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Thread: Trigger Warnings and Microaggressions: The Coddling of the American Mind

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    Trigger Warnings and Microaggressions: The Coddling of the American Mind

    A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said.
    Two terms have risen quickly from obscurity into common campus parlance. Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless. For example, by some campus guidelines, it is a microaggression to ask an Asian American or Latino American “Where were you born?,” because this implies that he or she is not a real American. Trigger warnings are alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response. For example, some students have called for warnings that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart describes racial violence and that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby portrays misogyny and physical abuse, so that students who have been previously victimized by racism or domestic violence can choose to avoid these works, which they believe might “trigger” a recurrence of past trauma.
    This new climate is slowly being institutionalized, and is affecting what can be said in the classroom, even as a basis for discussion. During the 2014–15 school year, for instance, the deans and department chairs at the 10 University of California system schools were presented by administrators at faculty leader-training sessions with examples of microaggressions. The list of offensive statements included: “America is the land of opportunity” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”

    The press has typically described these developments as a resurgence of political correctness. That’s partly right, although there are important differences between what’s happening now and what happened in the 1980s and ’90s. That movement sought to restrict speech (specifically hate speech aimed at marginalized groups), but it also challenged the literary, philosophical, and historical canon, seeking to widen it by including more-diverse perspectives. The current movement is largely about emotional well-being.
    The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable.
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/...n-mind/399356/

    --

    Bill Maher most recently (this past Friday) actually had Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic on to discuss this on Real Time:



    In the interest of pragmatism, I don't want to clutter the OP too much with my own feelings on this, but this is a rather hot button topic that seems to be making a significant impact in education.

    I personally need to read more on this before I render any kind of judgement, but I can't help but feel that my initial reaction is probably the same as it is for most people. I feel shocked that this kind of educational censorship is not only occurring, but being embraced at what are supposed to be higher-level learning centers. I can understand the desire not to upset victims of serious trauma, but how much of the onus is on the course or the teacher versus the student in some of these cases? If you've been raped, for example, horrible as that is to deal with, don't you bear some responsibility if you are also taking courses in Criminal Justice? We can't simply not talk about the crime of rape because it might trigger you. Perhaps you're going into the wrong field, or entering at the wrong time?

    Again, I really need to research this a lot more, but I find the whole thing fascinating, and I think we can probably have a rich conversation about this.

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    Here's another guy's opinion on it:



    I'm having trouble articulating what to say about it other than I hate the PC culture. I feel pretty helpless about it though - like, what can I do to [trigger-warning] combat it? If this is the culture we live in now, I'm definitely not a fan.

    Having just recently graduated from college, I will admit I haven't experienced any of this first-hand. In general, I feel our culture is unwilling to rise to a challenge and the first reaction of most people, when faced with a problem, is to unload the responsibility onto someone else. Generally, we have extremely weak people with a huge voice that is causing all of these things to manifest themselves.

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    This is some 1984 shit. When people bring up that book, they think about Big Brother and the video surveillance, but a key point of that book was thought control through language control. Get rid of troubling words and you can get rid of the troubling thoughts behind those words. Except that doesn't work.

    Students on campuses should very much do what they can to combat bad ideas, but to try to do it by going after words is both lazy on their part and also pointless. The real offenders aren't emboldened by words. Most often, it's by a self of entitlement to power over others.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Morphinity View Post
    Here's another guy's opinion on it:



    I'm having trouble articulating what to say about it other than I hate the PC culture. I feel pretty helpless about it though - like, what can I do to [trigger-warning] combat it? If this is the culture we live in now, I'm definitely not a fan.

    Having just recently graduated from college, I will admit I haven't experienced any of this first-hand. In general, I feel our culture is unwilling to rise to a challenge and the first reaction of most people, when faced with a problem, is to unload the responsibility onto someone else. Generally, we have extremely weak people with a huge voice that is causing all of these things to manifest themselves.
    Right, that's similar to the position I've taken out of the gate. Except for me, I reacted more like "I feel our culture is unwilling to rise to the challenge and the first reaction of most people when faced with a problem is to snuff out mentions of it so they can get back to the comfort zone of forgetting it exists, or pretending it doesn't".

