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10 Ways Social Taboos About Sex, Drugs and Death Scare Us from Learning the Truth

Taboos power to keep the lid shut on debate, leading to harmful attitudes.

Taboos are not relics of ancient societies. America has its share of views that are cemented in cultural mores. As Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in a 1996 Supreme Court dissent, “Closed-minded we were — as every age is, including our own, with regard to matters it cannot guess, because it simply does not consider them debatable.”

By foreclosing debate, modern taboos surrounding topics such as excrement, sex, drugs and death lead to harmful attitudes and policies. The ensuing misery ranges from “slut shaming” to the tragedy of the drug war that has resulted in over 50,000 violent Mexican deaths since 2006.

Taboos negatively affect the latent assumptions on which Americans carry out their lives, and have transformed the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness into the pursuit of health, safety and the avoidance of death.

Below are 10 harmful misconceptions caused by modern taboos.

1. Taboo: Drugs

Misconception: Jesus was against drug use.

The morality underlying the drug war’s zero-tolerance policy is erroneous. The Bible discourages excessive intoxication, but does not advocate abstinence. Jesus Christ drank wine and Moses instructed the Jews to revel with wine and strong drink. The reason there are no references to recreational drugs in the Bible is because drugs were mixed in with wine. Like other early peoples, the Greeks’ and Romans’ favored method of drug administration was to combine it with wine. The ancient term “mixed wine” has been interpreted by modern moralists to mean wine diluted with water. Dr. David Hillman, a classicist with a background in bacteriology, has explained that taken in the context it is often used, wine mixed with powerful psychoactive substances makes more sense. Consider this following biblical passage from Proverbs: “Who hath woe? Who hath sorrow? Who hath contentions? Who hath babbling? Who hath wounds without cause? Who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine.”

2. Taboo: Sex

Misconception: Few women choose to be sex workers.

Substantial media coverage is directed at the heinous crime of sex trafficking. In contrast, little attention is given to the fact that in the United States, the government imprisons exponentially more prostitutes than sex-traffickers do. From 2000–2007, the federal government identified 1,362 victims of human trafficking in the United States. (This number included those trafficked for non-sexual labor as well.) In that same time period, there were more than half a million prostitution arrests. This means that in America for every identified sex-trafficking victim there are hundreds, if not thousands, of willing sex workers arrested by law enforcement and branded with criminal records. Despite this, politicians argue that prostitution must be criminalized to protect women.

3. Taboo: Drugs

Misconception: Drugs do not aid creativity.

One of the benefits of drug use is aiding the creative process. LSD’s imprint is all over the art and music of the 1960s. Ralph Abraham, the inventor of chaos theory, said, “In the 1960s a lot of people on the frontiers of math experimented with psychedelic substances. There was a brief and extremely creative kiss between the community of hippies and top mathematicians.” It is also not coincidental that Silicon Valley sprouted next to the psychedelic center of the universe. Early visionaries like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mitch Kapor (Lotus founder), and Douglas Englebart (inventor of the computer mouse) all used acid. LSD is not alone in inspiring ideas. Steve Jobs, Norman Mailer, Carl Sagan and Brian Wilson have all credited marijuana with providing creativity. These assertions are no longer lacking scientific support. A controlled experiment published in Psychiatry Research in 2010 found that the use of marijuana assisted people in finding novel connections between concepts.

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