January 05, 2012

Has such a purging actually been accomplished? Polls (here’s the latest I can find) suggest that among the general public there is still some way to go: 32 percent of us in May last year thought that homosexual relations between consenting adults should not even be legal. Still, the graphs show slow progress in acceptability, and my impression of educated younger Americans is that they don’t mind homosexuality at all. To a considerable degree, the disgust has been purged.

But basic emotions are a fundamental aspect of human nature—if you believe in human nature, which liberals and leftists really don’t. Human nature is itself a part of nature. It is therefore pertinent to ask whether Horace’s maxim applies: “You can drive nature out with a pitchfork, but she’ll come running back.” If disgust is driven out of one area of life, will it find a new home in some other? Is there a principle of disgust homeostasis in human affairs?

(Homeostasis is the tendency of a system, when disturbed, to find its way back to some favored state. There is evidence that when automobile seatbelts came in, people drove more recklessly to get back to the familiar pre-seatbelt level of danger. This was called “risk homeostasis.”)

I was musing idly along these lines when I read another Ron Paul piece, this one in the left-wing Huffington Post. After gasping at Ron Paul’s opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which, says Paul correctly, “destroyed the principle of private property and private choices”), the HuffPo writer goes on to reveal Paul as in thrall to shallow, long-debunked notions about racial disparities in US society.

“The real problem we face today,” Paul says, “is the discrimination in our court system, the war on drugs. Just think of how biased that is against the minorities.” OK, Ron, I’m thinking about it. Heather MacDonald’s book, where the numbers are comprehensively crunched, concludes: “Imprisonment rate for blacks on drug charges appears consistent with the level of drug activity in the black population.”

“They get the death penalty out of proportion with their numbers,” says Ron. Steve Sailer has a quick debunking here. There is even evidence, collected by the Clinton Justice Department, that white defendants are more likely to get the death penalty, at least in federal courts: “The Attorney General approved seeking the death penalty for 38% of White defendants, 25% of Black defendants, and 20% of Hispanic defendants.”

“If you look at what minorities suffer in ordinary wars…they suffer much out of proportion,” Ron says. Ng-uh: Blacks are around 22 percent of active-duty Army personnel, but they were only nine percent of Army dead in the Iraq War.

Ron’s views on these issues are as dated as his revulsion toward homosexuals. They belong to the hopeful (but homophobic) Civil Rights Era, when it was still possible to believe that with sufficient social and political interventions, all racial gaps would be erased. That was fifty years and several trillion dollars’ worth of interventions ago.

On the evidence of his past record and associations, though, Ron did not feel disgust toward those who saw racial matters differently. Perhaps his homophobia left him with no disgust to spare.

Where did all the disgust go? It was turned against race realism. If you hold opinions much different from Ron Paul’s on the cause of racial disparities in US society, you will quite frequently, on making your views known, find yourself faced with the “Eiuw!” reaction of instinctual disgust. Dissent from orthodoxy on matters of race, even if clearly free of malice, arouses moral disgust in many Americans, as homosexuality once did.

All of this raises questions as to how disgust gets retargeted from one aspect of human behavior to another and how folk who believe in universal morality square that belief with these shifts in moral disgust’s objects. I don’t know the answers, but so far as Ms. Nussbaum’s project to purge disgust-based justifications from our laws is concerned, I think Horace will prove the victor at last.



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