Sensibilities and sense

I’ve been having a long and interesting discussion with Jean about sensitivities and what one should defer to and how to figure that out.

I do think there’s a prima facie duty to defer to other people’s sensibilities. “Prima facie” means–at first glance. So the rule isn’t absolute, but it’s always in play. Sometimes a violation is “worth it” and sometimes a violation isn’t. Contrary to what Donohue evidently thinks, every transgression isn’t worth a big fuss.

After a lot of words and a lot of consideration, I’ve ended up (for the moment anyway) still fundamentally suspicious of the whole idea, albeit with exceptions for sensibilities that really do matter – around death, mourning, objects with sentimental value, that kind of thing. Beyond that, I think in general people’s sensibilities have to be judged on their merits and so shouldn’t really start with the benefit of the doubt. Harmless sensibilities can be handled with care, but then we nearly all agree with that anyway, so that doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. Other kinds of sensibilities just have to settle for whatever handling they deserve because of what they are. Lots of people are very sensitive about other races, about women running around unsupervised, about blasphemy, about menstrual blood, about all kinds of things. I don’t think such sensitivities get to start from a position of extra deference merely because they are sensitivities.

What do you think, Linda?

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