More than anything else, it is disgust that unites the planet. Disgust, Charles Darwin said, is one of the six basic, universal emotions known to man. It’s also the one ingrained practice that keeps us alive, literally, preventing us from eating bad things or touching disgusting ones. As ‘The Daily Mail’ put it, in its inimitable way, “being grossed out protects our health”.
The science of disgustology, as some are calling it, is well founded on a general theory of disgust, adaptation and survival. Valerie Curtis, an anthropologist who describes herself as a “disgustologist”, focuses on human reactions to vomit, pus, urine, and putrid flesh and has offered up a Parasite Avoidance Theory in a recent book ‘Don’t Look, Don’t Touch, Don’t Eat’. Ms Curtis says that all disgust originates in the same basic defense mechanism. It makes for a “healthy squeamishness”, she says, causing us to avoid sources of disease.
Sophocles put it slightly differently: All is disgust when a man leaves his own nature and does what is unfit.