Thursday, 28 March 2013

Can you handle it?

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A lot of modern life is about rubbing people's noses in stuff that they find disgusting, repellent, sickening - this sometimes seem like the main activity and underlying purpose of the mass media, backed by the highbrow artistic establishment.

The idea is, of course, to desensitize us so that nothing can shock us because then we will accept evil.

A secondary purpose is to de-sacralize that which is sacred, so it will cease to command our loyalty.

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As a doctor I have been through a very thorough training in desensitization with respect to disease - I had to overcome my revulsion for dead bodies, gross skin rashes, and overpowering smells in order that I could work with patients.

Part of this was a kind of pre-preparation to control one's facial expression and vocal tone so as to prevent any observable disgust, I was learning an imperturbable manner. It was necessary.

But that extracted a price in terms of hardening of my personality, especially when combined with the gruelling long hours, and even more especially in psychiatry - where the hardening was applied to psychological (rather than physical) factors that seemed to spill over into other relationships.

I began to dislike the person I had become - and that was a major reason why I stopped doing clinical work.

(This was a defect in me personally - not all doctors suffer this excessive hardening, and good clinicians develop the necessary imperturbability while retaining empathy. But the difficulty of this combination is one reason - among several - why most people cannot practice medicine, why the profession must be selective.)

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Our culture is far down this path of psychological hardening, callousness. 

The good excuse for it is that many people, through no fault of their own, are disgusting; and by reacting to to them with disgust we increase their suffering.

This could be a defensible therapeutic attitude to society; but modern society is not defensible - because instead of imperturbability we practice an inversion by which that which spontaneously evokes negative feelings such as disgust is valorized - regarded as better than that which is spontaneously regarded as desirable.

Spontaneous disgust is not controlled but inverted: we are trained that disgust should be followed by, suppressed by, overwhelmed by positive regard.

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It is as if medical students were trained to regard sickening smells as fragrant, gross skin rashes as beautiful and dead bodies as in a better condition than live ones.

That is the difference between desensitization and inversion - desensitization may be necessary and may even be desirable, although there is a significant price to pay; but inversion is insane.

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Now mainstream culture rubs our noses in the disgusting stuff of life, of which there is an endless supply, and we are not supposed to notice that it is disgusting, instead we are supposed to find it admirable and praiseworthy.

Mainstream modern culture does not merely 'tolerate' the disgusting, it strategically seeks-out the disgusting, in order to celebrate and reward it; behaving like an anti-therapeutic- 'doctor' who poisons his patients and spreads diseases on the rationale that sickness and death are preferable to health and life.

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