Quote of the Day

Mick Hartley, on the controversy surrounding Pope Benedict’s remarks about condoms:

It’s true of course: condoms are not as effective as abstinence. Equally, when it comes to crime, the setting up of police forces, with the powers to prosecute and detain criminals, is not as effective as honesty. The church’s next campaign, perhaps…

Damian P.

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24 thoughts on “Quote of the Day

  1. I’ve been posting lots of negative things here lately. It pleases me to say that this is, without a doubt, one of the legitimately funniest put downs of the Catholic Church’s take on condom use I have ever seen.

  2. If only the RC was open-minded to progressive made notions such as condoms, gay marriage, abortion, drugs and liberalism, the world would be so damn perfect.
    Here is the real “quote of the day” from a comment on the linked story:
    Btw, why do gay men in the West *still* get AIDS? Shortage of condoms?

  3. Funny enough, an AIDS researcher from Harvard by the name of Dr. Edward Green agrees with the Pope on the efficacy of condoms.
    Generally speaking, his concern is that the available data shows that on a population scale the prime factors in the spread of HIV are multiple and concurrent partners.
    If you have a culture that already promotes those factors, you could have hourly airdrops of condoms and you’d still have new infections every day.
    The reason why condoms look so effective on paper is because of their single event efficacy and the non-controversial way that they can be assimilated into life, even in a promiscuous culture.
    I’d sum up their appeal and their failing in this:
    “Do exactly what you’re doing, but put this on first and everything will be OK”
    It’s very easy answer, but it doesn’t address the underlying problem and the illusion of a safety net leads people to riskier behaviour.
    It also sounds a lot like:
    “”Do exactly what you’re doing, and everything will be OK”

  4. But doesn’t the Pope and the Catholic Church strongly espouse honesty? Isn’t its position that we should, in fact, try honesty as the first line of defense against crime and depend on police as a backup? I don’t see the put down here.

  5. “But doesn’t the Pope and the Catholic Church strongly espouse honesty?”
    So does our Justice system. Cops ARE the backup. The simple truth of the matter is that a portion of the population apparently didn’t read the memo.
    (One could argue that if the parents of that portion of the pop. had used condoms…)

  6. The point was that even espousing honesty as the ideal the Pope and the Catholic church (presumably) recognize the need for the police as backup.
    Their stance on condoms does not embrace the same logic.
    It is as if they were saying people should be honest so obviously there is no need for the police to exist. And further that the presence of police actually increases the amount of crime.

  7. Am I to understand that this Hartley character is drawing a parallel between the ability to be honest and the ability to resist rutting like a pig in heat? He accuses others of being patronizing while patting Africans and gay men on the head like housepets and saying “there there, we know you can’t resist your carnal urgers; how dare the mean old pope assume that you can”
    Ha ha. So this is what we have become – a society that finds such banal social commentary hilarious.
    There is one interesting twirst to this though. Once upon a time, not so long ago, people were both honest and monogamous. Houses were sold on a handshake and AIDs was not even discovered.
    These days we are neither honest nor monogamous.
    Funny how that worked out eh – almost like each is attached somehow to the other.

  8. Travis: Problem is, condoms aren’t like cops.
    Cops protect the innocent from the guilty (if imperfectly), and punish the guilty, both in Catholic and irreligious views; supporting the existence of police *in no way* supports crime.
    However, given that the Church necessarily – from the fundamental logic of its assumptions about the nature of human life and sexuality – must view extra-marital sex as a “grave offense against chastity” (that is, a deadly sin), it cannot promote it as acceptable to use condoms “if you’re going to commit deadly sin anyway”.
    The two cases simply aren’t comparable, in terms of doctrinal logic – or indeed any logic other than the utilitarian, and/or that which simply says “the Church is wrong about extra-marital sex”.
    Which is fine, and intellectually consitent, but illustrates no hypocrisy or failing on the Church’s part.
    (Full disclosure: I’m a lifelong atheist, and have never been a Christian, let alone a Catholic.)

  9. Actually police are not responsible for punishing the guilty. At least not here in Canada.
    I don’t expect the Pope to come out and endorse the the use of condoms. And for the record the abstinance argument has some weight to it. (It is to quote Bristol Palin “unrealistic”, but it makes a vaild point.)
    However, it is another thing entirely for him to assert that the use of condoms will contribute to the spread of the disease. Unless he has got a couple of solid epidemiological studies that I haven’t heard about it to prove that point then I can only conclude that he is lying (or wilfully mis-informed in which case he should have wisely remained silent).
    Do you really not see the hypocracy of on the one hand claiming to be concerned about the problem of AIDS in Africa and on the other spreading mis-information about the effectiveness of a preventative measure because it contradicts his world view?
    He didn’t even make the argument that condoms were of limited effectiveness and abstinance was a better choice… a position which coule have reasonably defended. He said condoms will aggrivate the problem (of AIDS).
    Condoms may aggrivate the problem of extra-marital sex i.e. make it safer and therefore Africa will see more of it, but they won’t cause more AIDS.

