The language of ought

Bill Weintraub

Bill Weintraub

The language of ought


New York Times columnist David Brooks has an excellent piece in today's paper titled "The Wisdom We Need to Fight AIDS."

Here are some excerpts:

The problem is that while treatment is a technical problem, prevention is not. Prevention is about changing behavior. It is getting into the hearts of people in their vulnerable moments - when they are drinking, when they are in the throes of passion - and influencing them to change the behavior that they have not so far changed under the threat of death.

This is a mysterious task. In Mozambique's Gaza province, thousands of kids nursed their parents as they died. And yet, according to those who now care for the orphans, the children are exactly replicating the behaviors that led to their parents' demise. If that experience doesn't change people, what will?

We have tried awareness, but awareness alone is insufficient. Surveys show that vast majorities understand, at least intellectually, the dangers of H.I.V. They behave in risky ways anyway.

We have issued condoms, but condoms alone are insufficient. Surveys also show that a vast majority know where they can get condoms. But that doesn't mean they actually use them, as rising or stable infection rates demonstrate.

We have tried economic development, but that too is necessary but insufficient. The most aggressive spreaders of the disease are relatively well off. They are miners who have sex with prostitutes and bring the disease home to their wives. They are teachers who trade grades for sex. They are sugar daddies who have sex with 14-year-old girls in exchange for cellphone time.

If this were about offering people the right incentives, we would have solved this problem. But the AIDS crisis has another element, which can be addressed only by some other language - the language those people in church slipped into.

The AIDS crisis is about evil. It's about the small gangs of predatory men who knowingly infect women by the score without a second thought in the world.

The AIDS crisis is about the sanctity of life. It's about people who have come to so undervalue their own life that ruinous behavior seems unimportant and death is accepted fatalistically.

It's about disproportionate suffering. It's about people who commit minor transgressions, or even no transgressions, and suffer consequences too horrible to contemplate. In America we read in the Book of Job; in sub-Saharan Africa they have 10 Jobs per acre.

It's about these and a dozen other things - trust, fear, weakness, traditions, temptation - none of which can be fully addressed by externals.

They can be addressed only by the language of ought, by fixing behavior into some relevant set of transcendent ideals and faiths.

[emphases mine]

Brooks is right.

The fight against AIDS is value-driven.

As he says, the AIDS crisis is about evil and about the sanctity of life.

Infecting another person with HIV is evil.

Not saying so is evil too.

As is the failure to acknowledge that life is more important than sex or any other transient pleasure.

That's what the safer-sex establishment refuses to recognize, and that's why safer-sex has failed.

I recently had a letter from a safer-sex counselor saying that he couldn't possibly discuss Frot with all his "clients."

What nonsense.

*Every* safer-sex counseling session should have discussion of non-anal alternatives.

Failure to discuss those alternatives is evil.

Because it encourages a practice which is literally deadly.

And because it puts protecting the client's anality ahead of saving human life.

This same safer-sex counselor continues to condemn our stance on effeminacy while stating both in his gay dot com profile and in his letter to me that he won't sleep with effeminate men.

What utter hypocrisy.

When I was a young man, one of my first boyfriends was an effeminate man.

In bed, his effeminacy vanished, he became what he manifestly was, a man, and we had very hot and mutually pleasurable sex, true man2man sex, Frot.

But his effeminacy was a sticking point in our relationship -- I wouldn't support it and I told him so more than once.

Not surprisingly, we broke up; and also, not surprisingly, he subsequently got buttfucked, got AIDS, and died.

Which is a shame, because he was a bright, talented, and gifted man.

But he bought into the lie of effeminacy, and it killed him.

Should we be supporting other men in that lie?


Effeminacy facilitates anal penetration.

It's not mysterious and it's not complicated.

Unless, I guess, you're getting paid to give people bad advice about their sex lives.

Otherwise, it's obvious: behavior flows from belief, and if you think you're a woman, it's logical to get penetrated like a woman.

Except that since you don't have a vagina, you have to get penetrated anally.

And if you get penetrated anally often enough in a sexual environment rife with HIV -- you're going to get AIDS.

And not saying so is deeply and fundamentally immoral.

So: in The Man2Man Alliance, we speak, in David Brooks' felicitous phrase, "the language of ought."

We exhort men to choose Frot, not anal.

Fidelity, not promiscuity.

And Masculinity, not effeminacy.

And in so doing, to choose Life.

And we speak of Heroic Homosex and Heroic Love:

To love another man as an equal and a man with total fidelity.

Because doing so, as Brooks says, puts "behavior into some relevant set of transcendent ideals and faiths."

There's no other way to fight this fight.

For if all it's about is sex, there's no reason not to be utterly selfish.

Now, Brooks, who is Jewish, speaks of "transcendent ideals and faiths," by which he's referring, in this context, primarily to Christianity and I would think Islam as well in Africa.

And many of us in the Alliance are indeed people of Faith.

But these transcendent ideals needn't be "religious" in the traditional sense of the word.

There are men among us who are secular, but who live their lives according to their own "transcendent ideals."

What's important in this phrase is the "transcendent" part.

These are ideals which transcend the self and cause one to think in terms of a higher good.

Once again, without men thinking beyond the self and its immediate gratification, there's no way to win the fight against AIDS, or any of the other and very many manifestations of anomie in MSM life.

That's what Brooks understands, and so do we.

Bill Weintraub

June 12, 2005


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