The wisdom of repugnance

“This decision represents a small but definite move back toward what might be called the wisdom of repugnance, the instinctive recognition that there are still some things we cannot bring ourselves to do.”

--Paul Greenberg, “High court takes small step toward life” (4-25-07)

Repugnance is a very poor marker for what we ought to do culturally. You know what a lot of men in my classes find unbelievably repugnant? So repugnant that they can almost not bear to hear it spoken of? Menstrual blood. Mention menstruation, and most of the men in the room get a little sickish looking and don’t know where to put their eyes. This repugnance is so broadly prevalent that one of my students has a friend who uses it as a tool: when she’s at a bar and a guy comes on to her, she turns to him, smiling, and says, “Would you like a cup of my menstrual blood?” And then he leaves her alone.

Does this mean we should make menstruation illegal?

I wrote a short post about this some time ago--about how part of my interest as an academic is in examining common sense, something I find often to be a good marker for a particular cultural moment’s biases and stereotypes. Common sense is rarely to be trusted as a marker for “wisdom,” but it can certainly tell you about a given culture’s assumptions.

More soon about this, I promise, and about the Supreme Court decision. One of my students recently asked me to explain it to her, and I have been putting it off, partly because I don't want to think about the implications right now, and partly because it's finals time. But I do have things to say.


Trey said...

I <3 VBF.

Conseula said...

I am thinking of all the things our culture once found repugnant (like interracial marriage) and the complete ridiculousness of using repugnance as a guide in making law and public policy.