The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Blindfolds and Trigger Warnings

One’s first inclination is to laugh – laugh heartily
or perhaps in despair – at the idea that college students, or students of any
kind, require “trigger warnings” that they will encounter “upsetting” material
in the books they are reading. I nearly laughed out loud when I read an
article, which is linked in a Daniel Greenfield book review of a title produced
by an especially repulsive writer, David K. Shipler. Greenfield wrote in “Shameless
Liar: The Strange Dishonest World of David K. Shipler
”:
Freedom of Speech [Shipler’s book] instead sets out an imaginary struggle in which
the conservatives are censors while those on the left are defenders of free
speech. There are bad parents who think their children shouldn’t be assigned
novels filled with graphic sexual acts and good leftist teachers who teach
children that free enterprise is evil. It’s a comfortable lefty talking point
from a few generations ago.
Today books with sexual content are censored by social justice
warriors who demand trigger warnings or object to heteronormative content. The
final frontier for censoring novels isn’t the PTA; it’s angry
students at colleges
demanding trigger warnings for The Great Gatsby and Lolita.
The linked article of April 14th is on Inside
Higher Ed, “Oberlin
backs down on ‘trigger warnings’ for professors who teach sensitive material
.”
Its author, Colleen Flaherty wrote: 
Trigger
warnings, which are common in blogs but also have begun to appear on college
and university syllabuses, are supposed to signal to readers that forthcoming
material may be uncomfortable or upsetting. Trigger warned-subject matter – in
literature, films or other texts – usually relates to sexual assault and other
kinds of violence, racism, and the like, and advocates say students have a
right to know of sensitive material in advance.
It saves our short-attention span smitten students
the trouble of actually reading a book, don’t you see? Better to strain ones
neck reading one’s iPod, or iPhone.
But
some critics of trigger warnings say that higher education is rooted in
confronting uncomfortable ideas and experiences. And more practically, critics
say, it’s nearly impossible in classes with students with differing
sensibilities to define what deserves a trigger warning.
How did Oberlin define a “trigger” or a “trigger
warning”?
“Triggers
are not only relevant to sexual misconduct, but also to anything that might
cause trauma,” the policy said. “Be aware of racism, classism, sexism,
heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression.
Realize that all forms of violence are traumatic, and that your students have
lives before and outside your classroom, experiences you may not expect or
understand.” The policy said that “anything could be a trigger,” and advised
professors to “[r]emove triggering material when it does not contribute
directly to the course learning goals.”
Oberlin later “tabled the policy” because its
faculty complained it wasn’t consulted on its content and recommendations. After
all, how could they indoctrinate their students in the Marxist/Progressive
litany of capitalist crimes of “of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and
other issues of privilege and oppression” if they had to preface every mention
of Western “crimes” and “cultural imperialism” with a warning?
Given
the lack of consensus on trigger warnings in the classroom, it was perhaps
unsurprising that the extensive trigger warning policy Oberlin College
published in its Sexual Offense Resource Guide proved controversial earlier
this academic year. Faculty members criticized the policy from within, saying
it had been drafted largely without their input, even though they stood on the
front lines of such a policy….
“This
section of the resource guide is currently under revision, after thoughtful
discussion on campus suggested that some changes could make the guide more
useful for faculty,” Meredith Raimondo, associate dean of the College of Arts
and Sciences and co-chair of the Sexual Offense Policy Task Force, said via
email. “As the resource guide has always stated, the task force values both
academic freedom and support for survivors of sexualized violence. We do not
see these as contradictory projects, but rather that both are necessary to
create an appropriately challenging and effective learning environment.” Oberlin’s
sexual offense policy page for faculty contains a similar message under the
heading “How can I make my classroom more inclusive for survivors of
sexualized violence?”
The Higher Ed article reported that most of the
Oberlin faculty, which initially endorsed such a policy, realized that to
adhere to such a policy would render teaching anything virtually impossible. A
teacher would need the faculty of omniscience to know the “sensitivities” and “trauma”
potentialities of his students to pen such “trigger warnings” to his syllabus. Were
it the subject of study, the violence in The Old Testament of the Bible would
require ten or twenty dozen “trigger warnings,” as well as the seduction scenes
in Alfred HItchcock’s North by Northwest, in one of which Eva Marie Saint is being seduced by Cary
Grant, who says he might murder her, and she says, “Please
do
.”
It would be enough to drive a gay or LGBT student
up the wall and cause it seek therapy, or seek some form of medicinal relief,
and plummet it to the deepest depths of depression to see heterosexuals
flaunting their cultural “privilege” and sexual hegemony so shamelessly.
