I249: Ick Factor

You know the responses to the idea of composting with worms, discontinuing use of shampoo, using cloth wipes instead of toilet paper, using soap nuts instead of Tide, showering less often and other aggressive no impact sustainable living that is the shocked exclamation, “Eeeeuuuw.” That is so gross. Please, that’s too much information. Yuk, you will never get me to consider giving up toilet paper or shampoo.”

But, what gets me is that these same people are willfully unaware of the feces in the agri-business meat factories, the tumors and pustules on cows utters, the routine practice of removing chickens’ beaks in the factory set up. Anyone who can read can be exposed to countless horror stories in how Americans’ food is produced, packaged and distributed.

The brutal mistreatment of animals in factory farms is off the charts. The additives, pesticides, preservatives and unplanned people pathogens that our processed foods are chock full of now that EPA, FDA, OCEA and other government agencies have been co-opted by a totally corrupt federal executive administration. Yes, Bu$h & Co. have pissed in our food and water. This is not on corporate media infotainment programs, but it is well documented in books, progressive magazines like The Nation and across the watchdog websites of the blogosphere. From the book Kitchen Literacy by Ann Vileisis,
Today, however, beyond the supermarket, food derives not only from an obscured nature but also from behind-the-scenes tractors, gasoline, laser-leveled fields, fertilizers, irrigation ditches, pesticides, combines, migrant workers, laboratories, sanitized factories, stinking feedlots, semitrucks, and highways. In spite of this -- and perhaps because of this -- the cultural idea of nature (as opposed to the soil, sunlight, and water that make up the physical environment) has become an important, if confusing, category for how many of us think about our foods, and one worth examining more closely from a historical perspective.

I am going to touch on perception in a historic framework as it specifically relates to disgust and the manipulation of disgust in a moment. For now I simply call out the hypocrisy. See, I am an adult who can safely, hygienically contend with my own body functions including peeing, shitting, showering and taking my food scraps to my wormery outside my kitchen door. I don’t feel I should recoil and become emotionally scarred due to simple hygiene. This is particularly dumb as a subject to be grossed out when you have mothered children or cared for a sick loved one, beyond simply keeping your own shit in order (pun intended). I also know how to wash my hands, take care with dish washing, food handling, general cleanliness and other hygiene issues.

But the majority of Americans are clueless about the farm to fork safety, cleanliness standards and practices. Moreover, in my opinion, people in general want to remain unaware. What is truly disgusting is the idea of eating a burger where the meat was fed other cattle or dead pets. The idea of eating fecal matter that nobody knows where or how it got into the meat or vegetables is vile, but for me these can’t compete with the mental image of a cows utters covered in oozing pustules due to the synthetic hormones given dairy cattle. I will stop there because it is just too sickening.

This is a subject that is not one I should make light of or be too judgmental. A couple of writers
disgust may well be in our genes.

Is hygiene in our genes?
Dog shit, dirty nappies, vomit, bad breath, stained towels, lice, nasal mucus, half-eaten food, saliva, worms, rotten meat, maggots, sores, urine, rats and sweat. What do all these things have in common? The answer is that we find them disgusting. And surprisingly enough people everywhere seem to find them disgusting too. In Africa, India and Europe people say such things turn their stomach and make them recoil. Touching excreta or maggots is hard for most of us and we go to great lengths to remove the evidence of such revolting yucky stuff from our lives. [snip]

A protective device
Our work suggested that there might be another explanation for disgust. Our collections of what people found disgusting in six countries and an international airport showed common themes. These included bodily excretions and body parts, decay and spoilt food, and a number of living creatures, especially insects and worms. Whilst working on another project I flipped through the index of disease carriers in a textbook on infectious disease. To my surprise I noticed the same list: excreta (causing at least 25 diarrhoeal diseases) saliva and breath (carrying measles, colds, scarlet fever, flu and chicken pox), wounds and sores (sepsis, pneumonia, gonorrhoea), spoilt food (carrying food toxins and diarrhoeal diseases). Rats, lice, snails and worms were all there too, involved in causing over 20 known diseases. Could it be that humans have evolved a disgust of all these things as a way to keep us healthy?

