Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do



Because of the diverse
conditions of humans,
it happens that some acts are virtuous
to some people,
as appropriate and suitable to them,
while the same acts are
immoral for others,
as inappropriate to them.

WHEN WE USE THE word relationship, we generally use it to describe how we relate to other people. When we want to really single someone out as special, we say, "We are in a relationship." That's the one that usually starts with "Some Enchanted Evening," and too often ends, "Another One Bites the Dust."

I'd like, however, to use the word relationship in the broadest possible sense: how we relate to everyone and everything—mentally, emotionally, or physically.

With some things, we have good relationships; with others, we have bad relationships. When most of our relationships are going well, we say life is good; when most of our relationships are going poorly, we say life is bad. Most things are neither good nor bad in themselves, but get a reputation for being good or bad based on how most human beings relate to them. Individually, we can have a good relationship with "dreadful" things, and we can have a bad relationship with "wonderful" things.

Iodine, for example, is neither good nor bad in itself. Taken in small quantities, iodine is an essential nutrient. Taken in larger quantities, iodine is a lethal poison. One could say people were in a good relationship with iodine if they had just enough but not too much; and one could say people were in a bad relationship with iodine if they had so little they had an iodine deficiency, or so much they had iodine poisoning.

We could have bad relationships with things that almost everyone agrees are good. Food, for example. Food is not only good, it's essential. Some people are in a good relationship with food: they eat enough to keep alive, but not so much that it endangers their health. Other people have a bad relationship with food: they eat so little, so much, or so much of the wrong foods, that it negatively affects their lives.

I like white trash cooking.
The greasier the better.
Mashed potatoes served in a scoop,
a little dent in the top for the gravy.
Drake's Devil Dogs for dessert.
Pure pleasure;
no known nutrient.
Our lives are made up of both good and bad relationships: we may have a good relationship with our dog, a bad relationship with money, a good relationship with our health, a bad relationship with programming our VCR. There may be some things you have a good relationship with that most people have a bad relationship with (speaking in public, the IRS, airline food); and you may have a bad relationship with things that most people have a good relationship with (movies edited for television, lite beer, Nutra Sweet).
The idea behind laws against consensual activities is that if some people are in a bad relationship with something, then that thing should be banned. The problem is, that solution doesn't solve anything: the problem doesn't lie with the thing itself, but with some people's relationship to it.
Yes, there are some things with which it is easier to be in a bad relationship than others. Cigarettes practically beg for a bad relationship. But then, they were designed that way. For the several centuries prior to the Civil War, tobacco's use was primarily recreational: people would inhale it, choke, get dizzy, fall on the floor, roll around—typical Saturday night recreation. For the most part, people used tobacco (a botanical relative of deadly nightshade, by the way) once or twice a week and that was it.
After the Civil War, the South needed a cash crop less labor intensive than cotton. A special strain of tobacco was developed that allowed people to inhale deeply without coughing. This let people smoke almost continuously, if they liked. It also resulted in almost immediate addiction.

I have every sympathy
with the American
who was so horrified
by what he had read
of the effects of smoking
that he gave up reading.
Almost everyone who smokes is addicted to tobacco. While there are many "social drinkers," there is almost no such thing as the "social smoker." Smokers begin smoking from the time they wake up in the morning and continue smoking regularly throughout the day until they go to sleep.
Addiction is a sure sign of a bad relationship. At first, the addictive substance (or activity) makes us "high." After a while, however, the body builds up an immunity to the substance (or activity), and more and more is needed to achieve the same euphoric effect. Unfortunately, the toxic effects of the substance (or activity) eventually counteract the elation. At that point, we take the substance (or partake in the activity) more to get by than to get high.
A perfect example is caffeine. At first, caffeine produces extra energy, alertness, and a sense of well-being. The body, however, becomes immune to caffeine faster than almost any substance. Soon people are drinking coffee or Coca-Cola or eating chocolate (an eight-ounce bar of chocolate has as much caffeine as a half a cup of coffee) to get them back to "normal." ("You know I'm not myself until I've had my morning coffee.")
People can become addicted to (that is, form bad relationships with) many of the things we usually think of as "good." Some people become addicted to romance—not love, but the initial rush of "falling in love." So many people become addicted to otherwise productive work that psychologists have coined the term workaholics. Even the highest forms of attainment and attunement are not immune to the dangers of addiction, as Father Leo Booth explains in his book, When God Becomes a Drug:

