Academic Revolt

John Wilson has written a fascinating piece on disgust in today's Globe.

He starts by saying "To dwell too much on disgust is to risk losing any sense of the object of study" -- and then proceeds to do just that. But what a ride! I'd never really equated the disgust one feels about poop, to the disgust one can feel about poverty statistics. Fortunately, people like Martha Nussbaum have, and she's addressed its suitability as a theory of morality.

Drawing on Rozin's theory of disgust and adding some wrinkles of her own, Nussbaum claims that disgust is fundamentally motivated by our "fear of our animal bodies" and our awareness of our vulnerability, above all our mortality.

... "It may even be," she writes, "that many, or even most, human beings need some form of [disgust] in order to live, because we cannot endure too much daily confrontation with our own decay and with the oozy stuffs of which our bodies are made." But it's an inhospitable world she imagines, in which most of us are consigned to live in delusion.

His choice of "inhospitable" may have been a coincidence, but through the whole article I was thinking about the nurses at my hospital. What happens when you deal with disgusting things on an hourly basis, every day? Do you become acutely aware of your mortality -- or at the other extreme, desensitized to moral outrages?

I'd venture: the former. Is it fair to compare Mother Theresa to that famous germophobe, Donald Trump? We might learn from those who embrace disgust, and those who run from it.

You can see where you fit -- take the quiz yourself (different scales for men and women!) and learn more about this revolting field of study.