    Either way, how can you ever expect to learn if you refuse to change? That's what this type of reaction does. It literally prevents learning. Learning is, after all, the literal acceptance of chance in your brain.
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    I don't doubt that for some people, words or actions can trigger a past traumatic event, causing stress and anxiety. But I feel that for most people, this newfound avoidance of triggers, is part of the never-ending crusade to avoid talking about things that are generally uncomfortable to talk about. I took a course on civil liberties this past semester and the professor actually warned us on several occasions, as if he was compelled to, that what we were going to talk about could be perceived as triggers for some people. The subjects — rape and 9/11 — are essential to learning about civil liberties as are the cases having to do with bodily integrity, surveillance, etc.. It was the first time I had even heard of triggers. Naturally, these warnings led to a discussion about triggers and I was surprised at how many people in this class were defending the need for these warnings.

    The problem with triggers, and trying to avoid them, is that it can be a minefield. Anything can be a trigger. What if a medical student who was in a serious car crash is triggered by the word blood? The idea that we are supposed to avoid certain conversations because of that, is pretty scary. I agree with Morph's statement that society is too willing to unload responsibility onto others. I can relate it to this; a child loses someone in their life and at a young age went to the funeral. From that point on, that person "hates death" and "doesn't do funerals". Somehow, this is acceptable, and absolves this person of the responsibility of being there for someone in their time of mourning.

    At a time where serious discourse on rape, racism, inequality, and other important topics is crucial, the idea that people need to filter themselves even further is a detriment. Again, I understand that for some who experienced a truly traumatic event, triggers can be everywhere. However, not to sound cold, this is your problem. It is one thing to expect the people around you who know what you have been through to avoid discussing these traumatic events. It is entirely other thing to expect society, most importantly the education system, to cater to this. It is truly concerning that institutions of higher education have been taking this as seriously as they have.
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    I feel like this is such a radical part of the PC culture that it won't latch on. Still, its really a good glimpse into the mind of some people. Instead of facing your fears, its get my fears out of my face. It could also be a generational thing of "change your world to better fit my needs/wants"

    A part of me feels like this is such an overblown part of society that we mostly see on the internet. I just graduated 3 months ago and never really saw any of this on campus. No one was going around saying "don't say this, its my trigger"

    I think a part of it is that most of this is coming from a generation where "Iraq War" and "PTSD" are just normal parts of our vocabulary. We go around and hear about how war veterans get triggered by loud noises and such, and people try to fit their problems to that formula because its what they hear about. Obviously PTSD can extend past war veterans, but when it did everyone looked to it as a way out, an excuse to not hear things you didn't want to hear.

    In the end, the best way to heal after traumatic events is therapy. But if things continue with the "get the fear out of my face" and "change your world to better mine" group, then they begin to see therapy as more of a problem than a solution, and that is a problem.
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    Here's a thought, lets take care of those who we put in harm's way and the victims of violent crimes through better mental health care. This way those people who faced real trauma can have more manageable reactions to every day life.

    And lets kick whiny, self absorbed teenagers and twenty somethings who are triggered by the word "moist" or what ever, right in their cunts.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rvbcaboose View Post
    I feel like this is such a radical part of the PC culture that it won't latch on. Still, its really a good glimpse into the mind of some people. Instead of facing your fears, its get my fears out of my face. It could also be a generational thing of "change your world to better fit my needs/wants"

    A part of me feels like this is such an overblown part of society that we mostly see on the internet. I just graduated 3 months ago and never really saw any of this on campus. No one was going around saying "don't say this, its my trigger"

    I think a part of it is that most of this is coming from a generation where "Iraq War" and "PTSD" are just normal parts of our vocabulary. We go around and hear about how war veterans get triggered by loud noises and such, and people try to fit their problems to that formula because its what they hear about. Obviously PTSD can extend past war veterans, but when it did everyone looked to it as a way out, an excuse to not hear things you didn't want to hear.

    In the end, the best way to heal after traumatic events is therapy. But if things continue with the "get the fear out of my face" and "change your world to better mine" group, then they begin to see therapy as more of a problem than a solution, and that is a problem.
    But even then, if a group of college student war veterans wanted to go to an Islamic studies professor and get him to stop saying "Allah" in his lectures because it triggered their PTSD, it would be equally as ridiculous as some of the shit in that article.

