August is the month we get to welcome new full-time voices to the post calvin! Please welcome Jeffrey Peterson, who is taking over Lauren Harris’s spot. Jeffrey (‘17) ultimately settled on studying film and media studies and French, though food is his greatest passion. He lives in Grand Rapids and is trying to teach himself computer science so he can, among other things, cyberbully Elon Musk.
Almost every time I voiced to my parents that I was afraid of something when I was growing up, they would assure me that that thing was not real, not possible, or at least very unlikely. I can’t blame them for doing their job, but that didn’t always quell my fear.
I’m confident that I’m not alone in this—most people are afraid of weird, irrational things growing up, and a healthy dose of reality doesn’t always fix that.
If you look at pretty much any online dictionary definition of the word phobia, in fact, you will see that it is generally considered an irrational fear. It’s not necessarily a hard-and-fast denotation, but it’s something that we’ve come to understand: phobias are irrational.
That would imply then acrophobia is an irrational fear of heights and that arachnophobia is an irrational fear of spiders, for example. Truth be told, and maybe I’m biased because I suffer from both, I don’t think those fears are very irrational at all. Though most spiders are harmless to people, it’s better to be safe than sorry; our fear of them is rooted in evolutionary survival tactics. Following your instincts is not irrational. What would be irrational is ignoring your instincts and getting close enough to every spider to figure out whether it could kill you. You are alive today because your ancestors did not do that. Though our innate fear responses may fail to consider the whole picture, the nuances of a scenario, they activate in the name of our safety. Nothing irrational about that.
Most people who know me know in some combination that I am afraid of blood, heights, and spiders—all of these completely defensible. My greatest fear, however, I admit is deeply irrational. A true phobia.
Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy is not one of his more well-known or well-liked films (though I think it’s one of his best). It’s bizarre, unsettling, and difficult to follow. Just when you finally start to piece together exactly what the hell is going on, you get hit with a shocking twist ending that shatters any sort of understanding you may have assembled.
Except I totally saw it coming.
In the final scene leading up to unpredictable ending, I predicted, out loud, what was going to happen because it was so obvious to me. What’s the most twisted, shocking thing that could happen?
My single greatest, deepest fear is that my loved ones are secretly, or will turn into, giant spiders.
This is what I have nightmares about. This is what I worry about sometimes even when I am awake. Sometimes when I’m cuddling up with my dog or even my partner, my brain is like, “Oh shit, is this a giant spider?”
That is arachnophobia. The fact that it is ridiculous does not keep it from keeping me up at night. This is a true phobia as the dictionary defines. The rest of you can have a seat.
Interestingly enough, however, this definition of irrationality is not coded into the original Greek phobos. In Greek, phobos just generally means “fear.” Certainly, it can mean terror or anxiety, but it can also mean reverence. In Greek, one could use the word phobos as we might use the term God-fearing.
Now, this is not to say I revere spiders. This is not some revelation I had where I realized that spiders are just misunderstood and they’re just like me and they’re actually beautiful, fascinating creatures—that I was just afraid of the unknown.
First of all, I do not revere spiders. I hate them very much. Also, I do not misunderstand spiders. I actually know quite a lot about them. That which I do not know about spiders, I do not wish to know. For one thing, I don’t care. And for another, I’m obviously not going to Google anything related to spiders to find out.
What I find more fascinating than spiders is the fact that, sometime since the original Greek, we have decided this word phobia means “irrational,” yet we use it to describe pretty much all types of fear. I suppose one possible interpretation of that is that all fears are irrational, and maybe, as our parents told us, they need not be feared. But it’s in the very dictionaries most of us use day to day that phobias are both irrational and extreme—in other words, that irrational things can be extremely scary.
Maybe that’s what makes some things so scary. If they were realistic or even possible, they wouldn’t be so grotesque, so surreal, so nightmarish. Maybe only by being impossible can some things twist our minds to those places.
Or maybe I was right to be scared. Maybe my parents only told me giant spiders weren’t real so that I would let my guard down.
Jeffrey (‘17) ultimately settled on studying film and media studies and French, though food is his greatest passion. He lives in Grand Rapids and is trying to teach himself computer science so he can, among other things, cyberbully Elon Musk.