Friday, March 13, 2020

If You Share My Disgust, You Earn My Trust

"Disgust" is related to such words as gustatory and gustable, or in other words, the digestive system, specifically, the sense of taste. Something that is dis-gusting is, among other things, in bad taste, and should be spat out.

We've all heard the old saying, de gustibus non est disputandum, which literally means that in matters of taste there can be no disputes. In plain English it means there's no accounting for taste. Among the tenured it means that everything is relative, so nothing is intrinsically superior to anything else, in any dimension (e.g., aesthetics, morality, culture, etc.).

One of our readers is disgusted by President Trump, to such an extent that it is "pushing me towards a belief in the existence of objective evil." Conversely, I am disgusted by the president's haters but believe in the existence of objective evil. Is there any accounting for our differing reactions, or in matters of disgust can there be no disputes?

More generally, disgust is both over- and under-appreciated. I, for example, find it to be a rapid and effective cognitive early warning system. However, our Trump-hating commenter would no doubt say the same thing, and yet, we are disgusted by opposite flavors -- as if what is sweet to him is bitter to me, and vice versa.

Now, some flavors that are initially bitter can become enjoyable; in fact, two of these are central to the Raccoon lifestyle, coffee and beer. In short, one must undergo some gustatory training in order to appreciate some flavors. I suppose the same is true of cigars, or hard liquor, or any number of more subtle distinctions known only to foodies, enologists, and other picky connoisseurs of this or that.

When it comes to disgust, there's always a lot of signaling and social mimicry going on. One signals to one's fellow posers by being attracted to, or disgusted by, the proper things. In the past I've spoken of my father-in-law's ugly collection of modern art. It wasn't disgusting -- like, say, a painting done with menstrual blood -- but just irrelevant to any normal person's conception of beauty.

Clearly, much of politics revolves around this mechanism of tribal signaling. Sometimes the purpose of being in a club is simply to identify whom we may licitly hate. Human nature being what it is, we have to hate someone or something, and politics is a nonlethal way to organize our hatreds. Even (or especially) God hates evil, and if we are the i. and l., then so should we.

Back when I was a knee-jerk lefty, I was disgusted by conservatives, even though I didn't really know any, and knew nothing about conservatism except what I'd heard from fellow members of my tribe. Now I am disgusted by the left, but it's because I'm so familiar with its ideas.

However, a leftist has to go very much out of his way to familiarize himself with conservatism. I live in a deeply blue state and an even bluer congressional district, and toil in one of the bluest of all professions, psychology. I routinely meet people who pretend to understand conservatism, but they are able to articulate only a straw man version to which they react with disgust.

Now, if you're going to be properly disgusted by something, you should at least understand it. I, for example, am disgusted and horrified by socialism, not because I don't understand it, but because I do.

Where is this post going, you might ask? Well, I was thinking of how there is something much deeper than just intellectual agreement. Living as I do among the primitive tribe of Blue Meanies, I am accustomed to "passing." In other words, I am circumspect about revealing my true identity and allegiances. I only know I'm fully in the clear if my interlocutor is absolutely disgusted by the same things: if you share my disgust, then you earn my trust!

Perhaps I should emphasize that this is distinct from merely hating the same things. I don't trust hate. It's too crude and simplistic, not to mention (if you pay attention to it) enjoyable. As alluded to above, it's fun to hate the Bad Tribe. But there's nothing fun about my disgust for, say, Adam Schiff. When I see and hear him on television, I can literally feel the rising of nausea at the base of the throat. That's genuine disgust.

But again, we must be disgusted by the proper things. Our disgust must be rightly ordered. How do we know when our disgust is operating as it should? For example, are "homophobia," or "Islamophobia," or "transphobia" just different names for "normal"?

Let me think for a moment day or two while giving you some aphorisms to ponder:

--I trust less in the arguments of reason than in the antipathies of intelligence.

--Our spontaneous revulsions are often more lucid than our reasoned convictions.

--One who does not share our repugnance does not understand our ideas.

--He who does not smell sulfur in the modern world has no sense of smell.

--Nothing makes more evident the reality of sin than the stench of the souls that deny its existence.

--Moral indignation is not truly sincere unless it literally ends in vomiting (Dávila).

In the natural world, disgust signals Danger! Do not swallow! In other words, same as in the transnatural world. Some kinds of fruit may look good but are not to be eaten or even touched without risking death (or so we have heard from the wise).

Liberal ideas are congenial. Their consequences are disastrous (ibid.).

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Can the Abolition of Man be Arrested?

Well, I just finished this big ol' book of C.S. Lewis, consisting of seven works of apologetics. The last one is The Abolition of Man, a diabolical project that has infected millions more in the 76 years since Lewis diagnosed this spiritual plague in 1944.

