Tag Archives: disgust

Detritus, Decay, Disgust, HOORAY

As if the discussions about slavery and slave codes were not uplifting enough, we’re going to talk about the nature of human disgust today!


Martha “Nussy” Nussbaum seems to except the notion that disgust is a learned trait in humanity, kindled and stoked by a child’s socialization with its parents and later on with its peers. This is a logical conclusion to reach, as disgust is in itself a social more and not an absolute. Nussbaum argues that there are certain objects of disgust that are so common between all societies that, while not technically absolute, they have the effect of being absolute.

Ok. I’ll bite.

I think at that point Nussbaum was just playing the semantics game, but she’s got the Harvard PhD and I do not even have a BA yet, so perhaps I’ll just defer to her on this point…

ANYWHO… The thing I found particularly interesting was how disgust is formed and aimed. The theory with which Nussbaum seems, thus far into the book, to be most comfortable working with – and seems to be accepting, with some nuance – is a two-part notion that disgust is a mechanism that helps humanity to ignore the fact of its animal origins – and that we are animals like any other (well – we walk upright and have thumbs, which may have helped us see predators over tall grass and wield big sticks – so maybe we’re not exactly like the rest). This, of course, jives very well with the ‘Frommian’ theory that I have discussed several times in the past on this blog. The second part of the theory is that it is aimed against those objects that are reminders of the body’s propensity for decay. Thus, according to this theory, we find shit, piss, blood, fungus, mucus, and general gooey gushiness gross because it reminds us in the end that we are made of those things, and becoming those things.

Naturally, the argument is not  being made that we make  these connections willfully, or purposefully; nor is the argument being make that we are even aware of the connection being made by our minds. These are subconscious processes.

Now, the argument is mentioned that there are certain reminders of our animal bodies that impress, rather than disgust; durability, strength, agility, speed, flexibility… Cockroaches are very durable, strong, and fast – yet they are objects of disgust and scorn. Many athletes are durable, strong, and fast – and we love them (unless their name is Alex Rodriguez). This is accounted for in the argument that we associate disgust namely with those animals, or animal attributes, that have the properties of those reminders of decay mentioned earlier. We associate – with good reason – cockroaches with decay, and thus they are objects of scorn. And thus, the two seemingly divergent theories mould together.