  10. “Once upon a time, not so long ago, people were both honest and monogamous”
    Is this the same place where Hansel and Gretel lived?
    “If you have a culture that already promotes those factors, you could have hourly airdrops of condoms and you’d still have new infections every day.”
    But you’d have a fewer new infections, which is the point. I can’t change human nature, or the prevalent culture, but I can lock my front door, which makes burglary a lot less likely. Condoms, like door locks, aren’t perfect, but they’re better than nothing.

  11. To Bruce:
    Sadly, I concur that the reality we live in necessitates that condoms be a necessary part of AIDs prevention.
    This does not, however, prevent me from understanding that abstinence and monogamy are the ultimate preventative measure.
    They are much more effective than condoms or anything else. And the very thought that humans are incapable of being abstinent and monogamous reveals to me that some people believe that sexual acts are beyond our control as sentient, rationalizing humans.
    That’s the trick here – those who categorically refute the effectiveness of abstinence and monogamy as a way to prevent AIDs are merely advocates for AIDs itself.
    Don’t have sex except after marriage, be monagomaous to your spouse, and live within a culture that advocates this principle, and you will almost always be safe. Deviate from this rule and risk death.
    Any rational human should understand this.

  12. A better analogy would be the Roman Catholic Church being against insurance, rather than police. Condom availability, like insurance, both create moral hazard and increase somewhat the base underlying activity whose effects they are intended to prevent. It is an economic fact that condom availability causes some people to have more sex who otherwise would not; the question of the size of the effect is of course to a manner of question. Just as insurance for other things, whether auto or fire, causes some people to be less careful than they otherwise would be.

  13. Most people do not consider the moral hazard of insurance a sufficient reason to argue against it, however.

  14. “But you’d have a fewer new infections, which is the point.”
    If you’re looking to slow the spread of AIDS to a crawl, then you’re forfeiting most of Africa and a large chunk of Asia. The pope may be aiming higher (which is not to say he’s on target).
    I think that the appropriate analogy is the Black Death.
    The Black Death was not fixed by a better mousetrap, although they certainly would have granted some protection and slowed the infection rate. It was eliminated by a concerted shift in society and the way that people lived their lives.
    The Catholic Church lost a lot of their power in the aftermath when it became clear that they didn’t identify or address the root causes. I wonder if Benedict is taking that into account when he refuses to latch on to a quick fix.
    Condoms IMO are a stalling strategy, not an answer. Most importantly, education and condom use have not shown themselves to have a permanent gain. They tend to give false hope, as do red ribbons, and the infection count continues its steady climb.
    0 remissions, 0 cures, 40 million people and counting.
    It’s not an easy problem, it requires a real solution. What the pope is suggesting is an actual solution and he sees condoms as a barrier to arriving there.
    At present that solution seems unrealistic, much like telling everyone in 14th century Europe to isolate themselves, burn their dead, or abandon their village. But people did these things to live.

  15. As Voltaire observed, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”
    Condoms are a good solution and they are both cheap and easily distributed. They won’t prevent all HIV transmission, but for those who do use them the protection is pretty good.
    The rapid spread of HIV began long before condoms were distributed to slow the spread. To argue that condom use is what is fueling the spread is bizarre. It’s akin to arguing that door locks cause burglary.
    The comparison with the plague is interesting. Then, as with HIV now, people thought God was punishing them for straying from a moral path.

  16. Heh, I almost used that Voltaire quote as a disclaimer to the pope aiming higher.
    I’m not going to argue that condoms are a bad thing, but there is a case to be made that good is simply not good enough in the case of an incurable STD.
    They don’t fuel the spread, but what Dr. Green’s data says is that they preclude it stopping and it will actually increase again after condom use becomes the norm and people start getting too comfortable, which has happened to a certain extent amongst young North Americans.
    “people thought God was punishing them for straying from a moral path.”
    Why wouldn’t they? The success of the bible in “explaining” nearly everything that a 14th century squire might encounter is due to its approximate accuracy at prescribing clean living.
    The book is one big vague “I told you so” after another, which is why it’s so often thumped by the ignorant.
    HIV has to be treated a bit more honestly. First, certain people have to realize that it’s not about morals. Then, a lot of other people have to realize that it’s about responsibility to themselves and to society in general to contain it. Having 90% of sexual acts covered, so to speak, may not pass muster as being “contained”.
    If it’s shown that people can not contain it themselves, then I’d suspect we’ll eventually get into traditional epidemiology enforced at the state level. They’ll call it the “War Against AIDS” and everyone will have to make sacrifices(tm).
    Abstinence leading to faithfulness might look a bit more ‘realistic’ then when the consequences become more immediate.

