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The War on Insensitivity
So, here’s a “conspiracy theory” for you. This one is about the global-capitalist thoughtpolice and their ongoing efforts to purge society of “insensitivity.” Yes, that’s right, insensitivity. If there is anything the global-capitalist thoughtpolice can’t stand, it is insensitivity. You know, like making fun of ethnic or religious minorities, and the physically or cognitively challenged, and alternatively gendered persons, and hideously ugly persons, and monstrously fat persons, and midgets, and so on.
The global-capitalist thoughtpolice are terribly concerned about the feelings of such persons. And the feelings of other sensitive persons who are also concerned about the feelings of such persons. And everybody’s feelings, generally. So they’re purging society of any and all forms of literary content, and every other form of content, that might possibly irreparably offend such persons, and persons concerned about the feelings of such persons, and anyone who might feel offended by anything.
By now, I assume you have seen the news about the “sensitivity editing” of Roald Dahl, the author of books like James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches, The Twits, and numerous others. What happened was, Dahl’s publisher, Puffin Books, hired a little clutch of “sensitivity editors” to substantively rewrite his books, purging words like “fat” and “ugly,” and Dahl’s descriptions of characters as “bald” and “female,” and inserting their own ham-handed, “sensitized” language.
What you may not be aware of is that Puffin Books is a children’s imprint of Penguin Random House, a multi-national conglomerate publishing company and a subsidiary of Bertelsmann, a nominally German but in reality global media conglomerate. Penguin Random House is one of the so-called “big five publishers” that control approximately 80% of the retail book market. The other four are Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Hachette, and HarperCollins.
Together, these five corporate behemoths, with their hundreds of divisions, publishing groups, and imprints (e.g., Puffin Books), control the majority of what everyone reads. Pull a few books off your bookshelves at random and look up the imprints to see how many are owned by one of the “big five” publishers or one of their divisions or publishing groups.
Another thing you may not be aware of is the increasing employment of “sensitivity readers” by these publishing conglomerates and their legions of imprints, and by writers aspiring to be published by these imprints. Writer’s Digest describes their function thus:
“Publishers and authors hire them to basically cancel-proof their books before they hit the street, hoping to head off any misspoken messages . . . hoping to depict peoples in an accurate light when it comes to genre, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and more. Sensitivity edits are a publisher’s or editor’s insurance to protect reputation and ward off profit loss, just in case, and an author’s attempt to depict characters in an accurate light. Entities purchase a sensitivity read when the writing is outside of their expertise or experience, or they are uncertain they depicted details properly.”
Penguin Random House recommends “authenticity readers” to any of its authors who are “writing outside their personal experience” (i.e., using their imaginations), to prevent them from “perpetuating stereotypes,” or exhibiting their “unconscious or internalized bias” and creating “patterns of harmful representation,” and so on.
If this sounds to you like some kind of creepy, Orwellian-Ministry-of-Truth-type mindfuckery, that’s because that’s exactly what it is. It doesn’t really affect old farts like me — I wouldn’t let any of the big corporate publishers or their “sensitivity readers” near my writing, which they would never publish in any event, and which would likely cause them to experience seizures, and then stagger around the office looking for differently-abled-Black-transgender colleagues to kneel down in front of and apologize to — but there’s a whole generation of aspiring writers who are being conditioned to accept this as “normal.”
The Roald-Dahl story is being framed as a “woke/anti-woke” culture-war story. It isn’t. And it isn’t an aberration. It’s part and parcel of the new global-capitalist totalitarianism that I’ve been going on and on about. The entire “Wokeness” phenomenon is. Global-capitalist cultural revolutionaries are hunting down “insensitivity” everywhere. In the arts, schools, TV shows, films, social media, et cetera. “Insensitivity” being any and all forms of deviation from global-capitalist ideology, regardless of where they fall on the left/right spectrum. I have described the process as a new form of Gleichschaltung, the systematic coordination of every element of society — or every element that matters — in conformity with global-capitalist ideology.
So, what is global-capitalist ideology?
Well, I told you I had a "conspiracy theory" for you. It is not a very sexy "conspiracy theory," but it'll have to do, because it's all I've got. And, forgive me, but I'm just getting started on my second "insensitive" dystopian novel, so I'm going to explain this "conspiracy theory" with a lengthy excerpt from the introduction to The War on Populism: Consent Factory Essays, Vol. II (2018-2019), one of my collections of essays, rather than taking the time to reword it badly. It really is a rather lengthy excerpt, so, if you happen to be reading this at work (i.e., when you are supposed to be working), or if you need to get back to a Twitter-fracas, or if you have the attention span of a gnat, you might want to save it and try to read it later.
Ready? OK, here we go.
This conflict (i.e., global capitalism versus a global “populist” insurgency) is at the root of all the madness of the last four years. To understand it, one needs to understand that it is primarily an ideological conflict, a global war for hearts and minds. Trump, Johnson, Corbyn, Sanders, and other so-called “populist” figures, were never a real threat to GloboCap, not in any material sense. They are symbols, figureheads, representations of resistance to global capitalist ideology. It is this resistance to its ideology (from both the left and the right … it makes no difference), more than any particular political leader or movement, that GloboCap has been trying to crush. It needs to put down this “populist” insurgency, so it can get on with the business of transforming the entire world into one big value-less marketplace … which is what it has been doing for last thirty years.
