Ethical Training as Phobia Cultivation

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You’re probably not going to be a particularly good herpetologist if, like Indiana Jones, you’ve got a serious fear of snakes (ophidiophobia). Photo credit: Francis Fortin

There are phobias which preclude entire professions. For instance, it’s hard to be a good surgeon if you’ve got a serious fear of blood (haemophobia). As such, if you wanna be Gregory House when you grow up, you’re really gonna have to get over that fear of blood. Likewise, you’re probably not going to be a particularly good herpetologist if, like Indiana Jones, you’ve got a serious fear of snakes (ophidiophobia). The values inculcated by certain subcultures can preclude professions in a strikingly similar fashion. For instance, the Amish man from rural Pennsylvania and the Mennonite woman from rural Ontario who wanna be Navy SEALs are going to have to first overcome the Christian pacifism that’s been drummed into them from Day One. Likewise, a red-diaper baby, raised by hippie communists to believe that rich people are evil and property is theft, might find it hard to be a good investment banker.

Ethical education of any kind is, to some extent, about the concerted cultivation of phobias. When the phobias cultivated during your years of training dovetail nicely with your chosen vocation, all is well (e.g., the medieval knight who learns to fear a dishonorable death far more than he fears death will probably be a pretty bad-ass knight). Problems arise, however, when there’s a major mismatch between what the job requires and what they teach you in school. For instance, many of the PhDs I know developed a deep aversion to simplification when they were in grad school, and they refuse, as a consequence, to dumb things down for anyone. All to the contrary: they’re comprehensive and precise at all times, regardless of the context or the audience. As the great sociologist Max Weber made clear in Science as a Vocation (1918), this scholarly value system has much to recommend it. Sadly, however, it pretty much guarantees that you’re going to suck as a teacher and as a writer—not, I hasten to add, because you’re incapable of having an intelligent conversation with people outside of your narrowly-defined field, but because doing so makes you feel like you’re doing something wrong.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

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