Monday, July 30, 2007
Looking back over some recent posts, I discover I have an unhealthy obsession with fat. And 'unhealthy' turns out to be le mot. Seemingly, we are programmed to be repelled by fat people as some part of our brain takes fatness as a sign of disease. As ever, people react to this kind of information with special pleading. One of the Two Fat Ladies, Clarissa Dickson Wright, for example, says its nonsense. Fatism happens, she says, because racism, sexism etc became unacceptable and prejudice had to go somewhere. Er, but.... And then Beth Ditto, leader singer of The Gossip, says it's a way of putting 'sexism on the agenda and 'all this stuff completely negates what feminism stands for, and you can't act like that's not connected with other issues.' Oh right. On the whole this kind of 'we are programmed to' story should be treated with scepticism. One usually finds evidence of scientists finding what they want to find. But the reactions are interesting, almost always because people are confused about 'is' and 'ought'. They should, for example, have the confidence to make statements like this, 'Even if fat revulsion 'is' pre-programmed, we 'ought' not to treat obese people badly.' Instead, they say something entirely illogical - 'Treating obese people badly is wrong, therefore fat revulsion cannot be pre-programmed.' This is to misunderstand both morality and science and it is a misunderstanding perpetuated in almost every science story about genetics/ evolutionary psychology. It is a compound of vanity - about the rightness of our own convictions - and fear - of the revelation of our evolved natures. And it renders serious debate about science impossible.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:01 am