Monday, October 29, 2007


το όπλο - to Hoplo (n) : first meaning was: "tool", "instrument"; later meaning was the tool of war = weapon

το όπλον - to Hoplon : (later generic use) tool of war, including all kind of weapons

Hoplophobia: the irrational and uncontrollable fear of instruments; based on "the idea that instruments possess a will of their own, apart from that of their user". As the inventor of the neologism put it: "The essence of the affliction is the belief that instruments cause acts."

The guy had an acerbic wit and was a source of many quotables. One of my favorites is "One of the notable aspects of the democratic process is that one need not know anything about a subject in order to pass laws about it." Does that sound familiar or does it?

Anyway, about hoplophobia. It had been invented to refer to a fear of weapons, and guns in particular; but it applies in equal measure to, say, the notion that James Dean's car was cursed or that computers have minds-of-their-own.

Hoplophobia is based on the notion of—and I'm making this one up here and now—Hoplanimus, the silly idea that an animus may possess/inhabit inanimate objects. The notion that this may be so has been revitalized—not just 'revived' because it's been around like forever, and merely sprung another sprout—in a pseudo-rational form in recent times through the advent of computers, which once were known as 'thinking machines'; and this has now assumed grotesque proportions in the notion that 'the Internet' may possess an animus of sorts. The whole notion is an unholy marriage of crass superstition belonging into truly 'dark' ages and equally crass and primitive...well, let me call it 'materialism', the kind which postulates that every sufficiently complex physical system may become possessed of an animus of sorts, and should therefore be treated as if it did; if not in terms of 'rights', than at least in terms of being very leery of what it might end up doing or being. Hence Matrix and Terminator and so on.

While it may well be that...
  • machines may well end up complex enough and in contexts that will endow them with animus-like qualities (though said animus will be so utterly strange to us that we'll have a hard time recognizing it, since we implicitly understand 'animation' in terms of what we are!)

  • humans, being biological machines, can lay no claim to a special status in the animus department (which would require a complete revamping of the animus concept itself)
...said animus is based on something very different than the mystery-substance inhabiting an object like a gun or a sword, to name just two of the 'weaponry' kind.

Failure to differentiate between the two is expressive, if nothing else, of a) a dismal lack of education in the science department in not just the ordinary man on the street but also those who really should know better, b) the pervasive desire of humans to see 'mystery' even in the most un-mysterious places, and c) the complete lack of correlation between 'education' and 'good sense'. For it appears to me that, counterintuitively, apparent 'education' and hoplophobia often go hand in hand.

But explaining the origins of hoplophobia doesn't make it go away. It is real enough. I've watched it in action first hand in a guy I know; this gut reaction to the presence of instruments whose only purpose, let's face it, is to kill. And killing isn't nice on the whole, though we tend to be selective about our ethics in that regard. Of course, some zealous Buddhists will try not to kill anything—but they are waging a battle they can not only never win, but are actually losing at every instant of their lives, since their very existence is contingent on the endless killing going on inside their bodies: vegetable and animal; either ingested, and if not that, at the very least bits of themselves.

Animism with regards to killing-instruments is probably invoked by a variety of impulses, whose exact nature depends on the hoplophobic individual. But the main one is probably the recognition--explicit or subtle and never-realized--that with the instrument comes the power of delivering death to other living creatures and in particular human beings. This is both, cause for weapons-fetishism ('hoplophilia'?) and hoplophopbia alike; plus a gazillion other strange and often bizarre behaviorisms, especially among those who are in positions of power of fellow human beings anyway, who are more often than not a pretty twisted bunch of

Hoplophophics and hoplophiliacs--just the other side of that coin, really--share a defect in character, which merely expresses itself in opposite ways, depending on what their otherwise disposition is. The ones fear what the weapon stirs up in them; the others revel in it. In either case it reveals a weakness, usually profound. In some instances, or maybe more than just 'some', it reveals potentially pathological tendencies. Either that or just a disposition toward fervor, like that evidenced by, say, gun-nuts and anti-gun-morons alike.

Weapons are what you make them, literally and figuratively. And a person's attitude toward being shown, as well as his behavior and actions upon being handed an instrument designed only to kill, will reveal more of his 'deep' character than hours of endless talk, no matter how probing.

By the way, and in terms of a illustration that you can take as you like, both the 'weapons' depicted above are fakes. The sword is a blunt alloy practice iaito and the gun is an imitation BB gun for plastic pellets. They both can hurt you, but so can a plastic spoon.

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