It is readily accepted that humans evolved physical defences against infection. Our complex immune system, our gut with apertures at each end, and antibiotics in our tears clearly evolved to protect us from disease, which is caused by the bugs which are trying to break us down and use us for food. It therefore seems reasonable to suppose that we have also evolved behavioural defences to disease. Human ancestors with a heightened repulsion from faeces, saliva and parasites would have been healthier, and thus more likely to pass on their genes. As a result, the tendency to avoid such things would have spread, so that it is now common in humans everywhere. This behavioural drive is what we call the emotion of disgust.

[snip] We humans like to think we are logical, but we are driven more than we care to admit by a set of emotions that were shaped by the challenges faced by our ancestors, mammal and primate. Disgust is one of these drives. Disgust might turn out to be a prime candidate to help investigate the role that emotions and culture play in our lives.

That makes for some stimulating conversation, but pretty weak in the scientific method I would say. Today I feel up to my eyebrows in emotion and culture (seeing as the mighty Wurlitzer of advertising wants me stuck in a perpetual reception state of emotion and pop culture).

I must offer up a counter argument from academicians in the study of medieval waste.

The guru of waste studies seems to be David Inglis, a sociologist at the University of Aberdeen who coined the phrase "fecal habitus" and whose 2001 book, A Sociological History of Excretory Experience, argued that avoiding scatological topics in polite conversation is a repressive Western bourgeois hang-up. Inglis's theories fit right in with other concepts dear to the postmodernist heart of academia--"discourse," the "Other," matters "transgressive," "bodies" (in the world of postmodernism there are hardly any people, just "bodies"), etc.--so professors of literature, religious studies, and other branches of the humanities eagerly expropriated Inglis's ideas and applied them in their own endeavors. As one of the panelists, University of Oregon English professor Martha Bayless, put it with the opacity that is de rigueur in postmodernist theory, "The body is not a neutral site."

The one thing in which waste-studies scholars seem not to be interested is medieval history. The idea isn't so much how people disposed of waste as what they thought about it--or if you're a cultural-studies type, what "society" thought about it.
Without expanding on this point too far, I think that there is a real point here. We love revisionist history it seems, the truth is that agrarian cultures around the world did and do understand that shit was and is a fertilizer and fuel. It is the current culture of Myths America where have focused my annoyance here.

This occasional rant was brought out in the open in order to shout, “Snap out of it.” You clueless about farm to fork safety know who you are. The rest of us are getting impatient for you to get a clue about the realities of systemic, toxic decay and naturally balanced and valuable decay. And, I guess I should apologize for including such crap faux science in the post. But, this kind of manipulation is not new to our culture or time. And we are headed for mountains more as corporations start greenwashing.

Pivotal to my essay premise but really a complete subject unto itself is this ‘ick factor’ being an emotional charged response to deliberate manipulation. I live in a culture that treats my body with disgust. I’ll must quote a small portion of an essay that links this progression of body disgust to social disgust. In my optinion the cultural delivery system of choice for control and oppression is emotional disgust. Because emotional disgust can be planted inside someone like a self-monitoring device via self-loathing. To select just one area closest to me, woman’s self-disgust acts like a glue to hold patriarchy together.

Let me just provide the clunky (but apt) title and several excerpts to Dr. William Spriggs research on disgust.
Menstrual Odors, Dirty Diapers, and the Male Dominated Religious Quest For Purity: Giving Birth to Misogyny, Ethnic, and Racial Discriminations Originating in the Human Biological Emotion of Disgust.

There was a small, but very interesting article in the June 4th 2007 issue of Time magazine on page 51 that has given birth to this essay.

