Stephen Mason Ph.D.

Look At It This Way

Taboo Topics

A survey of salacious subjects.

Posted Oct 17, 2009

A while back, I was asked to speak at a convention of the world's smartest people - MENSA. My topic was Look At It This Way. My point was that archeologists looking at people years off and anthropologists looking at people miles off make it plain that what we believe to be true is not so much a fact as a simple function of time and space. Remember the naive natives in The Gods Must Be Crazy who thought a coke bottle was truly miraculous? Remember the medical textbooks a century ago that said masturbation diverted blood from the brain to the genitals and caused irreversible dementia? In the here and now, people believe that religion encourages peace and understanding despite its long history of bloody divisiveness. Indeed, is it safe to say that not even half of what is believed by any culture comes even remotely close to reality? Humans are not too intelligent, rather easily fooled, pattern seeking, storytelling animals who weave narratives and create myths.

I began my talk by pulling a Bag of Evil from my briefcase and warning the audience that they might want to take that opportunity to leave the room. The things I had in the bag and which I would soon be exhibiting had, in different times and in different places, gotten people put away.

My first previously perceived threat to humanity was a small bottle of liquor. I cracked the seal and took a swig. It was not so long ago when such behavior could have landed me in the penitentiary. No one in the room could explain why Prohibition began, why it lasted more than a decade or why it was thought to be a good thing at the time. Of course I might still wind up behind bars if I sold my booze without a license, drank it in a dry county, or was found driving with the open 1½ ounce bottle in my car. A couple I know were told they would have to sit at least 18 inches apart as they sipped some wine at a lounge in Arlington, VA. In Palm Springs, a CA Alcohol Beverage Control agent warned that city's Convention Center they would lose their liquor license if they allowed an Erotic Art show to open. This was before any of the art had been seen (or even selected) and despite the fact that no alcoholic beverages (or food or drink of any kind for that matter) would be allowed in the gallery area. Using his logic, you're in violation of the law if you watch an X-rated video in a hotel with a liquor license or, worse yet, get naked in a room with a self-service bar.

The next item drawn from my bag could still get me into trouble. The hash pipe I held up (which I use as a paperweight) can be considered drug paraphernalia and might have gotten me arrested. If someone threatens my life, the police can do nothing unless and until that person acts on the threat. However, the mere possession of a hash pipe can, in some areas, constitute intend and can be considered sufficient grounds to have one fined and/or confined. My question is: What's the difference between Prohibition and the War on Drugs? And before saying anything, think of just how much you'd be willing to wager on the validity of your answer. A problem I have with both the previous hooch laws and the current hash laws is that science and reason are lost amid the irrational fears of those with no experience (I never tried it) and the emotional tales of those with negative experience (I couldn't handle it). As with use versus abuse, there are those who have addictive personalities and those who don't. If you happen to be an addictive abuser, be careful of alcohol and drugs, cults and religions, sex and gambling while leaving the other nine out of ten of us to our own business.

Then I pulled from my Bag of Bad something that actually had gotten a friend of mine put away. William Baird, M.D. was on duty in an emergency room when a woman who had attempted a coat hanger abortion came in and died in his arms. He was so moved by the experience that he began a campaign to educate the public regarding contraception. This was back in the 60's when condoms were required by law to carry the warning For Prevention of Disease Only. During an on-stage presentation, he did exactly what I did - held up a condom. He was convicted of a felony, lost his medical license and spent years in prison. Today he's referred to as the Father of Reproductive Choice. He is also threatened, both life and limb, on a regular basis.

And that lead me to my next atrocity. I held up a porn magazine. Not too long ago in all states and still today in some states, such reading/viewing material is forbidden. Would someone tell me what's wrong with pornography? But be careful. As with drugs, I'd like you to think about what you're willing to lose for an invalid answer. And remember, your personal opinion does not constitute a scientific finding. I'll admit though, that even people pro porn can be a bit fuzzy in their thinking. Once I heard a woman talking to a group about the value of the X rated movies in which she starred and later produced. They were the essence of normal, wholesome sensuality. People who said such porno flicks encouraged men to rape women were misguided at best. So then I stood and said I completely agreed with her assessment. Pornography was natural and a wonderful aid to sexual satisfaction. I went on to say I was starting a Kiddy Porn publication and wondered if she might like to support my efforts. Creeps like me ought to be locked up, she said, and in fact she was the director of a fund that had been established to do just that. When I asked why all the vehemence, she said that such material would cause men to rape children. No, I'm not making this up. She really said porn does not encourage men to rape women but that kiddy porn does encourage men to rape children. When it comes to sex, this particular time and place is especially weird in its beliefs.

And finally, I held up a book of matches. Close Cover before Striking is said to be the most often repeated printed warning in the English language. Coming from another planet, an alien would have to wonder about the hidden dangers in that tiny package. But hold on, those old-time Lucifers may get you into trouble yet. Since no one in the audience who didn't smoke had matches, and since smoking may well be the next taboo, it's altogether possible that a book of matches may one day be classified as drug paraphernalia.