Pubdate: Sun, 20 Feb 2000
Date: 02/20/2000
Source: Salt Lake Tribune (UT)
Author: Giles Larsen

I lie. At times it comes so easily to my lips, without malicious
intent, and sometimes without any clear purpose.     It's like being
prodded with some inner whip -- maybe fear, shame, or unrecognized

Regardless, the end result is a wall of deceit which keeps the world
at a comfortable distance, yet keeps me lonely and claustrophobic,
until all I see are nothing but walls.     Society lies. And by
society I generally mean those who have already amassed Great Walls
for themselves and who feel threatened by anything which would
dismantle them.     Our society seeks to reduce involvement of teens
in sex and drugs, and to these ends has amassed walls of fear,
misinformation, or outright suppression of debate, all born of one
fatal miscalculation: The significant reasoning and decision-making
powers of adolescent minds are ignored.

Instead, so-called "mature" persons take it upon themselves to define
the parameters of the "real world" to adolescents. Let me tell you
about the real world.     I can score a variety of drugs in less time
than it takes to get groceries, and so can anyone else who wants them.
When I was being told that drugs would ruin my life, I was doing them
along with everyone else I know.     Certain drugs, marijuana in
particular, are safe, enjoyable, and social.     As for sex, even
before I stepped foot into a high school health class, I had already
done it. Protected sex too, can be safe, enjoyable, and social.

You might get the idea that I support sexual promiscuity or drug use
-- actually I support neither.     At 21 years of age, I refrain from
drugs of any kind, even alcohol, and completely abstain from sex as
well, but I had to experience the truth of these things for myself
before I finally gave them up.     Pretending is counterproductive. It
doesn't solve anything to deny that these things are going on right
now. Lying to teens (or telling selective truths) is also
counterproductive. It insults teen intelligence to muse that providing
protected sex messages along with a pro-abstinence stance "gives teens
a double-message." It actually gives teens the whole message; one
which the whole spectrum of teens can realistically apply to their
lives.     With drugs, the official response is to categorically
condemn all illegal drugs, and to criminalize and punish users.

This has terrible, "real world" implications: We have 60 percent of
the federal prison population (76,000 people) imprisoned on drug
charges serving an average of 4 years longer than for assault, 3.5
years longer than for manslaughter, and one year longer than for
sexual abuse offenses.     This is thanks to mandatory minimum
sentences which bind judges' hands and prevent them from taking into
account the individual facts of each case, such as if the offense was
nonviolent (88 percent are) or if it was a first time offense (57
percent are). Are we so desperate to protect our own inner notions of
moral behavior that we justify incarcerating non-criminals behind
physical walls? We need to take down our walls if we want to truly
deal with these issues. The dogmatic approach applied to both the war
on drugs and the abstinence campaign has three immediate consequences.
    First, because no one respects a liar, teens' respect for
authority is lost when one-sided dogma cannot be reconciled with the
reality they're experiencing.     Second, with respect for authority
figures shattered, teens become less restrained and more prone to
illicit behaviors.     Third, alienated teens must eventually discover
the truth for themselves. This can be a dangerous process which can
actually lead to the things which the anti-sex/drug advocates are
trying to stop: teen pregnancy, abortion, drug addiction, and drug
related crime and death.     When we debate policy, or stifle debate,
are we really just writing on the walls we have erected?

By enforcing these oppressive policies are we actually creating an
environment conducive to the very things we seek to halt? Are we
hiding from the truth?     Let's all work together to answer these
questions and pledge our support to the best policy of all: honesty.

I don't want to paint too pretty a picture of my experiences with
drugs and sex; there were good times and bad. But that's part of what
honesty is about: realizing things aren't clear cut. It's being open
to other possibilities.     And the walls come tumbling down.

Giles Larsen University of Utah