Original positing: July 14, 2007

What Is Frictophobia?

by Theodore Plantinga

Frictophobia is a website devoted to social philosophy in general, and more specifically to a certain social problem, namely, the desire on the part of many people to avoid social friction at all costs. Frictophobes deny that there is any need for friction in human relations: some of them would like to legislate friction out of existence. In this regard they are utopians. Their enemies are the frictophiles -- people who seem to take pleasure in the heat that is generated when people air significant disagreements. Most people fall somewhere in between the two camps, but without having thought much about the issue.

During my career as a philosopher I have specialized in a few areas, one of which is philosophy of religion. In the course I teach in this area, I invite students to engage in religious argumentation exercises in class. These exercises are a cross between traditional apologetics and what old-fashioned folks would call polemics ("polemos" is Greek for battle). I call these exercises "apolomics." Students find them challenging and entertaining. I believe that participating in this class helps students keep frictophobia at bay, although a student will occasionally drop the course for specifically frictophobic reasons. I try to teach the students to take issue with one another while keeping a smile on their face.

The form of frictophobia that most concerns me is rooted in the autonomy philosophy we find in Humanistic circles. If each human being is autonomous and is -- by philosophical definition -- perfectly all right just as he is, he is not subject to criticism. Just as the customer is always right, according to some marketing experts, so each human being is always right and is not to be taken to task, or prodded, nor should he have his feathers ruffled. No value judgments, please! I just gotta be me!

One manifestation of this form of frictophobia is the misuse sometimes made of sexual harassment policies within institutions. The phenomenon of sexual harassment disputes is an interest of mine and gets discussed on this website.

It has long been a belief of mine that pure autonomy thinking as we find it in some forms of Humanism rules out marriage. The early philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre, especially as articulated in "Existentialism Is a Humanism," seems to me to rule out the spirit of accommodation and of mutual censure necessary for a healthy marriage. I point out to students that although Sartre was involved in a love relationship with a powerful and interesting woman (Simone de Beauvoir), he never married her. Marriage as such is therefore a theme or topic within this website. Can the growth of autonomy thinking in our society leave enough room for marriage to flourish? I doubt it. Is marriage fading away? Is it only for a select minority?

To be married, one must accept the reality of a degree of friction in one's day-to-day social life and develop ways of coping with friction. To be well married, one must acknowledge that criticism plays a fundamental and positive role in human affairs: man is the creature who criticizes and can be criticized. And while much criticism is unwelcome and can be hard to endure, criticism at its best is grounded in divine norms. We as human beings do not sense and apply the norms for our conduct in splendid isolation; this task is approached communally. Therefore I need my fellow human beings to criticize me in a spirit of love and to call me to account.

One of the features of this website is short indicators of what the great philosophers had to say about the theme of friction (whether they use the term or not) in human relations. It is Ortega y Gasset, in particular, who has inspired me in terms of the thinking I will lay out here, but a number others will come up for brief discussion as well. [END]

Click here to return to the Frictophobia home page.

This website is maintained by Ed Plantinga.

Email: [email protected]