the virtue of dirty

I’ve been on vacation. Last year I blogged from my vacation, but last year I went to England to swing dance and this year I went to my mother’s house to rollerskate.

And there has been commencement and the various form of pageantry that dresses up saying goodbye to students.

As it happens, the actual dresses that the pageantry demands are white.

Yeah. White.

Guess why.

Well, folks will tell you it’s because it’s the school’s official color, but why is white the school’s color?

The color white, with its poetic overtones of purity apparently reflects the college motto, “To virtue, knowledge.”


The conflation of virtue with “purity” is, to me, problematic.

Jonathan Haidt’s moral foundations research tells us that purity/sancity is one of the (five) basic dimensions of morality:

Purity/sanctity, shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. This foundation underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

Coincidentally, today my cousin posted this video on Facebook:

Now, I’ve juxtaposed “purity” and “dirty,” and in each case the claim is that it ought to be extolled, celebrated, understood by the community as virtuous.

I can’t get excited about purity – which is actually strange, given that I am unusually sensitive to disgust (about everything except sex). Mice, bugs, bad smells, bodily fluids (outside the sexual context), germs, I’m a TOTAL wuss. I have driven 15 miles in the middle of the night to escape my apartment where my cat had just killed a mouse. I have called friends for moral support while attempting to dispose of the body of an ex-bumblebee. I don’t shake hands with people and I use my elbows to open doors whenever possible. The sound of people coughing wetly makes me nauseated and angry. I SHOULD, by rights, morally judge those who are not “pure.” But I don’t, I can’t. I view my inability to cope with the ickinesses in life as a shortcoming, not a virtue.

But I can get behind celebrating the virtue of dirty – and by that, of course, I mean not just hard, dirty work (a virtue I appreciate but nevertheless eschew, because I’m a middle class wuss – see above) but also the virtue of mutually consensual exploration between consenting peers, unhindered by cultural lies about what’s okay and what’s not okay to do with your body. The virtue of dirty sex – raunchy, forceful sex, anal sex, sex in the grass, sex in a barn, sex in a nursing home, sex with restraints and weapons, sex with non-normative fluids, any sex that violates the “community standards” that the FCC relies on to determine whether something is pornographic. Pornographic, offensive-to-others, mutually consensual sex that reaches deep into your soul and teaches you something about yourself, your partner, and the nature of being human: there’s a virtue I can get behind.

And to virtue, knowledge.

Congratulations and love to the new alums. Get dirty, in every sense.