Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Fed up with Phobias

Are you “phobia-phobic?”

That means you have a strong aversion to the term “phobia.” I feel like I might be developing such a phobia.

Simply put, it’s frightening to me that individuals are often labeled as “something-phobic” just as a way of silencing dissent or debate.

The term “phobia” used to actually mean something. There was agoraphobia, acrophobia (fear of heights), and aerophobia (fear of flight), which were real psychological conditions involving rapid onset of fear, anxiety, distress, or extreme avoidance.

At some point, it started to be used hyperbolically in modern parlance as anyone who doesn’t like something or feels uncomfortable with it. If I felt a bit annoyed to stay indoors in a tight space, I was called “claustrophobic.” (Not to say that there isn’t such an actual phobia, but it’s fair to assume that the vast majority of people who are casually called that don’t really suffer from that phobia)

Nowadays, the term is used so loosely that it has lost meaning altogether. If I don’t like my neighbor’s bad breath, do I suffer from halitophobia? If you don’t care for beards, are you pogonophobic? I have an aversion to medicine, so I must be pharmacophobic.

Worst of all, it has become an easy way to stifle debate. If you don’t like my view or disapprove of my actions, you must be suffering from Green-phobia. You’re irrationally fearful of the truth… MY truth! Go see a shrink and stop bothering me with your Greenaphobic babbling.

It’s a clever way of branding the other as crazy, thereby eliminating the need to engage in meaningful discussion.

It often is used to obscure the real issues.

For example, if someone is apprehensive of the real possibility of jihadists entering one’s country and consequently prefers a temporary ban until better vetting policies are in place, that person is conveniently called “xenophobic.”

Why? There’s no irrational fear or aversion here. Instead, there’s a rational and arguably valid cause for concern, at least from this person’s point of view. He sees a dangerous undercurrent of extremist genocidal jihadism festering unabated in certain parts of the world, and in certain religious or ethnic groups. A well-informed citizen, he’s read the news about recent spate of murderous attacks in countries that have had massive influx of immigrants from the Muslim world.

If that person has an irrational aversion to any foreigner, and might get panic-stricken at the sight of anyone different or unfamiliar to them in their community, you might ask whether that person is indeed xenophobic.

But if he is a bit disconcerted by the sight of a woman in a burka, not knowing what she might be holding underneath, and after recent terrorist attacks in which extremist Islamists committed mass murder by detonating a bomb or wielding a weapon hidden underneath his/her garments, could that be accurately called a phobia, an irrational fear? You might disagree with his apprehension, you might call it prejudice or ignorance of the fact that the majority of burka-wearers are presumably nonviolent, peace-loving people, but his concern is not irrational. Such attacks have indeed occurred in the recent past.

This might be an unfair generalization about burkas with which you may disagree, but a phobia it is most certainly not. If you are unnerved by the sight of a man entering a store with a hood over his head and his hands concealed, do you have a phobia?

There's an obvious difference between one who genuinely suffers from aerophobia and one who is nervous to fly on Malaysia Air, let's say, shortly after two of their planes crashed. You might disagree with the hesitant traveler, but to him, several recent mishaps or malfunctioning jets are a rational cause for concern, even if those mishaps represent a tiny minority of flights.

Seems to me that there is a rational fear of terrorism nowadays, especially from the fundamentalist Islamic population. Burkas indicate fundamentalist Islamic views, which sadly raise the specter of possible jihadist influence. Do you not understand why someone might be concerned by a burka? I'm not justifying this aversion, but merely arguing that it is clearly not a phobia, and is wrongly labeled as such.

Perhaps it's similar to how I might be singled out for scrutiny if I were to tell the airline people that someone else packed my bags. Security personnel might react to unaccompanied luggage or bag (what they call “חפץ חשוד” or suspicious object in Israel) with similar alarm. Let’s be honest that there’s valid cause for concern, even if the vast majority of such bags are harmless. 

