Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tumblr Is Leaking: "Trigger Warnings" in College?

link

A few things:

First: I've never seen/heard anyone who was a non-idiot seriously use the term 'trigger warning.'

Now, simply because this is an idea generated by idiots doesn't mean it's idiotic. But I have to admit, it's hard for me to take it seriously given that first point... This is not an excuse...it's a warning that I'm not objective about this question...

I actually often teach J. J. Thomson's "A Defense Of Abortion" in my critical thinking class. At one point she notes that one of her examples is only relevant in a case of rape. Even that brief mention of rape always freaks me out, I have to admit. I hate the thought that someone--a rape victim, paradigmatically--would just be happily going off to class and then, out of the blue, here's this damn thing they've got to be reminded of again...

So, despite the first point, I do sympathize. And there's a way in which I could understand tipping students off when they're signing up for classes, that there might be something upsetting to them in the course content.

However, it's hard not to think about this point in its actual context. The proposal is embedded in a view on the utterly crazy left, according to which a certain set of leftist shibboleths must be treated with something approaching all-encompassing reverence. This is conjoined with a (typically leftist) view of humans as frail and weepy beyond the telling of it. In this imaginary world, the mere suggestion that, say, most people are heterosexual can elicit a panic attack in those with sufficiently politically correct sensibilities...

And, as is so often the case on the left, the point of this policy suggestion is not entirely to protect special snowflakes from harm--it is also an attempt to gain the kind of control that the extreme left loves: a kind of control over vocabulary and quasi-moral rules of etiquette--a kind of control that they hope will also give them a way to control thought. They relish the opportunity to remind people of their agenda, and that they are lurking in the background, like the secret police...

Right...but, again, it might still be a fine idea...

I admit that I have an unusually low tolerance for nuttiness on either end of the political spectrum. And I have admitted that bad people can have good ideas. And those points should be kept firmly in mind. My idiosyncratic crankiness in this regard makes me a bad judge of such cases...

But...speaking of cases...  Should devout theists be warned that we criticize arguments for the existence of God in my 101 class? Should they be warned that theism typically doesn't come out of those discussions looking very good? Should everyone be warned that we'll be discussing arguments for moral nihilism? Surely the suggestion that, e.g., the Holocaust was not a (good nor) bad thing should be upsetting to any sensible person...

Well, maybe the answer is yeah...maybe there should be such warnings...

I have to admit, that if the suggestion were coming from a saner bunch, I'd be more amenable to it. If, say, veterans or actual sexual assault survivors were saying "hey, could you kinda let us know before you start talking about the kinds of things that really upset us?" Yep, I definitely would take it more seriously in that case...

One response here goes like this: life is hard, and you need to be prepared to hear about things that upset you. I agree...but I don't see that that means that we can't also be understanding and tip people off about such things when reasonable and possible.

Perhaps concerns about the nutty left aren't really completely out of line here... They are constantly angling for ways to drag university culture farther and farther in their direction. Perhaps we have to be prepared to refuse in some cases, even when the specific idea isn't bad, simply to prevent the whole institution from moving any farther in a crazy direction. There is, already, an overwhelming push from the left to make the university a place entirely free from any non-PC conflict and unpleasantness. Though campus lefties are willing to shriek at people, they want everything that they themselves might disagree with to be eliminated or modified so that there is no possibility that they might encounter something objectionable. So, perhaps, there is some point at which we have to say something like: nope, sorry. That's not a terrible idea considered in isolation, but we can't afford to take another step down the twisted road of mollycoddling and specialsnowflakeism... We're going to be considering the Universe at the university...and you're not going to like some of it...

But maybe not.

I really don't know.

3 Comments:

Blogger Dark Avenger said...

Winston, I have some thoughts about the subject here:

https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=3856837&postID=5613175967166465947&isPopup=true

10:29 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Those are good points DA, thanks for passing them along.

I've heard others suggest that the actual phenomena in question tend to be elicited by pretty specific things. (Though I've also heard veterans say that all kinds of things can get to them...)

Puzzling question... Sadly, I have no faith in universities to resist this kind of idea... I kinda sorta expect it to be adopted whether it's any good or not... But sometimes universities can surprise you. Most of them eventually got their minds right about the attempt to institute PC speech codes...

10:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've seen trigger warning used, but only in irony. I think it's a fad that will pass very quickly.

And anyway the "trigger" is telegraphed pretty accurately by the type of reading at hand.

-mac

7:57 AM  

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