When, in the name of God, people hold black- and-white beliefs that cut them off from other human beings; when, in the name of God, they give up their own sense of right and wrong; when, in the name of God, they suffer financial deprivation; then, they are suffering from religious addiction.

Tolerance is the positive
and cordial effort
to understand another's
beliefs, practices, and habits
without necessarily sharing
or accepting them.
No matter how good something is, it can become bad through a bad relationship. Conversely, no matter how bad most people think something is, some people can have a good relationship with it—without physically harming themselves or the person or property of others.
Many people would be surprised to learn that some prostitutes actually enjoy their work, consider the service they provide as valuable as that of any other professional, and are physically and emotionally healthier than some who claim, "All prostitutes are sick and spend their time spreading their sickness to others."
Cocaine is considered by many to be instantly and irreparably demoralizing, demeaning, and destructive. And yet, there are thousands upon thousands of people who have used cocaine regularly—albeit recreationally—for years (in some cases, decades) and have managed to create great art, business empires, and, yes, even grow healthy children.
Most people think heroin is the most addictive and destructive of drugs. It is addictive (although, according to former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, not as addictive as cigarettes) and bad relationships with heroin have destroyed lives, but a good relationship with heroin or its less potent brother, morphine, is not impossible. Dr. William Stewart Halsted, the father of modern surgery and one of the four doctors who founded the Johns Hopkins Medical Center—a responsible, productive, well-respected physician and educator—took morphine daily for almost his entire professional life. Forty-seven years after he died, his secret came out. The only thing that made his relationship with morphine potentially unhealthy was the fact he had to keep it so hidden. This is not a rare story in the medical community.
It is not heroin or cocaine that makes one an addict, it is the need to escape from a harsh reality. There are more television addicts, more baseball and football addicts, more movie addicts, and certainly more alcohol addicts in this country than there are narcotics addicts.
September 17, 1969
House Select Committee on Crime
And adultery is always wrong, right? Certainly no one in a position of social or political leadership—the one who sets an example for an entire people—should commit adultery. Right? Well, if history is anything to go on, that's not necessarily true. Accusations have been made, and some well documented by noted historians, that every United States president since FDR—with the possible exceptions of Harry S. Truman, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford—have strayed from the sanctity of their marriage vows. Of the exceptions, Carter was doing it in his heart, Nixon was doing it to the country, and Truman was too busy playing either piano or poker.

