallucinating troglodyte of an adolescent might just barely by some wild stretch of the imagination think s/he discerns implied in a fact, in presented information or the fact that the information is there, or in a turn of events. Really the concern with Sending Messages is a *paranoiac dream* of influence in some genuinely important area of others’ lives that the Message-Senders feel it desperately important to impact. In practice, it takes the very *stupidest* reasons there are to support or oppose anything - by which I mean: purely intrinsic reasons - and transforms them into matters *of practical necessity.*
And while doing that... what else does it do?
Well... for a while I worked in a press clipping bureau, and I saw a series of newspaper reports from Idaho. It seems that in some counties in Idaho at the time, methamphetamine was becoming so common that not only had it shouldered aside marijuana as the number one illegal drug used, but it was also reported that it was becoming the drug most commonly *first* used by young people. There was something missing from the reportage, and, believe me, after a while I was looking. What was missing from the news stories was the impression that anything bad or really newsworthy had happened in the shift. It was just neutral reportage of a neutral fact found.
The only explanation I could think of, or have been able to think of since, is that no one in the press or of the people they interviewed - should I limit this to “of the people who even knew”? - wanted to be heard saying that methamphetamine was more dangerous than marijuana, or that marijuana was any safer than methamphetamine. That might have sounded soft on pot.
There *is a major* difference between marijuana and methamphetamine. Physical effects, toxicity, psychological and behavioral effects including the implications for incidence of crime and violence, the phenomenology of habituation and addiction... That shift in usage, if it was reported accurately, was a public health setback and perhaps a public health CATASTROPHE. And it seemed that no one wanted to say it, or say they knew it. As I read these stories, more and more I wanted to know about the drug education being used. Right or Wrong Messages may or may not have consequences outside the imaginations of the Message-Senders - but actual accurate information, or the omission of actual accurate information, definitely does have consequences. If the fear of Sending The Wrong Message about pot was preventing the presentation of health information showing that methamphetamine is more dangerous than marijuana, then it might have been in part responsible for the developments in those counties in Idaho.
“One killer drug, another killer drug...what’s the difference?” “One fun way to get f--ked up, another fun way to get f--ked up... what’s the difference?”
I have never written about that before, I don’t think. I did not talk about it to anyone at the time. I can feel it has been waiting a long time to come out. My scalp feels tight, sitting here at the keyboard.
The bowdlerization of accurate information to make people make the right decisions is stupid.
You can certainly paper over the strange situation around safety and sex workers by saying that there should not be any sex workers. You can certainly paper over the peculiar omission of the fact that one should avoid the most dangerous drugs most of all by saying that there should not be any recreational drug use (apparently other than alcohol). But in both cases you would have to distort reality by saying that reality is limited to the causes and effects that we want to find important. It is not.
Post-script to the pot/meth thing, by the way: Government research may eventually clear that question up once and for all. Researchers have been trying to develop a superpest or disease that will attack marijuana like Dutch elm blight attacks elms. The project funding is in no danger of being cut, and biological techniques are getting better all the time; the project may very well succeed. Officials have said there will be no chance that the disease might wipe out other plant species... who knows, maybe governments have gotten better at handling their Vital Uncriticizable Priorities since the leaking of radiation from plants that made tritium for H-bombs was covered up for decades; we can hope so, anyway. So maybe the spores will be distributed again and again, perhaps periodically released from planes over cities and fields and forests and towns, and Cannabis Sativa will die out. Which will leave the field wide open... for drugs that *aren’t* susceptible to disease solutions, that are made in labs. Like meth.
No, the pattern of our society’s political interests and controversies at any one time is *not* the whole terrain.