An era of weaponized sensitivity

In a NY Times op-ed Lionel Shriver frames the moral panic over her Brisbane Writers Festival talk as a matter of conformity.

Viewing the world and the self through the prism of advantaged and disadvantaged groups, the identity-politics movement — in which behavior like huffing out of speeches and stirring up online mobs is par for the course — is an assertion of generational power. Among milliennials and those coming of age behind them, the race is on to see who can be more righteous and aggrieved — who can replace the boring old civil rights generation with a spikier brand.

When I was growing up in the ’60s and early ’70s, conservatives were the enforcers of conformity. It was the right that was suspicious, sniffing out Communists and scrutinizing public figures for signs of sedition.

Nah. That’s not right. There was plenty of sniffing out then too. There was plenty of disagreement and orthodoxy-enforcement. And if you jump back to the previous heyday of the left, the 30s, they fought like cats in a sack.

There may be more of it now, it may be more obsessive and nitpicky, there may be more posturing, but the enforcement of conformity itself is far from new. It couldn’t be, really, because any political position needs some conformity, or else how could it be a position?

I’m dismayed by the radical left’s ever-growing list of dos and don’ts — by its impulse to control, to instill self-censorship as well as to promote real censorship, and to deploy sensitivity as an excuse to be brutally insensitive to any perceived enemy. There are many people who see these frenzies about cultural appropriation, trigger warnings, micro-aggressions and safe spaces as overtly crazy.

Cue a frenzy about her ableism and demonization of the mentally unwell.

I think she’s overgeneralizing a little, but I also agree with her that for instance it should have been possible to disagree with her talk, or with parts of it, without making a big show-offy moral performance of it. Her talk was not so horrifying that it needed anyone stalking out stamping her feet noisily. It was not so horrifying that it required two angry women to accost her and call her “racist” and “a disgrace” the next day. We should be able to disagree without brawling.

In an era of weaponized sensitivity, participation in public discourse is growing so perilous, so fraught with the danger of being caught out for using the wrong word or failing to uphold the latest orthodoxy in relation to disability, sexual orientation, economic class, race or ethnicity, that many are apt to bow out. Perhaps intimidating their elders into silence is the intention of the identity-politics cabal…

Oh there’s no perhaps about it. Of course that’s their intention, and they say so loudly and often. We’re all stupid and rotted in the brain, so we need to fuck right off.

And in conclusion –

Protecting freedom of speech involves protecting the voices of people with whom you may violently disagree. In my youth, liberals would defend the right of neo-Nazis to march down Main Street. I cannot imagine anyone on the left making that case today.

Goodness she does like to overgeneralize. It’s not the case that 40 years ago all liberals, and certainly not all lefties (she doesn’t distinguish between them enough), would defend the right of neo-Nazis to march down Main Street. Some would, others wouldn’t. It’s the same today. The ACLU would (and did), other organizations wouldn’t. There are arguments either way.

But all that aside – I think she’s right that the fuss about her talk was grotesquely out of proportion.

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