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12/14/2009

It's a revolting situation in need of revolt!

by Jeremy Hooper

Martha Nussbaum is a philosopher, professor, author, an all-around intellectual explorer. In this weekend's New York Times Magazine, she talked with Debroah Solomon about her latest focus:

SOLOMON: Your inquiries have lately revolved around the politics of physical revulsion, which you see as the subtext for opposition to same-sex marriage.

NUSSBAUM: What is it that makes people think that a same-sex couple living next door would defile or taint their own marriage when they don’t think that, let’s say, some flaky heterosexual living next door would taint their marriage? At some level, disgust is still operating.

SOLOMON: In your book “From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law,” which will be out in February, you draw a distinction between primary disgust and projective disgust.

NUSSBAUM: What becomes really bad is the projective kind, meaning projecting smelliness, sliminess and stickiness onto a group of people who are then stigmatized and regarded as inferior.
FULL INTERVIEW: QUESTIONS FOR MARTHA NUSSBAUM -- Gross National Politics [NYT]

A very worthy, very true topic! This country considers a golf pro's multiple affairs to be little more than entertainment, with the story headlining many indistinguishable magazines and early evening TV shows. An escort who sleeps with a married governor is given an advice column. Scores of heterosexuals go on national television, doing whatever is asked of them so that they can win love and ratings (not necessarily in that order). And all of these things are considered regular parts of the national conversation, palatable enough for the family dinner table. Sex sells like hotcakes, just as long as the batter contains both sperm and egg.

Yet same-sex marriages still constitute a "war," in which loving couples who want to spend a lifetime together are painted as this nation's enemy, gay opponents' targeted condemnations are respected as a mere viewpoint, personal religious beliefs are exalted to the same level as accurate legal assessment, and certain people's non-desire to have a certain form of sex is accepted as a suitable basis on which to build a civil rights-stripping campaign. Revulsion is indeed the underlying factor here: Both our opposition's revulsion for our lives and loves, and our revulsion for the fact that their intense distaste is still all it takes to 86 our equality from the world's menu!

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Your thoughts

"NUSSBAUM: What becomes really bad is the projective kind, meaning projecting smelliness, sliminess and stickiness onto a group of people who are then stigmatized and regarded as inferior."

That's pretty much the classical pathology that defines a supremacist! And, while risking the possibility of being termed Colbertian, she nailed 'em!

Posted by: Dick Mills | Dec 14, 2009 2:42:10 PM

There was a piece of research that came out this year that seems to indicate people's sense of morality is informed by the more primitive, visceral feelings of disgust for things like rotten food or parasites. Google for "Hanah Chapman" for articles about it.

Disclaimer: Hanah is my younger sister (yay Hanah!) but I think her work is relevant here.

Posted by: marsmannetje | Dec 14, 2009 5:11:13 PM

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