Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Phoreign Policy Phobias

I don't want to do too much about foreign policy on this blog. As I said in an e-mail to a friend lately, too much of a focus on foreign policy makes for bores and cranks. So I'll try to make this the last one on foreign policy for a little while, anyway.

But there is a phenomenon I'm noticing on the paleoconservative side that I find rather annoying. It's this business of labeling those who disagree on foreign policy as "phobics." We've had Russophobia and now, a new one on me as of yesterday, Persophobia. This ugly word apparently describes the psychological state of thinking that Iran is, or plausibly may be, a serious threat to other countries and that Ahmadinejad is something more dangerous than a powerless buffoon.

Now, I'm not going to claim to know that Iran is going to a) get nukes and b) use them. But they're very open about getting them. Boast about it loudly. And as for using them, well, Mr. A. may not be nearly as brilliant as he thinks he is, but he does apparently think it would be a cool thing if Israel were wiped off the map. And some of his creepy fans seem to think nuking Israel would be a wonderful idea and are getting all geared up to celebrate. Even if it's true (as some claim) that quite a few of his own people think little of him, it doesn't follow that he would have neither the will nor the de facto authority to use nuclear weapons if they were available. It certainly doesn't seem to me ridiculous to think that this raving kookball would be dangerous with such power in his hands. It doesn't, for example, seem to rate the kind of snooty scorn heaped upon the head of Rick Santorum for thinking of Iran as a threat or for taking seriously Mr. A's saber-rattling. I'm as prepared to think that Rick Santorum might have some evidence on this subject that I don't have as to think that, say, the writers at The American Conservative (who think very well of themselves) have such evidence. It's certainly possible that if I knew more about the matter, I'd decide that Iran is nothing to worry about. But even then, I don't think I'd ever call anybody "Persophobic."

I don't like the -phobic suffix in this connection for reasons similar to those that obtain with regard to homosexuality or Islam: I don't think the opinions being so labeled are stupid or indicate anything like mental illness, and to label them as if they do is a preemptive strike on normal political discourse. Do I think some views deserve to be laughed out of court? Sure I do. But not only are these not among them, the words "Russophobic" or "Persophobic"--unlike, say, the phrase "Bush Derangement Syndrome" for people who fantasize about disemboweling the President--aren't even a little bit amusing.


The Social Pathologist said...

Lydia, I think that when people use the term phobia they usually mean prejudice rather than mental illness. Though more rigid “right thinking” people of any ideological persuasion usually think that if anyone disagrees with them, they must have a mental illness. The old Soviet Union used to put dissidents in psychiatric hospitals for precisely such a reason.

When I’m accused of being “phobic” I usually take a step back and try to see if any of the claims have validity. i.e. is my reasoning biased: I have been known to change my view on things! Most of my accusers never do. I think when you’re charged with being phobic about something it’s more likely a reflection of the prejudices of the accuser rather than the accused. I think that you have been unfairly accused of being phobic.

As for the Iranians, they are a potential threat but not a current one. Looking at it from the Iranians perspective, I feel that their analysis of the geopolitical situation leads them to the conclusion that they are eventually going to be attacked by the U.S. and such they are taking steps to put up a nuclear shield. Pakistan has nuclear weapons, its population is extremely irrationally Muslim, its population and military provide de facto support to the Taliban: I feel that they are a far more dangerous source of supply of nuclear weapons than Iran. Why isn’t the world pressuring Pakistan to get rid of its bombs? I worry about them quite a bit. North Korea, those people are bad ass loonies: I feel we are far more justified attacking them rather than Iran.

Rodak said...

As both you and SP know very well, I'm sure, the literal meaning of "phobia" is fear. Such terms as xenophobia and homophobia imply that persons described in those terms hate what they fear, i.e. foreigners or homosexuals. The irrationlity involved in such phobias is based on hyper-emotional states, not in mental pathology. The more we know about our enemies and thus understand their motives, the less we fear them for irrational reasons. The more we call them names and dehumanize them, the less we allow ourselves know and understand them. All of this is completely within our own control.

Lydia McGrew said...

SP, I too am very concerned about North Korea, less so about Pakistan, simply because they've had (by my recollection--I could be wrong) the nukes longer, so we've got something to go on as far as what they are and aren't going to do.

Iran and Korea are both saber-rattling a lot, and Iran more recently, and more aggressively. What they will or won't do, I honestly don't know. But I really just don't have any patience with the use of "___-ophobic" in this debate.

Rodak, the assumption at least is that the fear is irrational. The term would never be used except ironically by someone who thought the fear a reasonable one.

I know what phobias are like. As a matter of fact, I probably have one myself: to poison ivy. I'm hyper about it, even though I live in a very suburban sort of neighborhood and never go in the woods.

But in political discourse, the whole thing is just a short-circuiting label.

Rodak said...

Another cliche' that dovetails with "--phobic" is "demonize." To the extent that we demonize a person (such as Ahmadinejad, or Bill Clinton, or Dick Cheney, or Fidel Castro) we assign powers to them that they do not possess. We are then like children deliberately scaring themselves by imagining a boogey-man in the closet, or under the bed.
When we do the same to a whole people by calling them "Japs" or "gooks" or "camel jockeys" it is to make it more difficult for us to see them as our neighbors, and easier for us to kill them. These things are phobic and irrational. It is when we shroud our rational fear of a real situation in an irrational phobia that we overreact, or allow ourselves to rationalize great evils, such as dropping atomic bombs on civilian populations.