The AIDS Realist Ribbon

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The use of
cultural symbols is a distinctive human activity. Because symbols
have the power to evoke commonly held beliefs and associations,
they serve to unite people in many ways. Religious symbols unite
those sharing a common faith, while national flags unite those living
under a common government. Some symbols, such as the peace symbol
and the skull-and-crossbones, are widely recognized around the world.
Language itself is perhaps our most potent use of symbols, creating
a shared awareness and shaping our perception of the world.

Symbols do
not just reflect reality; they often help to create reality. When
people sing a political protest song, this creates a shared consciousness
among the singers. When everyone in a courtroom rises when the judge
enters, this creates an atmosphere of respect for the judicial process.
When athletes or political allies rally around a mascot or a flag,
this creates solidarity and community.

has been one of the most visible global symbols of the
past twenty years. Although its origins in the late 1980s are unclear,
it came to prominence at the 1991 Tony Awards. It has become a powerful
and fashionable symbol of "AIDS awareness" and "AIDS
activism." At firsts, red ribbons were typically worn on the
clothing. Today, the image of the red ribbon has become visually
transformed in a variety of settings. The poster below is a promotion
for “World
AIDS Day,"
an annual propaganda event sponsored by the mainstream
AIDS orthodoxy. It is a collage consisting of hundreds of tiny red

message of the poster is clear: "Wise up. Wear it. Where's
" The ribbon facilitates the creation of a reality:
"We're all in this together. We all have a common enemy [HIV].
We all have a shared goal." There is another aspect to this
shared reality: "If you're not with us, you're against us.
Anyone who questions our common enemy [HIV] is an ally of our enemy.
Anyone who is against our shared goal is a threat to our solidarity."
In this way, the red ribbon serves not just to unify, but to neutralize
and stigmatize anyone with the temerity to doubt the wisdom of the
fight against HIV. Note that this "us-against-them" mentality
is a common feature of war.

The red ribbon
is best understood as part of the larger group psychological
processes underlying the AIDS
. These processes were first explored by the psychiatrist
Casper Schmidt in a 1984 paper entitled The
Group-Fantasy Origins of AIDS
. In this paper, Schmidt
posits that AIDS shares many aspects of leprosy during the Middle
Ages and early Renaissance, including group delusions and "group
fantasies." AIDS represents a "psychological equivalent
of war" in which the group "keeps careful count of the
sacrifices." The red ribbon, and other group-fantasy rituals
such as the AIDS
, are then best understood as war symbols — uniting
medical and activist "soldiers" against a common enemy

Where does
that leave those of us who do not support this war? Where does that
leave those of us who deplore the wasted human and financial resources
devoted to this misguided endeavor? Where does that leave those
of us who wish to see an end to this war and the needless suffering
and loss of life it brings?

Those of us
who do not support this war must develop our own symbols that help
to create a reality fostering shared consciousness and community.
I propose one such symbol. It is not the only possible symbol, and
indeed, it should not be the only symbol. Unlike those supporting
the war, our symbols need not be monolithic. Corresponding to our
diversity, we should feel free to choose symbols which suit us best.

symbol below reflects a general sentiment — it does not endorse
any particular viewpoint, beyond the conviction that HIV/AIDS
remains an open issue of scientific discussion. It is a symbolic
stand against “The
Moore Assertion,"
which states that HIV/AIDS is a closed
issue, beyond any discussion at all.

I know that
some individuals may not feel comfortable with this particular symbol.
That is okay. As I stated above, individuals should feel free to
develop symbols which they feel suit them best. What is important,
however, is that we start doing something. For too long,
the orthodoxy has held a monopoly over symbols. We need to start
developing symbols of AIDS realism.

above image is freely available for any and all bloggers and webmasters
who wish to express their stance against the AIDS War and its tragic

17, 2006

Brown [send him mail]
received his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of California,
Santa Barbara in 2004. He maintains the AIDS

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