For a guy who's running a no-spin zone, Bill O'Reilly has managed to get his shorts twisted into quite a knot over a Conference on World Affairs panel on sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll -- as have 10 Republican members of the Colorado Legislature.
OK, I'm making up the part about rock 'n' roll. The actual title of the panel discussion, which took place at Boulder High School on April 10, was "STDs: Sex, Teens and Drugs."
At least one student who was forced to attend was outraged. When word of her outrage reached New York two months later (evidently communications between fly-over America and Manhattan are a bit slower than we've been led to believe), O'Reilly was outraged.
A couple days later, when word that O'Reilly was outraged reached the Colorado Legislature (evidently news travels faster east to west than west to east), the 10 Republican members were outraged. Outrage, like sexually transmitted diseases, is contagious.
Anyway, O'Reilly is carrying on about how the road to ruination runs through Boulder High School, and the Republican amen chorus is howling for someone's job -- presumably someone involved in setting up the panel or, failing that, anyone who wasn't sufficiently outraged.
Both O'Reilly and the 10 Republicans are showboating. The actual comments of the panelists (as excerpted in the Camera last Saturday) are pretty sensible advice -- certainly more sensible than what teens could expect to hear from O'Reilly's side of the culture wars.
Consider a few examples:
Panelist Sanho Tree, who is the director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, told the audience that "drugs make you feel good. That's the reason people take drugs."
Strange as it seems, very few people do drugs because drugs make them feel bad. The suggestion that people take drugs because drugs make them feel good strikes me as a self-evident truth. Why the outrage?
Tree also said we need to "educate kids about drugs in terms of the relative harms caused by these drugs."
What's outrageous about that? If you don't have accurate information about the relative harms caused by various drugs, you don't have a basis for making informed decisions about drug use.
The real outrage here is the tens of billions of dollars the war on drugs has spent mis-educating kids about the relative harms caused by drugs -- falsely portraying all drugs as equally dangerous, equating marijuana with heroin and cocaine when it's less addictive and harmful than beer -- on the grounds that to tell "our kids" anything else would be "to send the wrong message."
Turning to sex, Joel Becker, clinical director of Cognitive Behavior Associates in Beverly Hills, Calif., said, "If you think that having sex doesn't come with feelings, that's where you're mistaken."
Hard to imagine anyone would get outraged over that.
But then he added: "I've been told this is a very liberal high school, and I'm probably speaking to the choir by encouraging you to have healthy sexual behavior because most of your parents have probably given you similar views, but you know when you are 13 -- 12, 13, 14 -- certainly one of the most appropriate sexual behaviors would be masturbation. Masturbate. Please masturbate."
Granted, there's something about word "masturbation" that seems to cause social conservatives to come unhinged, but it's still perfectly reasonable advice. Masturbation is obviously a less risky form of sexual behavior than intercourse -- especially for adolescents. Jacking off doesn't result in unexpected pregnancies (and thus children raising children), and you won't get AIDS, the clap or even a yeast infection from a dalliance with your hand (unless your fingernails are really, really dirty).
Just what exactly would O'Reilly propose to tell 12- to 14-year-olds? That masturbation will grow hair on your palms and cause you to go blind?
However, one suspects the thing Becker said that really outraged O'Reilly, et al., was this: "I'm going to encourage you to have sex, and I'm going to encourage you to use drugs appropriately. And why I'm going to take that position is that you're going to do it anyway."
That might seem over the top -- until you consider the alternative message, favored by most social conservatives: Kids don't have sex; kids don't do drugs.
We've been sending that politically correct message to "kids" for a long time. It has caused millions of adolescents to conclude that if "kids" don't have sex, and if "kids" don't do drugs, the way to stop being a kid is to have sex and do drugs (and drink a lot).
Becker's approach is much sounder psychology, because it doesn't set up drug use and sex as rites of passage into adulthood. The only downside is that it causes state legislators to get in touch with their inner blowhard.
O'Reilly has a point when he gripes about some students being forced to attend the panel. Panel discussions like this one should be elective affairs.
On the other hand, most students have had years of prohibitionist misinformation and propaganda about drugs and sex shoved down their throats by the time they reach high school. Exposing them to the other side at least once is just a matter of being fair and balanced.
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