  17. “They don’t fuel the spread, but what Dr. Green’s data says is that they preclude it stopping and it will actually increase again after condom use becomes the norm and people start getting too comfortable, which has happened to a certain extent amongst young North Americans”
    I think that is a simplistic way of putting it. I think a better explanation is that widespread use of condoms has reduced the infection rate. That combined with improved treatments which (in North America at least) have turned AIDS from a disease that kills you in just a few years to a chronic disease that you can live with for potentially decades (at least in the public perception). The lower apparent risk leads some to be less studious about being careful. Which is a valid point and one that AIDS advocates have to make over and over. It’s not that condoms suddenly become less effective… but less used.
    It’s the same behavior as parents who don’t vaccinate their children, assuming that since everyone else will the risk is dealt with and they don’t need to bother.
    I haven’t read Dr. Green’s work, but I did google him and read a synopsys of his book. I think he needs to have a chat with Emily Oster:
    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/emily_oster_flips_our_thinking_on_aids_in_africa.html

  18. “I think a better explanation is that widespread use of condoms has reduced the infection rate.”
    Widespread use of condoms tends to reduce infection rate on a per-act basis. The problem is that widespread use of condoms also tends to increase the frequency of infection-risking acts, and very often that increase reaches a point where the effect of the per-act risk reduction is lost (especially in African cultures which make a machismo-type virtue out of multiple conquests and nonmonogamy).
    Reducing the number of bullets in your Russian roulette gun doesn’t help if you then start playing more often, in the belief that it’s now “safer”. Yes, the optimum solution is to remove the bullet (i.e., find a cure), but when that isn’t an option….
    Mick Hartley’s analogy might better match the Catholic stance if you add “secret” in front of “police”, add “suspected” in front of “criminals”, add “kill” as one of their powers, and then consider whether that would actually reduce crime enough to be worth all the collateral costs.

  19. Do you really think that the negative feedback effect that you describe is so powerful that it overwhelms the benefit of using condoms?
    If, for the sake of argument, wearing a condom was only 90% effective at preventing the spread of HIV that means that you would have to have 10 times the number of “infection risking acts” to maintian the infection rate. (Assuming a 100% condome usage rate of course). Do you really think that condoms entice people into having that much more sex?
    Seriously?
    And frankly 90% was just to make the math easy. The effectivenes on a per act basis is higher, there are couples out there with one infected partner who have been using condoms for years without tansmission.
    For the record I think the negative feedback you describe does exist. You are just giving it an unreasonably hight weight.

  20. Travis,
    This is exactly the work that Green is doing, figuring out the effect on a population scale. He says that his data supports the case that condoms don’t help on that large a scale.
    Your math treats someone’s HIV infection status as being independant of their promiscuity and their willingness to wear a condom. I would guess that it isn’t.

  21. My math does no such thing. It mearly demonstrates that an individual’s level of promiscuity would have to increase by orders of magnitude to fully offset the benefit of using condoms.

  22. Yes, but you’re the one putting the condom on the high risk, already infected person. That’s something that they would have to do for themselves and their infection status would add to the probability that they won’t.
    I know what you’re saying, but you’re taking the efficacy of a condom for a single act and trying to expand it to a large population.
    In that population the people who won’t use condoms anyway are going to be disproportionately HIV positive.
    The people who have multiple partners are going to be disproportionately HIV positive.
    The negative feedback which you dismiss is going to result in additional “action” mostly for these very people.
    Again, Green has done epidemiological studies and apparently has data to show this effect.

  23. There is a massive difference between arguing that a negative feedback exists [I did not dismiss it] as your Dr. Green apparently does and arguing that the negative feedback is so large that the use of condoms will actually increase the prevalance of HIV as the Pope did.
    And it is rather disingenuous to attempt to use the first argument to provide cover for the second.
    The fact is, condoms are an effective, inexpensive, easy to use, PREVENTATIVE measure that can be taken to limit the spread of HIV. And widespread use of condoms will significantly reduce the rate of infection in the general population.
    Take the gay community for example. There was a massive behavior adjustment back in the 80s but I’m sure it will come as no suprise when I say that homosexuals didn’t stop having sex. They did however embrace condoms to the point where they are the norm. Did it completely elminiate HIV? No, but it did dramatically reduce the infection rate.
    The trick of course is convincing people to use them which is why it is so offensive for the Pope to spread mis-information about condoms while claiming to be concerned about AIDS in Africa.
    Yes, absitnance is also effective, inexpensive and preventative. I won’t call it easy to use since it is apparently quite difficult to convince people to abstain from sex [go figure] or we wouldn’t have a problem in the first place.
    There is no reason both can’t be use in tandem as part of a strategy to combat the spread of HIV.

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