display | more...

Contempt is the word I hear most commonly used to describe the intersection of the emotions of anger and disgust. It's also, I argue, the most dangerous human emotion because of how its components intersect. Anger makes one want to challenge or engage aggressively with something or someone. It's about navigating and preserving ones status in a social hierarchy by not being a doormat who others can take advantage of with impunity. Disgust is a response to things which are perceived as gross or infectious. It makes one want to avoid, remove, or destroy the offending thing. I see a lot of people conflate disgust and fear but fear only really covers the avoidance response. They might converge on destructive solutions in the extremities but your response to a dog turd and an rattle snake are very different things.

This conflation of fear and disgust is kinda rampant in social topics. Just to take an easy example: homophobia. I grew up in a red state and while I'm not a mind reader when I met people who'd I'd peg as homophobic they weren't scared of gay people, they were disgusted. I think most bigotry comes from disgust not fear. Back on the topic of contempt, if you find your carpet and floors covered in muddy foot prints you will be disgusted and if you find out that your housemates did this, don't think its a problem, and won't help clean up then you're liable to be angry. You might just want new living accommodations. Disgust unaddressed becomes contempt. This is really important to understand because anger carries a gut level immediacy to it's imperative and disgusting things don't have rights. Even if you don't believe that second claim it feels true in the moment and unless you're principled and/or self-aware it will drive your behavior. Contempt is a lethal emotion, literally. It's been the driving force behind more hate crimes and purges than fear. It's very different and it makes people act far worse.

It's also increasingly common. The political and social atmosphere of this decade isn't one of fear. It's contempt. I really hope that if somebody finds this node ten years from now it seems overblown, but I don't think it will.