Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Classical Literature Too "Triggering" For Columbia Students

link, via Reason


   Ok look...  It's not that this is abject stupidity...  It's not that there are no thoughts here worth discussing... As I somtimes note, it's kind of hard to be wrong about everything...
   One might have an interesting discussion about these issues. I'd certainly be willing to do so. I used to not teach J. J. Thomson's "A Defense Of Abortion" in class because there are a couple of very abstract references to rape. I thought something like: well, why risk bringing that topic up when it might be very upsetting to some people, and there's a very large number of other things we might read in an intro class? At any rate, I don't think this is unmitigated idiocy... And pretending that it is simply weakens the case that really ought to be made against all this...
   But anyway: I'm not going to discuss the real issues. No time. Got too much to do. Haven't thought about them enough.
   What I'm going to gesture at is this: what's really insane about all this stuff is the bizarre, dogmatic, cultishness of it all. This stuff is plagued by absolute obsession with a rather narrow range of issues (the Holy Trinity: race, sex, class, and some peripherals). The bizarre pronouncements about what we must and must not do (for whatever is not mandatory is forbidden...) are handed down as if ex cathedra from true believers. And the guiding ideas seem to be that no one must ever feel uncomfortable about anything... No, wait: certain kinds of people must never feel uncomfortable about certain kinds of things...but everyone else is supposed to be ceaselessly wracked with guilt about other things--being white, being male, being straight, being Western, etc...  We must never miss an opportunity to rend our garments about our horrible, horrible Western heritage. No topic is too tangential, no connection too tenuous... I'm all for a dispassionate look at our history...but obsessive self-flagellation is something else entirely.
   And then, of course, there's the point that Brown makes in the Reason piece: the truly mind-boggling hyperbole... The SJW's trump card is: I was afraid. The student wasn't merely upset by the discussion--she felt "unsafe." In a classroom at Columbia. These, the safest people living more-or-less the safest lives of any people who have ever lived lives on this Earth are--allegedly--terrified. Of everything. It might be a pose...on the other hand, they may actually have talked themselves into something like real fear... Who knows? But the old PC's "I was offended" isn't good enough anymore. "I was afraid" is the move in the game to which there is supposed to be no response...  If I assert that I was afraid, then you must stop doing whatever I claim has frightened me. I am--if I am a member of certain groups--entitled to live a life entirely unperturbed by thoughts, words and deeds that I find upsetting...I any way.
   So, anyway. We can discuss the issues. I'm ok with that--though I am actually strongly inclined to think that this stuff is all overblown and confused. But, of course, I could be wrong. What I'm really concerned about, though, is that the bizarre SJW cult is increasing in power--largely, I think, because liberals tend to fall on their knees before such claims, almost no matter how unreasonable. And so the cult gains more and more influence, especially in academia--a salient that's particularly vulnerable to attacks from the left, and from which the cult can exercise disproportionate influence. this cult knows the shibboleths. The mere mention of them often breaks liberal resistance.
   And critical thought about such claims is itself one of the things alleged to be oppressive. "The student claims she was essentially dismissed, her concerns were ignored." "Essentially" dismissed? Or dismissed? Does "her concerns were ignored" really mean: her concerns were considered? I suspect that what's really meant here is that the professor had the temerity to fail to automatically comply... But here I speculate...
   Anyway. Discus the issues? Sure, ok. They're certainly not the most important issues confronting us... But sure. Let's discuss them. My guess is that a rational discussion of this stuff might help break the power of the SJW cult. And that would be a good thing. (And it would still be a good thing even if they turn out to be right about some things.)


Anonymous Gerald Fnord said...

I don't know: I'm concerned about excessive deference to possibly exaggerated fear and sensitivity, but I also am aware that there is a history of deriding some legitimate (in my arrogant and absolutely correct opinion) fear as 'exaggerated'. See, for example, how actual spousal abuse in the upper and upper-middle classes was treated a generation previous, which also serves as an example of how someone can in fact be simultaneously privileged, even coddled, and reasonably afraid.

I risk the Godwin Alarm in this next, but I've been reading a lot of Primo Levi lately, and I doubt he'd deny that there are many people orders of magnitude better-off than he was at Auschwitz-Monowicz who might still be legitimately accounted hungry, cold, or afraid.

5:12 PM  
Anonymous Will R said...


Your instinct to look at different sides of things is generous, but the targets of Winston's criticism don't really share it.

They (the authors of the Columbia article) demand that higher education be, if nothing else, comforting to students' identities. The university should be less about asking students to push beyond these differences--i.e., to find what they can grasp despite them--than affirming that their own feelings are good because they're theirs. As Winston points out, this sort of demand is hard to apply consistently: the same people aren't asking members of the patriarchy to be satisfied with their own experiences or that "trigger warnings" precede possibly traumatic challenges to that kind of insularity.

But it is this insular view of education that underlies the authors' insistence (toward the end of the article), not that some educators raise the question of whether Western universalism is good, but that all instruct that it is bad in certain ways. For them, education is not a matter of raising questions, some of which may be upsetting at times; it's about mediating some game of identity politics we have to admit we can't get beyond because certain feelings are sacred.

Winston is right that something's wrong. The larger issue concerns how the best universities should train young minds. If we can't set aside indignation to strive for coherence, we're unfit for a university education or more generally to "account" reasonably what is "legitimate" hunger, cold, or fear. It's opposition to prejudice, not prejudice, that asks for times and places where calmer people--of whatever experience--can speak about important things like grownups and give things like cultural sensitivity their due in a larger, more considered view of things. Ineducable minds always have other places to suspend their doubt in the way the authors seek.

1:54 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home