Page 26


IMAGINE CRUISING DOWN THE AUTOBAHN WITH 256 HP UNDER THE HOOD, TOP DOWN, FIFTH. GEAR, ENGINE WIDE OPEN, SCENERY A BLUR, THAT’S THE FEEL OF INTERNET’ ACCESS THROUGH THE NEW EDEN MATRIX. L.v47 wait? t21\(4e Q. ttee DIAL-UP ISDN ACCESS FOR JUST $1 MO/MONTH FULLY DIGITAL PRI PHONE LINES WIDE OPEN CAPACITY TECH SUPPORT WITH A PULSE The Eden Matrix 106 E. SIXTH STREET, SUITE 210 AUSTIN, TX 78701 VOICE: 512,478.9900 FAX: 512.478.9934 ’41,,,r iff 7d Y,IfYA7 72 Wagner demonstrates that neither the new temperance movement nor the old ones really have tem perance, per se, as their object. One recalls with nostalgia Mark Twain’ s advocacy of temperate temperance, for contemporary temperance movements seem to want, not temperance at all, but abstinenceor “zero tolerance,” to put it in modern terms. The clear message is that people simply cannot be trusted to control themselvesa message that is certain to appeal to liberals as much as to conservativesfor it is in the nature of vice that it is a slippery slope. It is not, of course, that a toke is such a bad thing in itself. Or a glass of wine with dinner. Or a couple of hours of heavy petting on Lover’s Lane. The problem is that these things always lead to insatiable, irresistible desires for stronger and more dangerous stimuli. For this reason we never see a justsay-no public service announcement in which someone says: “Sure I smoked some marijuana in college, but I had other things in my life and the price of the stuff went up, and basically I did not really need it, so I sort of tapered off. Marijuana is no big deal.” And there will never be a just-sayno-to-sex-ad saying: “Masturbation was a pretty good option for my situation in life, especially when I had some nice pictures to look at. And later petting with a partner I cared about seemed a pretty reasonable way to satisfy our physical needs when we couldn’t afford the risks of intercourse.” No, those would present “the wrong message.” They would create the impression that people can be sensible. People must, instead, be “scared straight.” One toke, and its hapless victim is doomed and of course it is the person’s own fault, not the Federal Reserve’s for adjusting interest rates to ensure the unemployment rate never falls below 5 percent. One look at a Playboy or a Hustler and no young man can resist forever regarding women as slabs of meatthe problem is the naked pictures, and not that he never meets women who have responsible and rewarding positions in society. The public is stupid, and so people must be taught that owning a Barbie doll is but a way-station on the fast track to anorexia nervosa, a Big Mac is a gilt-edge invitation to the heart-attack fairy, and denying that a beer after work is a drinking problem indicates that it is time to check in at the nearest Charter hospital. We are savages, you see, mindless pleasure-seeking brutes, and we need both Pat Robertson’s Jesus and Donna Shalala’s bureaucracy to save us from ourselves. The disconcerting thing is that, according to Wagner, temperance movements tend to create the opposite results of their stated aims. One of the forgotten movements Wagner reminds us of was the “white-slavery” panic of the ’20s. Although “white slavery” was largely, if not entirely, a xenophobic figment, the crackdown on prostitution that resulted from the panic transformed prostitution from a mostly independent, mostly woman-controlled enterprise into a highly organized, mostly man-controlled one, which at the end more strongly resembled fictitious white slavery than prostitution had before the white slavery scare. One hardly needs to mention that the Eighteenth Amendment did not work out exactly as planned, being more or less the charter of many of the criminal organizations that exist today. That is silly old history, of course: no one today could think that most of the social harm drugs do is a direct result of the attempt to suppress them, that the suppression-produced artificial scarcity provides a profit motive for recruiting new addicts, makes sales territories worth fighting gang wars over, provides the arms to ensure that gang conflicts are as deadly as possible, and sets drug dealers up as role models for ambitious young people. Surely anyone who believes such stuff must be a Libertarian, which is said to be the name for a Republican who wants cheaper drugs. Flying in the face of so much common knowledge and conventional wisdom, The New Temperance cannot be expected to have much influence, but it is full of amusing observations of a phenomenon in which we are all immersed, such as: “We may describe people arrested for involvement with drugs in a ghetto neighborhood as ‘drug-crazed,’ but we do not speak of corporate chiefs as ‘profit-crazed.'” Lars Eighner is the author of Travels with Lizbeth, Pawn to Queen Four, Gay Cosmos, and several other books. SUBSCRIBE TO THE TEXAS OBSERVER 307 West 7th Street Austin, Texas 78701 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 6, 1997