When you hear that now ubiquitous phrase 'I find that offensive', you know you're being told to shut up. While the terrible murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists demonstrated that those who offend can face the most brutal form of censorship, there's a broader threatening climate where we all have to walk on eggshells to avoid saying anything offensive - or else. Competitive offence-claiming is ratcheting up well beyond religious sensibilities. So, while Islamists and feminists may seem to have little in common, they are both united in demanding retribution in the form of bans, penalties and censorship of those who hurt their feelings. Undoubtedly, these cris de coeur are genuine. Young Muslims crying out in horror at offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad really do seem to feel the slight personally. And so do young women who seem individually distraught by pictures of scantily clad models in lads' magazines. 'Offendees' dismiss 'sticks and stones might break your bones but words will never hurt me' as an insensitive misunderstanding of the damage words can inflict on vulnerable individuals. But how did we become so thin-skinned?This book blames three culprits: official multiculturalism's relativistic conflation of tolerance with positive 'recognition'; narcissistic identity politics that proclaims the personal is political; and, finally, therapeutic educational interventions such as anti-bullying campaigns, through which the young are taught that psychological harm is interchangeable with physical violence.
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Claire Fox is a British libertarian writer. She is the founder of the Institute of Ideas think tank and regularly appears on BBC Radio 4's The Moral Maze and BBC One's Question Time.