beyond our control

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Dec 20, 2006

Almost all Americans drive drunk, says a report published Tuesday...

"The reality of the situation is that most people have been drunk behind the wheel, and it's been that way for several decades," says Lawrence Toper, director of domestic research at the Schlitz Institute, a New York City-based non-profit organization that studies alcohol consumption...

The study may fuel the debate over efforts by the federal government and others to fund programs that discourage young people from drinking and driving. Such programs stress that staying sober is the only effective or acceptable way to prevent drunk driving.

OK, I invented the story above. But I carefully followed the structure of a real USA Today story on pre-marital sex.

You'll understand the difference immediately, I'm sure. Programs to discourage drunk driving are prudent and effective, because drinking and driving are forms of behavior that mature human beings can control. Sexual activity, on the other hand, is involuntary. Once the impulse seizes you, there's nothing you can do. It's like sneezing: You're gonna do it-- nothing we can do to stop that-- so just be careful and use a tissue.

Is that the message we want to send our children? Because that's the message they're receiving, loud and clear.

In another version of the everybody's-doing-it story, furnished by AP, we find:

"This is reality-check research," said the study's author, Lawrence Finer. "Premarital sex is normal behavior for the vast majority of Americans, and has been for decades."

We know it's commonplace behavior; but is it normal? Before this winter is over, most Americans will suffer through a bout with the flu, or a head cold. It's normal to expect those minor ailments. But when you're coughing and hacking and running a fever, if someone asks how you feel, you don't reply that you feel normal. Sickness is commonplace; health is normal.

Veteran cigarette smokers typically cough a lot. You could tell them that coughing is normal, or you could suggest that they try to quit, clean out their lungs, and find out how pleasant real "normal" life can be.

Come to think of it, if you watch TV, you'll see public-service announcements encouraging smokers to quit. And other PSAs warning drivers against drinking, and drinkers against driving. But you won't see ads urging unmarried couples to keep their pants on. Why is that?

Because it's impossible to change human behavior? Nope; we try to change drinking and smoking habits.

Because the impulse toward sexual activity is so strong? Not likely; nicotine is incredibly addictive, but that doesn't stop us from trying.

Because those PSAs don't really work? Not true; drunk-driving rates have come down in recent years.

OK, I give up. You tell me.

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