Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Rule of the Trigger-Warning Class

Safe for almost everyone, white heterosexual
cis-gender males excluded.
I haven't commented much on the "trigger warning" craze in academic institutions across the country. Frankly, the narrative on college campuses has been so foolish and ridiculous that I don't think it warrants a substantive response. Suffice to say that people who demand that professors, lecturers, speakers, and even entire courses change their material because it may be offensive or "triggering" to certain minority "identity groups" are not mentally ready for college. There, I said it. Trigger warning.

The latest spectacle at Columbia University is a prime example of what I am talking about. Read the whole thing, but here is a great snippet that captures the spirit of the age:
"Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' is a fixture of Lit Hum, but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background."
Even more extreme examples can be found here. Honestly, it's incredible. The delusion of the academic community, with its self-congratulating, permanent abstraction from reality, has become something of a comedic trope, even among the academic community itself. At least they're laughing at themselves. I blame Twitter. For real.

What will our society will be like when the "trigger warning" culture takes over our major institutions? This mindset, at least for now, is largely confined to professors and students at major American universities. But the students at elite universities today will be the leaders of our elite institutions tomorrow. Government, mainstream media, public service, the arts—all of these cultural and political institutions recruit heavily from Ivy League and other "top tier" universities. And these are the institutions, for better or worse, that shape the culture. So, what happens when the young twenty-somethings of today, with trigger warnings and safe spaces in tow, take over the institutions that shape culture? 

It's hard to say what will happen. But if the trend continues, it doesn't look good. And by trend I mean the practice of silencing and shaming by force anyone who has anything to say that may remotely in some way offend someone who has a certain identity of themselves that is in some way outside the majority or mainstream. Again, I blame Twitter. If you cannot read and discuss depictions of violence and oppression in an ancient, mythological context, there is no way that you can deal with actual oppression and actual violence in the real world. It's out there, and those oppressors don't care about your trigger warnings or identity crisis.

But, just maybe, these young passionate twenty-somethings will mentally and emotionally outgrow their need for trigger warnings and safe spaces. Maybe the whole enterprise is just a ruse of university intellectuals. I hope so, but I am not counting on it. The radical ideas of the last generation are the mainstream ideas of the now generation. And judging by the last year or so, the safe-space mafia is gaining significant power in these institutions, quickly bringing them to heel when there is any chance of a perceived slight against some identity group (white males excluded). Ironically, this is no way to foster an inclusive society. 

I hope that the trigger-warning-safe-space crowd will soon recognize the logical absurdity of their central position in an institution historically committed to the free flow of ideas. If not, we will soon have bigger problems. Victims of real violence and real oppression deserve real counseling, not safe spaces where they can be shielded from exposure to controversial ideas. And seriously, Twitter is part of the identity politics problem.