Doxaphobia and its foolish pretenders
So far as I know, “doxaphobia” is a neologism traceable to me. At least I haven’t seen it used elsewhere.
And what is doxaphobia, you ask?
Well first off, don’t confuse it with “doxophobia” which is the fear of expressing one’s opinion. However, doxaphobia is a kissing cousin of doxophobia. While the latter is the fear of sharing opinions, the former is the fear of holding opinions. You see, the Greek word “doxa” refers to a common or widely held belief. And doxaphobia is the fear of holding beliefs.
As you can see, I rank doxaphobia as a phobia, that is, a clinical anxiety disorder. It is a disorder because this is not the way people are supposed to be. There is a reasonable fear of dogs, but the cynophobe may shake at the sight of a chihuahua. There is a reasonable fear of heights, but the acrophobe may hyperventilate on a step ladder. There is also a reasonable fear of belief. A man may feel angst that he could be wrong in the beliefs he holds about another person, for example. (Should I believe I can trust him? That he’s a stand-up guy?) But there are limits. For example, he doesn’t worry that the other person exists. Or at least he shouldn’t.
Enter doxaphobia. The doxaphobe worries not just that he might be mistaken in his beliefs in this other person. He even worries that he might be mistaken in believing this other person exists. Yeah, I’m serious. Come over here and let’s take a look.
Don’ t look at me like I’m crazy. What if the other person is a robot? What if the other person is a character in a dream? What if the other person doesn’t exist? What if everything is a dream? Help me! What do I do?
The doxaphobe reaches out for a line to save him lest he drown. And the line he grasps firmly is doubt.
Ahh yes, I shall doubt that the other person exists. After all, If I never believed the person existed to begin with, I wouldn’t be wrong if it turns out the person didn’t exist. A no-risk strategy. Brilliant!
And so the doxaphobe witholds belief in the existence of other people for fear that they might not exist.
It’s not as crazy as I you might think. I can’t stand the thought of being wrong, you know. I can’t bear the thought of believing p and it being the case that not-p.
But wait doxaphobe. What about the external world?
What about it?
Well if the person might be a dream, might the external world be a dream as well? Might it be the case that the external world doesn’t exist at all?
I suppose it might. I suppose I could be wrong… I suppose I shall not believe in the external world either.
But wait doxaphobe, what about yourself?
What about me?
Do you exist?
Of course I exist! Of that much I surely can’t be wrong. After all, I’m thinking.
Not so fast doxaphobe. Are you thinking? Or are there just thoughts? Do thoughts need a thinker? Can you be sure?
Ahh, think you’ll outsmart me, do you? Well I have an answer. I’ll withold belief in myself! “I” may indeed by merely the content of some thoughts. So I shall remove the thought that I exist.
You see dear reader, the sorry lot of the doxaphobe? Poor chap, doubting everything. And look at him now, writing desperately on that fancy stationary, and talking to himself as he does:
Doubt, it is the adult attitude to truth. Skepticism. Be a skeptic. I am a skeptic. Not that I believe I exist of course, but I shall doubt. Doubt it all. Then I won’t be wrong. Because nobody should believe p when it might be the case that not-p.
Poor doxaphobe filled the pages of his fancy stationary with such musings. Then one day he left the window open and they blew out the window and over the landscape. Day after day passerby would find sheets that trumpeted the value of absolute, unqualified doubt, with nary a kind word for the benefits of belief.
Most people read the pages with brows furrowed, laughed, and were on their way. After all, the reasonable person finds a place for belief along with doubt.
But others were strangely enamored by the musings of the poor doxaphobe. For some reason it seemed to them that these ramblings made good sense. They seemed sophisticated, exotic, and somehow even scientific. And so these folk too began to sing the praises of unrestricted doubt. Meanwhile all references to “belief” were consigned to the ignoble realm of “faith”.
Mind you, the vast majority of these individuals were not themselves true doxaphobes. Rather, they were mere inconsequential dabblers. They naively adopted the language of doubt and used it to their advantage. Whenever there was a particular thing they wanted to criticize — a holy text, a charismatic leader, a questionable policy — they would invoke the unrestrained language of the doxaphobe. Doubt! Doubt! Always Doubt! Skepticism is the way to truth!
And yet, these folk would keep right on believing in other people and the external world and their accountant and their favorite sports team and whatever else they happened to fancy.
They were like meat eaters who happened to become “vegetarians” every time haggis was on the menu.