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.

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