Tuesday, May 7, 2013

You will be gross and then you will die

I have been reading You Will Die, a book by Robert Arthur.  It seems custom built for me since it has the delectable combination of denunciation of religion, trashing of right wing moral politics, and frank discussions about sex and drugs all from a historical perspective.  The book is about taboos and talks at length about a variety of taboos against things like sex, snot, farts, poop, drugs, prostitution, and other things that we aren't supposed to talk about in polite society.  The basic premise is that we need to be careful what we do and how we regulate our society and the best way to do that is not by making decisions based on tradition but rather on facts instead.

Arthur presents each topic not as a rant about what the laws and norms should be but rather as a list of what they are, what they used to be, how we got from there to here, and what science and medicine tells us about the topic at hand.  He does go pretty hard against religion and blames it for much of the current misinformation and stigma associated with sex and drugs in particular; it is rare to find an author that decries religion even more stridently than I would.  That said, the book is well written and informative and honestly he presents a pretty strong case that religion has made a real mess of things by trying to police individual lifestyle choices in essentially random ways.

It isn't a fun book.  Reading about medieval torture mechanisms and facing just how foolish we all are every day to appease completely random and sometimes devastating social norms is depressing but valuable.  Learning all this isn't going to be a magical journey filled with rainbows and unicorns but accepting it and improving ourselves through critical thinking will make us better people and slowly but surely contribute to the freeing of society from pointless shackles.

Not everything is depressing, to be fair.  The sections on farting and spitting make our taboos seem silly but I don't feel like lifting them would actually change much.  The demonization of drugs and prostitution and the corresponding disaster that is the War On Drugs and the criminalization of sex on the other hand are both serious and important.  Regardless of the level of entertainment provided the information contained within is critical and I recommend everyone read this book even if only to skip to the most interesting and relevant parts.

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