It was in the LIFE section under "Behavior" and its title is "The Ewww Factor," by Michael D. Lemonick. The article highlights two scientists, Andrea Morales and Gavan Fitzsimons who specialize in market psychology behind the emotion of disgust. I consider this as very important article because it allows the common person the opportunity to understand the evolutionary origins behind certain select discriminations - in particular against women and all humans considered to be "inferior."

Two important keywords in the article are: "touch transference". It's a fancy term for cooties," Time quotes one of the scientists. "If something repulsive touches something benign, the latter, even if it is physically unchanged, becomes 'infected.'"

[snip . . .] let's cite a few examples of human discriminations that are familiar to many. The German Nazi propaganda movies of the 1940s, Der Rothschilds, Jude Suss, and in particular, Der Ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew), are the ones that quickly jump into my consciousness when they tell us about "the dirty Jews." [ . . .] notice the not-so subtle reference to rats as disease carriers and "as do the Jews." . .

He goes on to cite the framing last year in the knuckle-dragging radio air waves of Mexican 'illegal aliens' bringing leprosy. Lou Dobbs jumped on this “transferring cooties” hysteria.

I want to switch though to the universally practiced disgust for women, through centuries across all boundaries. We women of all ages, races, economic status, sexual orientation, ableness, country of birth, marital status, etc. need to be aware of the religious and cultural taboos that shackle us.

I remember vividly the first Earth Day in April of 1970. As I told a friend recently, I was a new mother with Angela being only two weeks old. That same day I gathered with my husband at the time’s big family for a funeral in a nearby city. As a 22 year old, newly converted to the Eastern Orthodox Church where my husband was planning on going to seminary to become a priest, I was so nervous. I was so afraid the priest at that church would refuse my entrance or make me leave the church. You see, according to church tradition I was “unclean” because of giving birth. My forty days had not passed and I had not undergone the ceremony of returning, of being “churched”. (I admit to ripping the ex from the photo. *sigh*)

Spriggs introduces this woman as “unclean” tradition and includes half a dozen studies as background for these pervasive traditions.

In many hunter-gatherer societies, studies have found that there are sometimes found myths, or stories that shift blame onto menstruating women in the hunting tribe for the failure of the male hunters to return with a prize of the day, week, or month.

He goes on to discuss this shifting of blame to women for when the men fail as hunters. He does a little tap dance here that careful not to give woman feminists any points. See, he puts the responsibility for changing this on the shoulders of women, saying that the female chooses the male. Historically woman chooses the aggressive male, ergo it is her job to pick another kind of man. Gah. This brought an instant gag-reflex from me, but that is not my thesis here. I’ll let Spriggs continue.

. . . I'm sticking my foot out here on a limb and merely basing my menstrual misogyny theory upon the science of disgust in our lead paragraphs by trying to image a temple in the same time period as the Old Testament. Somewhere located in the Middle East, a woman, into her menstrual cycle of the third day could be giving off what would be considered offensive odor. Did this female have available daily baths then? Were there sanitary napkins? Were there perfumes to disguise certain offensive odors and replace them with pleasant ones? If there were, I'm sure that they were the privilege of the wealthy and not for the common females.

And a thought just occurred to me: my wife was changing our grandson's diaper a few moments ago, and in occurred to me that "diaper" is also on the list above for "repugnant" items. And onto whom do most of the "duties" of changing the diapers usually occur? The female. So not only are sanitary napkins on the "ickiness" list because of the association with menstrual blood, so too, are diapers, which, of course, are associated with human feces and urine - both waste products - and a double whammy of "touch transference" attached to the "inferior" female who usually does the nurturing. Once again, my thoughts go to the temple where a poor female in her cycle is holding a defecating infant. Now, if you're a powerful local rabbi, would this set you in motion to exclude these "pollutants" out of "your holy place" by shifting blame to women by declaring some "law" because that you believe that God would not be present under such circumstances?

