Monday, May 08, 2006

A Thought on Drug-War Propaganda

Looking at a bunch of drug pamphlets at school today when I was substitute teaching, I was struck by how much propaganda (in the negative sense of the word) was contained therein.

There was a booklet on steroids, and it tried extremely hard to make it look as if there were no benefits to taking steroids. It mentioned all of the things that steroids could not do (make people heal faster, etc.), and mentioned all of the nasty side effects (shrunken testicles in men, enlarged clitores in women), and then tried to give the impression that hard work and training could produce performance results that were just as good as those produced by steroids.

No where was it discussed how steroids improved performance, what particular reasons people take them for a sport (i.e. football players do it to bulk up, runners do it to increase the muscle-to-fat ratio, ballplayers do it largely to strenghthen their arms and to improve their swing), or any other information that would give some context as to why people took steroids. Moreover, the general implication of the booklet that steroids will not improve someone's game is a lie, judging by the open secret of how many baseball players are setting new records due to steroids, and by East German dominance of women's short-distance running at the Olympics.

Now of course, using steroids to enhance one's performance in sports in bad; it is cheating, it is dangerous, and it sets up a system where those who don't use feel pressured into it because otherwise they are at a disadvantage.

But to pretend that the performance-enhancing properties of steroids do not exist, or to ignore them in order to downplay them is ludicrous. In my view, such a propagandistic approach, where it is okay to lie if telling the truth might encourage steroid use, is both bad and stupid. This is because using a "noble lie" in order to prevent people from using steroids ultimately breeds distrust in your target audience. No one is going to take warnings about the side effects of steroids seriously when they are being told by someone who will lie whenever he is scared that the truth will encourage steroid use. If you don't level with people, you lose their respect.

That is all.

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