This ‘heterotopic discourse’ makes possible far more spirited challenges to opposing positions, hyperbolic and histrionic rhetoric designed to provoke response and test the mettle of one’s own and the opposing position, assertive presentations of one’s beliefs that are less concerned to present a full-orbed picture than to advocate firmly for a particular perspective and to invite and spark discussion from other perspectives.This is precisely why smart women like Susan Walsh are correct to be reluctant to permit their sensitive female readers, who have been steeped in an educational culture of sensitivity-driven discourse, the "safe haven" of criticism-free conversation they desire. It is also why those who habitually engage in sensitivity-driven discourse, of which John Scalzi's blog is a prime example, are uniformly so inept whenever it comes to arguing.
The truth is not located in the single voice, but emerges from the conversation as a whole. Within this form of heterotopic discourse, one can play devil’s advocate, have one’s tongue in one’s cheek, purposefully overstate one’s case, or attack positions that one agrees with. The point of the discourse is to expose the strengths and weaknesses of various positions through rigorous challenge, not to provide a balanced position in a single monologue. Those familiar with such discourse will be accustomed to hyperbolic and unbalanced expressions. They will appreciate that such expressions are seldom intended as the sole and final word on the matter by those who utter them, but as a forceful presentation of one particular dimension of or perspective upon the truth, always presuming the existence of counterbalancing perspectives that have no less merit and veracity.
In contrast, a sensitivity-driven discourse lacks the playfulness of heterotopic discourse, taking every expression of difference very seriously. Rhetorical assertiveness and impishness, the calculated provocations of ritual verbal combat, linguistic playfulness, and calculated exaggeration are inexplicable to it as it lacks the detachment, levity, and humour within which these things make sense. On the other hand, those accustomed to combative discourse may fail to appreciate when they are hurting those incapable of responding to it.
Lacking a high tolerance for difference and disagreement, sensitivity-driven discourses will typically manifest a herding effect. Dissenting voices can be scapegoated or excluded and opponents will be sharply attacked. Unable to sustain true conversation, stale monologues will take its place. Constantly pressed towards conformity, indoctrination can take the place of open intellectual inquiry. Fracturing into hostile dogmatic cliques takes the place of vigorous and illuminating dialogue between contrasting perspectives. Lacking the capacity for open dialogue, such groups will exert their influence on wider society primarily by means of political agitation.
The fear of conflict and the inability to deal with disagreement lies at the heart of sensitivity-driven discourses. However, ideological conflict is the crucible of the sharpest thought. Ideological conflict forces our arguments to undergo a rigorous and ruthless process through which bad arguments are broken down, good arguments are honed and developed, and the relative strengths and weaknesses of different positions emerge. The best thinking emerges from contexts where interlocutors mercilessly probe and attack our arguments’ weaknesses and our own weaknesses as their defenders. They expose the blindspots in our vision, the cracks in our theories, the inconsistencies in our logic, the inaptness of our framing, the problems in our rhetoric. We are constantly forced to return to the drawing board, to produce better arguments.
Granted immunity from this process, sensitivity-driven and conflict-averse contexts seldom produce strong thought, but rather tend to become echo chambers. Even the good ideas that they produce tend to be blunt and very weak in places. Even with highly intelligent people within them, conflict-averse groups are poor at thinking. Bad arguments go unchecked and good insights go unhoned and underdeveloped. This would not be such a problem were it not for the fact that these groups frequently expect us to fly in a society formed according to their ideas, ideas that never received any rigorous stress testing.
The Rabbit People have three weapons and three weapons only. The first is to demand submission to their terms by virtue of the sensitivity imperative. If their interlocutor is unwilling to do that, they quickly move to the name-calling and the inevitable psychological analyses, again in the hopes of the interlocutor's submission. (This, by the way, is where most people crumble and permit themselves to be sidetracked into defending themselves against the charges that they are a raciss, sexiss, homophobiss rapiss.) Their final weapon is exclusion, which can be seen in the way feminized atheists like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers, (unlike Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens), shun debate with potentially competent opponents, and in the way gamma bloggers like Scalzi habitually attempt to attack people and arguments without so much as identifying them or even providing links to the arguments they are attacking.
This is why men should never permit those who are inclined towards sensitivity-driven discourse a foothold in their families and organizations. The Rabbit People instinct is to attempt to surround themselves with other rabbits as fast as possible and drive out the scary heterotopics. This is why you'll often see rabbits at HUS begging for crackdowns on other commenters, while the rabbits at Whatever harbor genuine affection for the aptly-named Mallet of Loving Correction. Although they claim to value dialogue and seek discourse, nothing could be further from the truth. They actually want to dictate their mindless consensus and have it accepted uncritically by everyone; they fear intellectual competition.
And it is why I provide sensitivity-driven discourse no respect whatsoever. I don't care if you were raped every day of the year and twice on Mondays by the family cat, after which your father killed you with a knife and danced on your grave. Your personal victimization, assuming it genuinely existed in the first place, grants you neither moral authority nor intellectual credibility, much less any form of veto on what others are permitted to think, say, or feel. Alpha Game and Vox Popoli will always be strongholds of heterotopic discourse; think of them collectively as the Wild Hunt for Rabbit People.