The good that
Martin Luther King, Jr. did
remains undiminished.
He was great precisely because,
like other heroes,
he did not allow human weakness
to deter him from
doing great works.
Kennedy's pre- and in-office escapades must be some kind of record. He had more skeletons in the closet than the gay catacombs. According to FBI files, in 1942 he had a torrid affair with Inga Arvad, generally believed to be a Nazi spy. The FBI bugging of their trysts revealed no spying, but a good deal of "sexual intercourse." (That's an FBI technical term.) FBI files also reveal that Kennedy was married briefly when he was twenty-two. His father, Joseph P. Kennedy, put pressure on two successive New Jersey governors (the state in which the wedding had taken place) to have the marriage removed from the records. He was successful. Cardinal Spellman, a family friend, arranged for an annulment in 1952. The following year, Spellman officiated at the wedding ceremony of Kennedy to Jacqueline Bouvier. Over the years, Kennedy was linked (so to speak) with Gene Tierney, Angie Dickenson, Jayne Mansfield (I am not making this up) and, of course, Marilyn Monroe. As Edie Adams wrote in her autobiography, "I may be the only shapely, blonde female then between the ages of fifteen and forty-five who said no to JFK, but it wasn't because I wasn't asked." The story about Kennedy's affair with Marilyn Monroe while he was in the White House is now famous. When she became too demanding and threatened to become a political liability, Kennedy, like all good presidents, turned the "matter" over to his attorney general, Robert Kennedy, who filled his brother's, um, who took his brother's place. The stories of JFK's infidelities became such common knowledge that Bette Midler said in her act, "Guess what? I slept with Jack Kennedy! Guess what else?" she would ask, gesturing to her back-up singers, the Harlettes, "They slept with Jack Kennedy." Few people in the audience needed to have the joke explained. It is also rumored that Kennedy was visited in the White House by Dr. Max Jacobson, who was later labeled by the tabloids "Dr. Feelgood" due to his propensity for giving his patients injections of amphetamines and other mood-elevating substances to cure anything from a cold to a divorce. After an investigation, he lost his medical license. Who knows how many of Kennedy's staff were also "treated" by Dr. Jacobson while at the White House. Can you imagine? For three years, the trembling hand of an intravenous speed-freak might have been hovering over the great nuclear Button.

If we cannot end our differences,
at least we can help
make the world
safe for diversity.
President Clinton had not one, but two scandals revealed during his campaign, but he was elected anyway. This demonstrates either the maturing of the American electorate or the country's utter frustration with Bush. (I like to think the former, but I fear it's the latter.) It turned out that Clinton smoked marijuana and may have had an affair with a woman named Gennifer Flowers (not necessarily, but not necessarily not at the same time). People, for the most part, shrugged and repeated the phrase from the 1960s, "So what if he's smoking flowers?" Happily, the electorate decided that Clinton's behavior in the State House was more important than his behavior in his own house, and he was elected by a broad margin.

If you say a modern celebrity
is an adulterer,
a pervert,
and a drug addict,
all it means is that
you've read his autobiography.
The wave of "tell all" biographies (and autobiographies) so popular in the last two decades has clearly shown that everybody's got a bad relationship with something. No matter how great, accomplished, successful, or magnificent a person may be in one area of life, there always seems to be that little dark corner he or she tries so desperately to keep hidden.
At first, these revelations about the heroes of our time seem as though they were written by editors of supermarket tabloids. "LORD LAURENCE OLIVIER AND DANNY KAYE WERE LOVERS!" After the initial shock and laughter die down, a surprisingly large number of these revelations turn out to be true. In his meticulously researched biography, Laurence Olivier, Donald Spoto revealed what Hollywood insiders had known for years: that for the entire decade of the 1950s, Kaye provided the nurturing, encouragement, and emotional support Olivier was no longer receiving from Vivien Leigh. (From 1939 to 1950, Scarlett O'Hara had become Blanche du Bois.) Did their indulgence in this "crime" negatively affect their careers? No. All indications are that their careers were mutually enhanced by it.
What if their "crime" had become public knowledge? That would have destroyed their careers—and just about every other part of their lives. Danny Kaye would never have had his TV series, which ran for four years in the early 1960s, nor would his exemplary work with the United Nations Children's Fund have been permitted. ("A homosexual with our children?!") Olivier's brilliant work in the last three decades of his life probably never would have happened; he never would have been made director of the National Theater, thus, it probably never would have gotten off the ground; he certainly wouldn't have been elected to the House of Lords. (Although there are certainly homosexuals in that august body, when the more-open-about-his-sexuality Sir John Gielgud was suggested for lordship, one person commented, "England already has a queen.") Spoto's book portrays Kaye as a deeply devoted admirer of Olivier and Olivier as, well, an actor. Like most performers, Lord Olivier's weakness was praise, which just happened to be Kaye's strength.

