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Hogarth judge

November 2017

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Hogarth judge

The moral duty to smoke cigarettes: the groundwork

"Morality", "prejudice", and "disgust" are all the same inside the human brain. The disgust that the racist feels for his chosen target, the disgust that believers in religious taboos feel about forbidden foods, and the disgust that most of us feel about tainted water, all work in essentially the same way. They all involve plugging in those circuits of our primitive brains that evolved to defend us from contagion.

The stock argument of the homophobe is to describe homosexual acts, assuming that folks not inclined that way will be disgusted by the description. They put men's penises in their mouths! They put their penises in the hole that turds come out of! Isn't it nasty? Would you want to live next to someone who does that? It spreads disease! What if you got some on you?

The same vague fear of contamination is deployed by all the moralists. Pornography, for instance, is supposed to lead to a vague "atmosphere" of sexuality that's somehow "unhealthy" and "bad for children". It is assumed that you will instinctively understand these metaphors. Pornography might lead to masturbation, and would you want to shake hands with someone who touches his penis and got semen on it?

Cultivating fear of the unclean is central to all of these several moralities. They work to the extent that they get the neurons firing that were put there to protect us from eating animal feces or rotten meat. History moreover shows that revulsion over perceived contaminants, and the desire to expel their sources from the community, is one of the single most dangerous subroutines in the human brain. We need to be aware of and to zealously mock and deconstruct any belief system that threatens to fire up these circuits. Like GI Joe says, "knowing is half the battle."

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