Trendy (mostly vacuous) terms abound in society, and none more so that describing someone as a ‘phobic’ when they challenge someone else’s viewpoint.
‘Islamophobic’, ‘transphobic’, ‘xenophobic’, ‘homophobic’, and so on and on are terms we hear in the media – and perhaps in some conversations if we are unfortunate enough to come up against and idiot.
In psychological terms, a phobia is a fear or serious aversion to something which causes the person problems in their daily lives. Such as, the fear of spiders, the fear of darkness, or anything else the which initiates a serious negative response in the individual. Although some phobias may seem irrational to people who don’t experience them, phobias are very real to (and can be severely debilitating for) the person experiencing them.
Apart from the use of a term ‘[something]phobia] being out of context, it is used as a mask. When challenged, rather than entering in to rational and objective debate, a person will use a ‘phobic’ term in an attempt to deride another person’s viewpoint and to prevent any meaningful dialogue taking place.
If meaningful dialogue were to take place, the knowledge and prejudices of the person using ‘phobia’ terminology would be exposed. It is highly likely that the person claiming ‘phobia’ is unsure of their own knowledge, validity of their claims, or have very little knowledge of the subject on which to base a cohesive argument.
An example is when a public figure is accused of being ‘xenophobic’ when criticising the government of Israel. Even though the criticism is levelled at a government it is also wrongly associated by the ill-informed as being a criticism of the Jewish religion.
The Israeli government is no different (or shouldn’t be) to any other government in the world when it comes to accountability for it’s actions to the international community. The government makes decisions, and if those decisions are perceived as being wrong in some way then it is a person’s or organisation’s right to express criticism or to make the government accountable.
Even so, whenever the Israeli government is criticised there is a parade of people and organisations claiming that the accuser is being ‘xenophobic’ (or ‘anti-Semitic’), which is absolute nonsense and attempts to deflect attention away from real issues.
Another situation where a ‘phobic’ reference is made is when the person using the term fails to understand alternative information or concepts. This can be though lack of capacity to understand a concept or through the person’s failure to listen objectively and properly analyse what is actually being said.
Through shoddy reporting and agenda driven news delivery mainstream (and not-so-mainstream) media contribute to such ridiculous statements spreading in society and gaining popularity.
In the vast majority of cases where ‘phobia’ terms are used it is not an irrational fear that is driving the challenge, but a genuine concern that needs to be expressed and discussed. Sometimes the challenge may be wrong – sometimes it may be right – but shutting down any debate only leads to resentment and ignorance.