It’s well known that boys like disgusting things, like the titular short list above. Even little fellows seem willing to come into contact with all sorts of slime, pus, spit, scabs, stink, filth and muck, in spite of the scientific assertion that “disgust” is an emotion wired into brains. These researchers even know where disgust is triggered: the front part of the insula which is related to taste and smell. It’s an “old” part of the brain from the animal level. No doubt it’s somehow overridden by boy hormones because the need to explore, to impress others, and to do icky things is part of their assigned life role. At least before we all got so civilized.
I only know where the control point in the brain is because of reading this Antonio Damasio book, “Self Comes to Mind.” P. 125: “a trigger point to a most important emotion: disgust, as an automatic means of rejecting potentially toxic food and preventing it from entering the body. Humans can be disgusted not just by seeing spoiled food and the foul smell and taste that accompany it but by a variety of situations in which the purity of objects or behavior is compromised and there is “contamination.” Importantly, humans are also disgusted by the perception of morally reprehensible actions. As a result, many of the actions in the human disgust program, including its typical facial expressions have been co-opted by a social emotion: contempt. Contempt is often a metaphor for moral disgust.
Girls are encouraged NOT to do disgusting things until they’re adults when sugar and spice become commodities. In the adult socially assigned gender world, the ick factor is reversed. Now the women are the ones who do icky stuff like artificial insemination of cows. (If you’ve watched it, you’ll know that the person reaching up the vagina gets a shoulder-load of cow poop as the cow’s instinct works to expel the intruder.) Women are encouraged to tolerate such things because of children (the boys’ appreciation of ick does not extend to diapers or baby puke) and housework, let alone their own excretions. By that time the men want to be clean, with maybe the exception of sweat, which may have once been because of the need for a hunter to not broadcast his presence. Although in a bar a man might want a distinctive scent, which he is likely to have purchased. Filth is low class and signals bad jobs, foreignness and lack of sanitary access. But men of all levels of cleanliness may harbor contempt for women, considering them receptacles like spittoons.
Contempt is not only a social emotion. Contempt is a dynamic of hatred. In a situation where rewards or even raw safety are involved, contempt can act in the moment, but more than that it is a cause of broad prejudice: stigma. It justifies punishment that would not normally be tolerated by civilized people and even is the means of torture, as at Abu Ghraib where prisoners (for whom the big blonde soldiers had contempt already because the prisoners were a small dark enemy), were forced to do things the captives considered disgusting as a way of breaking their self-respect. The soldiers had no contempt for their own behavior, but most of the rest of us did. They were surprised.
Disgust probably evolved as a food guide, meant to preserve the health of early peoples, especially pregnant and nursing women, and to isolate the latrine spots, has greatly expanded and become confused now. We eat cheese that reeks, we cut people open for surgery in spite of the blood and mess, we ask people to break their skin barrier with needles for the sake of delivering medicine and to carry stool samples to their doctors for analysis and to produce semen samples in a closet with “dirty” magazines. We allow the long snakes of laparoscopes to be threaded down our throats and up our bowels. In the process we break taboos originally meant to protect us. But we have no disgust for many modern chemicals harmful to us and, in fact, can’t detect them without instruments.
Antibiotics, birth control pills, and viagra mock cautious behavior, while latex barriers and douching are objects of contempt. Sex and disgust have parted company. Even the banks have thrown caution to the winds in spite of outspoken contempt by most of us. Is that because contempt for “filthy lucre” has eroded? Doesn’t seem like it, though people still refer to huge amounts of money as “obscene,” even as we tolerate people who must resort to dumpster diving and living on rubbish dumps as a means of survival.
Is this where the defiance of cultural obscenity comes from? Or is it advertising that has taken us so far into the realms of body odor and bathroom/bedroom behavior that now we rebel? No “tough” movie is complete without showing people peeing, though normally we just see the stream and hear the zipper or the flush. Whenever the plot gets stuck, the frat boy jokes begin, and it is considered very funny to kick a man in the genitals and watch him suffer. The exception is a Chinese film in which the victim’s wife tenaciously pursues justice because she recognizes her husband’s testicles as what they are: the source of her future children.
Our disgust for bodies that don’t conform to the Hugh Hefner standard of appearance and behavior justifies all sorts of derision and exclusion. Sadly, this is most effective in the case of immigrants or minorities or youngsters because of their yearning to be acceptable.
We are not approaching the catastrophe of overpopulation, we are already plunged into it. In spite of guns, drugs, traffic, and subtle but lethal internal destruction by environmental contamination and political revolution. We do not stop producing too many children. We simply produce more who are defective and refuse to raise them in a way that lets them survive whole.
The evolution of the species proceeds at two levels, one being the individual and the other being the cultural group. In the past in order to save the cultural group from what it considers to be disgusting or contemptuous, diseased or deviant, it has destroyed individuals. We are doing it now, withholding education or medical care, making shelter unaffordable, allowing the contamination of food, and building structures that endanger whole communities but benefit corporations.
What does this have to do with snips and snails? It is the boys who suffer and die first. Even after they become men. We expect them to save us at their expense. Even their deaths. Sometimes they do. The body bags are pretty icky.