Thursday 28 March 2013

Can you handle it?


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.



Peter said...

An excellent illustration. I would like to see an allegory of the inverted doctor and the patients who eagerly accept his treatments. Something like the Man who Was Thursday.

I have at least one good example that I think fits your description of these modern trends. Have you noticed how in order for a modern film to be considered serious it needs to include profanity? Even if the characters in the film are not really the type to curse, it gets shoehorned in, so that people know they are watching a "serious movie."

Serious people show that they are serious by their serious language. This is even when the bad language comes off as awkward or as a sign of some mental disorder. It must be included so people know they are not watching something meant for kids.

Bruce Charlton said...

@P - Yes indeed. This is a typical 'can you handle it?' kind of thing.

If you can't 'handle it', if you find swearing disgusting, offensive, don't want to expose yourself to it - don't want to train yourself to become the kind of person who is *not* bothered by swearing; then that stands against you - you are weak, ineffectual, unserious, and indeed probably the worst kind of evil person - probably a 'fundamentalist Christian' (which is the same thing as what used to be called 'a Christian') - and such people are well known to be responsible for most of the suffering in the world today...

GFC said...

It also calls to mind That Hideous Strength, and the regimen of senseless and blasphemous things NICE recruits were put through in order to properly re-condition their minds to be receptive to the instructions of the Macrobes.

It seems correct that modern pop "culture" fulfills a similar function, creating a demonic people sworn to enmity with God by bit by bit cultivating their sins and letting their virtue wither.

George Goerlich said...

Yes, an inversion of all meaning and purpose. Further compounded by an all-pervading hypocrisy.

Anonymous said...

"Evil, be thou my good"

Joan of Argghh! said...

I've always eschewed films full of gratuitous gore. I understand that violent things happen, but when I was a young Christian I was given much to consider in that, the same spirit that goes into a created entity is experienced and received, if you will, by the intended audience. In other words, to guard my heart by guarding my eyes.

Because the Life is in the blood. To cheapen Life is Death's ultimate victory.