Josie Luetke:

Interim writer, Josie Luetke, Talk Turkey

One of my many pet peeves is critics showing what they’re lambasting others for showing. (Don’t show it!)

The CitizenGO petition to “STOP the blasphemous film Benedetta” very helpfully displays the offending lesbian kiss that petition signers apparently don’t want viewers to see.

I can’t tell you how many screengrabs I saw from child-porn-but-it’s-French film Cuties from people exhorting others to recognize it as child porn or how many articles included the “inappropriate” movie poster Netflix created. 

Conservative talking heads bobbing in front of clips of exposed buttocks and cleavage commentate on how obscene music videos from artists like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion signal the collapse of the degenerate West.

I’m not pointing fingers so much as pointing out that I notice this silliness at all. I’ve been trying to cultivate what I’m calling the virtue of disgust. That’s my fancy way of saying I’m averting my gaze from explicit images and generally trying to avoid consuming less-than-wholesome content with the goal of once again being scandalized by what should—and in generations past, would—cause scandal.

To pre-empt my troll who I know reads these columns (thank you), I’m disgusted at certain behaviour, and not these human beings themselves.

To everyone else, this column might strike you as another one of mine in which I merely state the obvious. 

A short anecdote, first: When I was a child, my grandmother dragged me into a lingerie shop to scold the staff for putting a sign out on the sidewalk of the main street of town depicting a scantily-clad model in their merchandise. How often does that scene play out today? Images of almost-nude (and sometimes nude) individuals are so widespread that berating one company for their lack of discretion would be surprising, not just because you’d be spitting in the ocean, but because you’d think to spit at all. This is why I don’t think my argument is as obvious as it should be. 

Disgust is an instructive emotion with evolutionary purpose, having kept our ancestors from dangerous pathogens. There’s some evidence that conservatives have a propensity to respond more strongly with disgust than liberals, and that physical revulsion is linked to stricter moral judgment. 

This disgust has very rapidly been muted, not only in respect to sex, but also violence, injury, and death, and every other morbid thing on the internet. We are so bombarded with depravity these days, that even as we condemn it, we grow desensitized to it. Intellectually, we know that sexual misbehaviour is wrong, but I want to know it again viscerally. Do we feel that it is wrong? I want to shudder in revulsion just like my (other) grandmother does when she attempts to describe transgenderism. I want to peel back with the same horror that my younger self had in response to a same-sex kiss in a movie and its intuitive wrongness. 

These gut reactions are morally informative. At the very least, they inspire moral attention, which is why their muting is so alarming, especially in children today. 

I don’t think a case needs to be made for preserving their innocence, but perhaps one needs to be made for my attempt to restore mine. 

In other terms, moral disgust is just an aversion to sin. Multiple times in Proverbs it’s mentioned that “the shrewd man perceives evil and hides.” He doesn’t merely perceive evil and go about his day, but also recognizes that it’s something to be feared—that he’s vulnerable. It’s simple prudence to safeguard the soul, for your own sake, and others’ too.

In response to a wardrobe malfunction, the polite and decent thing to do is look away. And when it’s one’s sense of chastity that is malfunctioning, it’s still proper to refuse to bear witness to that, to balk at participating in someone’s own objectification. We need to uphold their dignity even if they refuse to do so themselves. 

I’m not advocating hermitage—that we look away all together lest we accidentally see evil. But we shouldn’t become so accustomed to evil that we shrug in admonishment rather than tremble with distaste. Each time, we must act as if it’s new, as if we’re encountering Satan for the very first time, so as to attune our senses appropriately. The maintenance of our moral sensibilities requires such sensitivity.  

We live in a world where the most shocking thing is that anyone is still shocked at all. This world doesn’t need more jadedness or cool detachment. It needs the innocence of the children we must train to be.