Once the burka-clad person has gone through security screening, the fellow is now at ease. So it’s not the foreign attire or religious beliefs that he feared, but bombs, knives, weapons, and the bloodthirsty jihadists who wield them. Honestly, it makes sense why someone might be a bit more concerned about an individual wearing fundamentalist Islamic garb that completely hides what’s underneath. Could it be that the person who is wary of burkas isn't opposed to the garb per se, but just apprehensive that a terrorist might exploit that attire, citing religious freedom, and use it to commit mass murder?

In fact, there have been numerous times since September 11th, 2001, that I was scrutinized at airport security more than others. My bags were checked repeatedly, my tefillin was inspected, I was incessantly questioned. I never suspected that the security officials were “xenophobic” or “Judeo-phobic.” Instead, they were just doing their job. In fact, I felt the safest on those flights, knowing that anything that aroused suspicion, like bearded Mediterranean-looking men like me, were double-checked.

A warden once gave me a hard time when I was trying to bring my tefillin into his prison. He was concerned that there was drugs or weapons inside. Was he “Judeophobic?” Of course not. He was clueless about tefillin and why I couldn't open them up, and was just trying to do his job. It happened to be a huge inconvenience to me, and I complained about the harrowing experience later to the authorities. But never did I suggest that he was anti-Semitic or Judeophobic.

If I disagree with belief systems because I believe they contain serious theological flaws, am I phobic of them? If I see a huge problem in Islam, does that make me “Islamophobic?” If I have a problem with papal dogma, am I now “Catholophobic?”

No, I have never feared false belief systems, but just feel bad for the billions who have been indoctrinated to believe in them.

What I fear are the significant number of people in the world (most of whom happen to be Islamists) who wish to murder me, or would readily endorse or support my would-be murderer.

I do not fear their phony religion or irrational beliefs. I fear the potential actions of their depraved co-religionists who are able to infiltrate our society and might attempt to carry out horrific crimes against humanity.

My attitude is exactly the same with regard to neo-Nazi rabble. I have no fear for their beliefs or irrational hatred of me. I fear potential attacks against innocents that might result from this degenerate belief system. So it is wrong to accuse me of having a phobia of Nazis or Jihadists. It’s not irrational at all, but an apprehension of credible danger that some of their co-religionists have already demonstrated.

If anything, they are the phobic ones. They have an irrational fear or aversion to me, as I seek them no harm. I am in no way phobic of them, as they do indeed wish to kill me. So my apprehension is rational.

(However, I object to calling them Judeophobic too, even if they are indeed irrationally afraid of me. I’m personally not concerned with their fears or aversion, but with their hatred and malevolence, and their possible intent to harm someone. So I simply call them Jew-haters, or “anti-Semites” in modern parlance.)

If a man enters a women’s restroom, the women who protest aren’t misandrist or androphobic (fear of males). They are just rightfully opposed to males entering a women’s restroom, a particular place where males don’t belong. Likewise if a woman enters a men’s restroom, men who protest aren’t misogynist or gynophobic. A woman isn’t male-phobic for insisting on a female obstetrician. It’s her right. If you have a problem with that, then you are the phobic one. Hmm, what’s the right word for “healthy-boundaries-phobia?”

Likewise, I am not xenophobic for calling on Israel to be an unapologetically Jewish state and annex the territories that are part of ancestral Jewish land since time immemorial. Likewise, I am not Islamophobic or racist for calling for the reconstruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. I have no fear or disregard for anyone. Muslims are welcome to find another place to play soccer or have picnics. They can move their shrine or mosques too. Surely there is no shortage of land in all that Islamic territory. They are welcome to concoct a new place to extend their pseudo-religious reverence. Jerusalem doesn’t even appear once in their holy book anyway. Why should they have their shrine on a place they turn their backs to in prayer anyway? No fear, no aversion. It’s just not the right place for you. Move it a couple miles over and be well.