    Obviously, some people have gone through some real shit and have had to deal with situations that I can't even imagine. But those people need real help, like AJ alluded to, and they can't go around trying to basically water down society.

    And then you have the pretenders, like you mention, and they're despicable people.

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    Did anyone hear Mahers list from the college? Approved terms? Homosexual is no longer acceptable language.

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    My issue with the demonizing of PC culture, and the labeling of an entire generation as overly PC and "tribal" in their passion for their beliefs is that the defense is equally as absurd and if not tribal, near mob like.

    As always with issues such as these, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Yes, as a culture we're becoming more sensitive to the needs of our neighbours, of which the numbers are massively growing due to globalization -- there's nothing inherently wrong with that.

    With that said, I can see how for many, especially those indoctrinated and educated by a very cookie-cutter system, would fear this change and see it as a rapid departure from everything society is today.

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    Quote Originally Posted by torontonyr View Post
    My issue with the demonizing of PC culture, and the labeling of an entire generation as overly PC and "tribal" in their passion for their beliefs is that the defense is equally as absurd and if not tribal, near mob like.

    As always with issues such as these, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
    Middle ground fallacy. Also known as an argument to moderation.

    It's actually quite possible that one of the two sides to this coin is actually true.

    Yes, as a culture we're becoming more sensitive to the needs of our neighbours, of which the numbers are massively growing due to globalization -- there's nothing inherently wrong with that.

    With that said, I can see how for many, especially those indoctrinated and educated by a very cookie-cutter system, would fear this change and see it as a rapid departure from everything society is today.
    Becoming more sensitive to the needs of our neighbors is not the same thing as pandering to the needs of our neighbors.

    If someone is raped, therapy is what stands the best chance of allowing them return to some type of normalcy in life. Not side-stepping the term rape, or "violate" or any other word or term or saying that might possibly remind them of the trauma. We simply cannot in the same breathe preach higher learning if we're intentionally excluding terms out of trigger fears. Doing so is literally censoring terms or types of learning (therapy is learning).
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rome 2.0 View Post
    Middle ground fallacy. Also known as an argument to moderation.

    It's actually quite possible that one of the two sides to this coin is actually true.



    Becoming more sensitive to the needs of our neighbors is not the same thing as pandering to the needs of our neighbors.

    If someone is raped, therapy is what stands the best chance of allowing them return to some type of normalcy in life. Not side-stepping the term rape, or "violate" or any other word or term or saying that might possibly remind them of the trauma. We simply cannot in the same breathe preach higher learning if we're intentionally excluding terms out of trigger fears. Doing so is literally censoring terms or types of learning (therapy is learning).
    Indeed, although my own opinions and idea of what is correct falls in-between.

    As for trigger sensitivity - I have no issue with removing certain words from certain forms of entertainment and/or literature. With that said, I do believe that there's a common, open place for these "trigger" words - however, much like with many other forms of entertainment, a warning or "gate" should be considered.

    For example, video games have the ESRB. Don't like people punching sex workers in GTA? Read the box, don't buy it.

    I think people have the right to be at least warned about some of these words when they fall into the public arena.

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    A warning isn't the same as removal though. A warning implies caution. Removal is censorship. I have little issue with warnings. If something is largely considered controversial or offensive, feel free to warn viewers or people of the content they're about to embark on. That's OK with me.

    What you are seeing now however, on campuses, is the removal—the censorship—of these words or terms or phrases to attempt at preemptively avoiding triggers. It's insane, because there's no way to know what terms will trigger what people over what trauma. Violate, for example, was a term they were coached against using at Harvard. OK, well what about corrupt? Damage? Defile? Desecrate? Molest? Ruin? How many of these terms also have to be removed? What about Assail? Invade?

    I think you see my point. And those are just common Thesaurus synonyms. What if that person is "offended" or "triggered" by "blue"? Because her attacker wore blue? You can't possibly safeguard the world against every possible trigger word. And you shouldn't. The focus should be on getting that victim the therapy she clearly so desperately needs to be able to function in some sense of normalcy, not allowing herself to have panic attacks or collapse emotionally whenever she sees blue.
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    Right, which is why I've prefaced this argument with the statement that I believe that the truth is somewhere in the middle. Not as radical as some movements, and not as defensive as others.

