Metathesiophobia

Yes. “Metathesiophobia” is a word. It means “fear of change”. There’s also “chronophobia,” or “fear of time”, which might be a related phobia, or perhaps the same phobia. I came across these curiosities on a peculiar website called “The Phobia List”. As you can see from the list, there appears to be a hell of a lot of things for human beings to be phobic or anxious about.

Apparently, metathesiophobia is derived from the word “metathesis“, Greek for “transposition”, and having somewhat the meaning of “put in a different order”, or a dis-order. The term is more commonly used in linguistics to describe the re-arrangement (or de-rangement) of phonemes (sound units) in a word.

The word therefore provides a clue to its interpretation as belonging to a more general fear or root anxiety about disorder and disorderliness. In that case, many of the distinct and potential phobias in the phobia list are the same anxiety or Angst simply attached to different objects, which objects come to suggest, or symbolise, the same meaning — dread of time and change; anxiety about the messiness, impermanence, and transience of life.

Phobia is simply the other face of Angst. Angst is the special term used to describe an objectless fear — anxiety or the sense of dread — about living. Of course, paradoxically, behind Angst lies not the dread of life, but the fear of dying, because here, too, the principle of coincidentia oppositorum reigns supreme. Living and dying are the same process, are they not?

Metathesiophobia“, or fear of change, is a real phobia, nonetheless. Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, for example, more or less addresses some aspect of mass anxiety about time and change and a yearning for permanence (absolutes). The general fear of the unfamiliar, the strange, and the unknown, even of the stranger (xenophobia), is an ancient fear characteristic of the conservative mood and attitude. The conservative mood expresses itself as a preference for the familiar, of loyalty to the “tried and true” and attachment to “the natural order of things” (even of phonemes!), of “propriety”, against what it sees as “reckless experimentation” or adventurism that might upset the apple-cart. An aversion — even abhorrence — of innovation and novelty, of time and change processes, can even become an ultra-reactionary fear of the future and nostalgia for a by-gone age and for “absolutes” — the certain, the permanent, the familiar, a comforting predictability. It also accounts for the ultra-conservative antipathy towards theories of evolution as well as revolution.

Unfortunately, life and time are not kind to the conservative. “Time makes hypocrites of us all” is especially true of the conservative, and is especially true in times of rapid change. Nostalgia for the by-gone, the absolute and desire for permanence in a world of time can become pathologically phobic, a form of mental illness.

During the Age of the Church, “innovation” was deemed a sin. By “innovation” was typically meant doctrinal innovation in interpreting the Gospels. “Dogma” (or doctrine) established propriety — the proper and inviolate order of things. “Innovation” meant “heresy” and threatened change and change was disorderly, but this loathing for novelty often extended into change and invention in other, even all, areas of social life.

Anathema [accursed or excommunicate] be the man who invents a weapon that kills at a distance” was a decree of the Church, and would seem to be a truly humane regulation of warfare and the act of “killing at a distance” as a prohibition against the mechanisation and dehumanisation of war by the invention of missiles. In fact, it was an attempt to ban the crossbow which leveled the field between the foot-soldier and the mounted, armoured knight. After all, spears, javelins, ballistae, and arrows are missiles, and were already weapons that killed from a distance. Only, they weren’t very effective against a mounted cavalry of armoured knights. The crossbow was armour-piercing, and made armour anachronistic, soon followed by gunpowder which made castles anachronistic, too. In fact, the crossbow and gunpowder made the entire aristocratic, feudal order anachronistic. So, the injunction against innovation in missile warfare was quite hypocritical, having less to do with spiritual values (although that was the apparent pretense) than in preserving the political status quo.

An Early Tank

An Early Tank

Of course, it is common to associate the invention of the printing press and gunpowder with the destruction of the Old Order and the emergence of the Modern Age, especially of liberal democracy. We also have this “innovation” in social relations in the form of “the Novel” — this “new” thing. It seems hard to determine when “novel” (this “new” thing) was used to describe an innovation in the arts, but it is often associated with Cervantes’ Don Quixote. And what does Don Quixote represent but a merciless mockery of a decadent, pessimistic, and anachronistic conservative aristocratic order by the ascendent, literate, optimistic liberal bourgeoisie?

The real tension here between “conservative” and “liberal” (or progressive, or revolutionary) is, of course, the conflict of times — past and future, old and new, origin or destination, permanence and change. One might even say it is a conflict between the root and the flower. One could also say it is a conflict between renovation and innovation.

A “house” is a very suggestive metaphor for an Era or an Age. Whether we chose to renovate the old or build a new one from scratch is the question of whether the foundation is solid. If the foundation is not solid or stable, renovation is a self-defeating squandering of resources, for the house will collapse when the foundation crumbles, and all the efforts of conserving it will be for nought. In that case, nostalgia for the old is a great folly.  There’s an old saying about that — one does not put new wine in old wineskins. On the other hand, if the foundations are unsound, then the house must be demolished and new foundations laid. That may appear as revolutionary nihilism to the nostalgic.

Right now, our “post-modern” interregnum is an argument about whether the foundations of the Modern Era (we could call it also Newtonian-Cartesian “Frame of the World” as it was called) are sound or unsound. The many phobias and anxieties of the present are rooted in a suspicion that perhaps the foundations are not as sound as was believed, and to conservatives that looks like (gasp!) “relativism”. Some are arguing instead for renovation, others for a radical innovation — a need, given the weakness of the foundations, to rebuild from the ground up.

And it’s true. It would be an enormous undertaking to build from the ground up. But that’s not an argument against it, particularly if the foundations were always insecure and unstable to begin with.

Of course, by “foundations” I’m referring to the roots of the “consciousness structure” that we more or less call “identity”, and which others might call “the seat of the soul”. Anxiety about the stability of identity (“order”) is the question of the stability of the foundations or framework. Metathesiophobia is anxiety about the doubtful stability of the foundations. The more in doubt they appear, the more the “absolutes” are insisted upon.

For Jean Gebser, the true foundation of it all is “the ever-present origin” — the beginningless beginning, which, as noted before, corresponds to the Heraclitean Logos. All things abide in the Logos, and the Logos abides in all things.

 

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