Monday, May 21, 2007

Polonophobia: it's not a phobia


Or: why the personal is not the political.

Since psychologist George Weinberg first described, in 1969, what is basically a politically and culturally produced prejudice as homophobia, the term has slowly grown in acceptance. The EU has even passed a resolution describing a whole country - Poland - as homophobic (i.e. ‘Polish homophobia’).

Due to the success of this term, anyone who finds a point of view objectionable simply labels it ‘a phobia’ - an irrational psychological response.

It all started of course with xenophobia; then came homophobia; then Polonophobia (Poles are not immune to this nonsense either); more recently we have Islamophobia; as a reaction to that we now have Christophobia (yawwwwn) and Judophobia (I mean – we used to have a perfectly good word for that: anti-Semitism).

How to de-politicize a prejudice in one easy step – label it a mental disorder.

Sociologist Frank Furedi demonstrates here how the rise of the ‘phobia’ term coincides with the growth of ‘therapy culture’ in the West and lists five good reasons why politically progressive people should not be using this word.

Me, I'm getting phobo-phobic.

More?
Polish homophobia? It’s not a phobia, the beatroot, April 22

42 comments:

opamp said...

What I find distrurbing is the idea that if I don't agree with the stuff preached by Biedroń, Senyszyn et.al., I am suffering from a phobia, and by extension, should be cured. That reminds me of Soviet Union, which was sending its dissidents to mental hospitals, because nobody in the right mind would question the tenets of communism.

I mean, gays are such a nice people. Where the hell they are getting these activists from?

Doctor Jekan said...

I'm not sure I agree with Furedi. "Phobia" has simply broadened its meaning. I can hear someone use the expression "homophobia" a gazillion times and I will still not believe it is a clinical disease. (Though I am tempted to think of homophobes, racists, anti-Semites and the like as being - let's say - irrational. Have you ever tried talking sense to one?)

prostak said...

I'm not certain I agree that labelling an irrational hatred a phobia is trivialisation - having recently lived with someone who was convinced of a secret Islamic militia preparing to take Britain over, to the extent that she was preparing to move to a remote part of Ireland, in certain individuals it seems wholly accurate. Perhaps we should draw a distinction between this irrational rejection of the unknown and a calculated, rationalised racism along the lines of the new far right (a la BNP in Britain, FN in France or Fox News in the US.. sorry , cheap shot). The problem here is that I;ve used the words rational and racism painfully close to each other, when I don't personally believe it can ever be thus. But do you see what I'm getting at? I've encountered rabid xenophobes who actually changed their minds when challenged with reason, whereas a J-M Le Pen or a Nick Griffin has obviously thought long and hard about it and still come out badly.

But to take issue with another point, does bracketing a mindset as a mental illness really trivialise the issue? If a schizophrenic kills somebody because of a switch in their mind 'malfunctioning', does that not entitle them to have their case viewed differently to somebody who plans and executes a murder? A good example of this dichotomy is the way British media (perhaps other nations too, but my linguistic skills sadly don't extend to my being able to enjoy much foreign media at all) cannot seemingly decide whether paedophilia is a mental health or a criminal issue - i.e. the "they're sick - lock 'em up" style of headlines. If anything, I'd say making something a mental health issue forces action, as well as giving a basis for the nature of that action.

By the way, opamp, do you actually *know* any gay people? Here and on the homo-agitacja comment boards, you've been somewhat patronising about the lgbt (a horribly loose collection of types of people that only seem connected by perceived sexual 'deviancy', incidentally) world, as in "gays are such a nice people". I think you'll find that 'homosexual' and 'nice' aren't yet synonyms.

beatroot said...

Prostak
I've encountered rabid xenophobes who actually changed their minds when challenged with reason,

Ever tried to cure your girlfriend’s phobia of spiders with reason? Don’t work, mate. So what you saying proves my point – this is about culture and it’s about politics.

Doc
I'm not sure I agree with Furedi. "Phobia" has simply broadened its meaning.

It’s stretching it to breaking point. The word has become increasingly popular when applied to offensive views. Why? If we have anti-Semitism then what do we need Judophobia? Why if we have anti-polonism do we have Polonophobia? Why not anti-Muslim than Islamophobia?

Because they have taken the ‘anti’ and the ‘ism’ out of politics…and replaced it with therapy.

prostak said...

beatroot,
"Ever tried to cure your girlfriend’s phobia of spiders with reason?"
Haha, actually my own fear of spiders (and anything with too many legs!) dominates my life to near-crippling levels... I take your point, but if anything doesn't that confirm the difference between racism/hatred of gays as a phobia and as an ideology? My point was that the former can be rectified with a mere demonstration of the lack of reason in the homophobic's way of thinking, whereas the latter has already had some form of reason applied, however warped?