Meghan Daum, in her Los Angeles Times article of April
3rd, 2014, “Why
‘trigger warnings’? We already live in a hair-trigger world
,” reported:
Academia
has always been an easy target for mockery. Henry Kissinger observed that
university politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so low, and
one logical extension is that liberal arts departments are steeped in
self-importance precisely because their impact on the “real world” is
negligible.
Ergo,
the recent campus phenomenon known as the “trigger warning.” Originating
on certain feminist, self-help and social activist blogs, trigger warnings are
meant to inform readers that the ensuing material deals with subjects, such as
war or sexual violence, that might upset those suffering from post-traumatic
stress related to those issues….
Now
the practice is creeping toward liberal arts syllabi. The UC Santa Barbara
student Senate recently passed a resolution calling for professors to label
potentially upsetting course material and even excuse “triggered”
students from some classes. Oberlin College in Ohio has already implemented
such guidelines, advising instructors not to assign triggering material at all
unless it’s directly relevant to the lesson.
Distressing
as such potential incursions on academic freedom and inquiry may be, the real
trend here may not be trigger warnings but the torrent of outrage they’ve set
off. They’re ripe for bemused chatter, to say the least. A New Republic article
supplied a list of warning-worthy triggers: bullying, sizism, ablism,
transphobia, slut shaming, alcohol and (seriously) animals in wigs. In
December, Slate declared 2013 “the year of the trigger warning.” Even
the satirical Onion has been called out for failing to warn readers about
disturbing content in fake stories.
Yes, “trigger warnings” are eminently susceptible
to ribaldry and mockery, but the fact that such an issue even arises in the ivy
of politically correctness that currently chokes the halls of academe should
serve as a signal that students and teachers alike are thriving on the
nonsense.
Michael Rubin, in his Commentary Magazine article, “I
need a Trigger Warning on Trigger Warnings
” of May 6th, 2015,  treats trigger warnings with the contempt they
deserve.
I
have to admit, the first time I heard about trigger warnings, I thought they
were a joke. In short, trigger warnings assume that students are so infantile
that they cannot handle classroom discussion or themes in great literature that
push them beyond their comfort zone. Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
(about whose work I previously blogged here),
discusses trigger warnings in Freedom
from Speech
, his new Encounter Broadside booklet:
In May 2014, the New
York Times
called attention to a new arrival on the college campus:
trigger warnings. Seemingly overnight, colleges and universities across America
have begun fielding student demands that their professors issue content
warnings before covering any material that might evoke a negative emotional
response…. By way of illustration, the Times
article pointed to a Rutgers’ student’s op-ed requesting trigger
warnings for The Great Gatsby,
which apparently “possesses a variety of scenes that reference gory, abusive
and misogynistic violence.”
Rubin later in his piece sends up trigger warnings
in a paragraph full of trigger warnings, ending with:
Trigger
warnings, even if well intentioned, might remind them of this oppressive and
sometimes lethal political correctness and cause undue stress. Accordingly, in
order to protect the mental well-being of those who value liberty, intellectual
freedom, and oppose censorship, perhaps it’s time to agree to put trigger
warnings ahead of trigger warnings to ensure that no one is inadvertently
stressed out by the decline in mental and intellectual maturity and the
infantilization of society which trigger warnings represent.
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP))
reported in August 2014 in “On Trigger Warnings”:
A
current threat to academic freedom in the classroom comes from a demand that
teachers provide warnings in advance if assigned material contains anything
that might trigger difficult emotional responses for students.  This
follows from earlier calls not to offend students’ sensibilities by introducing
material that challenges their values and beliefs….
As
one report noted, at Wellesley College students objected to “a sculpture
of a man in his underwear because it might be a source of ‘triggering thoughts
regarding sexual assault.’ While the [students’] petition acknowledged that the
sculpture might not disturb everyone on campus, it insisted that we share a
‘responsibility to pay attention to and attempt to answer the needs of all of
our community members.’ Even after the artist explained that the figure was
supposed to be sleepwalking, students continued to insist it be moved
indoors.”
The
presumption that students need to be protected rather than challenged in a
classroom is at once infantilizing and anti-intellectual.  It makes
comfort a higher priority than intellectual engagement and—as the Oberlin list
demonstrates—it singles out politically controversial topics like sex, race,
class, capitalism, and colonialism for attention. 
Jennifer Medina in her May 2014 New York Times article,
The
Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm
,” also noted:
Colleges
across the country this spring have been wrestling with student requests for
what are known as “trigger warnings,” explicit alerts that the material they
are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students
assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or
in war veterans. The warnings, which have their ideological roots in feminist
thought, have gained the most traction at the University of California, Santa
Barbara, where the student government formally called for them.
But there have been similar requests from students at Oberlin College, Rutgers University, the University of
Michigan, George Washington University and other
schools.
