There's a hot new theory among psychologists holding that much of human behavior can be explained by our instinctive desire to avoid things that disgust us. Personally, I find this theory disgusting.
The preposterous idea has been embraced by a new wave of behavioral scientists who unabashedly -- and unironically -- call themselves "disgustologists." Disgustologists contend that our tendency to be revolted by certain things helped mankind develop its ethical, sexual and hygienic mores, and even set the stage for armed conflict between cultures. What are the things we are supposedly disgusted by? Poo, sex and general licentiousness.
Nonsense. If it is true, how does one explain the phenomenon of me? At 60, I am still getting paid for my humor columns, which are basically self-absorbed exegeses on poo, sex and general licentiousness. My works are Vulgarian Rhapsodies. The most ubiquitous photo of me on the Web is one in which I am proudly posing with my 18-inch-long fossilized walrus penis. On Twitter, 6,600 people follow me even though my "avatar" -- the little photo that accompanies every single post -- is a pile of what appears to be moist, glistening doody.
Disgustologists say the disgust instinct was initially developed for hygienic reasons: to prevent us from snarfing up all kinds of revolting and potentially harmful things, the way dogs do. But I have written many times of my gustatory adventurousness. I have enjoyed tomalley, which is that green slime from inside a lobster; soup made from fish heads; baby eels in hot oil; raw egg; chicken feet; calf brains; and an aptly named African fruit called a "snot-apple." I once drank milk still warm from the teat of a cow.
And yet here I am, after all this, a genuine minor celebrity! Just how strong can our disgust instinct be?
If you seek proof elsewhere, it is in abundance: You need look no further than modern celebrity worship, in which we make cult heroes out of people whose lives are an endless, repulsive public bacchanal. We know and love Quentin Tarantino, who has been outed as a recidivist toe sucker. Britney Spears has been photographed in a state of hygienic disrepair so repulsive that, were I to describe it here, it would be the last thing by me you would ever read in a mainstream publication. Our entertainment of choice includes reality shows in which contestants compete to reveal the most pathetic personal weakness. I just watched one in which a woman confessed to compulsively eating Comet cleanser.
Do we like this stuff? We love this stuff. And we will put our money where their mouths have been. Justin Timberlake's half-eaten French toast sold for $1,025 on eBay. Scarlett Johansson's soiled Kleenex got $5,300.
Still unconvinced the disgustologists are wrong? I will now prove it empirically.
This week, on eBay, I will auction off my used toilet seat. It is from the first-floor powder room in my house, where it lay for four years, serially servicing tuchuses. You can find it on eBay as "Gene Weingarten's toilet seat," autographed by me, personalized to you, containing my thumbprint in an unidentified brown substance. It comes with a signed letter of authentication, attesting to the fact that I, personally, have used this seat more than 600 times. I'll donate the proceeds to charity.
If the disgustologists are right, you'll see no bids.
But I say they're wrong. I'm willing to bet my bottom dollar.