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Sometimes it’s hard to avoid sounding nasty in English.

August 25, 2011

This came up in yet another post I’m working on, so I thought I would turn some explanation into a short post easily linked back to. It will undoubtedly keep coming up.

In a previous post, I explained the choice of “nutball” to describe the kind of person who might seemingly randomly fixate on someone to harass and even track them down offline:

I use this term under pretty much the same standards Violet Socks describes:

“Nutjob” is not a clinical diagnosis. (“Paranoia” is, by the way. So not sure why you think that’s better.)

The problem is that there isn’t really a discrete set of terms to describe, on the one hand, mentally ill people with clinical disorders, as opposed to people out there in the world who have completely bizarre ideas. The language just doesn’t exist; there aren’t two separate vocabularies.

I personally think “nutjob” is an excellent choice to describe people of the latter type, since it is most certainly not a clinical term and never has been.

So is “nutball” or “fruitcake”.  See also nicki’s On identifying a “nut-case”. The main problem, IMO, is the conflation here, having been considered “crazy” enough myself. (And I am not using this sort of term to indicate that someone basically deserves no respect whatsoever, just that I find the ideas they are communicating very odd, disrespectful, and possibly conducive to violent behavior.) Trying to talk about certain topics with the built-up associations in English is really very difficult without using some kind of term with classist or disablist derivation or connotations, at the very least. 😐 Inequality from the ground up –> linguistic dysphoria, indeed.

It’s still not good, but it’s sometimes hard to come up with an understandable term that does not insult whole unintended groups of people.

Very similar applies to how I’ve been using “xenophobia”. (The prevalence of which, indeed, is pretty well demonstrated by just that kind of conflation. :-|)

Though I have been using that word as an umbrella term for lots of manifestations of dissonance and intolerance, Emily Emily Emily offers some excellent points here: . I have been trying to call specific components by better descriptions than “homophobia”, and so on, but just can’t think of a term that carries the same inclusive connotations as “xenophobia”. While there is some fear based on the dissonance of reality just not matching with your constructed worldview in some way, it does have a lot more (learned) bigotry and hatred than “true phobia” involved.  And “irrational” fear is not an excuse for lashing out against someone who is making you uncomfortable and abusing them.

It is a learned set of behavior and attitudes, and can be unlearned or at least replaced with a less harmful set.

I could also point out similarities to “narcissistic rage“–which I did grow up around, and also developed some, erm, interesting stress reactions in response to:

Narcissists hate being challenged. Because they’re such superior, perfect people, how dare you, a mere nobody, challenge them in any way?

This is why Narcissists react out of all proportion to the smallest slight, or perceived slight. Or even, to the slightest request for better treatment…

Any challenge threatens their wellbeing. Their persona is so fragile that it cannot withstand any challenge whatsoever. This is why they go on the attack so viciously. They really are fighting for their life, or it feels like it to them…

There are no limits to what they’ll do or say in the throes of this rage.  They’ll eviserate your personality, your very Self. It’s like soul-annihilation. It’s so destructive and vicious. It’s a self-esteem destroyer.

Sometimes this Narcissistic Rage can turn physical, but even if it remains at being verbal, it’s terrifying.

IME, that particular more personal manifestation relies heavily on xenophobia, and interacts in some pretty horrible ways with more socially acceptable “threatened culture-dependent worldview” versions of xenophobia. When you are taking any disagreement or, indeed, people living their lives in ways other than you are living yours as a personal criticism and threat–interpreting this as other people casting you as Bad, Wrong, and possibly Crazy just by having different opinions and traits from those you want to see yourself as having–you are also liable to use this as an excuse to declare other people all of these negative, frightening things and behave abusively toward them. And are likely to apply this to the same groups of Others as the average just plain bigot. There are a lot of similarities and overlap in behavior and motivations, whatever the ultimate cause. But, indeed, I have some very serious problems with the way this gets framed, as well.

And, indeed, I’d include PTSD in that category, while having very little idea of what else to call it that’s readily understood. The actual “disorder” is in the person(s) who have treated you in such a way as to set up adaptive stress responses.

I do think this kind of framing causes people additional problems in understanding what’s going on with their own lives, besides affecting how they respond to other people, in a very nastily recursive way.

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