African AIDS, the Pope, and liberalism

Paul Goodell (Paul G.) writes:

I have written in the past about the obsession with sex that characterizes the modern West. It is no surprise, then, to see advocates of condom use for AIDS prevention (who accept, and often implicitly encourage, casual sexual activity) pillorying Pope Benedict over the past few weeks for his statement that condom use cannot solve the AIDS crisis in Africa. These advocates have criticized the Pope for being anti-science and have implied (or outright stated) that his words harmed HIV/AIDS victims and those at risk by encouraging them to not use condoms.

The facts on the ground, however, confirm the Pope’s position, not those of the condom-philes, as is made plain by this Nigerian correspondent’s detailed article laying out the characteristics of sub-Saharan African society that have fed the AIDS pandemic and that render condoms useless as a prevention tactic. The picture he paints of sub-Saharan African society is sobering: often sexually libertine, medically primitive, and deeply superstitious.

In villages here there is often a low standard of moral behaviour. Men don’t get married but they do want children, so using condoms does not even come into their minds. They sleep with whomever they like until they are very old and need someone to cook for them. A man might be sleeping with six different women in a year. And the women often don’t mind whether a man will marry them or not…. [R]ape of children as young as six is not uncommon…. More than a quarter of all the females [in South Africa] can expect to be raped at least once in their life, even in infancy….

Many villagers are unschooled and know little about modern science. Poisoning or sorcery is suspected when people fall ill. Western medicine is often seen as a last resort after traditional healers have failed. So doctors find it difficult to explain to HIV/AIDS patients the cause of their illness. It is not uncommon for them to go to their graves with the stubborn belief that an enemy cast a spell on them. The more serious and “treatment defying” an illness is, the more it confirms the malignant power of the sorcerer.

Remember, this is not an outsider making these observations, but a native African living in a country with a large infection rate. His observations are refreshing, actually: open and honest, without any kind of “white man’s burden” attitude common of liberal characterizations of Africa, which often minimize the types of behavior discussed here. One of the comments about the article said it best:

Being an African myself, I have to admit that the writer made no effort to dilute the corrosive truth which is hard to swallow.

The truth is difficult, but it’s still the truth, and acknowledging and accepting it is the first step in addressing it.

Addressing the truth of our morally bankrupt society is at the heart of Pope Benedict’s comments, and this article is in full agreement with the Pope. Changing behavior is the only way to change society, but we in the West long ago decided against changing our behaviors and instead looked to technology to fix our situations. As C.S. Lewis said in The Abolition of Man (I’m paraphrasing): The greatest good to the ancients was bringing man into harmony with the greater universe, and the result was acquiring courage, discipline, wisdom and temperance. The greatest good to the moderns was bringing nature under the dominion of man, and the result was a technique, something to change reality to suit our needs instead of changing ourselves to suit reality.

Thus, the author says near the end of his article, “The West is addicted to technology as a substitute for free will and moral effort.” For this reason, it sees no other viable avenue for AIDS prevention than technology (like condoms). The only other option would be for people to change their behaviors—to the acquire discipline, willpower, and moral courage necessary to live chaste lives in full monogamy to a single spouse. We refuse to do this ourselves, however. How can we act others to do so?

We find the very idea of traditional sexual morality offensive. In fact, we in the West find it so offensive that our media single out the one statement on sexual behavior the Pope made in his African speech and reported on it to the exclusion of all else in his speech. We’re trying to run from reality, but reality has a way of reasserting itself. Tragically, this reassertion will claim the lives of tens, possibly hundreds, of millions of Africans over the next 20 years or so (in addition to the many millions in the West and the tens of millions in southeast Asia).

Decades of sexual indulgence of rendered many in the West unable to act to change this situation, however. We can’t give the suffering millions of Africa that which we do not possess ourselves. A traditionalist revival (in the West and in Africa) remains Africa’s best hope.

LA replies:

“The greatest good to the moderns was bringing nature under the dominion of man, and the result was a technique, something to change reality to suit our needs instead of changing ourselves to suit reality.”

This connects with my thoughts about David Brooks’s column on the theory that evolution gives men correct moral impulses. I said that this theory had the result of combining two liberal ideas that are normally seen as opposites: the Rousseauian idea that man is naturally good, and scientific materialism. Mr. Goodell’s comment makes me realize that Rousseauian romanticism and the belief in scientific technique are not opposites. The one leads to the other. If man is naturally good and can do whatever he wants, then he must feel that the universe will respond positively to his desires. If the universe does not respond positively to his desires, e.g., if certain sexual practices result in AIDS, then the universe must be made to respond positively to his desires, via the application of technology that will enable him to continue the same behavior without the bad effects. Thus it turns out that the Rousseauian Noble Savage requires the ministrations of scientific technique to allow him to continue being a Noble Savage.

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Stewart W. writes:

Paul G. states “A traditionalist revival (in the West and in Africa) remains Africa’s best hope.”

Yes, but hope for what? A stable, thriving, prosperous society? Or the best hope that millions more Africans survive, to live in an African society, which being African, will deliver a life of wretchedness and misery, which will result in those millions of Africans decamping for the West? No thanks.

In fact, a traditionalist revival for Africa will look very different from a such a revival in the West. In Africa, such a revival would mean a stone-age culture, a mix of primitive agriculture, and hunting and gathering, which would sustain a population of a few tens of millions, and in which life would be nasty, brutish, and short.

Perhaps it would be better to say that a traditionalist revival in the West, combined with an imposition of some form of Western traditional morality on the Africans, remains the best hope that life in Africa would become tolerable enough to allow us to keep Africans in Africa where they belong.

In other words, the de facto arrangement of American society prior to 1965.

N. writes:

That is an interesting article on AIDS in Nigeria. The comments section contains a number of interesting observations in addition to the usual claptrap.

Two quick, intertwined thoughts:

First: Westerners scoff at the superstition of Africans, pointing to their trust in amulets, charms, potions, etc. to ward off curses. But isn’t the attitude of far too many Westerners, especially liberals, towards condoms basically the same? “Wear this thing, and you’ll avoid that bad result,” as part of a wholesale distribution of latex condoms is not all that different from a witch doctor giving out an amulet, is it?

Considering how the liberals and leftists stubbornly refuse to admit the scientific facts that the probability of catching a venereal disease increases rapidly as the number of sexual partners increases, it seems obvious that they have a superstitious faith in inanimate objects. The rich irony here is obvious: this superstitious animism is generally strongest in the “reality based” liberal.

Second: I have discussed the AIDS situation in Africa off and on with liberals for years. None of them have ever admitted that there could be a cultural aspect to the spread of disease. But here is the kicker: point out to a liberal that in rural Africa, we have man living in a condition very close to the primeval state. According to Rousseau, those living in such a manner should be free from all the bad things that civilization causes, right? Are not the villagers of remote, rural Africa close to his “noble savage”? If so, why are there so many bad things happening, from the spread of disease to rape to murder? Care to guess the answer you likely will get, if you can find a liberal anymore who has read Rousseau?

“The lingering effects of colonialism,” that’s what causes all bad things in Africa south of the Sahara. It’s all whitey’s fault, once again.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 09, 2009 06:25 AM | Send

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