I haven't been blogging much lately, one reason for which is that I haven't had much that I wanted to blog about. I have a draft of a post written about one of our students who appears to have committed suicide but it's a sensitive subject and I'm reluctant to say anything controversial publicly about it (and there's no point in saying something uncontroversial about it). That's one kind of chickening out: you see a cost to behaving a certain way and so choose not to do it.
Another kind is much less conscious. I tried to eat a tarantula once and dropped it as soon as I felt its leg hairs on my lip. I didn't decide or choose to drop it, I just chickened out. I failed to go through with what I had begun. More through disgust than fear, I suppose, but the two are pretty close in a case like this. Fear of creepy crawlies is in large part fear of what disgusts us.
And there's something analogous in cases of intellectual chickening out. For instance, take Nietzsche's "There are no facts, only interpretations." It doesn't take much thought to see that he cannot have meant this as a statement of fact. But how often is it presented as if it were a fact, and how often is it quoted in the problematic sense that it surely requires? I don't know, I have to admit, but I strongly suspect that it is most often treated unthinkingly as a bit of dogma. The alternative (for those who might want to quote it) is too unfamiliar, too uncomfortable. The difficult thing to do in cases like this is to go all the way, to follow through on the initial idea. And it's not difficult because of a consciously perceived problem but because it goes against intellectual habits. But if you're going to eat the spider you have to eat it hairs and all.