Think about everything now

by Yule Heibel on July 6, 2003

Margaret Visser is turning me into a slow reader; I have to take my time because she’s so good. Worse, she has written way more books than Much Depends on Dinner, and I’ll probably need a decade to get through it all. In the meantime, here are some of her comments from a 1991 interview: On cannibalism: …take something like cannibalism. It’s taboo in our society. But this dreadful thing [Persian Gulf War] where Americans killed 100,000 people. Everybody jumped up and down and said how wonderful they were. If you told the same people, “Now go and eat them,” they’d be absolutely outraged. “Eat them! What are you saying? Am I a savage?!” In a way, it’s much more sensible to eat them than to kill them. And yet we admire the killing and we think we’re so smart because we won’t now eat them. We’re extremely complex in some ways and in other ways we’re not very highly evolved, rather primitive. And on taboos: We’re doomed, in the late twentieth century, to demythologize. I think it’s a terrible condition. However, it’s our condition and we cannot escape it. What I’m doing is removing the taboos. It’s terrifying, because I do see the reason why people have taboos. Taboos are there to control people’s behaviour when there is no chance of their using their reason. One taboo, for example, is Don’t kill your father. When you’re eighteen years old and your father’s fifty and you say, “I want the car,” and he says, “You can’t,” Nature says, “Ok, smash him and take it.” A taboo is working when the kid doesn’t even think of smashing his father. That’s not natural; the natural thing is to go smash him and take it. The anger in this youth who’s stronger than his father is a very powerful thing, and the taboo is as powerful as his anger. So taking away a taboo is a very dangerous thing to do, and yet we are doomed to do it. In fact, I do believe that we’ve moved on to a higher level. It’s a higher level to understand what you’re doing. In other words, to decide not to knock your father out, not because it doesn’t cross your brain, but because you know it’s wrong and why it’s wrong and to have thought about it. We’ve got to think about everything now. We cannot afford to do things unconsciously. We’re too dangerous; we’re too powerful. We cannot rely on taboos.

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