The Purity Hangup

As well as being hung up on the straight line, Western man has also had a thing about “purity”. Something that is “pure” is composed only of a single thing and is not mixed with anything else. But is that always good? When the one thing is drinking water and the thing it is not mixed with is excrement, this most certainly is a good thing. In some European languages, the one word does duty for both “pure” and “clean”, so that anything called “impure” is thereby also “dirty” – even though there is nothing dirty about, for instance, an alloy or singing off-key. However, the combination of rational hygienic behaviour and this linguistic nexus leads us to desire that things be composed only of themselves and not of other things, where such uniformity is in fact either irrational or very harmful. For instance, if we speak of a pure maize farm, the adjective confers approval on an ecologically undesirable monoculture. And it is by no means obvious that a pure race is biologically superior; quite the contrary, as owners of pedigree pets well know.

Another source of the obsession with “purity” may be something that Erikson pointed out, that the difficult quest for personal integration may be easily side-tracked into the tempting embrace of absolutism. That is, if we cannot be integrated we will settle for being “absolutely” this, that or the other; as if the intensity of our allegiance to the one single thing makes up for the unwisdom of giving all of ourselves over to it. Revolutionary movements in particular are fond of the A Word: we must be absolutely united against the absolutely corrupt system and so forth. Personalities, politics and agriculture – all crippled by the fear of the untidiness involved in balancing different elements in a harmonious whole.

Posted on May 29, 2009 at 10:08 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: CULTURAL ODDS AND ENDS, The Futurist Fever-Dream

2 Responses

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  1. Written by Urban Djin
    on May 29, 2009 at 16:04

    “And it is by no means obvious that a pure race is biologically superior; quite the contrary, as owners of pedigree pets well know.”

    In all other species the problems caused by inbreeding are well understood. The explosion of the dog ownership fad in this country has spurred the development of “puppy mills” which crank out inferior pure bred animals plagued by disease and muscular/skeletal problems. They have the right look and that’s enough.

    Somehow we think that breeding principles which govern the rest of nature don’t apply to us. Or do we? Perhaps it’s not that we don’t understand the consequences of human inbreeding but rather that we don’t care. Perhaps hemophilia is a small price to pay for having the Habsburg jaw.

  2. Written by Ghost in the Machine
    on June 3, 2009 at 07:32

    [b]A Mongrel like me[/b]
    One of my favourite comments by Barack Obama was about acquiring the dog he had promised his daughters Sasha and Malia. In a charming display of self-deprecation, he told the press conference that they would likely get “a mongrel, like me”. (Never mind that they got a Portuguese Water Dog, because of his daughter’s allergy.)

    I’ve always had a profound distaste for dog shows and cat shows. Talk about treating a pet as It rather than a Thou! Perhaps there should have more dog shows where only mongrels are allowed?

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