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The example I have in mind is the attitude, prevalent in the English-speaking world from the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth, that sex was the root of all evil.The Victorian horror of sexual desire has been mocked so mercilessly in recent decades, and not without reason, that a lot of people these days have apparently forgotten just how seriously it was taken at the time.It’s the conviction that certain common human emotions are evil and harmful and wrong, and the way to make a better world is to get rid of them in one way or another.That belief is taken for granted throughout the industrial societies of the modern West, and it’s been welded in place for a very long time, though—as we’ll see in a moment—the particular emotions so labeled have varied from time to time.Let’s set that simplistic reaction to one side for the moment, and ask a different question: what happens when people decide that some common human emotion is evil and harmful and wrong, and decide that the way to make a better world is to get rid of it?
To them, hate was an ordinary emotion that most people had under certain circumstances, but sexual desire was beyond the pale: beastly, horrid, filthy, and so on through an impressive litany of unpleasant adjectives.
A culture of pretense, hypocrisy, and evasion springs up to allow them to vent the unacceptable emotion on some set of acceptable targets without admitting that they were doing so.
That’s what emerged in Victorian society once people convinced themselves that sexual desire was the root of all evil, and it’s what has emerged in our time as people have convinced themselves that hate fills the same role.
Some pursued any of the other dodges, and there were plenty of them, that allowed people to pretend that they weren’t getting sexually aroused and acting on their arousal when, in fact, that’s what they were doing.
That’s what happens whenever people decide that an ordinary human emotion is unacceptable and insist that good people don’t experience it.