Non Est Disputandum

There is a complex dynamic that underlies many, many troubles people have in finding love and even in simply understanding humans. We’ve hedged at it here and there, but the whole thing will take a little while to work through. Not that it’s hard to understand, for all its complexity! No, it’s just that people have convinced themselves (or let them be convinced) of so many things that are simply untrue, that, in spite of the obvious fact of the result flatly not working, it takes some doing to dismantle the structure of falsehood and see what really works and always has.

Kind of like that last sentence, no?

There is a Latin saying, “De gustibus non est disputandum.” It’s translated a variety of ways, some badly enough to change its meaning, but most accurately (in almost normal English) it comes to, “Regarding tastes, there can be no dispute.” You probably know it by its more usual form, “There’s no accounting for taste.” It could also be put, with less transliteration but more of the sense of the original, “Preferences can’t be argued.” The idea is that something as subjective as personal preference can’t be reasonably argued about as though they were even capable of being right or wrong.

As obvious and well-known as this idea is, as ancient and well-accepted as it is, there is no shortage of instances in which one breath agrees with it and the next insists that the speaker’s preferences should apply to everyone. Once you see it, you will begin to see it all over the place. If it’s so obvious, you may say, why am I not seeing it already? Ah, therein lies the trouble, the overarching issue itself.

You see, we’ve been told so often what we should want, and have had what we do want denigrated so thoroughly, that lying to ourselves has become a reflex. And when the conscious mind and the unconscious mind disagree, trouble must follow. The unconscious can be neither deceived nor deceptive, unlike the conscious mind, which seems to enjoy both. There is scientific proof of this, which we’ll discuss another time. The upshot is this: People have been convinced (browbeaten, brainwashed, shamed, or otherwise) that there are certain things they should desire which they do not particularly, and other things which they should not desire, which most of their brain and body readily respond to.

It is hardly a surprise, then, that getting what they “want” is a recipe for dissatisfaction in most cases.

Obviously, people have different preferences. One individual’s history, random wiring, and maybe even genetics will predispose them to somewhat different criteria than the next individual. The “somewhat” is the big clue that such variance isn’t to be relied upon. The way humans are tends to be probablistic rather than deterministic, and while a full discussion of that will also need to wait for another day, the fact is that a few people having an unusual preference does not change the fact that the many do not share it, and it definitely does not invalidate the underlying reason most people have the other preference.

An example? How about this: Someone may be strongly aroused by polydactyl people – those having extra fingers or toes. Most people do not share this turn-on, and a lot of people would be repulsed by it. This isn’t just a preference, it’s a deeply ingrained response to likely genetic trouble, and those attracted to it have either congenitally atypical mental wiring, or, more likely, a history which causes them to have their unusual reaction.

By contrast, one person finding black hair and green eyes to be especially heart-thumping may well disagree with someone who only falls for those having velvety brown-black eyes, but there’s precious little to suggest either should logically be a preference to the overwhelming majority. This is the sort of thing our bit of Latin wisdom refers to. I prefer crunchy peanut butter; you only want creamy; she doesn’t like the stuff at all. Mere preference, gained by chance and by personal history, and maybe in some cases by some inherited trait – though I wouldn’t bet on it, in the case of peanut butter.

There is no point arguing such preferences, at least as though they were objectively right or wrong.

What about the hard-wired preferences, though? It’s pretty generally understood that facial symmetry is an attractive thing. It denotes health, especially genetic health, and we are therefore very naturally attracted to it. By “naturally” I mean not only that it is obvious, but that it is deeply part of human programming. But what if you were told for your whole life – and by your parents, teachers, and other influential people who also had been told it for decades – that it was wrong to be drawn to people with symmetrical features, that doing so was shallow and cruel and wrong? You would grow up trying very hard to believe that, and may well convince yourself that it is a thing to be ignored or discounted. Some would even vilify symmetry. As a society it would be either shunned as something to be noticed, or belittled whenever it did come up.

That’s what would happen on the surface. Below every brainwashed consciousness, though, the older parts of the brain would take note and respond, prompting the body. For all our supposed rising above mere animal nature, we are animals in a very social species, and the brain and body cheerfully work together to advance that species in the best way they can. People would agonize over their inability to follow the cultured and cosmopolitan dictum or would make excuses for the frequent lapses. Nature has its intent, and will have its way, and if suppressed it will often find its way through means less healthy than if it were recognized and celebrated.

And so it does. Not with facial symmetry, of course. But our actual society has indoctrinations no less bizarre.

On top of all this, we find people insisting that their own preferences, as honest and reasonable as they might be, must necessarily be those of others as well. (This, as mentioned before, while also insisting that it’s all subjective anyway. Cognitive dissonance is no friend to understanding.) This is a strange form of psychological projection, a version in which it’s thought that one’s own view should be that of the other person, and any variation significant enough to act on is wrong, immoral.

We know that some things are mere preferences and others are more or less universal. What else could there be? Oh, most dangerous of all: What if different people’s natures cause different deeply made tendencies to manifest? What if my role in the world is naturally different than yours, whether by genes or by personal history? What if the traits that you find attractive are different from mine, not because you or I are deficient or shallow or any such thing, but because what we do or are made for means a different strategy of living has been summoned from the depths of our humanity? What if we each find the same things intrinsically attractive but, because of who and where we are, have vastly differently weighted priorities regarding each?

What if that were ok? What if that were good? More radically, what if it were accepted as such?

We’d stop “shoulding” on each other, for one thing. We’d blow away smoke and smash mirrors and see things for what they are. And we would find it beautiful.

We would see that many preferences are to be neither argued nor denied.

Most astonishing, we would find that in our attempt to rise above our “base nature” we had prevented ourselves from getting very far from it. The animal inside us is perhaps best run from, but not because it needs to be unseen, but because it is the mere starting line. If we can understand it instead of denying it, we can build far beyond the fearful and self-limiting facade that keeps us trapped in a cycle of frustration. We can become that higher thing we so desire to be.

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Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.