Here we are in the middle of an “AIDS Awareness Month” drifting into complete unreality. We fantasize about a faraway land, Africa, instead of looking around our own. I write from America, where, after offering up as a gesture of understanding Kate Moss in PhotoShopped blackface and a wide nose, we have just learned that circumcision of African men "cuts" the rate of 'HIV infection' by half. The news came to us through the authoritative front page of The New York Times, with a headline proclaiming “H.I.V. Risk Halved by Circumcision, U.S. Agency Finds.” I can't help but wonder if this isn't some unconscious, "Freudian number".
And not surprisingly, “More Money Is Expected” – which may explain why a prior "trial" held in South Africa was reported in The Wall Street Journal in 2005, even though it is rumored to have been rejected by The Lancet and the researchers had to settle for the obscure PLoS Medicine. “Two Trials in Africa Offer Way for Heterosexuals to Avoid AIDS,” raves the Times. The supposed problem of African males, so resonant with public superstitions about AIDS, has finally been scientifically solved.
Science worship, with veneration of its white-coated, clipboarded priests, is different from respect for scientific method. Certainly, no sound scientific reasoning lies behind the methods of this study. For one thing, the researchers pulled the plug on the thing at 14 months, even though it was designed to continue for 21 months. The Times writes that the National Institutes of Health has stopped the other two trials because “not offering circumcision to all the men taking part would be unethical,” citing the “success” of these studies and the South African one. Halting a game at the end of the third quarter because a favored team had “success” – that’s unethical.
I see no sign that any of these circumcision studies controlled for anything other than heterosexuality. But no young man living in a “semi-urban area” (translation: tough neighborhood) near Johannesburg is going to ‘fess up to being gay. The researchers followed up on neither what kind nor how much sex the subjects were having, nor any other supposed factor in HIV transmission – equally suspect – such as blood transfusions or intravenous drug use. They assumed that the only way these guys were going to get HIV was by having sex. Naturally. They’re black men.
And I write nothing of the real meaning of anitibody positive in Africa, nor the lack of informed consent, and absolutley nothing of the other singular and enormous lie behind these headlines. Namely, who ever proved HIV was sexually transmitted by anybody, ever? Certainly not Nancy Padian et al.
By now I’ve figured out that AIDS researchers create their own reality. But who needs sound scientific methods when you’ve got white lab coats and clipboards and the power to circumcise? People trying to save us from the Virus That Is Eating the Whole World don’t brake for method. The numbers are just formalities before heading straight into ritualistic abuse. And by the way, the researchers never said the trial participants were natives. But everyone knows that, in AIDS research, even in multicolored, multicultural South Africa, “African” is the code word for “black.”
“Black” is code for the sexual fears of the West, where we imagine all black men as predatory and dangerous. At least one blogger has smelled a Freudian “unconscious racism.” Racism? What was your first clue? This kind of racism is about as unconscious as a mugger’s wish for money. But circumcision, he writes, “is a threat of castration.” Good to know.
And the vivid sexual imagination at work in AIDS research, especially regarding black males, is an unconscious wish for . . . what? What is unconscious here is the ritual need. The purpose of a ritual is to bring society back into line, out of the random violence, sexual confusion and Greenwich Village Halloween Parades into which it has such a tendency to slip. A trance state – a drift into the unconscious or mythology – is needed for any ritual to work. You’re not supposed to be awake for the procedure, to know how it really works. You’re supposed to buy the up-front story, like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, about how circumcision reduces risk of “HIV infection.” Otherwise, the magic won’t work and the Western whole world view will fall apart.
“In many African tribal groups, men are circumcised, usually in late childhood or early adolescence, and this is an important part of their cultural identity,” wrote the priestly authors of the South African study, as if narrating a National Geographic TV special that had nothing to do with them.
Silly natives, investing medicine with ritual significance! As if Westerners knew better. By practicing circumcision rituals on black Africans, white Americans have found a way to resolve sexual and societal conflict without reprisal from our own black neighbors – all in the soft, fuzzy name of caring.
Scientific priests have performed the rite of Western cultural initiation on the young men of Africa. The mark of Western sexual shame is finally “an important part of their cultural identity.”
The science religion’s cultural colonization of Africa is now complete.
Elizabeth Ely is a freelance writer and public speaker based in New York City, who has learned all the wrong lessons from being thrown out of a major Protestant church. She is working on a book about the religious nature of AIDS-think.