De gustibus non disputandam est, some Roman is said to have said. Roughly translated, this means, no matter how bad your taste is, nothing I can say will change it. Presumably, the Roman thought he had pretty good taste—he just threw up his hands at other people’s taste.
Discriminating is the best kind of taste—preferring only what is the most refined and excellent; discerning and selecting from among the dross the most beautiful, the most shapely, the rarest, the uncommon. For instance, in the world of art, someone with discriminating and discerning taste would be able to tell that the Picassos at the Milwaukee Art Museum aren’t the good ones. In the world of cinema, if you had discerning taste, you’d know that Ron Howard is a talented schlock-meister; that Sean Penn hams it up in Mystic River; that 21 Grams’ narrative contortions are gratuitous and not scintillating.
Discrimination is the essence of taste, in fact. And while I call the discriminator who called out the inferior Picassos in Beer-Town a snob, in fact, I make my own discriminations. I love my little independent music store, Orion’s, in the hip little strip of Sugarhouse. Sure, they have more interesting music than, whatever, Borders; but every CD I buy there has the cachet of having been purchased at a little independent music store, where the manager is hipper than thou, especially since younger than thou. Ditto my beautiful obsession with organic food. I pay a lot for the prestige of my cleaner-than-thine food.
Most of what we call principle shares a thin, permeable border with taste. Don’t eat meat, because you don’t want to be party to the slaughter? Are you sure you’re not just expressing a more refined judgment about what is proper to like and do? Doesn’t eschewing the actual dead pig to its soy simulacrum make you a better, more refined person? I think so, as I eat my delicious Boca Italian Sausage-like entity, pan-grilled and served in a toasted bun with organic ketchup and mustard (yeah, really) and a side of really good organic potato chips. You’ll have to try it.
[anyone who can find out who originally said the Latin proverb above wins a prize. Okay, mention of her/his name in this blog.]