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Mutt & Jeff: The logic of phobe

Locations: Columns Published

A reasonable person is able and willing to reason. Such a person is respectful of logic, not suspicious of it, and is willing to follow the argument wherever it leads.

This requires a certain amount of humility, an acknowledgment that one could be wrong. Such a person is capable of listening to the other side and admits to incomplete knowledge. Now it’s possible to have a discussion. Both listen. Each is fallible. Logic is their common master. Common sense.

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The term “phobia” derives from the Greek and means “fear.” A phobe is a fearful person. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) lists any number of phobias, or unhealthy fears. Among them, astraphobia (fear of lightning), aquaphobia (fear of water), dentophobia (fear of the dentist), trypanophobia (fear of injections), cynophobia (fear of dogs), ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), entomophobia (fear of insects), ablutophobia (fear of washing), claustrophobia (enclosed spaces), enochlophobia (fear of crowds), and nomophobia (fear of being without your phone).

Actually, the DSM stipulates that a phobia is not merely a fear; it must be intense and irrational. To give an example, I’m afraid of lightning. Not the thunderous display of majestic power crackling on a distant mountaintop, such as Mt. Sopris viewed from downtown Carbondale. I relish that kind of display, but not the kind that is up close and personal, that slams down in my backyard. That kind of fear is intense, but not at all irrational.     

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A memory from 1970: I was teaching for Oregon Outward Bound School. My patrol of teenage boys had just climbed North Sister, and we had settled down in our sleeping bags on the summit. Suddenly the air was alive with the ominous buzzing of static electricity — a lightning strike was imminent. Panic! We leaped out of our bags and ran down the side of the mountain. There’s something about the crashing of lightning that excites primal fear in me.       

I neither detest lightning nor find it repulsive. I don’t have a hysterical or psychotic aversion to it, nor am I obsessed with it. Rather, I find it majestic; it inspires awe in me. But I do take precautions to steer clear of its path when I’m up in the mountains.  The rule is, don’t hike on the ridges at one in the afternoon. I’ve been in situations where the rattle on distant ridges advanced until it crashed overhead.

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There are healthy and unhealthy fears, real terrors and irrational ones. There are shades of negative emotion, from mild aversion to distaste to revulsion. I like spinach and don’t care much for apples, but I don’t panic at the sight of an apple. Some things violate my conscience. Other things I’m not so sure about. We have clarity about some things. Other things by degrees we approve or disapprove. Being over-conscientious is itself a kind of fault, called scrupulosity. 

In this current climate, some people claim they hate President Trump because he is, as they say, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic, and so on. I’ve never heard any reasonable discussion about any of these supposed attributes of his. My sense is that people in general are not open to defining terms. Who knows what these terms are supposed to mean? If they are defined with any kind of rigor, we might discover that they describe us all to some degree. 

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Homophobia is a compound word consisting of two Greek roots which mean, literally, fear of sameness. The antonym, if there were such a word, would be heterophobia, or fear of difference. There isn’t a sexual connotation inherent in these words. Another phobic term attributed to our President is islamophobia, fear of Islam. Or, taking the psychiatric view of phobia as articulated in the DSM, an intense, irrational fear of Islam. Not the same as healthy concern, an unwarranted fear.       

Yet to be explored: “hate speech,”  “Nazism,” “socialism,”  “racism,” and “bigotry.” Each of these terms deserves to be investigated. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In our culture these are bandied about without any discussion of their meaning, whereas they should be considered from multiple sides. Looking at only one side does not constitute an examination.  “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” — Proverbs 18:17

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Stan Badgett shares this column with fellow conservative Paige Meredith.