I overheard someone refer to “fagot” as a homophobic slur, and it rubbed me the wrong way. The incorrectness of the language bothered me; I found it troublesome that it wasn’t referred to as a homo-hating slur. Then I realized that there should be a word for that. Later that day I facebooked:
I don’t think “fagot” is a homophobic slur. People who use it aren’t afraid of gay people, they hate gay people. What’s the word for someone who hates gay people?
The first response was: People usually hate things that they fear.
Followed by this response: Right. We use the word homophobe for people who hate homosexuals, because we know they only hate what they fear.
Later that day I decided that the correct word for the hatred of gay people is “misohomonism”, but by now this was beside the point.
By now it was apparant that Americans seem to generally accept that we hate what we fear…or are supposed to hate what we fear. In my constant search for the cause of America’s agitation and dangerously volatile state, I may have found my answer: our automatic conflation of two disparate psychological states.
It’s unnatural and destructive to relate fear as the cause of hate.
Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat. It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger. Fear is a positive instinct that keeps us alive. It’s natural to fear heights, wild animals, and the dark. These things possess specific dangers that we must be wary of.
The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology defines hate as a “deep, enduring, intense emotion expressing animosity, anger, and hostility towards a person, group, or object.” This too is a positive emotion, but it is inappropriate to apply hate to our fears. One should not feel animosity towards high places, one should not feel anger at wild animals, nor should one feel hostility towards the dark. These reactions simply don’t make sense. How would one even feel hostility to darkness?
No one is ever taught to hate the thing they feat because it simply doesn’t make sense.
In my upbringing I was always taught to respect the thing that I feared. Christians should be familiar with this concept with the strange command “to fear God”. This teaching obviously doesn’t mean that Christians should hate God, but instead that they should respect God because of his omnipotence. For an earth-bound level, consider fire . It is a scary thing because of its destructive power. I dealt a lot with fire as a Boy Scout, and you earned your Fire ‘n’ Chit card for respecting fire. No Boy Scout was ever taught to hate fire. After all, fire was the thing that made our breakfast in the morning and our s’mores at night! Because of its potentially danger, the complex relationship of fear and respect was specifically taught by the Scout Master. Parents will recognize that when one’s child is afraid of the dark, it would be inappropriate to tell the child “Good. The dark is a bad thing. Baaaaaaaaad darkness. Evil darkness. Hate the darkness!” (This would be especially confusing to the child since he parents are the ones that plunge the house into darkness each night.) Parents instead teach children to embrace the darkness in small steps by weening them away from it, usually by leaving small amounts of light in the darkness either in the form of a nightlight or a cracked hallway door. Eventually through this process, they grow to understand the fear so that it won’t control them.
Once hatred replaces respect as the partner of fear, we will cease to progress and instead regress into dangerous and hostile ways.
Consider “the unknown”. It is another natural fear. The unknown presents potential danger, so fear of the unknown is a healthy life-preserving reaction. It’s good to fear the unknown as long as we follow the natural path to first respect the unknown and then seek to understand it, making it not unknown anymore…and not scary.
If we fall into the trap of hating what we fear, we will naturally begin to hate the unknown…which is detrimental to the fiber of the community. We become a xenophobic society where the less we understand something, the more we hate it. People from other countries, cultures, and ethnicities become natural objects of hate. We begin to hate anything that is not us and the less something is like us the more we hate it.
If you fear something, the correct path is to carefully and gradually…when you are ready…approach it and safely form a relationship with it so that you can eventually understand it and have it be of benefit to you.
Otherwise NO S’MORES FOR YOU!!!
(and how sad would life be without s’mores?)