THINKING A.I.D.S. by Mary Catherine & Richard Goldsby Bateson


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AIDS may be a household word, but there remains remarkable confusion, bordering on fear and hysteria, about the syndrome and those whom it afflicts. Anthropologist Bateson (George Mason Univ.) and biologist Goldsby (Univ. of Mass. at Amherst) do much here to penetrate the fog and provide an intelligent layperson's guide to understanding. They do this in a calm yet compassionate manner, neither underestimating the gravity of the epidemic nor exaggerating the dangers to humanity. This commendable balancing act owes much to the anthropologist's setting of the epidemic in the context of American culture--lifestyles and sexual mores--in the 70's and making cross-cultural comparisons to other times and other plagues. In that respect, the raid of a gay bar in Greenwich Village in 1969 is taken as a signal event ushering in gay liberation and leading to a homosexual revolution in America every bit as dramatic as its heterosexual counterpart. There is no question that the increase in casual sexual encounters in bathhouses and bars of a highly mobile group ensured rapid spread of sexually transmitted diseases. In turn, the branding of the syndrome as a gay man's disease fueled the prejudices of sin-and-guilt-ridden Christians in sexually naive America. Meanwhile, the tragedy was unfolding in Africa, in recipients of blood products, in intravenous-drug abusers, and in the offspring of infected women. These routes of infection consistently point to human behavior as the controlling factor in the epidemic and, as Bateson and Goldsby argue, place responsibility in the hands of thinking individuals--those who can and should read this book, those who make policy, provide care and counseling, and fund research. Here, again, the authors are on target in describing what is known about the AIDS virus, the varied illnesses seen in the natural history of infection, the problems of making a vaccine, and the probability that no ""magic bullet"" will solve the problem. Above all, the authors make clear that coercive measures to curb the epidemic will be counterproductive and that the best course is in ""choosing patterns of responsible behavior and struggling to open the same choices to those who are constrained by ignorance or poverty or addiction."" Well and truly said.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Addison-Wesley