The basic purpose of your immune system is to fight.
Fight pathogens, poisons, and things that you don’t want in your body. To perform this key purpose it must differentiate between self and non-self. The self is safe. The non-self, ‘the other’, is a potential threat. It’s a complex system to say the least. The extended immune function even goes so far as to effect emotions such as disgust.
Yes, expressing disgust is actually an unconscious physiological immune response. It creates nausea, sometimes vomiting, whilst also initiating the increase of disease fighting secretions in your mouth and upper respiratory tract. Your disgust sensitivity is heightened during immuno-compromised circumstances such as times of disease – or at just the perception such a threat.
The physiology of disgust has also been linked with many phobias and behaviours such as OCD. The disgust response includes a powerful psychological mechanism that increases our tendency to polarise between oneself and ‘the other’, ‘us and them’. Unfortunately this can expand to drive a situation where there is an ‘ingroup’ of people versus ‘outgroup’ of people.
Feelings of disgust lead to our strongest tendencies towards the ability to dehumanise arbitrary ‘outgroups’ of other people. Just last century, we saw political parties manipulate this aspect of our disgust response. Using the perception of a disease spreading ‘outgroup’ of people to assist with ushering in cruel totalitarian regimes. Leading to some of humanities darkest times.
It’s no political secret that if you can get the population sufficiently disgusted, then their unconscious ‘self versus the other’ aspect of the extended immune function will turn kind people cruel. Suddenly, those ridiculous fights over toilet paper at the shopping centre begin to make unnerving sense. They also indicate how careful we must be with how we perceive situations and others when bombarded with self-serving sensationalist news.
How do we override a physiological survival mechanism that plays on our worst inclinations?
Think back, only two months prior to Covid, to another national emergency where we observed countless acts of nobility. During the recent bushfires we went out of our way to help the vulnerable and those in need. By behaving in a prudent, proactive and kind manner we banded together, making the best of a truly tough time and, in doing so, we able to meet with our better selves… The very best of our selves.
The simple answer: Be, like, that.
Be Prudent, be proactive, but above all be kind.
Never again let another group, nor a single individual, be classified as untouchable.