I am an actor.
Of course
I can play a heterosexual!
Even the silly books, where rumor is reported as fact (Kitty Kelley with her "Kitty Litter" being the reigning queen of that genre), also lead to a monumental "So what?" and a bit of tolerance for the variety of relationships of which human beings are capable. So what if Ron and Nancy smoked pot in the governor's mansion? Did Sinatra do it "his way" with Nancy in the White House? If so, so what?
The point is that people can have a bad relationship with some parts of their life (marital fidelity, for example) and still have a good relationship with other parts of their life (career, public service, and so on).
William F. Buckley, Jr., has taken daily, for thirty years, a psychoactive prescription drug known as Ritalin. Ritalin is prescribed for hyperactive children and lethargic adults. (It seems to calm kids down and pick adults up.) Mr. Buckley apparently has a good relationship with this drug. Anyone who knows him will tell you he has never, ever, experienced either of Ritalin's most common side effects: weight loss and irritability. Mr. Buckley, in his usual candor, freely admitted to his decades of daily usage. As Ritalin has for some people amphetamine-like effects, rumor got out that Buckley "took speed" every day. This is, of course, an exaggeration and oversimplification. When I asked him about this, Buckley wrote me:

I hope you will have a chance to mention that what the doc said, after I had fainted (first and last time) was that my blood pressure is so low that I should either take a quarter pound of chocolate in mid afternoon, or a Ritalin. Big deal! I doubt, by the way, that a doctor would nowadays say that because some people are affected adversely by Ritalin. But after 30 years, nobody has detected any change in me, haahaaaahaahahahhhaaaaaaa, eeeeeeee, oooooo-ooooooooo oooooo! Now I'm feeling uiqte [sic] fine, as you can see.

Our relations with a good joke
are direct
and even divine relations.
Good relationships with drugs are possible without a doctor's prescription, and—as any doctor will tell you—bad relationships with drugs are possible even with a doctor's prescription. The point again: it is not the substance, but the relationship to the substance that causes problems.
Attempting to control the substance in no way helps control the problem—in fact, it only makes the problem worse.
If someone is in a bad relationship with a substance and you take the substance away, the person will find a new substance and enter into a bad relationship with it. There seems to be something in people who are in a bad relationship that requires—nay, demands—some sort of bad relationship. The substance is secondary—almost incidental—to the desire for the bad relationship. This transference of addiction can occur even when a substance is given up by choice. People who stop smoking, for example, will sometimes put on weight. They simply transfer their bad relationship with tobacco to a bad relationship with food. If you eliminate people's bookies, they'll take up with stockbrokers. Deprive people of coffee, and they'll turn to Diet Coke.

Tolerance comes of age.
I see no fault committed
that I myself
could not have committed
at some time or other.
Certain people with addictive personalities are giving some poor, innocent substances (and activities) a bad name. Most people who condemn currently illegal consensual activities know little or nothing about them. All they know are the sensationalized media accounts designed not to educate, but titillate. Unless they take part in the activities themselves—or have close friends who do—most people have bad relationships with the mere existence of these consensual activities. The primary emotions seem to be revulsion and fear, born of ignorance. Revulsion and fear keep one from investigating and learning that there is nothing much to be repulsed by or afraid of. It is a closed loop of ignorance (ignore-ance).
The unwillingness to see that "It is my judgment, based on my ignorance, that is causing the problem" is the problem. Bad relationships promote worse relationships. Worse relationships promote impossible relationships. Impossible relationships promote laws against consensual activities.
Most people, of course, do not intentionally set out to create a bad relationship. Most relationships initially start out good, and gradually—often imperceptibly—become bad. If, however, a formerly good relationship has turned bad and we don't realize it yet, no one has the right to throw us in jail for our lack of perception. If we do realize the relationship has become bad and we choose to continue with it for whatever reason, no one has the right to arrest us for our poor choices. As long as our relationships don't physically harm the person or property of another, we are free to choose what we relate to and how we relate to it.
People use all kinds of things for their corruption, but nothing corrupts everybody. Successful change takes place by changing the individual, not prohibiting activities or substances.

Fanaticism consists
in redoubling your effort
when you have
forgotten your aim.


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