November 13, 2019

Hypersensitivity Revisited

As I noted several years ago, the United States has been suffering from an epidemic of hypersensitivity. Unfortunately, the problem seems to be growing worse. Manifestations can be found in schools, the workplace, at home, and in virtually every newscast. Symptoms include an uncontrollable urge to take offense at all manner of people and things and to elevate relatively trivial matters to the level of catastrophe.

Visit a park or a government building anywhere in the country and you’ll likely find a group waving petitions and chanting epithets at a statue that has been minding its own business and serving as a pigeon roost for a century or more. Their message is always the same—that the person represented in the statue was a villain who didn’t didn’t deserve to be honored.

That has been the fate of statues honoring many military heroes, among them Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, distinguished graduates of West Point who went on to become famous generals but happened to fight on the Confederate side of the Civil War. The hypersensitive give no thought to the challenges those men faced nor do they ask whether despite whatever faults they had, they behaved honorably.

Even more foolish is the view of the hypersensitive individuals who demand the demolition of the Mount Rushmore monument in South Dakota, which features the likenesses of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt. It doesn’t matter that all four individuals made singular contributions to the nation. The fact that they did not apply cultural lessons that were learned a century or more AFTER they lived is sufficient for the hypersensitive to dishonor them.

Once they gained public attention, the hypersensitives have expanded their assaults on people once considered heroes and demanded that their names be removed from public view. If a town has a Thomas Jefferson School or a Washington Street or a Jackson park, it is on their list of changes to be made.

Arguably the most despised former hero has been Christopher Columbus, who at one time was so revered that many people supported naming our country Columbia in his honor. Once it was learned that he possessed vices as well as virtues, however, he was stripped of all honors.

More recently, the hypersensitives have broadened their campaign from reviling the dead to reviling the living. And when they began to run out of major offenses to protest, they created a new category—Microaggressions—an apt designation that refers to offenses so slight that it takes a microscope to detect them. (For me, the term recalls the times, many years ago, when I’d be driving my brood somewhere and hearing one scream from the back seat that he was going to kill his brother because “he looked at me.”)

It is not uncommon in these times for hypersensitives to deny others entry to lecture halls when they don’t approve of the presentations or speakers, or even to physically attack the speakers because they “don’t deserve to speak”!

It seems all that is necessary to arouse hypersensitives’ ire is to disagree with them and have the temerity to express that disagreement. In some cases, it is not only ideas that are opposed but particular words and phrases as well. Many colleges forbid “crazy,” “elderly,” “America is a melting pot,” “I believe the most qualified person should get the job,” and “There is only one race, the human race.”

Some campuses provide lists (*) of banned words together with approved substitutes. For example: “dysfunctional family” instead of “broken home,” “same gender loving” instead of “homosexual,” “non discretionary fragrance” instead of body odor,” “ethically disoriented” for “dishonest,” “chemically inconvenienced” for “drunk,” “rain forest “ for “jungle,” “involuntarily leisured” for “unemployed,” “nonspecifically destinationed individual” for “vagrant,” and “differently logical” for “wrong.”

How can the phenomenon of hypersensitivity be explained? Perhaps there is no definitive answer to this question, but I believe the following are possible causes:

  • For two or three generations, American youth have been been told to feel good about themselves and have discovered that when their behavior gives them little justification for that feeling, they can achieve a similar one by complaining about others’ faults.
  • The same generations have been persuaded that they have innumerable personal rights but no personal responsibilities. As a result, they sincerely believe that fairness and a generous spirit are something they are supremely entitled to receive but not required to offer to others.
  • They were also led to believe that if they praise “diversity” and “tolerance” in every second sentence and condemn “divisiveness” and “intolerance” in every third sentence, others will ignore their incivility.

Though highly contagious, hypersensitivity is easily cured. One need only exercise a modicum of self-control, broaden his or her perspective, and get a life.

Note: The above list (*) was compiled in the U.K. rather than in the U.S. and I suspect a few of the entries may be invented; nevertheless, they serve to illustrate the spirit of political correctness.

Copyright © 2019 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero

VINCENT RYAN RUGGIERO, M.A., is Professor of Humanities Emeritus, State University of New York, Delhi College. Prior to his twenty-nine year career in education, he was a social caseworker and an industrial engineer. The author of twenty-one books, his trade books include Warning: Nonsense Is Destroying America and The Practice of Loving Kindness. His textbooks include The Art of Thinking and Beyond Feelings, both in 10th editions and available in Chinese as well as English, Thinking Critically About Ethical Issues, and A Guide to Sociological Thinking. His latest book, Corrupted Culture: Rediscovering America's Enduring Principles, Values, and Common Sense, is available at Amazon and in bookstores. Professor Ruggiero is internationally recognized as one of the pioneers of the Critical Thinking movement in education. Earlier in his career, he published essays in a variety of magazines and journals, including America, Catholic Mind, The Sign, The Lamp, and Catholic World.

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Written by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero
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