As an aside, with the de facto criticism of 'therapy culture' we risk lumping those with serious mental health difficulties in with those who are merely having a tough time coping with the world. I've undergone a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and while it didn't stop me from being a manic depressive, it certainly helped me on a day-to-day level. I take your point about the ubiquity of it all, but don't forget that good work is being done - I'm sure that wasn't your intent, you're an intelligent sort of fellow, just wanted to make sure ;).

prostak said...

By the way, beatroot or anyone else, any idea where the picture above is from? Obviously Britain, but what town? Am I just sheltered from this kind of hate in Reading?

beatroot said...

The photo? I guess Scotland.

the difference between racism/hatred of gays as a phobia and as an ideology?

Therapy culture
Does not mean a clinical equivalence or a need for therapy. It’s about a culture (and this is in western Europe and America more than Poland) that says that racism, for instance, is caused by some personal failing of the individual, not something that comes from society. ‘Isms’ are political categories…’phobias’ are individualistic. Phobias need intervention by experts, not from political movements.

We are now in the position in the UK where a government is seriously considering intervening into the lives of kids that have not been born yet! If ‘they’ – some ‘expert’ - decides that that kid could be ‘at risk’, then parents will be supervised and pressured to go to courses on how to be a human being.

That is a therapy culture and the state has turned into, not Big Brother, but Big Sigmund or Big Oprah Winfrey.

Harry said...

opamp said...
What I find distrurbing is the idea that if I don't agree with the stuff preached by Biedroń, Senyszyn et.al., I am suffering from a phobia, and by extension, should be cured. That reminds me of Soviet Union, which was sending its dissidents to mental hospitals, because nobody in the right mind would question the tenets of communism.

No opamp, you are a bigot because you think that some people should have superior rights because they behave in a way which you approve of. Either a person supports freedom and equality for all or they do not: you do not. But we are quite happy for you to live your life your way, all we would like is that you allow other people to live their lives their way.

michael farris said...

As a linguist who's used to mining words for meaning, it's hard for me to believe I'm saying this, but I really think you're over-analysing this.

The meaning of words in English does not equal the sum of their parts. I've never thought of xenophobia or any of its other political sister words as clinically treatable phobias but just indicative of negative feelings toward the phobized parties.

And interestingly, beat in his rejection of the word homophobia finds himself in the same company as macho American conservative guys who hasten to reassure everyone they're not _afraid_ of gays, just disgusted by them thank you very much (amid many manly and not homoerotic at all grunts of agreement from each other).

Politics does make strange bedfellows (as it were ...)

michael farris said...

And how on earth do you polish scum????

Gabriel said...

Interesting thoughts on the pros and cons of the notion of phobia. I can find valid arguments on both sides. But... If psychologisation of political opinions is wrong, then you shouldn't conclude so hastily that greens (or in this instance the not yet yellow straw man greens) "hate people"...

beatroot said...

And interestingly, beat in his rejection of the word homophobia finds himself in the same company as macho American conservative guys who hasten to reassure everyone they're not _afraid_ of gays,

Listen, sunbeam...When I was campaigning against ‘Clause 28’ of the local government act in the UK in 1989 (all those years ago) which was a law very much the same as Giertych’s about not ‘promoting homosexuality’ in educational establishment etc, (some of us have been here before) drawn up by the Thatcher government, we used anti-gay, or just plain ‘bigot’…we did not need to accuse people of having a ‘phobia’. We used political arguments about equality, not pseudo-psychological gibberish.

heat_seeker said...

I’ll try to make it easy for everybody: If it’s not in DSMVII it’s not a phobia. I have to side with BR on this one – it’s a euphemism. It makes it sound almost like something physiological, a chemical deficiency – “Take this twice a day with food and your symptoms should decrease”…. I’m afraid it’s a bunch of BS. Perhaps it’s a phenomenon related to the recent trend of checking yourself into a residential treatment after blurting out your true opinion on certain issues, e.g. Mel Gibson’s and his anti-Semitic tirade. If anybody knows of a pill or therapy that can treat condition commonly referred to as “being an ignorant jackass” please let me know – we can make a lot of money… (you’re not pecuniaphobic – are you?)

beatroot said...

No - Chrematophobia

opamp said...

No opamp, you are a bigot

I have no problem with being labeled a bigot.

I take issue with implying that my bigotry is a mental disorder and should be cured.

prostak said...

I agree, opamp, as somebody who has long struggled with mental wellbeing, I take great offence at racists, gay-haters and other bigots being likened to me. Now they're *truly* sick - anyone who feels they can discriminate against another human on such arbitrary grounds as pigmentation is quite possibly beyond cure. You've won me round.

michael farris said...

