Beanz Meanz Sexz

Most modern people appear to believe that sexual shame came into the world only with Christianity, or at least with Judaism; that is, they assume it is a historically contingent development rather than something intrinsic to human life. They might therefore have difficulty explaining why the Pythagorean cult prohibited the eating of beans. According to one account, it did this because beans in a closed pot form a mass of shapes, such as sex organs and foetuses, which Pythagoras found obscene. Or else he thought them sacred, as symbolising the life-force, and people later in Antiquity assumed it was because he found them obscene.

Why people should find sexual organs obscene is the obvious next question, but this story tells us that the capacity to feel revulsion from our own biological processes is at any rate not an artefact of the Abrahamic religions. Unfortunately, cultural explanations have eclipsed classic psychotherapy, which in its day attempted to uncover the inevitable structures of the human mind, pathologies that could not help but be caused by our coming into the world as children.

Posted on September 20, 2009 at 10:19 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: AGAINST NATURE, Distrust Of Sex -- The Better Reasons

4 Responses

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  1. Written by Urban Djin
    on September 21, 2009 at 16:51

    I have a different understanding of Pythagoras’ refusal to eat beans, and according to one story preferring to die rather than cross a field of beans to get to the boat that was waiting to rescue him from a lynch mob on his heels.

    My version is that he viewed beans as sacred, not dirty, because of the resemblance between beans (obviously some varieties more than others) and fetuses, ovaries, and testicles. They were thereby representations of some sort of elan vital and accordingly to be treated with respect.

    Now I’m well aware that our sources on Pythagoras are late and very problematic due to the accretion of legend, exacerbated by several centuries of Pythagoras’ followers adopting the respectful practice of ascribing their own writings to their master.

    I’m not a scholar and am not claiming that my version is correct. Since the Pythagoreans were celibate it does make some good common sense that they would prefer not being reminded of what they had given up. Eating beans to them may have been like monks papering the walls of their cells with porn. But since I haven’t thrown a monkey wrench into a blog discussion in a while, I felt like I was letting the side down.

  2. Written by Hugo Grinebiter
    on September 21, 2009 at 20:08

    Interesting! I’ll edit that for caution, then. But the point would remain valid for how Pythagoras’ prohibition was perceived , don’t you think?

  3. Written by Urban Djin
    on September 22, 2009 at 02:58

    Yes. But I think the celibacy is also germane. I’m not sure how rigorous that bit was, whether all of them were celibate or only the most ascetic ones. Either way it basically supports your point.

    All asceticism is a denial of bodily needs, and by extension biology. Odd that the body-is-disgusting, sex-is-vile ethos is so strong in Reformed Christianity with its passion for breeding Christian soldiers and strong emphasis on the Hebrew scriptures. In Genesis YHWH is quite clear that the natural world is very good. Apparently the Calvinists have appealed to a higher authority, their preacher perhaps.

    That our genitals are always dirty is weird. I wash my hands before I urinate, not after. I bathe daily and put on clean underwear. I’m pretty sure my penis is clean. It’s only going to get dirty if I don’t wash my hands before I handle it. I know they’re dirty. Before AND after seems a bit OCD, don’t you think? Once, before seems sensible and sanitary.

    Yet every time I have made that point socially, in a context, mind you, where the general subject was elimination related, everybody looked at me as if I were a leper. Why is that provocative? My extensive experience with sharing public facilities indicates that most people (I can only vouch for the males) don’t wash their hands at all. Surely washing hands regularly makes sense, regardless of where it occurs in any particular procedural sequence.

    What I realized after several variations on that situation is that people were reacting to my frankness that I don’t think of my genitalia as dirty and shameful but rather as part of my body, and an important part at that, one that I prefer to keep clean. The standard practice of washing hands after relieving oneself is following the ultra-observant Jew who must ritually cleans himself after making any physical contact with a woman outside of his family. It’s not about hygene.

  4. Written by Hugo Grinebiter
    on September 22, 2009 at 09:22

    That was just as sort of intro to the subsection, hope you like the rest. Maybe I’ll take it out later.

    It’s true that you can transfer infection to your penis via your hands; I once got balinitis, without having had sexual contact for years, so the vehicle must have been my own fingers. Ergo your idea of washing prior is a good one. But I must say, I myself find the idea of not washing after to be icky, and that is not coming from any position of sexual shame. I also doubt the connection between gentile post-urination washing with your ultra-Orthodox Jew. Before you continue preaching your doctrine in company, I would respectfully suggest asking a urologist. My advice would be before and after, then, and to hell with people who think you’re OCD.

    It’s the same principle with the teeth. I brush after breakfast, but I’ve known people who brush before but not after. That seems weird to me. I have all sorts of müsli stuck in my teeth. If you’re worried about dragon breath, brush first thing, sez I, but also after breakfast.

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