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11 August 2005 @ 11:53 am
 
This morning i am wondering about sensitivity, and whether it is a good thing or a bad thing.

Being "too sensitive" can make it difficult or impossible to operate in society. I've gone through phases in my life where i was so sensitive i had to restrict what news, television, and movies i was exposed to. During those phases i felt as though i had a better understanding of what was going on the the world around me. But that understanding came at the price of being more affected by what it was that i was perceiving.

It's natural to turn to the "cruelty" of nature and suggest that being sensitive is a vice or decadence in a world where all around us predators are eating prey and survival favors the fittest. The hole in that argument though is that we as "observers" of "nature" view the world through the lens of our cultural values and so it is difficult to know how "cruel" nature truly is and how much of that is anthropomorphizing. This view of nature overlooks a large amount of cooperation that goes on which belies the "selfish gene" view. For example, animals will often adopt the orphaned young of another species.

A key point that i want to focus on is the popular notion that people have a choice about how sensitive they are. People who are "too sensitive" are blamed for taking offense or being hurt as if they can control these reactions. A modern strategy for coping with sensitivity is medicating anyone who complains -- medicalizing sensitivity as if it were a physical abrogation.

What this attitude really indicates is the degree to which people are willing and/or able to use strategies designed to desensitize themselves. Our culture bears many memetic stratgies for doing this: the conscious censor, deprecating and dehumanizing "humor", religious and philosophical ideologies that lend support to dehumanization, conceptual "othering" of people directly invovled with oppression, language and "common sense" that normalizes and thus renders invisible certain unjust agendas. Those of us who can apply these strategies of self-censorship and modify our behavior accordingly are those who fare best in our cannibalistic society.

Lemma. The degree to which we have to desensitize ourselves just to function in society is directly indicative of the level of injustice in our society.

The strategies that i mentioned above would not be necessary if nature afforded most of us the right level of sensitivity. My belief is that most of us start out "overly sensitive" and are socialized to berate ourselves for it or edit it from our awareness using various strategies. We do this because it is what we must do to survive in a society that traumatizes and oppresses us.

Emancipation begins with sensitivity, with the rebirth of naive awareness that our existence in the society we have constructed is filled with suffering.

At the same time, each of us as afflicted members of our society might have no choice but to participate in desensitization to some degree just to keep up our own individual sanity. Is a "happy medium" possible?

crossposted to my journal and crossposted to kyriarchy