The most insidious “phobia” accusation of all is “homophobia” or “transphobia.” To review, a phobia is an irrational fear or aversion.

If I believe that something is immoral or inappropriate, I am not necessarily fearful or averse to anyone or anything. If I choose not to acknowledge a matrimonial union that goes against my belief system, then that is my prerogative. It is not a phobia or aversion. Let those individuals live and be will, but please do not ask me to compromise my values or beliefs. This is true of lots of heterosexual unions which I might not acknowledge either.

Similarly, my belief system defines male or female based on the individual’s biological sex, i.e. the genitalia the individual was born with, depending on whether the individual’s chromosomes are XX or XY. I respect a person’s free choice, but please don’t force me to change my own definition. That is a violation of my First Amendment right. And please don’t label me as “transphobic,” since I’m not irrationally averse or fearful of them or their choices. And please don’t be offended if I use a pronoun that you reject. Please understand that from my point of view, a person’s sex is not a matter of personal preference, but a matter of objective reality.  This is my belief based on religious creed. So demanding that I accede to your choice of pronoun is infringing in my right to my own religious belief. If you call me “transphobic” and claim that I am violating your rights, that is cynical and hypocritical. Let’s both live and let live. It works both ways. I won’t force you to dress like a person of your biological sex, and please don’t force me to regard you as the sex you are purporting to be based on your clothing. I acknowledge that you regard yourself as a woman, and that might be your right in our free society, but it is my right to view you as a man. I respect your freedom to choose, and I expect you respect mine.

In no way am I fearful of you, nor do I have any aversion to you. In fact, I respect and value you as a fellow human being. I cherish your involvement in community, civic duties, and your contribution to society. I would gladly welcome you in our synagogue, at my Shabbat table, at a community event. Your feelings are important to me, and I would try to avoid any awkward setting that might cause you distress. However, I shall not lie and call you a woman, because I don’t believe that you are. Instead, I’ll choose to ignore gender altogether, and relate to you as a fellow human being, a fellow Jew, a fellow American.

This is nothing new for me. I have been doing the same for years with regard to a long list of lifestyle choices that aren’t necessarily compatible with Judaism (I’d rather not elaborate here). I can ignore those choices and focus on the good, i.e. my friendship with a fellow Jew, human being, mentsh who excels in other mitzvot, even if he might be remiss in one. Am I such a tzaddik with a flawless record who deserves to look down on anyone else who’s not a 100% in Jewish observance?

Does that make sense?

Please don’t call me transphobic, homophobic, or anything-else-phobic, because it’s simply not true. Of course, if you insist on calling me _____-phobic, I won’t be offended nor will I take it personally. Instead, I’ll attribute it to your subjective bias, aversion or fear of honest discussion and intolerance for alternative viewpoints.

Instead, I'll realize that you are simply suffering from a "freedom-of-opinion-'phobia,'" an irrational fear or aversion to hearing views that differ from your own. This psychological disorder is often induced by excessive media consumption or unprotected college-campus indoctrination. Highly contagious! The most obvious symptom of this condition is when you regard any view that differs from your own as "irrational" and consequently diagnose it as "phobic."

Just kidding. I realize that you are most likely using the term "phobia" in a pejorative sense in attempt to belittle anyone who disagrees with you.

Speaking of untruths, I must recant my opening comment above. I am not “phobia-phobic.” That was just hyperbolic. Instead, I’m rationally opposed to the widespread misuse of that term. Let’s stop all the phobia-mongering and discuss the real issues with objectivity. Let’s learn to respectfully agree to disagree without the name-calling.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A new spin on the Ten Commandments

Alternative & Alliterative Ten Commandments
(I'm not attempting to replace traditional & halachic interpretations
of original text, nor am I even listing the correct ten.
Just something new & off-topic to consider)

I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Is G-d your G-d? Or is He just someone else’s G-d, or maybe the whole world’s G-d, but not yours personally? Have you allowed G-d to take you out of the house of your bondage? Or have you not yet attempted to exit your house of bondage? Or are you unaware that you're even in bondage?

