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What if I told you that smoking two packs a day doesn’t increase your risk of lung cancer? That a highly sedentary lifestyle doesn’t lead to various adverse outcomes? Surely you’d deride me. Conclude I’m off my rocker. Anti-science. A reactionary.

Would it be better if I qualified it to say that these behaviors are not the only causes for these conditions? Maybe, I guess, a little. But when the point is to minimize their importance as main risk factors, the question of motive naturally arises.

And so, what if I told you sex doesn’t really account for HIV transmission? Because you can do that if you are addressing a United Nations panel at an international AIDS conference. As to why the rules should be different when it comes to sex, well, that important question goes to the deepest, if often unknown, roots of our truly revolutionary culture. The short answer is because that is now how the drivers of modern society want it.

The opening remarks at the latest international AIDS Conference in South Africa last month featured some typical drivel:

It [HIV] has no biological preference for black bodies, for women’s bodies, for gay bodies, for youths or the poor. It doesn’t single out the vulnerable, the oppressed or the abused. We single out the vulnerable, the oppressed and the abused.


HIV is not just transmitted by sex… It’s transmitted by sexism, racism, poverty and homophobia. And if we’re going to end AIDS, we have to cure the disease within our own hearts and within our own minds first.

When I was first alerted to these remarks, I thought they had been made by one of the authorities. They turn out to have come from South African actress Charlize Theron. But to exaggerate only slightly, they could have come from most anyone participating in a “professional” capacity.

When she says “not just” by sex, she doesn’t mean that there are other means – indeed much more efficient means – of HIV transmission such as the sharing of needles and syringes. She means to direct attention away from sex itself, to minimize its primary role, and to shift ultimate causality anywhere else.

Where to start on such a pronouncement? Its absurdity makes for easy pickings, but one takeaway is that statements like these sound less like medicine than a strand of Marxism – cultural Marxism. The latter’s widespread and insidious influence is why public health authorities and celebrities can sound interchangeable, if the matter at hand involves sex.

What any such speaker aims to reinforce with that kind of declaration is the actual commitment of officialdom – and it is not to health but to “equality”. Since the original Marxist revolution morphed away from the sphere of economics and into the sexual revolution, every form of sex has necessarily come to be regarded a priori as equal; therefore, the objective risk profile must also be made equal. Nothing must jeopardize the truly radical assertion that there are no differences in the arena of sexuality.

In other words, objective hazards must be repackaged to conform to the value assigned to sexual behavior – which is something we don’t do for other public health matters. We don’t view consuming sugary drinks in large quantities as a positive good; otherwise, instead of proposed bans, we’d have campaigns to distribute them in the schools – but with some kind of pill to try to offset the foreseeable physical harm.

Notice the contention that there are no differences in the realm of sexuality is utterly unproven. That is very much in keeping with what the late Italian philosopher Augusto Del Noce felt was one of the chief influences of our metaphysically deprived time: scientism. Roughly speaking, this is the view that only science can be taken to represent legitimate knowledge, which mandates a corresponding – and highly consequential – dismissal of other long held universal truths in the realm of values and ethics.

He felt that scientism, with its claim that “science is capable of transforming the moral world itself”, is totalitarian in nature, and that it is even “more opposed to tradition than communism”. He further noted that ever since Francis Bacon four centuries ago, “the discovery of every new science has been accompanied by the proposal of a utopia.”

Back in the early 1970s he stressed, rightly, that scientism is an unproven ideology, and one inextricably tied to the rise of the “permissive” society. Because it lacks reasoned proof, it must seek to triumph by means of the will – by various forms of coercion – rather than by argument: “Without any proofs, one must rely upon the promise that characterizes every form of totalitarianism, namely future happiness”.

The future happiness to be attained via the sexual revolution is a matter of the will, not of reason. This is why no argument is seriously entertained – whether in the context of AIDS prevention or the broader cultural sphere.

This also explains why the emphasis of AIDS control programs is on using “the tools” at our disposal: it cannot be any other way – even though transmission is nonetheless inextricably tied to human behavior. And it also explains what Charlize Theron has in mind when she says the answer to AIDS lies in our minds; she is echoing what Wilhelm Reich’s advocated in his 1930 book The Sexual Revolution: the only ideas that should be tolerated are those that do not diminish “sexual happiness”.

There are a number of well-reasoned, constructively oriented critiques to the predominant approach to AIDS prevention – but they tend to fall on deaf ears, no matter how thoughtfully they are expressed. Probably the most common is the argument that the heavy reliance on risk reduction strategies might not only be counterproductive, but that they contain a premise that is unsettling, and not a little condescending, namely that people are incapable of refraining from harmful practices; and if practices known to be hazardous are simultaneously deemed unavoidable, then people are merely unwitting objects of vast forces perpetually beyond their control.

Put that way, one can sense something dehumanizing at the core of the whole program. Indeed, the British writer and retired physician Theodore Dalrymple regards harm reduction approaches as essentially “infantilizing”. The fact that he is not religious doesn’t earn him any points here though, because he has scorned this deeply held dogma. (Not coincidentally, he is no Marxist).

But these kinds of arguments mainly go ignored. Because they have to be ignored. There is a revolution to advance. Broken eggs, shattered lives, dismantled families: that is how the revolutionary omelet is made. But down that road lies nihilism, as we see all around us.

Unfortunately, this serves as but one example of where Del Noce feared we, our affluent, permissive, technocratic societies, were headed: “toward the rule of systematically organized mendacity.”

Matthew Hanley is a Senior Fellow with the National Catholic Bioethics Center. The opinions expressed here are his own and not those of the NCBC.

Michael Cook likes bad puns, bushwalking and black coffee. He did a BA at Harvard University in the US where it was good for networking, but moved to Sydney where it wasn’t. He also did a PhD on an obscure corner of Australian literature. He has worked as a book editor and magazine editor and has published articles in magazines and newspapers in the US, the UK and Australia. Currently he is the editor of BioEdge, a newsletter about bioethics, and MercatorNet. He also writes a bioethics column for Australasian Science and contributes occasional op-ed pieces to newspapers and websites in the US, UK and Australia.