Sensitivity screeners remove from texts and tests distressing references to things like rats, snakes, typhoons, blizzards and ... birthday parties (which might distress children who do not have them). The sensitivity police favor teaching what Sommers and Satel call ``no-fault history.'' Hence California's Department of Education stipulating that when ``ethnic or cultural groups are portrayed, portrayals must not depict differences in customs or lifestyles as undesirable'' -- slavery? segregation? anti-Semitism? cannibalism? -- ``and must not reflect adversely on such differences.''
Experts warn about what children are allowed to juggle: Tennis balls cause frustration, whereas ``scarves are soft, nonthreatening, and float down slowly.'' In 2001 the Girl Scouts, illustrating what Sommers and Satel say is the assumption that children are ``combustible bundles of frayed nerves,'' introduced, for girls 8 to 11, a ``Stress Less Badge'' adorned with an embroidered hammock. It can be earned by practicing ``focused breathing,'' keeping a ``feelings diary,'' burning scented candles and exchanging foot massages.
Vast numbers of credentialed -- that is not a synonym for ``competent'' -- members of the ``caring professions'' have a professional stake in the myth that most people are too fragile to cope with life's vicissitudes and traumas without professional help. Consider what Sommers and Satel call ``the commodification of grief'' by the ``grief industry'' -- professional grief ``counselors'' with ``degrieving'' techniques. Such ``grief gurus'' are ``ventilationists'': they assume that everyone should grieve the same way -- by venting feelings sometimes elicited by persons who have paid $1,795 for a five-day course in grief counseling.
The ``caregiving'' professions, which postulate the minimal competence of most people to cope with life unassisted, are, of course, liberal and politics can color their diagnoses. Remember the theory that because Vietnam was supposedly an unjust war, it would produce an epidemic of ``post-traumatic stress disorders.'' So a study released in 1990 claimed that half of Vietnam veterans suffered from some PTSD -- even though only 15 percent of Vietnam veterans had served in combat units. To ventilationists -- after a flood damaged books at the Boston Public library, counselors arrived to help librarians cope with their grief -- a failure to manifest grief is construed as alarming evidence of grief repressed, and perhaps a precursor of ``delayed onset'' PTSD.
Predictably, 9/11 became another excuse for regarding healthy human reactions as pathological. Did terrorist attacks make you angry and nervous? Must be PTSD. And 9/11 gave rise to ``diagnostic mission creep'' as the idea of a ``trauma'' was expanded to include watching a disaster on television. Sommers and Satel's book is a summons to the sensible worry that national enfeeblement must result when therapism replaces the virtues on which the republic was founded -- stoicism, self-reliance and courage.