You shall not have other gods besides for Me.

Do you deify “otherness?” Does your belief in G-d make you regard other human beings as others? Do you see your fellow as foreign and separate, whose fate and destiny is completely independent to yours? That’s not belief in the One G-d, but in the “other” god. Don’t worship that deity. Furthermore, do you talk to Me in first/second person? Or do you regard Me as other and not present, in third person? Please don’t consider me an “other," because that’s not Me. I’m here with you.

Don’t make for you a graven image.

Don’t make yourself into a grave image. Your life isn’t just about your estate, your 401k or your life insurance policy. Likewise, don’t make the mistake to imagine that your life ends at, and therefore is defined by, the grave. Don’t imagine that life is only about enjoying yourself during the short time that you live, because after that, you’ll just be dead in a grave. Instead, realize that life goes on infinitely in a higher way, so you ought to live your life now in a higher way too…

Don’t worship idylls.

Don’t be idle. And don’t glorify idleness. Don’t think that the ultimate goal in life is to retire and vegetate! Stay active and proactive! And never ever worship sports or celebrity idols. That’s a sure way to be idle, by living vicariously in some surreal idyll that has nothing to do with real life. Shun all idle idol idylls!

Don’t take the name of the Lord your G-d in vain.

Are you vain? Do you think that G-d is vain? Don’t you realize that being vain makes you less G-d-like, not more?  Do you think G-d fits into any particular “vein” (i.e. a distinctive quality, style, or tendency), like blood flows through a vein? In a similar vein, is your concept of G-d one-dimensional, flat and rigid, like a vane?

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your G-d gives you.

Don’t just honor parents. Honor the fact that he is your father and that she’s your mother, and as such, respect the possibility that he or she might be a bit biased, overbearing or judgmental about you at times, just like they may have been in your earlier childhood. Remember that honoring them because they’re your parents is ultimately good for your longevity and for achieving your destiny that your G-d gives you. It’s good for you, so view parents with love and equanimity, even when they’re difficult.

Don’t kill*

Don’t kill your dreams, hopes and aspirations. Keep striving and you’ll achieve! And don’t assassinate anyone’s character. Remember that looks can kill, so look kindly at others. Think and speak kindly of them too. Don’t hurt or kill anyone with toxic words!

Don’t commit adultery.

Don’t commit the ultimate error of being resigned to being an adult, seeing yourself as a finished product who is done growing and developing. Instead, keep that childlike wonder and aspiration to grow ever higher. Be open to learning new things, developing new skills and discovering new talents. Don’t be so rigid and set in your ways. It’s okay to be wrong too, and to choose being happy over being right. Keep listening to that inner child of yours!

Don’t steel**

Don’t pretend you’re made of steel. You’re not. Have a heart of flesh, not a heart of stone. And you’re not a stele either (see above about not making yourself a “graven image.”) Allow for mistakes and be flexible. And don’t steal your most valuable asset, your time, and squander it all on trying to amass more steel or other more precious metals. Yes, you need those metals to live, but only as a means to an end, not as the ends in themselves. Make sure you maintain set times for things that really matter most, like your relationship with G-d, your spouse, family, friends and community, and for acts of goodness and kindness.

Don’t covet your neighbor’s house, wife, servants, oxen, donkeys, and anything that belongs to your neighbor.

But you may covet his virtuous deeds, selflessness, character, patience, friendliness, charitable acts, or anything that doesn’t truly “belong” to your neighbor. Instead, he belongs to them.  Those you may covet. But not that you should possess virtue, but that virtue should possess you.

* to be more precise, the term used in the Torah is לא תרצח, “Don’t murder.” Clearly the Torah permits killing when G-d’s Law deems it necessary, like in self-defense, or even pre-emptively when an enemy combatant is planning to kill you, for example. I was just using the familiar mistranslation.

