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May 2007 Email this to a friend
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Disgusting Conservatives
Foul froth foils friends, favors foes?
By Blanche Poubelle

Many Guide readers are probably aware of sex columnist Dan Savage's santorum campaign. Savage encouraged his readers to promote santorum into a slang term that means "the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex" (see Spreadingsantorum.com .) The target of the campaign was former Republican Senator Rick Santorum, was was defeated last fall, though the role of Savage's campaign is debatable.

T
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he victory over Santorum was sweet because he was one of the most vocally anti-gay senators in the US Congress. Arguing against the court decision which invalidated sodomy laws, Santorum said, "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything." In other interviews he compared homosexuality to sex with dogs.

When Blanche reads something like that, she often wonders what on earth conservatives are thinking. How do you get from marriage between two men to sex between a man and a dog?

She was thus interested to read some scholarship that makes sense of what seems to be conservative irrationality. The psychologist Jonathan Haidt has argued that one important factor that distinguishes liberals and conservatives is the importance of purity in their moral judgments. Liberals tend to base their political arguments on two primary moral foundations-- one is equality and fairness, and the other is harm or lack of harm. Conservatives also cite these foundations, but also base their moral arguments on loyalty, respect for authority, and purity.

Purity is the distinction between "the clean" and "the dirty." Every society designates some things as clean and right, while other things are filthy and sinful. And part of getting acculturated is learning, almost instinctually, to feel the difference. Cultures vary in what they hold to be disgusting. So most Arabs consider eating pork disgusting, but most Americans do not. Most Americans consider eating grasshoppers to be disgusting, but most Mexicans do not.

Disgust also extends to kinds of sexual behavior that are labeled as filthy. Because someone like Santorum has a gut reaction of disgust to homosexuality, it is easier to see why he compared it to bestiality and incest-- forms of sex more widely seen in the West as disgusting and taboo.

Scientists tell us that disgust is a universal human emotion. Probably the most reliable elicitor of disgust around the world is rotting or maggot-infested meat. But other things are widely considered disgusting-- bodily excretions (shit, piss, snot, sweat, pus, smegma, vomit), damaged or dead bodies, and certain invertebrates (worms, lice).

Disgust probably evolved in humans as a way of keeping us away from potentially harmful substances, since many of the things on the disgusting list have the potential to spread disease and infection. But the basic biological instinct to avoid infection gets expanded into a moral mandate to shun and penalize that which a culture labels as impure.

Over the last century, liberals have been largely successful in challenging the traditional social and religious standards of purity which punished or shunned things like contraception, interracial marriage, and oral sex. All of these were illegal in parts of the US 50 years ago, and they were progressively made legal via court decisions. Advocates for sexual freedom have been less successful in addressing the root motivation of our opponents-- their concerns for authority and purity.

Miss Poubelle has tended to favor the "fuck you" school of gay politics and to deride assimilationist LGBT organizations.

But if Haidt is right about the role of disgust in opposition to our cause, then there is some reason to rethink how we present ourselves to the public. From that point of view, making people think about a frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter is the wrong move since it strengthens the connection between disgust and taboo sex. People who might be swayed to our point of view are instead repelled.

Miss Poubelle is thrilled that Santorum was defeated, and maybe santorum actually played some role in his defeat. But more likely, stunts such as the santorum campaign strengthen the opposition by reinforcing its disgust for us. Although Blanche hates to admit it, maybe talking to the public about lesbian mothers and committed couples will win more elections than linking opponents to anal lubrication.


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