So, putting the blame for a poor hunt because of a female's menstrual scent is only child's play compared to the blame passed down upon women as growing populations developed organized religions -- with the overwhelming population of these organizations consisting of bachelor males. The rise of bachelor male enclaves has been directly related to the consensual social norm of "primogenitor" that emerged from the Middle Ages.

There is great detail and several centuries of witch hunts and partriarchal power shoring that are fascinating in themselves, but to return to the theme I'm focused on here. He tears apart the book, Handbook of Emotions, 2nd Edition, with Michael Lewis and Jeannette M. Haviland-Jones, Guilford Press, New York, 2000. And after citing whole sections of their chapter on disgust he says,

It's all about resources, people. And discriminating against people by naming them "dirty," "smelly," "or they are just like animals" is just a JUSTIFCATION mechanism to keep one's goodies untouched by the cootie people. Following the mental "labeling" or "stereotyping" mechanisms then come the physical exclusions.

Spriggs chooses not follow the authors into the final framing of the authors, moral disgust. I am with him on this one. This is not something I care to touch in this post. It is the religious right’s reason for being and the prime mover in this week’s media orgy over the religious right’s ideal VP. There is a sort of twisted victimhood, shaming, justifying and titilation the base cherishes in the ‘sins’ of Palin’s daughter. I feel my own revulsion, so I dare not go there in this post.

I will leave Spriggs here to simply try and wrap up a post that starts: composting with worms, discontinuing use of shampoo, using cloth wipes instead of toilet paper, using soap nuts instead of Tide, showering less often and other aggressive no impact sustainable living that is the shocked exclamation, “Eeeeuuuw.” That is so gross. Please, that’s too much information. Yuk, you will never get me to consider giving up toilet paper or shampoo.” I then hurl you all into all kinds of shit like DNA, Eastern Orthodoxy, hunters, menstruation, witches and a bunch of misogyny to consider disgust. It comes back to the disgust and revulsion. The shunning, diminishing and shaming of another to control, to oppress.

I know how this can engender self-disgust and loathing. The feminist movement I was so thrilled to be a part of was reduced to not wearing bras or shaving your legs or (gasp) underarms. Sometime it was mild and laughable, but I know how disgust and revulsion can not only destroy a movement, destroy spirit and it can kill.

What I forgot to include were those dirty hippies. See, I was a weekend Hippy at the time of that photograph. I grew food for my husband and I, I nursed my daughter and taught myself to make bread. I joyously embraced life. I believed as a young feminist I could take control of my life, could live in a holistic way and protest and vote for anti-war, progressive leaders to bring peace around the world. But, we know how that story ended.

How systematic and choreographed was the back to the land, tune-in /drop out, make peace not war, mother jones, diet for a small planet and whole earth catalog reduced to two words DIRTY HIPPY? Because once every effort at saving the environment, living healthy, rejecting commercialism, eliminating chemicals and embracing simplicity got labeled DIRTY HIPPY, nobody wanted to be treated like that. Of course the Manson Family murder spree of '69 and trial production didn’t help. Nonetheless, the Ick Factor helped keep my generation right where the corporatists, the owners wanted us. And it continues . . .

witch burning image


Rosa said...

I am still thinking about this post, but it reminds me of two things - a history of marketing book I read a long time ago, called something men, lux women - about the marketing of commercial soap in Africa.

And being on a converted school bus, eating dumpstered vegan food with a bunch of crunchy punks, on a cold day when nobody came to unlock the building we were supposed to be eating in. A particularly crunchy, dreadlocked, nonbathing person told this joke:

"How many hippies does it take to make breakfast on the bus?"

The punchline was, unanimous from the crowd:


Only yuppies who buy recycled toilet paper think of themselves as hippies - the word was somehow wholly coopted by mainstream media.

katecontinued said...

I think I tried to combine too many thoughts here. The hippy opinion at the end may have pushed into babble mode.

All of these issues are things I want to return to again. There is the chasm between concept and reality for instance. I know - for instance - I struggle mightily with being in close proximity of anyone who smells bad. So, I have a lot to discover here about myself.