    What if that person is "offended" or "triggered" by "blue"? Because her attacker wore blue? You can't possibly safeguard the world against every possible trigger word. And you shouldn't
    I'm in agreement that there's a limit. There's a decent concern at the heart of this argument, but we must be pragmatic about the action taken from here on out. Warnings against mass trigger words such as "rape", are not in the same category as phobic trigger words that appeal to a fragment of the population.

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    Simply listen to the words being banned on campuses. These words used to be PC, for chrissakes!

    Can't say obese.
    Can't say homosexual.
    Can't say live in poverty.

    What the fuck is going on?

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    While I agree this is getting out of hand, I also think it's a counter-movement to the desire by some to shock, insult and speak their minds no matter what. I don't think censorship should have a place in education and if words trigger a severe emotional response for you, you should receive proper mental health care until you are in a better place, but regular words are just that, regular words.

    Now, the response to being politically correct has become a point where calling someone out on their vile language, unnecessary labeling, and exaggerations is already "being some leftist PC softie." No, people are mistaking their desire to insult and be an asshole and being asked not to do that for censorship. I know too many people who complain about PC culture, but who are really just plain jerks that get told often to shut their mouths and think before they speak. I remember a time when that same political crowd winced when you would swear in public, now you're labeled weak if you're unwilling to label certain social groups as "probably rapists."

    I don't think you should censor sensitive subjects in any respectable and sensible situation, but that doesn't mean everything should just fly. There's a time and a place for everything and telling someone a certain moment isn't the time isn't being politically correct or censoring you. It's asking you to be considerate. As a relative outsider, it's amazing how the same political crowd that wants to ban certain books from public school for criticizing religion is so often the exact same demographic that's angered by liberals who refuse to be plain rude about certain outside groups. This is a two-way street, but I guess certain things are on more of a pedestal.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pete View Post
    Simply listen to the words being banned on campuses. These words used to be PC, for chrissakes!

    Can't say obese.
    Can't say homosexual.
    Can't say live in poverty.

    What the fuck is going on?
    The extent has reached beyond pragmatism, certainly. That said, the basis of the movement isn't necessarily wrong.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jules View Post
    While I agree this is getting out of hand, I also think it's a counter-movement to the desire by some to shock, insult and speak their minds no matter what. I don't think censorship should have a place in education and if words trigger a severe emotional response for you, you should receive proper mental health care until you are in a better place, but regular words are just that, regular words.

    Now, the response to being politically correct has become a point where calling someone out on their vile language, unnecessary labeling, and exaggerations is already "being some leftist PC softie." No, people are mistaking their desire to insult and be an asshole and being asked not to do that for censorship. I know too many people who complain about PC culture, but who are really just plain jerks that get told often to shut their mouths and think before they speak. I remember a time when that same political crowd winced when you would swear in public, now you're labeled weak if you're unwilling to label certain social groups as "probably rapists."

    I don't think you should censor sensitive subjects in any respectable and sensible situation, but that doesn't mean everything should just fly. There's a time and a place for everything and telling someone a certain moment isn't the time isn't being politically correct or censoring you. It's asking you to be considerate. As a relative outsider, it's amazing how the same political crowd that wants to ban certain books from public school for criticizing religion is so often the exact same demographic that's angered by liberals who refuse to be plain rude about certain outside groups. This is a two-way street, but I guess certain things are on more of a pedestal.
    Agreed. I'm not for censorship. What I am for is fair warning. Publish the same articles, but with a little symbol/notifier.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pete View Post
    Simply listen to the words being banned on campuses. These words used to be PC, for chrissakes!

    Can't say obese.
    Can't say homosexual.
    Can't say live in poverty.

    What the fuck is going on?
    The world would be a better place if every time someone who was, for some reason, offended by those terms, was just called a pussy and ignored.

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    Quote Originally Posted by torontonyr View Post
    Agreed. I'm not for censorship. What I am for is fair warning. Publish the same articles, but with a little symbol/notifier.
    But then you're going to end up with a little symbol on every article. Then there will be a bunch of symbols meaning different things...etc. etc.

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