George Pyle: The real public health emergency is delusional thinking

FILE - In this April 19, 2016, file photo, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert looks up during a ceremonial signing of a state resolution declaring pornography a public health crisis, at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. More than a dozen states have moved to declare pornography a public health crisis, encouraging supporters but raising concerns among experts who say the label goes too far and carries its own risks. Arizona became the latest of 16th state to pass a resolution in at least one legislative chamber on Monday, May 6, 2019, calling for a systemic effort to prevent exposure to porn that's increasingly accessible to kids at younger ages online. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Sixth-graders are talking about their willingness to “go down fighting” against the next psychopath who attacks their school with a weapon of war.

Utah mothers and mothers-to-be are the latest to be afflicted by an epidemic of opioid addiction and death.

An outbreak of parental dimwittedness has brought measles back from the dead and threatens to do with same with even more dangerous diseases.

People who don’t die of treatable or detectable diseases still go bankrupt because Utah and several other states pig-headedly refused to expand Medicaid.

The stinky air in Utah’s supposedly family-friendly culture is linked to sickness, stillbirth and mortality.

Suicide among teenagers is skyrocketing and, all too often, the advice given by exponents of various religious groups is to blame the victims for not getting right with God.

So what is the public health crisis that Utah is leading the way in declaring? Porn.

Sweet Stormy Daniels.

Viewing pornography with alarm - rather than with a smartphone - sells politically because, beyond a few free speech absolutists, there isn’t much of a pro-porn lobby.

Nothing on the scale of the big pharmaceutical giants defending their opioid profits.

Fossil fuel conglomerates fending off fuel-efficiency and air-quality standards.

Second Amendment yahoos clinging to a totally phony interpretation of the Constitution because to do otherwise would mean fat old white men would have to give up some of their favorite toys.

Some concerns about the bad effects of porn, especially on young people, are genuinely felt and not without reason. But much of the case has its cause and effect exactly backwards.

The worry often expressed is that watching porn videos gives children and otherwise sexually inexperienced people the idea that the figures on the screen are engaged in normal, healthy sexual activity. That if the viewers don’t behave in similar ways — and if they can’t convince their quite reasonably unwilling (usually female) partners to go along — they are not just missing something, they are unmanly and abnormal.

“Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you," said George Bernard Shaw. "Their tastes may not be the same.”

But the problem isn’t porn, or sex, or even gross guys who can’t get dates. It is fear of sex, of women, and an inability to separate fantasy from reality.

Learning sexual propriety and etiquette from an online porn site is like learning how to drive from “Fast and Furious.” How to fly from “Captain Marvel.” Zoology from “Fantastic Beasts.” Anything at all about history, culture and government from Fox News.

Although only the last of those appears to be a real problem in our culture.

As William Shatner so famously said, “Get a life, will you people? I mean, for crying out loud, it’s just a TV show!”

Real openness about sexual matters — at home and in school — would go a long way toward putting porn in its place. It’s not real. Nobody expects it to be real, or promotes it as real, or holds it out or sees it as exemplary behavior.

Faced more honestly and openly, sexy stories might even be infused with, well, stories. Stories that might even include some romance, heroism, self-sacrifice and moral growth. As experienced by people who look impossibly fit and beautiful, all the time, doing a whole lot of consenting.

OK. That’s probably expecting way too much.

We could face the likelihood that people whose lives are actually damaged by pornography are those who are predisposed to feeling a lot of shame and inadequacy. Who turn to those who tell them that they are addicted, as to drugs, rather than just indulging, perhaps too much, in some arrested-development behavior.

(Referring to X-rated fare as “adult” has always been silly. “My Dinner with Andre” and “The Hours” are adult movies. “Debbie Does Dallas” is an adolescent one.)

There is also some research to suggest that, at least among children, a religious background can impair a person’s ability to tell fantasy from reality.

It is dangerous when people take religious teachings as literal rather than, as Jesus his own self sometimes presented them, moral allegories. As fables that teach values, such as the stories of Odysseus and Skywalker.

The true believer turns differing interpretations into centuries of schism and war, rather than a Captain America vs. Iron Man panel discussion at Fan-X.

Do what you can to see to it that your children know the difference. If you don’t get in the way, they will probably figure it out themselves.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, takes pride in being able to tell fantasy from reality. But he did get a little choked up at the end of “Avengers: Endgame.”