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Written April 25, 2018

A whiff of pollen, or a taste of peanut, will trigger some people's allergies.

An expression of anger, or a mention of violence, will trigger some people's post-traumatic stress disorders.

We need to accomodate these special situations, of course.

But allergies and PTSD's are becoming more prevalent in our modern world.  Can we reverse the trend?

It seems counterintuitive, but maybe people will be less hypersensitive if we deliberately expose them to these triggers when they're young.

In 1796, Edward Jenner proved that inoculating humans with the cowpox virus would make them resistant to human smallpox.  He called this “vaccination.”

A psychologist treating a patient with a phobia may use “systematic desensitization,” incrementally confronting the patient with the frightening situation.  He slowly becomes accustomed to it until it's no longer scary.

In 1989, David Strachan proposed the “hygiene hypothesis,” suggesting that modern kids grow up in environments that have become too sanitized.  They don't encounter enough dirt and bacteria, which leaves their immune systems ready to overreact to common substances that should be harmless to them.

There's now an experimental cure for peanut allergies, training children to tolerate the nuts by giving them small but increasing doses of peanut protein with probiotics.

In 1993, Bill Maher proclaimed that our public discourse has likewise become too sanitized, for fear of causing offense.  He started a TV talk show he called “Politically Incorrect.”  Asked to define PC, or Political Correctness, he called it the elevation of sensitivity over truth.

Certain thoughts and words are considered offensive.

If they're deliberately used to cause offense — that's hateful.

But they're not always spoken out of spite, of course.  For example, hip-hop artists are allowed to refer to each other with the n-word and to their women with the b-word.

Some people don't want to hear some things under any circumstance.  Therefore, they refuse to listen.

On his HBO show last week, Maher played a clip of Dr. Jordan B. Peterson saying, “In order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive.”  Dr. Peterson then came on as a guest and explained, in part:

“Most of the time when you're discussing something that needs to be discussed, everybody's actually rather upset about it.  The probability that you're not going to offend each other is zero.

“When you think, you're going to offend people.  And so, what, are we not going to think?  That seems like a bad idea.

“You can pretty much blame it on the universities.  There was an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week that just devastated the faculties of education, taking them to task for low academic standards, and for possession by ideology, and for basically indoctrinating people in a cult-like manner and playing identity politics and group identity.  It's manifesting itself in a particularly appalling manner in the increasing unwillingness of comedians, for example, to go on university campuses to be funny.”

“I'm one of them,” said Maher.  “I call these people emotional hemophiliacs.  It's like the least little thing will make them start to bleed.  Their answer is to make all of us wear bubble wrap, so nothing we ever do makes them have a moment of discomfort.”

Peterson responded, “There's also this idea that the way to make people secure is to protect them from things that they don't want to encounter.  There isn't a clinician in the country who's worth his or her salt that would ever make that claim.  First of all, it's hard to make people safe, because life is seriously not safe.  The way that you make people resilient is by exposing them to things that they're afraid of and that make them uncomfortable.  Voluntarily, but you use exposure.  If you over-coddle people, if you protect them from everything that's sharp, you make them dull and stupid and narcissistic, and it's a really bad idea.”



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