On Friday, August 11, 2017, white nationalist staged a ‘Unite the Right’ protest in Charlottesville. The images sent around the world were truly shocking. Fascism, out in force, shorn of the alt-right re-brand they had adopted to make themselves palatable to those who had long since mastered a very simple equation.
Nazi’s are bad Y’all.
That point was made brutally clear when, shortly after the rally was dispersed, a car plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters injuring 19 and killing 32-year-old Heather D. Heyer.
It stung. It was the feeling one gets when being hit in the face by a football. Blinding pain, momentary anthropomorphic rage and then numbness; muted half-belief. Did that actually happen?
We asked. Is this really America?
Dissonance collided with the visceral guilt of America’s past. The national mea culpa seemed to have been temporarily rescinded as those who wished to set the civil rights movement back a few decades enjoyed their fleeting moment of nauseating infamy.
The country turned – as it so often does in times of national trauma – to its president.
Rookie mistake really.
The Alt-White House
President Donald Trump’s tepid response was, in some ways, even more, shocking than the rally itself. Faced with a choice between criticising people who had voted him into office and taking a moral stance consistent with basic levels of decency the president demurred. He choked out a half-hearted condemnation:
“An egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.”
But singling out the White Nationalist, Neo-Nazi dipshits responsible for the whole sorry mess was, it would seem, quite beyond him.
Americans, accustomed to decades of non-partisan contextualization from their president during such national ordeals balked at the lack of basic triage. Where was the moral courage, leadership, and solidarity?
It was, it turned out, where it had always been. With the White House occupied by a formaldehyde-dipped lothario, the nation turned to a former tenant, to the ‘other’ president.
The one that is sorely missed.
Shortly after Trump’s disastrous Pres conference President Barack Obama tweeted:
"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion…" pic.twitter.com/InZ58zkoAm
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 13, 2017
He continued, quoting Nelson Mandela:
“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love… For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
It was exactly what people needed to hear.
It was also wrong.
A recent study conducted in Sweden found links between rightwing authoritarian attitudes and a dislike of body odor. Indeed, such feelings of disgust not only underpins ideology that favors social discrimination against others, but it may also very well be the cause of it in the first place.
Which makes sense really.
Disgust is a primitive emotion, and it exists for a reason. It stops us putting things that might kill us in our mouth for one. We are, after all, a cave people hunters and gathers by nature.
Sure, nowadays we tend to live in houses, condos, and apartments but the onset of the civilizations that are a prerequisite to the luxury duplex is a relatively recent development. Sedentary life began some 10 to 15 thousand years ago at the very outside. In contrast, our Neanderthal cousins enjoyed 100,000 years of non-sedentary existence, and our hominid ancestry stretches back some 3.7 million years.
For such peoples, the concept of stranger danger was heady with jeopardy laden musks. The appearance of a non-tribe member might represent an opportunity to add some genetic variation to the group. But he might also be the forward scout for raiding party, a thief, poacher or freeloader.
Regardless, the primitive urge to avoid catching diseases from unfamiliar people or environments was pervasive, if not necessarily pernicious.
It was probably hard to tell the difference when you were being driven off by a hail of flying rocks.
Thus, the oral and olfactory origins of our disgust reflex took on a social context. That which was literally impure, the slimy, the moist and the pungent became married to reminders of our own animal nature.
Bodily functions and sex became two ubiquitous areas of disgust, taboos that infiltrated language to the point where most swear words are associated with the nether regions in some way or other. Such Revulsions combined with a fear of ‘others’ and the unhygienic ‘dirty’ customs they might bring with them.
It didn’t take long for the whole thing to become politicized.
Indeed, according to New Scientist:
“A number of studies have probed the emotions of people along the political spectrum and found that disgust, in particular, is tightly linked to political orientation. People who are highly sensitive to disgusting images – of bodily waste, gore or animal remains – are more likely to sit on the political right and show concern for what they see as bodily and spiritual purity, so tend to oppose abortion and gay marriage, for example.”
We’ve seen this in action of course.
In 1961, in Manchester UK an election pamphlet in support of the far-right Unionist party read:
“Protect your health. There is no medical check on immigration. Tuberculosis, VD and other terrible diseases like leprosy are on the increase. Colored immigration threatens your children’s health.”
If only such sentiment were relegated to the murky past of less enlightened decades.
More recently, President Trump accused Mexican migrants of bringing ‘tremendous infectious disease’ to the U.S.,’ having previously described them as being rapists. Later, he declared that an undefined number of countries around the world are shitholes, before suggesting that all Haitians have Aids and that Nigerians would never go back to their huts.
And then there is the pee thing.
The Yellow Peril
Recent reports indicate that the alleged golden shower incident might not have been a one-off. Indeed, as Raw Story reported:
“In June 2013, Trump visited a Las Vegas nightclub called the Act, which ‘featured seminude women performing simulated sex acts of bestiality and grotesque sadomasochism.’ Several acts reportedly included simulated ‘watersports.'”
Such observations lead us to some dark places. Whether or not the leader of the free world gets sexual gratification from drinking the urine of foreigners he not so secretly despises is neither here nor there. Kink shaming is wrong after all. Of more importance are the ramifications of the process of democracy that stem from such analysis.
If some of us are in fact born with an innate sense of unease around anyone we subconsciously flag as being ‘other’ then what hope is there for a more inclusive society?
How do we deal with those who feel genuine disgust at the sight of two men kissing? How do we reason with people predisposed to find racial variation off-putting?
Thankfully, according to Dr. Jonas Olofsso — co-author of the research from Stockholm University and the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study – all is not without hope. Though stressing his belief that authoritarian attitudes are at least in part rooted in biology, he stressed that feelings of disgust are not immutable stating that:
“Even though disgust is a very primitive emotion that is definitely rooted in our biological survival, it can still be altered.”
Because such feelings are irrational. That a political position should be connected so intimately with the olfactory system is after all a patent absurdity. Primitive urges can be analyzed, internalized and ultimately suppressed.
The liberalizing effect of higher education stems as much from forced exposure to ‘others’ as it does to a systematic exploration of ideas and ideology. Just as acute germaphobia can be treated so too can the social malaise that has led to the resurgence of alt-right populism across the liberal democracies of the world.
Single Lane Shift
The progressive nature of history gives it a direction, one that cannot be reversed with any sense of permanency. Disgust at immigrants, homosexuals or women can only lead one down a path to unending disappointment. Gay marriage was inevitable, equal pay for both sexes is inevitable; immigration is an economic necessity.
And no matter how many neurons fire in the R-complex of a right-wing brain at the sight of foreigners, unattainable career women — or indeed the smell of exotic foods a- cooking — the fact of the matter remains that such things are here to stay.
So now might be a good time to wake up and smell the coffee.
Even if it was grown in Kenya.
Check out this video for more information on how Liberal and Conservative brains are so vastly different:
Featured Image Via YouTube Video.