Vile Bodies

Blubber Blame

January 23, 2016

Evolutionary psychologists are apt to explain the attraction of sweet and fatty comestibles by the fact that we grew up as a species on the African savannah where we craved such things because they are a quick way to eat enough, very necessary when you are surrounded by wild animal enemies and food is short. But again, societies are not equally susceptible to the allure of fatburgers and syrupcola, and many individuals are not susceptible to them at all once they are out of their childhood. I have noticed that when American writers refer to allegedly irresistible foods, it is almost always to chocolate cake—which in America tends to be horrible and ersatz. In Anglo-Saxon countries a large number of adults never put away childish things where food is concerned because their mothers, presumably, never expanded their repertoire. This baleful pattern is spreading over the globe.

Who to blame, that is to say to blame really, truly, and finally? Most intellectual activity outside the hard sciences is either the avowed or subconscious search for a culpable party, whether it be an individual or a corporation or a government, and we choose among the candidates according to our original predilections. Life would be intolerable without the search for blameworthiness; it would be boring without it, lack savor, have no meaning, and bring most conversation to a halt. Without someone to blame, what would we have to talk about? Even those who claim to be without malice usually preserve at least a small, and often quite a large, corner in their heart for it. I have been reading some William Blake recently, and though he was a believer in universal divine love it is clear that he was a jolly good hater. I suspect that most of us are.

Intellectuals, I suspect, are generally rather reluctant to blame ordinary people for their faults, weaknesses, and misdeeds. It seems somehow censorious and lacking in generosity to do so. They prefer to blame authorities, corporations, governments, abstract social forces, etc. On the other hand it is condescending to do so, for it implies that ordinary people are not like intellectuals, capable of controlling their behavior and in control of their own destiny. Personally, I believe in the happy medium: That is to say I blame everyone—except me, of course.

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