Heaven forfend that books should offend. So I knew that publishers have taken to hiring sensitivity readers. What I didn’t know, but should have guessed, is just how sensitive these sensitivity readers take readers to be. I could regale you with some of the more egregious examples my research assistant has been coming across. But that would just be churlish. Suffice it to say it’s too bad this service was unavailable back in the day. The Merchant of Venice, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, To Kill a Mockingbird, the Old and New Testaments, the entire opus of J.R. Tolkein and of J.K. Rowling … None would have passed muster, at least as unredacted. Jews, blacks, victims of rape … Are there no limits to the calumny that’s been allowed to drip from these venomous pens?!
But this is an old saw. Or rather a new one, insofar as sensitivity is clearly a very recent phenomenon. Rather I want to focus on the implications ‘going forward’ for my own discipline, philosophy. Because surely there can be nothing more offensive than critiquing the core concepts by which we manoeuvre out way through the world, like the moral authority of God, or the justification of induction. So I think the editors of our journals should hire sensitivity readers to ensure no reader is offended by these scurrilous critiques. And I’m guessing the same should hold for every other discipline as well.
I’m trying to picture an op-ed sufficiently milk toast that it couldn’t offend a fly. “I think we should all love one another.” No, because there are people with congenital affective disorder. Then how ‘bout “It’s a beautiful day.”? No, because this only reminds blind people of what they can’t see.
John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, Mao’s “Let a hundred flowers bloom!” They all have to go. “O brave new world, that has such people in’t.” The Tempest, Act 5, Scene 1. It cannot come too quickly.