** the actual term Torah uses is לא תגנוב, which the Sages interpret here as “Don’t kidnap,” i.e. stealing souls as opposed to stealing money. I was just using the familiar mistranslation.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Unapologetically Unpolitical

I don't like politics. Never have, never will. 

Nowadays there's no honest or objective debate. It's all about advocating one narrow viewpoint. No one listens to the other. They just want to be right.

Even matters of grave importance have been distorted by subjective political bias.

What does it mean to be pro-choice?

Are you selective about which areas in life one may choose?

I understand that it means you advocate for a pregnant woman's right to choose an elective abortion, even if fetus is viable and poses no danger to mom.

I also understand that being "pro-choice" means you maintain that this woman's choice be honored by all private and public medical establishments, and if necessary, paid for by public funds.

But does that mean you're only pro-choice regarding reproductive rights?

Or are you also pro-choice for education, let's say?

Do you also advocate for a mother's right to choose which school to send her child once born?

Or do you insist that only her child's education can ONLY be publicly funded if he/she attend a state-run school that the state requires him/her to attend?

Are you pro-choice for parents who choose not to give all recommended immunization boosters? Or do you believe parents ought to be coerced by state to give the chicken pox vaccine, let's say?

If you are "pro-choice," do you believe that the mother has a right to choose whether she wants her child to drink fluoridated water? Or do you believe that government ought to fluoridate everyone's public drinking water, irrespective of the protests of a minority?

Do you advocate for a patient's right to choose euthanasia or assisted suicide? Conversely, do you advocate for a family's right to choose not to terminate a vegetative patient? Or do you think that the hospital can insist on terminating patient?

If you are truly pro-choice across the board, then at least you're consistent.

But if you are against school choice, let's say, but you are still pro-choice for abortion, it seems to me that you are somewhat selective in which choices you choose to support.

If you argue that school choice hurts the poor or vaccine choice endangers the people with weak immune systems or un-fluoridated water jeopardizes the kids with poor dental care, then your opposition to such choices aren't because the choice hurts the chooser, but rather that it hurts someone else. Isn't that what "pro-life" folks argue, that the pregnant mother's choice in not only about her own reproductive rights, but is also affecting someone else, i.e. an otherwise-viable healthy baby, a living and sentient being?

You're not truly pro all choice, but only this particular one. Just as you oppose other choices (i.e. school, immunization, etc.), you certainly ought to acknowledge that many people oppose the choice for which you choose to advocate. Could it be that there's some validity to their opposition (just as you surely feel there's validity to your own opposition to other choices)?

Likewise, I wonder about those who call themselves "pro-life."

Are you only pro-life in the sense that you insist that a pregnant mother carry her baby to full term and give birth, or do you also advocate for other lives too?  Do you advocate for poor babies and children after they're born? Do you seek to feed the hungry, sustain the poor, heal the sick, etc.? Are you there to help these mothers raise the precious lives they've given birth to? Do you feel an obligation to help educate poor children too, so that they have opportunities to live fulfilled and healthy lives? Or do you not care about all other forms or stages of life?

If not, you weaken your position, because by your own admission you're not truly pro-life, but just advocating for life in this one particular instance.

If the lives of some aren't worthy of your support, one might argue, then by the same token, the life of this not-yet-born baby might not be worthy of support in the opinion of others, at least not when compared to the well-being of the mother. Do you not see any possible merit to their opinion?[1]

Perhaps there are valid points to consider on each side, and the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

This question can be expanded to many other areas of advocacy. If you're pro-women's rights and protest what you think is unfair or unequal treatment of women in US, do you also protest gross abuses that women suffer worldwide? It strikes me as rather odd when I hear of feminist protests that include advocates for fundamentalist Islam or Shariah Law. Seems rather self-contradictory. Perhaps these same protesters ought to be protesting horrific treatment of women and girls in Islamic societies throughout the world, like hundreds of millions of women who are victims of female genital mutilation worldwide (more than all females in North America combined).

