»  Taki's Magazine

January 5th, 2012

  Revulsion Transference

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I was just reading Eric Dondero's revelations about the time he spent working as personal assistant, campaign co-ordinator, and senior aide to Ron Paul.

Dondero denies or plays down Paul's rumored offenses against political correctness, but has a few things to say that are giving liberals the vapors none the less. On homosexuality, for example.

Is Ron Paul a homophobe? Well, yes and no. He is not all bigoted towards homosexuals. He supports their rights to do whatever they please in their private lives. He is however, personally uncomfortable around homosexuals, no different from a lot of older folks of his era.

Dondero offers a striking instance of Paul's discomfort.

"Bobby," a well-known and rather flamboyant and well-liked gay man in Freeport [in Paul's Texas constituency] came to the BBQ. Let me stress Ron likes Bobby personally, and Bobby was a hardcore campaign supporter. But after his speech, at the Surfside pavilion Bobby came up to Ron with his hand extended, and according to my fellow staffer, Ron literally swatted his hand away.

Ron Paul's instinctive revulsion to homosexuality is common among people whose personalities were formed before the Great Disruption. I myself, born 1945, share it. Though I also share Ron Paul's live-and-let-live attitude to private lives, I can't be fully at ease around homosexuals, and can't restrain my instinctive disgust if forced to dwell at length on the homosexual lifestyle.

(A qualification is needed here. I am speaking of male homosexuality. Nobody cares about the female sort, except comedians looking for jokes.)

I've offered the opinion elsewhere that this instinctive disgust is focused on the act of buggery. Whether that is so or not, the disgust was real and widespread until very recently. Check out Chief Justice Warren Burger's opinion in Bowers v. Hardwick: "There is no such thing as a fundamental right to commit homosexual sodomy … Decisions of individuals relating to homosexual conduct have been subject to state intervention throughout the history of Western civilization … To hold that the act of homosexual sodomy is somehow protected as a fundamental right would be to cast aside millennia of moral teaching …" That was in 1986, and Burger (born 1907) was by no means a rock-ribbed reactionary.

Instinctive disgust of the kind Ron Paul displayed with that hand-swat is a fundamental component of human nature. It is one of psychologist Paul Ekman's six basic emotions, the others being anger, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. It is therefore no surprise that disgust has been a prime target in the war against human nature that liberals have been waging this past fifty years.

Here is a four-star general in that war: Ethical philosopher Martha Nussbaum. Ms. Nussbaum has argued that past social and legal proscriptions against homosexual acts arose from a "politics of disgust," seeking to deny people their rights on crudely emotional grounds, disgust being of course the relevant emotion. By purging all that disgust from the body politic, she says, we have advanced in humanity.

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 think 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 honestly don't mind homosexuality at all. To some considerable degree, the disgust has been purged.

Basic emotions, however, are, as I have said, a fundamental aspect of human nature. (If, I mean, 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, for example, that when automobile seatbelts came in, people drove more recklessly in order to get back to the familiar pre-seatbelt level of danger: "risk homeostasis.")

I was musing idly along these lines when I read another Ron Paul piece, this one in the leftwing 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 U.S. society.

"The real problem we face today 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. In fact I just pulled down Heather Mac Donald's book, where the numbers are comprehensively crunched, to the conclusion that: "Imprisonment rate for blacks on drug charges appears consistent with the level of drug activity in the black population." (p.19)

"They get the death penalty out of proportion with their numbers," says Ron. Steve has a quick debunking here. There is even evidence, collected by the Clinton Justice Department, that white defendants are, all else equal, 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," says Ron. Ng-uh: blacks are around 22 percent of active-duty Army personnel, but they were only 11 percent of Army dead in the Iraq War.

And so on. Ron's views on these issues of social cause and effect are as dated as his revulsion towards 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 towards those who saw racial matters differently. Perhaps his homophobia left him with no disgust to spare.

For the answer to the question "Where did all the disgust go?" is, it was turned against race realism. If you hold opinions much different from Ron Paul's on the cause of racial disparities in U.S. 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. Trust me on this: I've been at the receiving end (of the race thing, not the homosex thing in any sense).

All of which, if I am right about it, raises the questions as to how disgust gets re-targeted from one aspect of human behavior to another, and how folk who believe in universal morality square that belief with these shifts in the objects of moral disgust. 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.