"Listen, sunbeam...When I was campaigning against ‘Clause 28’ of the local government act in the UK in 1989 (all those years ago)"

Did you wear an onion in your belt as was the style at the time?

beatroot said...

:-)

It was a spring onion, and I wore it behind my ear.

And opamp has bigoted opinions - on mainly one issue - but he ain't mad, and he don't have a phobia.

And I would like to know why there has been this sudden trend in labelling prejudices or anything else we don't like, as a phobia?

michael farris said...

"I would like to know why there has been this sudden trend in labelling prejudices or anything else we don't like, as a phobia?"

My guess is two part, the first part is polysemy (the tendency for words to have more than one meaning).

The second part is that you have it backwards. First came the root 'phobia' (fear) which acquired different meanings. One acquired meaning had to do with generalised antipathy (garden variety dislike and the desire to keep the disliked thing or person well away) while another had to do with a debilitating psychological problem (like people who have fullblown panic attacks at the sight of balloons:

http:/www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LIbDbFs7Ak

I certainly don't equate or confuse xenophobes (who don't want foreigners living in their neighborhood or city or country) and arachnophobes (paralysed by fear of spiders far beyond any actual harm that spiders can do).
The only thing they have in common is that I think their attitudes are wrong. But of course they shouldn't be treated the same, the latter is likely to need professional help while the former just need to be told what a jerks they're being.

In other words, I think (for at least this once) that there is no sinister politically agenda going on but normal human semantic fuzziness.

geez said...

Who decides what a word means?

I looked up the word "phobia" online and found two definitions at the same site (forgot which dictionary):

1. A persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous.

2. A strong fear, dislike, or aversion.

If #2 is acceptable, then I have more than a few phobias. I feel no great compelling need, however, to therapeutically rid myself of any of them (at least today).

geez said...

One of my strong dislikes is of Scottish scum like these guys:

from thenews.pl:

Polish goalkeeper saves pregnant girl from Scottish thugs

Created: Monday, April 23. 2007

Celtic’s goalkeeper, Artur Boruc, saved a young pregnant Polish woman and two others from being attacked.

The Polish woman, Magda, who is nine months pregnant, was walking in a park in Glasgow when thugs started to taunt and physically her, her Polish brother in law and her sister.

Boruc was also in the park and intervened. He then drove the three terrified Poles to hospital.

"I am not a hero. I just did what any ordinary person would have done," Boric told a Scottish newspaper.

Boruc’s side, Glasgow Celtic, won the Scottish League, Saturday, with their last minute victory over Kilmarnock.

beatroot said...

But of course they shouldn't be treated the same. Then why use the same word?

It’s a sign of how the ‘liberal/left’ has changed. Once had ‘isms’ – systems of belief. Now we have phobias. Isms have gone of fashion with ‘isms’ like socialism. So all there is left is the behaviour of individuals.

A Holocaust denier? Someone who is in ‘denial’? Do me a break. Irving is a shitbrain with a head full of (political) Nazi ideology. He is not ‘in denial’.

'Climate warming denail'? Puke.

michael farris said...

"Then why use the same word?"

Maybe for the same reason that we use the 'same word' in Francophile to indicate personal (non-sexual) affinity for a specific culture and zoophile who has lustfull feelings for your dog.

Human languages are sloppy, when it comes to its use of greek and latin roots, English is among the sloppiest.

I will agree that 'holocaust denial' (meh) and 'climate warning denial' (barrrrf) are not felicitous coinages.

'apologist for genocide' and 'optimistic nitwit' are a little more realistic imho

beakerkin said...

B

This post is around twenty years late and you have forgotten the more amusic oholic bit. Lets see Chocoholic,Shopoholic and Sexoholic
are just off the top of my head.

David Weman said...

Psst.

beatroot said...

Oh, the 'holics'...I remeber them well. Anything to pass on the responcibility on to something, someone else.

And thanks david. Looks like we got ourselves nominated for best European Political Blog!

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be irrelevant as usual but the real news to me is that someone has taken it upon themselves to write 'Polish Scum' on the weeping wall in Hammersmith (or it that not where the photo was taken?). Haven't seen that before.
The place is often a meeting point for sozzled agricultural workers hoping to score some unkilled labour. Their welcome to the EU is hanging around on a grotty street corner with that slogan looking down on them.
Retaliation will be difficult. Where can one suitably plant a 'British Scum' graffiti?
There is no competition from English workers for Polish tradesmen's jobs.
What about a lovely wrinkly-tin Tesco? Ruining small shops and exporting profits, while selling a minimum of Polish products? 'British Scum'.
How about all the foreign law firms and consultancies in Warsaw creaming off every privatisation, bankruptcy, merger and acquisition while never allowing Poles into senior management or partner positions? Calls for a lovely big 'British Scum' on the Warsaw Financial Center.

opamp said...

