AIDS, Myth, and Ethics
Theoretical Medicine. 1991 Jun; 12(2): 151-156.
The present paper is a commentary on an article by Larry Churchill [Theoretical Medicine, 1990 Sep; 11(3): 185-192]. Churchill has argued that the negative attitudes and adverse behavior we commonly encounter in connection with (suspected) AIDS patients may be understood in terms of a dualistic "myth" inspiring a "ritual" avoidance of "dirt", of "dirt" as something that does not belong to a "clean" world order. The deep-seated mythical character of attitudes and behavior here makes them less accessible to the kind of rational argument commonly employed in ethics. Churchill also proposes a remedy for the (morally outrageous) dualistic mythical-ritual behavior he has focused -- a remedy that may be overly intellectualistic. Three further comments are made: on the metaphorical meaning of "myth", on a reductionist tendency in Churchill's "deep"-looking project, and on an ethically crucial ambiguity in the meaning of the other person's "otherness". These (mildly critical) comments do not, however, detract from a positive overall evaluation of Churchill's basic idea that we will understand more about adverse attitudes and behavior in connection with AIDS if we think in terms of "myth", "ritual", "dirt", and "cleanliness".
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