Friday, July 25, 2008

Personal Responsibility: Off the Hook Again

If you made a top 10 list of the saddest aspects of contemporary American culture, surely somewhere on that list would be the abandonment of personal responsibility. Somehow, we’ve begun breeding generations of people who – once they bring calamity upon themselves – want to blame everything and everyone but themselves. And if not that, there seem to be plenty of people who will re-direct blame for them.

It’s a typical rant coming from anyone right-of-center, to be sure; but I’m not trying to be innovative, here… just lamenting.

This facet of our culture came to mind upon reading Ceci Connolly’s recent Washington Post article, AIDS Among Latinos on Rise. In it, she reports on the alarming rise of HIV/AIDS cases within the Latino community here in United States. Do yourself a favor and read it.

One thing I found even sadder than the fact that people mentioned in the article had this horrendous disease, was the fact that each of them contracted HIV in ways that were 100% preventable. It may not have been convenient for them, but definitely preventable.

For instance, the article mentions a man from Mexico who came to America; though, “the freedoms he sought in California quickly became his undoing.” He “sought refuge in San Diego's gay bars and bathhouses. There, he discovered friendly American men and crystal methamphetamine.”

Is that where we are, now? We need to promote awareness concerning the contraction of AIDS via drug use and bathhouses? Aside from the fact that – according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – around half of the 1 million (+/-) Americans with AIDS are men who received the disease through “sexual contact” with other men: we really need warnings that drug use, promiscuous sex, and bathhouse visitation will put you at greater risk for contracting HIV? Not to sound to callous or dismissive, but – to whom is this a new concept?

The problem is only compounded when excuses are given for their “at-risk” behavior, as if they were all helpless victims in the matter. The same Mexican man mentioned above said of his Meth use, “I had no idea meth was so addictive… It takes away your inhibitions. I started associating with people I wouldn't normally.” Of course he did! That’s one of the well-known side effects of drug abuse: a lowering of inhibitions.

Further excuse is offered, based on comments by San Francisco State University AIDS expert,

Rafael Diaz (director of the Cesar E. Chavez Institute and author of numerous books on

homosexuality and AIDS within the Latino community):

“Many are "objectified" by white men who view them as exotic. They play subservient roles to partners with citizenship or money. The "triple oppressive experiences of poverty, racism and homophobia" lead many to risky behavior, Diaz said. "People are looking for respite and relief from a sense of isolation, economic deprivation and low self-esteem. Sometimes sex is the place where men find that."”

So what are we to glean from this? That if you’re poor, discriminated against, or lonely, it’s acceptable to engage in unscrupulous – or at least, imprudent – behavior, even if that behavior puts you at greater risk for disease?

What? If I cut a mackerel in two, strap one half to my back, then go swimming through shark-infested waters – should a sympathy case be made on my behalf when a shark attacks me? Of course not… but that’s exactly what is exemplified by this article, I’m sorry to report. Those who brought calamity upon themselves are made out to be victims, instead of responsible culprits.

My wife and I have gay/lesbian friends for whom we care very deeply. We even have a gay friend who lived in San Francisco for years and frequented bathhouses! If this friend of ours were to turn up HIV positive, we would be absolutely heartbroken for him. We would be heartbroken for his pain, and the pain his family and friends would have to endure. But at the same time, there couldn’t be much sympathy concerning how he contracted the disease, because it would be by his doing.

A young girl who gets raped and contracts HIV from her rapist – that’s a victim. A child who’s sexually assaulted by someone with HIV – that’s a victim.

A drug-addict having promiscuous sex in a bathhouse? I’m not sure how that qualifies as a victim; no matter what their sense of “isolation, economic deprivation and low self-esteem.”

God help these poor souls, struggling with such a horrible disease. And God help us all in taking responsibility for our own actions.

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