This is what capitalism was built to do. Ideologically speaking, it is a simple machine, one that strips societies of “despotic” values (e.g., religious, social, cultural values … values established by kings, priests, aristocracies, artists, communities, political parties, families, et cetera) and replaces them all with a single value (i.e., exchange value), rendering everything a commodity. In essence, it is an ideological machine, a values-decoding/recoding machine, which transforms societies into markets.
(I’ve cut a bit here, to make it somewhat less lengthy and get to the global-capitalist-ideology part.)
Global capitalism’s ideology (i.e., the territory that comprises our “reality”) is unlike any other ideology in the 5,000-year history of ideology. It is an ideological territory without limits, neither internal nor external boundaries. It is a featureless territory, in which anything is possible, because nothing within it has any value, or meaning, in and of itself. It is literally a “desert of the real,” an infinite, seamless desert of values, across the lifeless surface of which the ghosts of values eternally wander, in circles, aimlessly, signifying nothing, going nowhere, for they are already there, in the only place there is to be, because the desert is everywhere, and everything.
There is nowhere and nothing outside of this territory. There is no “outside” where anything could exist. It is one big global capitalist world, one unitary, omnipresent, capitalist “reality” … one big global marketplace, or it will be, once GloboCap finishes destabilizing and restructuring what remains of the post-Cold-War world.
This is the story of the last thirty years. Beneath the distractions of the day, the manufactured mass hysteria, the propaganda, the fabricated outrage, the scandals, the wars, rumors of wars, the deafening roar of millions of voices shrieking gibberish on social media, conspiracy theories, real and imagined, the cheap charade of electoral politics, and so on, right out there in the open, because no one has been paying much attention, GloboCap has been mopping up, cleansing societies of their outmoded values, absorbing them into the global market … implementing ideological conformity.
You’re familiar with this ideological conformity. We all are. You’re probably in favor of many of the “values” it purports to want to promote, anti-racism, equal rights, separation of church and state, et cetera, the traditional liberal agenda. Remember, capitalist ideology is what finally freed us from the rule of despots, kings, aristocracies, priests. (Personally, I’m extremely grateful for that.) As I explained above, capitalism did this by eradicating “despotic” values and replacing them all with a single value, exchange value, rendering everything a commodity. That doesn’t sound very appealing, however. No one wants to see themselves as just a commodity, or live in a world without any real values. So capitalism marketed itself as “democracy,” and that went over much better with the masses.
Here we are, a few hundred years later, and “democracy” (i.e., capitalism) is running out of “despotic” values to eradicate and “liberate” us from. Sure, it still has some work to do secularizing the Middle East, and there are still a few countries that aren’t playing ball, but most of the planet has gotten with the program. Most of the values-eradicating work that remains to be done is right here at home. There are still a lot of Western consumers who haven’t completely embraced “democracy,” and who are clinging to old “despotic” values … racist values, religious values, nativist values, xenophobic values, homophobic values, transphobic values, cultural and artistic values, ableist values, alloist values, shadeism, lookism, ethnocentrism, cisgenderism, anti-Semitism, jingoism, sexism, sizeism, saneism … the list goes on and on, and on.
Democracy (i.e., global capitalism) will not rest until it has cleansed society (i.e., the global marketplace) of these ugly, destructive, despotic values, and implemented a worldwide “code of conduct” (like the ones that most global corporations have) with universal “anti-hate-speech rules,” and “appropriate vocabulary” lists, and has erased any visible symbol of such despotic values from public view, and any references to them from school curricula, and has otherwise transformed humanity into a mass of hyper-conformist consumers who all look like models in a Benetton commercial and talk like customer service representatives.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favor of democracy, and I’m not a fan of racism or any other type of discrimination or bigotry. I’m just trying to shed a little light on the forces behind the identity-politics zealotry that has been raging recently, and the “populist” backlash against such zealotry.
This zealotry, this crusade for ideological conformity, is described by many leftists as a movement to establish “social justice,” and by many right-wing types as “cultural Marxism.” It is neither. Or … OK, it contains elements of both, but fundamentally it is global capitalism purifying society of despotic values, establishing that infinite, value-free, meaningless “desert of the real” I described above.
That’s it. I warned you that it was rather lengthy. It was written in September of 2020, so about six months into the roll-out of the New Normal.
As for the Roald-Dahl dust-up, what will happen now (and what is currently happening) is that A-list authors, journalists, and other official mouthpieces of the global-capitalist Simulation of Culture will make a big stink for a couple days, and then Penguin Random House and the other “big-five” publishers will go on “sensitivity-editing,” and “authenticity-editing,” and otherwise aggressively homogenizing mainstream literature until it won’t really matter which books you read because they will all be minor variations of each other that will resemble nothing so much in their utterly soul-deadening, interchangeable blandness as the lobbies of corporate offices.
Of course, if you are into the literature thing, you can always seek out and read other books by disreputable and “insensitive” authors like me who are unaffiliated with any global publishing behemoths, that is, assuming they haven’t been hidden from you behind these fake “sensitive content” warnings.