Enosiophobia is the excessive fear of criticism. It is a very real disease which is generalized in our society, to the point where criticism has been reduced to very defined trivial arenas (shock jocks) or to specific relations (workplace, judicial or familial relations of superiors to inferiors). Being “critical” is considered a social defect and “getting along with everyone” is considered a social quality.
I’ve already discussed that positive thinking is a way to shut people up and get them to play the game. I also discussed how personal responsibility is used as a weapon against the oppressed. I think both of these mechanisms are at work in enosiophobia. On the one hand, we are told to shut up and live in fear of social ostracism for criticizing others. On the other hand, whenever something reprehensible does happen (by which I mean an event that sets itself apart, not the routine institutional evils committed in our society), we are told that it was the work of “bad apples” and that therefore criticism of the system is wrong.
When people identify with the system, as for religious people or soldiers, the enosiophobia becomes total and absolute. To attack Christianity is seen as the equivalent of attacking any person who identifies as Christian. So rationally addressing the fallacies of Christianity in a public setting is a stone’s throw away from impossible, even though Christianity is coming apart at the seams. The New Atheism heavy hitters are only coming through because, well, they’re heavy hitters (this has been true at all times, not just now: just remember Robert Ingersoll and Carl Sagan).
I have implicitly assumed that criticizing people is already forbidden. While this is the case, it’s interesting to wonder why. Enosiophobic censorship is typically framed in terms of respect; it is always assumed that speaking negatively to an individual about their personal beliefs is incompatible with respecting that individual.
I suppose the term “respectful” is vague enough to validate such a line of reasoning. I don’t really see why we should be respectful to each other in public discussions, insofar as respect implies admiration or esteem, at least to me. Perhaps it would be more precise to talk about “consideration for other people’s feelings.” But that’s a personal standard. Is it considerate of other people’s feelings to be enablers of their self-delusion and mental suffering, which is what enosiophobic censorship often does?
These damaging false beliefs exist precariously, because it’s easy to come to doubt them; constant indoctrination is necessary for their flourishing. So, in a public arena, censorship must be used to silence opposition, lest the belief is threatened.
What about consideration for the critic’s feelings? For instance, it disgusts me to see people speak in favor of soldiers, prison guards, or policemen, or for such people to speak positively about their own jobs. Yet, if I speak out against it, I will most likely be censored. Your feelings matter if you hold a mainstream opinion, but they don’t matter if you hold a non-mainstream opinion.
Hence the major problem with enosiophobia, which is that it actually ends up being a double standard. Enosiophobic censorship is really a form of criticism of non-mainstream beliefs, and the social role of enosiophobia is to suppress those beliefs and to protect the more fragile of the mainstream beliefs.
This is not to say that all mainstream beliefs are fragile. Some are actually very robust, like the belief that the Earth is round (exposure to the Flat Earth Society forum doesn’t really convert anyone). But things like religion, patriotism, sexism, racism, and so on, are pretty fragile, because they must be constantly reinforced. But the one thing they have in common is that they are all within the margins of discourse (depending on the public arena, of course: on an atheist forum, religion would be less likely to be accepted by the local discourse), while censored positions are not.
This is why it’s extremely difficult to argue for the Prime Directive on any public forum. It’s just not a mainstream position, and it goes against many mainstream positions, like religions, most political ideologies, and natalism. There is the sheer difficulty of having to explain one’s position extensively and being held as suspect, while no one else has that same burden since their ideas are well understood. But most importantly, to criticize someone’s religion, political ideology, or loyalty to natalist delusions, is equated as attacking them personally, even if you’re not actually attacking them personally. This makes it near-impossible to argue in these areas unless you are in a place dedicated to open and uncensored debate, or dedicated to some aspect of the Prime Directive.
Criticism is good. Critical thinking is a necessary skill for life. Social progress is vital. I don’t know why anyone would seriously try to argue the opposite. To promote ignoring evil instead of speaking up is an evil ideology. Positive thought leads us to disaster: when people are no longer permitted to criticize plans of action, those plans cannot be corrected in time before they wreak havoc with innocent people’s livelihoods and lives. Of course, people agree with all this… in theory, until you criticize some of their beliefs. Then the aggression comes out.
I think this probably has always been true, but the Internet shortens the cycle between criticism and disapproval or ostracism. To quote Eric Schiller from the blog Beyond Growth:
This surplus of distraction and the compulsive nature of human interaction with social media compares very well with the fears that Huxley portrayed in A Brave New World about a society tranquilized by pure pleasure. When criticism comes up especially within the area of personal development, the response is often the suggestion to go enjoy oneself with some other distraction, instead of specifically looking at issues and problems that occur within the system. Thus when marketing, social media, and positive thinking are combined, the result is a wide-spread authoritarian control of ideas within the social network. The most acceptable ideas are those who allow people or corporations to profit via marketing, and by extension the great network of supporting notions of this ideology. This directly contradicts the common ideology of what social media means to the internet, people often rave about how it allows us so much more freedom than we had before, however I believe this to be a simple myth of the system.
Some people, coming to this conclusion, think that they’ll be able to keep criticizing by adopting a conciliating attitude and being as nice as they can to those they criticize. I don’t think this is a good strategy. To appease people will always involve lying about your beliefs; I don’t think it’s possible to be truthful and try to please people at the same time. And if your opponents are doing something you consider to be grossly unethical, then it’s absolutely impossible to tell the truth and appease them at the same time (anti-war protestors trying to appease a bunch of soldiers would just get beaten up). All you’d end up doing is sheltering their delusion that they are doing something commendable.