Why are the vocal critics of Israel silent on incomparably worse human rights violators like China, Venezuela, Russia, and scores of Islamic countries?

If you're opposed to illegal occupation, why are you silent on China's occupation and annexation of Tibet? Why don't you boycott Chinese products?

It's because it's all about selective advocacy. This is one particular issue that you happen to feel for. It's all about subjective opinions, not necessarily about an objective reality. That's why no other refugee problem in history has ever mattered so much.

If you wish to protest racism yet march with a group whose members have attacked innocents just because they were white, then you are not really opposed to racism per se, but just advocating for one particular group.

If you tolerate unfair treatment of Jews on your campus in the guise of opposition to what you believe are Israel's "racist" policies, you are really not opposed to racism at all, but are in fact guilty of it yourself. You're just advocating one particular group's cause.

If you've been incensed by "fake news" targeting Hillary Clinton, have you been mortified by mainstream media's egregious bias and skewed reporting  of Israel? Have you protested their misleading headlines and often false accusations? Because if you haven't, then perhaps it's not the fakeness of the "fake news" you're opposed to, it's that it is damaging to your "team" or to your agenda.

Perhaps vague catchphrases like "pro-choice" or "pro-life" or "anti-occupation" ought to be scrapped once and for all. Let's be more specific what you're actual cause is. You're pro-abortion or anti-abortion. And you're not "anti-occupation." You're just anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. If you march with Islamic extremists, then you're not truly pro-women or pro-freedom. You're just taking a political position, advocating against one particular party. In that effort, you'll accept help from whomever, even if they're guilty of far worse than the one you're protesting.

That's why an Israeli flag was burned at the DNC last year, and why Democrats have pandered to extremely anti-Israel elements. And that's also why Trump's campaign accepted donations and endorsements from so-called alt-right bigots, and why Bannon's publication gave this objectionable group a voice.

This is why I abhor politics. My enemy's enemy will never be my friend if he's also an enemy. And not everyone who disagrees with me is necessarily an enemy, nor is anyone who agrees with me in any one issue necessarily a friend to whom I owe political loyalty or reciprocity.

I am proudly American and unabashedly pro-Israel, but that doesn't mean that I support or endorse all of our US government's or Israeli government's policies. I am pro the people of the USA, and the people of Israel, and as such, I pray for the welfare of the governments and hope they make wise decisions on behalf of their citizens. Being pro-Israel isn't political. Being anti-Israel is political.

Acknowledging our president and honoring his office as commander-in-chief isn't a political statement, nor is it political to state your view or protest a policy you disagree with. It's political when we get consumed with our own revulsion for the president that we hope he fails, and hopes that the country suffers, so that I can say I was right and "told you so."

Case in point: as repulsed as I was by the previous president's reckless abandonment of Israel, I never once hoped that he'd fail miserably in any other area of his administration, or that his domestic policies would fail. I was never "politically" opposed to him, but was just squarely opposed to certain policies, attitudes, statements, actions. As such, I never once felt that anyone who opposed his presidency was necessarily my ally, or that anyone who supported his presidency was necessarily my opponent.

Yes, there were many who politically opposed Obama, just as there are many who politically oppose Trump at present. I cannot consider myself part of either group. I suppose I just stand at the sidelines and shrug. What does all this anger and hatred accomplish? I hear lots of rhetoric and hyperbole coming from both sides. It's hard to stay sane in today's political climate.

Meanwhile, instead of being politically "pro-life" or "pro-choice," l shall continue to pray for life, health and wise choices.


[1] With regards to abortion, I believe Judaism neither supports the pro-abortion camp or the anti-abortion camp. The Torah categorically prohibits abortion if fetus is viable and poses no risk to mother, but it's not murder and as such, is actually required by Torah if pregnancy or delivery poses serious risk to mother. There's lots of gray area, and risk to mother is subject to interpretation. In every case, a competent rav should be consulted.