Do I disgust you?

The politics of disgust is powerful because biology is powerful. At Alternet today is an article that reviews a bit of the recent research findings on this subject, to wit:

Put succinctly, when you experience the feeling of moral disgust – via the tainting of something you hold sacred and pure – it is produced by the same neural and chemical process that arise[s] after biting into a moldy piece of bread or some rotten fruit.

And Martha Nussbaum has written a recent book on the subject. See here. Many of the divisions between contemporary conservatism and liberalism do indeed seem to be over issues in which visceral disgust (especially on the conservative side, and among white heterosexual males in particular) is in play: globalism, immigration, Barack Obama, gay equality, Muslims living in America, and the fact that scientists say that humans evolved from “damn dirty apes.” All of these, in other words, seem to be met by the far right with varying degrees of hysteria and disgust. Is there, indeed, any contemporary hot button issue in American politics that doesn’t have this element of subterranean (though often denied) disgust in play: a tension between a reason-based politics of global humanity vs. a visceral and tribal politics of disgust?

Of course, people on the Left are far from immune to the impulse of disgust driving their politics. Vegetarian and animal rights activists, for example, often try to drum up public support by appeals to disgust (“Look at those caged and shit-laden animals: how could you eat them?!”).

Nevertheless, the below clip from the original (and best) Planet of the Apes  film, seems a better (and more disturbing) window on the conservative, rather than the liberal, psyche. Still, we’re all human and prone to putting up walls fortified by disgust. I, for example, find myself viscerally disgusted by Rush Limbaugh. I associate him with racism, authoritarianism, sexism, and anti-intellectualism, and all of these things are deeply off-putting to me. It doesn’t help me feel better about him knowing that he helps a leukemia foundation with a telethon every year. Maybe it should. But he just disgusts me. Maybe what I self-righteously call “the global politics of humanity” is just another move in the politics of disgust.


Who’s the damn dirty ape, again?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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