Last week, Jeffrey Epstein died in jail, apparently a suicide. The prior month, he was arrested on federal sex trafficking charges related to his and other men’s conduct with girls as young as fourteen. Most spectators to the very public humiliation that might have driven him to suicide, judged him very harshly. Epstein, in his mid-60s, had apparently slept with young girls and procured their services for some of his rich (and old) friends as well, allegedly including Epstein’s former lawyer, Harvard Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz (currently age 80). (Professor Dershowitz denies the charge, which is the subject of a defamation suit.) What united the reactions of everyone I heard discussing the story, at least prior to his sudden death, was an overwhelming emotion: disgust.
After noticing the disgust associated with Epstein, I started seeing it everywhere. I described the developing case to one of my teenage daughters, and an unmistakable look came over her face. That is just gross, it said. Epstein had seemingly harmed us all by placing an unwanted and revolting image in our minds.
Why does disgust matter?