Maybe Xenophobia (Fear of the Stranger) Is Really Nostophilia (Love of the Home)

People who argue for their God, their sexual mores, their past, their family, their community often get branded as xenophobes but what they are I think is scared nostophiles.  They have an emotional attachment to home and view change and outsiders as threats.

When I have had my most conservative moments I was fighting an internal sense of panic — that what I loved was actually either going to be lost forever or, more frighteningly, had never been real at all, and I fought back against this fear.

What if the parents whose presence and smells (slightly burnt coffee for breakfast, damp leaves in autumn) were themselves anxious?  What if the feeling of familiarity was just fortuitous?  Scary thoughts because they meant my own ability to create a home for my children was vulnerable.

Fear of losing what we love leads to a blind rage against what we think can destroy what we love.  It is all the blinder because it is often a self-blinding; the fear that the more we learn the more fear we will have to undergo fosters, below the level of awareness, a hatred of learning anything new, because learning the new will cause more pain and more panic.

Obviously this sort of fear of the new, and hatred of thought, and hatred of self can have bad consequences for other people.  To give just one example — Heidegger’s hatred of Jews, whom he really should have loved: a weird bunch of particularistic people sticking to old ways.  And he would have loved Kabbalah.  But instead he thought of Jews as a creep frightening symbol of everything that threatened him: de-racination on two legs wearing a yarmulke.  (Or he pretended to in order to get promotions and be a big shot– who can judge someone else’s sincerity?)

Obviously the xenophobes and the nostophiles are the same people.  But rather than hectoring our friends for being xenophobes I would like us to all acknowledge that home and the past are worth loving but start a conversation about how to best preserve them.

Do racial and religious wars help preserve our home?  No.

In fact if we take a look at our childhood home we will find a lot of wonderful stuff that is inconsistent with a fear of the new and of others.  Curiosity and a desire to grow nad meet new people.

The goal is not to go back to our childhood home (which is impossible — because time marches on and we are adults).  The goal is to make this planet a home for everybody.


6 thoughts on “Maybe Xenophobia (Fear of the Stranger) Is Really Nostophilia (Love of the Home)

  1. Nicely argued, but I must disagree.

    We can prefer our own family, community, people, and culture without fearing or “raging” at those of other people. The “-phobia” suffix is normally used to dismiss opposing ideas as being based on blind emotion rather than on actual reasons, and thereby allow the speaker to avoid argument on the merits.

    Your second main point, “The goal is to make this planet a home for everybody,” is laudable and is widely believed by people of good will. That includes really heavy-duty geniuses such as John Stuart Mill, whose view that we should maximize the good of “everyone” is along the same lines. I would object (1) that such a broadly-defined goal is not possible even in principle, and (2) that we have a stronger duty to promote the welfare of our families, communities, et al than to others with whom we have no relationship. My opinion. YMMD.

  2. Susan says:

    G-d love you ELK. A wonderful post that I can understand. And from all my travels I can tell you absolutely that sometimes a stranger who you knew for 35 minutes was one of the best friends you ever had. And I can say also that being in your childhood home, your childhood town, among your childhood friends is grounding, but is different then when you were a child. Can’t wait to read the comments. Childhood’s are something we all have in common.

  3. Interesting angle, I’ll keep it in mind. Here’s a hypothesis – perhaps they are not so much nostophiles entirely but that by engaging the nostophile part of them, that part is encouraged to grow a little – and so slowly get toward edging out the xenophobe part of them. Possibly like that Umbunto (spelling) idea from a few posts back – engage the good part of the person and make that outgrow the bad parts

    (caveat: Subjective notion of good/bad, here)

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