Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Trigger Warnings

Jonathan Rauch, strong supporter of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and author of Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought argues sarcastically—but also seriously—that the following “trigger warning” should be put on the first page of every college catalogue:

At this university, students could be exposed, at any moment, without warning, to ideas, comments, readings, or other materials that they find shocking, offensive, absurd, annoying, racist, sexist, homophobic, discriminatory, or generally obnoxious.

We call this education.
I can think of a couple of other sarcastic warnings: “Most of the ideas you will hear at this university are 100-plus-year-old dusty variants of Marxism that have been well-demonstrated to be hazardous to your health, and, especially, to civilization’s health.”

And in my fantasies: “What you will hear and learn at this university will likely upset your foundational ideas, that is, everything you have been taught about the nature of knowledge, values, psychology, and political philosophy and economy. It will raise your consciousness in a way you never will have thought possible. You will be challenged to confront the ideas of such writers as Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises. Be forewarned!”

Trigger warnings are a new form of campus censorship in which professors are supposed to give notice to students, before anything is said, about possibly offensive or hurtful speech. In practice, this means ideas the students may not have heard before or, especially, ones they might consider to be a cause of pain.

They are called “triggers” because the ploy is packaged with post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Symptoms of PTSD can be produced or triggered by specific words, memories, or incidents.

Thus, if a professor states in class that the average wages of men and women are virtually the same when adjusted for marriage and motherhood, or that several African American intellectuals have decried affirmative action because of its effect on self-esteem, he or she must let the poor babies—the students—know that their feelings might get hurt by what is going to be said!

Fortunately, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has nailed the issue: “The presumption that students need to be protected rather than challenged in a classroom is at once infantilizing and anti-intellectual.” The chilling effect on freedom of speech in the ivory tower is unmistakable, as the professors’ thought process becomes, “Maybe I shouldn’t discuss this issue or idea because it might be offensive to some students.”

Concerning the red herring of traumatic reaction, “The classroom is not the appropriate venue to treat PTSD, which is a medical condition that requires serious medical treatment. Trigger warnings are an inadequate and diversionary response.”

And, finally, the American Library Association has called the labeling and rating of ideas or speech, such as “hurtful” and “offensive,” “an attempt to prejudice attitudes” and “a censor’s tool” (quoted in AAUP).

“Trigger warnings” are the radical Marxist left’s latest ruse to silence discussion of anything that does not fit its manifesto. The proletariat in the industrialized world are no longer an oppressed class; today, they all drive SUV’s and live in four-bedroom homes.

The good campus Marxists, as a result, must now find other oppressed groups to exploit: women, African Americans, and the LGBT community.*

These “classes” constitute the new proletariat. Marxist ideology marches on!

*Though, of course, many in these groups—classes?—are not exactly downtrodden and oppressed, since they, too, drive SUV’s and live in four-bedroom homes.

Follow-up: Five studies on trigger warnings

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