Where can one suitably plant a 'British Scum' graffiti?

Arrivals hall of the Kraków airport. Will do nicely for these amateurs of stag parties!

Anonymous said...

Where the devil can one suitably plant a 'British Scum' graffiti?

Funnily enough I'm off to Krakow soon on my stag night. I think my sign will read: 'Welcome foreign currency and the British scum you've brought.'

geez said...

Yeah, I'm sure you're welcome anon... as much as a nice dose of the clap.

Anonymous said...

'Yeah, I'm sure you're welcome anon... as much as a nice dose of the clap.'

Krakow has always been a tourist town, EU or no EU. Both of my parents worked as tourist guides to suppost themselves through university.

The Rynek and its surroundings have been mostly off-limits for normal local people as long as they remember because the bars are that much more expensive.

So the problem with stag parties must be that you find it embarrassing to be confronted by your fellow countrymen (assuming you're UK/US) roaming around being noisy and drunk, behaving like a national disgrace and failing to appreciate the living history around them?

geez said...

The Rynek and its surroundings have been mostly off-limits for normal local people as long as they remember because the bars are that much more expensive.

Local people do more than just go to bars. Especially "normal" ones.

In my hundreds of visits to the rynek in Krakow since the days of communism, I've never witnessed any shortage of locals as well as visiting Poles amidst what is often a majority of foreign tourists.

And, yes, I'm admittedly embarrassed and disturbed by anybody's obnoxious disgusting behavior no matter where -- and that of Polish expats included.

Anonymous said...

'And, yes, I'm admittedly embarrassed and disturbed by anybody's obnoxious disgusting behavior no matter where -- and that of Polish expats included.'

I'm sure you're a pillar of tolerance. Incidentally, what did you do on your stag night?
Or are you just one of the aliases Peter uses to post comments on his own blog?

beatroot said...

Or are you just one of the aliases Peter uses to post comments on his own blog?

I find that a very, very stupid thing to say. Do you think I sit here writing some of the shit that ‘anons’ have written on this blog? I have had to put up with a lot of crap from these people - I do not need to make this shit up. So don't be so silly.

I only have once written a post pretending to be ‘anonymous’. And even then I labeled myself as ‘Tourrete’s Syndrome Parrot’ – a nome de plume you will be hearing more from in the future….but in another place.


I am very pissed off.

beatroot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
beatroot said...

In fact, I have got even angrier.

For writing a harmless blog I have received physical threats, and last year someone was trying to get me sacked from my job.

Fortunately, I have intelligent bosses, who want the same thing as me: to improve what we do, and believe that I want that too. There is something on a professional level that is beyond politics.

So political commitment has a price: I have paid that price. And for anyone to dare to accuse me of fabricating comments has the mentality of a Poland that should be in its very full dustbin of history.

geez said...

Anon, I'm not at all tolerant of what I consider bullshit or idiocy. I usually try to ignore it. Sometimes I return the volley.

And I certainly ain't no freakin' libertarian. And how dare you accuse me of being a root vegetable? I dunno what's worse (or better?)!

I do sometimes wonder if I exist outside of cyberspace.

And I never had a stag night as such. I had hundreds of them (some in Poland) but once I found the woman who became my wife, I didn't need anymore. Prolly (and certainly in many cases) didn't much need 'em before that either.

BTW, are you encouraging your wife to be to go out on whatever is the female equivalent of a stag?

Anonymous said...

'I am very pissed off.'

- I didn't mean any offence and I'm sure you're very committed to what you do. Think you might be overreacting to my comment, given its innocent context.

Interesting rant:

'And for anyone to dare to accuse me of fabricating comments has the mentality of a Poland that should be in its very full dustbin of history.'

What's that supposed to mean? You bandy around the name of Poland rather lightly.

'I only have once written a post pretending to be ‘anonymous’. And even then I labeled myself as ‘Tourrete’s Syndrome Parrot’'

There. Doesn't that mean you should be condemned to the same dustbin of history as the Poland you can't accept?

Also - How many anons are posting on this thing? I'm not sure which one I am anymore.

'BTW, are you encouraging your wife to be to go out on whatever is the female equivalent of a stag?'

No I'm not. It's an English tradition and requires no special encouragement on my part.

And since when does it take a libertarian to celebrate the end of one's batchelorhood in the company of friends?

beatroot said...

Maybe I did over-react a touch. But I do not need to make comments up...I have lots of em, as you can see.

Unless that is, that I am making you up?

Anonymous said...

Of course you are. It wouldn't be funny otherwise!

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