Yuck! Disgust and the Case for Same-sex Marriage

A friend of ours recently told us a story that raised important questions about an everyday emotion: disgust. He was walking through Chicago’s Lincoln Park holding hands with his boyfriend when a boy around age eight passed the couple on his bike. “Eeewww!” the little boy burst out, making an unmistakable expression of disgust. The men were wearing ordinary clothing and, besides holding hands, seemed generally inoffensive. There were also several heterosexual couples holding hands in the park, but the boy did not react to them. Why, we wondered, did the boy exhibit such a strong emotional reaction to this harmless display? What cognitive processes inspired the boy to act this way, and are they unique to him or common to everyone?

In this article, Jon Catlin and Melissa McSweeney examine disgust from psychological and philosophical perspectives and ultimately call out its inaptness as a basis for important social and political decisions, particularly denying same-sex couples the right to marry.

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The Selfless Gene: Evolutionary Theory Reconsidered

Harvard University myrmecologist—that’s right, he studies ants—Edward O. Wilson has created a deep schism in the field of evolutionary biology. His latest book, The Social Conquest of Earth [1], released this April, advances a theory of group selection, at odds with the field’s former consensus and, indeed, Wilson’s own fifty-year corpus of Pulitzer Prize-winning books and groundbreaking research. Opposing Wilson stands Oxford University evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, famous (before his radical atheist days) for his theory of “inclusive fitness,” also known as kin selection, which he proposed in his landmark 1976 book The Selfish Gene. Now, the two are duking it out in an article war that started with Dawkins’s biting review of Wilson’s recent traitorous book.

After thirty years of relative unanimity, the field of sociobiology is split between its two fathers, and the resulting debate has profound implications for our understanding of human nature. From Dawkins’s perspective, human society is nothing more than an accumulation of selfish individuals. From Wilson’s, it’s a sea of ambivalent individuals perpetually torn between serving self and society. I daresay we hope the latter to be the case.

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The Examined Life and the Task of Public Philosophy

“The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being” (Apology 38a)

This phrase is over 2400 years old, dating back to 399 BC when Socrates first uttered the words at his infamous defense trial, and retold by his pupil Plato around 387 BC in the Platonic dialogue the Apology of Socrates. Beyond modeling the examined life himself, Socrates pressed ordinary Athenian citizens to question their notions of justice, virtue, piety, and love, and never held set definitions himself. Since Socrates, the aphorism of the “examined life” has given rise to analogous sayings such as “life of the mind,” vita contemplativa, and “learning for learning’s sake,” and is the subject of countless books. One could even consider the project of philosophy, which itself began with Socrates, one of calling this phrase into question.

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Against Cyber-utopians

In my last article, I presented the primary argument for Internet regulation that Cass Sunstein makes in his book Republic.com: In no public domain can absolute freedom of speech be rationally or constitutionally defended, nor, contrary to popular belief, has it ever been. With the ice broken, I want to explore the dangerous potential of the internet and the primary reasons why total Internet freedom is problematic: namely extremism and defamation.

Independent researcher Evgeny Morozov raises many of these questions in his work, noting the benefits and costs of a system of user-generated content. Wikipedia, for example, has generated more reliable information than could ever have been possible without user contributions. But by the same token, extremist bloggers and conspiracy theorists have generated almost as much misinformation. Morozov notes that the current shift to social search, user-generated content from social networks appearing in search results, will only allow further dissemination of misinformation.

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Correcting Cyberspace

Since its 1950s predecessors and the opening of the World Wide Web in 1984, the Internet has come a long way and truly revolutionized our world–likely in more ways than we can know. It has widened perspectives around the globe in ways totally unforeseen and unique from those of any other medium. In the words of Bill Gates, “The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” You’ve all heard this story and personally reaped some of the benefits of this amazing network (namely, of course, The Airspace).

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The Tree of Life: Genesis Retold

The Tree of Life (2011) is American director Terrence Malick’s fifth feature film in his 38-year career. After more than a decade of shooting and moving the film’s namesake 65,000 pound oak tree into the small town of Smithville, Texas, Malick has left us with a true masterpiece. The film debuted at the 2011 Cannes Film festival, where it won the prestigious Palme d’Or and is now nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography.

The Tree of Life is a story of truly epic proportions. Malick employs awe-inspiring imagery in a highly experimental, non-linear narrative to weave together the story of one human life and attempts at the grandest of metaphysical questions. Malick simultaneously takes us on two journeys—one humanist and cosmological, one temporal and infinite—all through the lens of the Christian paradigm.

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Art & Democracy: The Catharsis of Rebuilding

Art and Democracy: The Catharsis of Rebuilding, Credit: Bansky, 2005

This article is based on a January 17 event at the University of Chicago, entitled “Turning point: how the invasion of Gaza backfired for Israel.” The event was sponsored by the student group University of Chicago Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), and featured Palestinian activists on the issue of human rights violations incurred by Israel during the state’s controversial invasion of the Gaza Strip three years ago.

On December27, 2008, Israel launched an attack code-named “Operation Cast Lead” on the Palestinian-held Gaza Strip, despite the states having entered a ceasefire with the Palestinians brokered by Egypt only six months prior. Israel ordered the attack in response to the escalating number of unprovoked rocket attacks on Israeli cities by Palestine’s Hamas militant group, which had left 28 dead and several hundred wounded.

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Art & Democracy: A double-edged sword

Art & Democracy: A double-edged sword. Image Credit: Zachary Brown

Issues of freedom, expression, and immigration have drawn serious international attention in Europe over the past several years. Muslim women have been the foremost targets of nationalist campaigns for the liberation of women from “oppressive” head-scarves and other religious clothing. Now, just as Muslim women are testing whether democracy will defend their rights to free expression, opponents are pushing back on those limits in the opposite direction with offensive, extremist propaganda. Religious, ethnic, and ideological pluralism has stretched formerly homogenous democracies to their limits. This confrontation has, in turn, awoken a sleeping dragon of legal and ethical questions that democracies at large will be forced to reckon with for many years to come.

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Modern art: holding a mirror to society, one sculpture at a time

Modern Art: Holding a mirrot to society, one sculpture at a time. Image Credit: Jessica Stockholder

I’ve never been much of an artist. I never doodle. The closest I’ve come to producing art in recent years is calligraphy that a three-year-old Asian girl could top. My knowledge of art history is lacunary, at best. But, art has a way of creeping into other disciplines, and from there jutting into one’s consideration. This article on Czech artist David Černý is inspired by the first of three lectures I recently attended at the University of Chicago. Coming articles will feature the latter two, on Israeli and Palestinian art, and Swiss anti-Muslim propaganda, respectively, under the series umbrella of “Modern art.”

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Commentary Ticker

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