If only we could have quarantined the victims back then! Instead, the infection has worked its way through people and institutions, such that the abolition of men -- and women -- is almost the default position. From the perspective of the abolished man -- say, Chris Hayes, or Anderson Cooper, or Rachel Maddow -- the unabolished man -- oh, let's say, President Trump -- is the problem!

When they say "patriarchy" I hear "parricide," AKA the Abolition of Man.

Why is our politics so divided and divisive? Well, first of all, because it is supposed to be. However, it is more divided than usual, because the two sides no longer share the same principles or goals. Nor, for that matter, do they inhabit the same reality (and by definition there is only one). And ultimately they are no longer the same species. For an abolished man is obviously no longer a man. Which is the whole point of the exercise.

What then is this former man? Is he merely an animal? In other words, if we eliminate human nature, are we left with but a trousered or tenured ape? Yes and no. For a man cannot actually abolish himself, any more than a snake can fly or a Bernie Bro can support himself. Being human means we can imagine alternate realities, such that a man can always pretend he is a woman, or a journalist, or intellectual, or pretty much anything.

He can even pretend there is no such thing as human nature and thereby pretend to have abolished man, just like that. Actually, the second part isn't "pretend," because unreal ideas can nevertheless have very real consequences. For example, Islamists imagine they please God by murdering innocent human beings. The idea is crazy but its victims are just as dead.

Notice that the feelings are subjective but the consequences are objective. However, one side of our culture war insists that its feelings are objective. For example, if someone says "believe all women," this means we should abandon all objective standards of innocence and guilt. More generally, has any conservative ever uttered the oxymoron "my truth?" For the personal pronoun reduces the impersonal and objective to personal and subjective. Which is one way to abolish a man, or at least cancel him.

Consider these two statements: 1) "President Trump is a white supremacist." 2) "Joe Biden is suffering from a progressive dementia."

The first statement isn't even false, whereas the second is so self-evident that one must be able to recognize its truth in order to deny its truth; in other words, the lie is parasitic on the truth of Biden's obvious cognitive decline. The statement about Trump is a different kind of lie, because it doesn't deny a prior truth but superimposes an alternate reality.

Having said that, there are nevertheless times that feelings are an adequation to reality. Lewis discusses one of them, the recognition of the sublime. Someone who says "this is sublime" isn't just making a statement about his feelings. Rather, the feelings are a wholly appropriate response to the object that provokes them, say a cathedral, or the Pieta, or Yosemite Valley.

However, if you have been indoctrinated into a scientistic worldview, your feelings of sublimity are completely subjective, and reveal nothing about reality. If one says "this musical performance is sublime," it really just means "I'm having sublime feelings." Which means nothing, since the feelings evoked are rendered wholly individual instead of universal. It's equivalent to saying I feel hungry or tired, which doesn't mean you should feel hungry or tired.

Nevertheless, when a normal man says "that woman is beautiful," he doesn't mean "I am having beautiful feelings." But a metaphysical Darwinian, if he is being intellectually consistent, will say "the form of that woman is tricking me into thinking she is a genetically fit candidate for the propagation of my DNA." There is no such thing as beauty, except insofar as it is a kind of deception, or bait-and-switch.

People who consistently deny that feelings can be adequations "will believe two propositions":

firstly, that all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker, and secondly, that all such statements are unimportant (Lewis).

But no one really believes this; or certainly no one can live as if it is true. The person who feels President Trump is a white supremacist isn't just saying "I am having feelings of white supremacism." Rather, he believes his feelings are an appropriate adequation to an objective reality. In other words, if the president is a white supremacist, our reaction shouldn't be neutral, let alone positive.

But what if the feelings are coming first, the perception second? In other words, what if I simply have the feeling that the president is a racist, and then justify those feelings by excluding any evidence to the contrary? In that case, then the feelings are no longer an adequation, at least to objective reality.

Nevertheless, they are still an adequation. To what then? This is a long story, and since neither my body nor mind have adapted to the time change, we're running out of it. However, the problem is alluded to in the book, and has to do with the idea that the human mind...

Put it this way: say what you want about self-consciousness, but it is a predicament. For not only do we have to adapt to the world -- as does any other animal -- but we have the additional task of having to adapt to the exceedingly strange condition of mindedness, or of thoughts and feelings and what to do about them. Yes, "think and feel them" is correct, but perhaps you have no idea of how easy this is to say and how difficult to put into practice.

As a psychologist, I routinely deal with people who confuse their feelings with thoughts and thoughts with feelings, and wonder why their lives have run aground.

Let's take someone with deep anxiety. That's a feeling. But they turn the anxiety into a thought, for example, that the world is undergoing catastrophic warming and we're all gonna die in ten years!

It can work the other way as well: for example, if I have the thought that the president is a racist, then I will have all the righteous feelings that would be present if it were true. And these feelings are delicious. Not to mention addictive.

To be continued...