The
most vociferous criticism has focused on trigger warnings for materials that
have an established place on syllabuses across the country. Among the
suggestions for books that would benefit from trigger warnings are
Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” (contains anti-Semitism) and Virginia
Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” (addresses suicide)….
“Frankly
it seems this is sort of an inevitable movement toward people increasingly
expecting physical comfort and intellectual comfort in their lives,” said Greg
Lukianoff, president of the Foundation
for Individual Rights in Education
, a nonprofit group that advocates free
speech. “It is only going to get harder to teach people that there is a real
important and serious value to being offended. Part of that is talking about
deadly serious and uncomfortable subjects.”
The New Republic also weighed in on the subject here,
making many of the same points about “shielding students’ psyches” from “uncomfortable”
or “traumatizing” literary and even cinematic content in the classroom and in
readings.
I wonder how many “trigger warnings” would be
required for students reading Ayn Rand’s The
Fountainhead
that there is a rape
scene
in the novel (which Rand called “rape
by engraved invitation
”). On the side of the sexual assault coin is the
rampage of rapes by ISIS on Yazidis and other non-Muslim women. But then, in
today’s universities, Rand’s novels are not studied, and criticizing Islam is
out of the question, as well.
My own hypothesis about the newly ubiquitous
phenomena of “trigger warnings” is that that they are a direct result of the
McDonald’s “hot coffee” lawsuit and similar lawsuits that followed it. That
lawsuit resulted a huge “compensatory” award to the “victim” of scalding hot
coffee. The LectLaw site
has some interesting information on the case:
Stella
Liebeck of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was in the passenger seat of her grandson’s
car when she was severely burned by McDonalds’ coffee in February 1992.
Liebeck, 79 at the time, ordered coffee that was served in a Styrofoam cup at
the drive-through window of a local McDonalds.
After
receiving the order, the grandson pulled his car forward and stopped
momentarily so that Liebeck could add cream and sugar to her coffee. (Critics
of civil justice, who have pounced on this case, often charge that Liebeck was
driving the car or that the vehicle was in motion when she spilled the coffee;
neither is true.) Liebeck placed the cup between her knees and attempted to
remove the plastic lid from the cup. As she removed the lid, the entire
contents of the cup spilled into her lap. The sweatpants Liebeck was wearing
absorbed the coffee and held it next to her skin. A vascular surgeon determined
that Liebeck suffered full thickness burns (or third-degree burns) over 6
percent of her body, including her inner thighs, perineum, buttocks, and
genital and groin areas.
So, instead of setting the Styrofoam cup on her arm
rest, or on the dashboard, or opening the glove compartment in front of her and
placing the cup on the swing-open door to add her cream and sugar, she placed
it between her knees. Naturally, this would require a bit of a squeeze by her
knees to keep the cup steady, even were the car not moving. Naturally, the
liquid would exert pressure on the plastic lid.  A sudden jolt would result in a caffeine
eruption from the cup. Duh! This is carelessness with a capital C.
Liebeck might retort: “But I didn’t think of doing that! It’s McDonald’s
fault I didn’t think! I shouldn’t have
to think!”
And there’s your problem with product liability
suits and “consumer” protection laws and warning labels on especially food
packaging: It’s all devised to appeal to people who are habitually or congenitally
non-thinkers, to stay the hands of the stupid, to deter the actions of the
dense, and for companies to protect or insulate themselves from ruinous
lawsuits by the thoughtless and their
conniving lawyers.
There are now countless “trigger warnings” on food
packaging, such as, “Caution: Product will be hot!” and “Lift lid carefully. It’s
hot!” especially on microwavable snacks and entrées. Which is in the way of
obviating the whole purpose of heating the meal in the first place. Such warnings
seem addressed to anyone with a short-term memory who has forgotten the nature
of heat.  These are in addition to the superfluous
advisories to wait one or five minutes for the “product to complete cooking”
after a microwaving, when it will sit in a microwave oven daring you to reach
inside and touch the product before it cools to a presumably scientifically
measured temperature and to a minimal point of tactile tolerance. Otherwise,
you would presumably cook your fingers.
I must confess that I’ve squeezed a Styrofoam cup
more than once and saw the liquid spill onto my Chicken McNuggets (but never
into my lap). I’ve also been so drowsy in the morning that I’ve tried to brush
my teeth with shaving cream and lather my face with toothpaste. I blame
Barbasol and Crest for not providing me with “trigger warnings.” Those episodes
of semi-consciousness cost me irreparable mental anguish.
I’m sure there are countless lovers of Marie
Callender’s chicken pot pies who, without the trigger
warning that’s not only on the packaging, but on
the pie wrapping itself, would thoughtlessly reach with their bare fingers into
a steaming, freshly nuked pie and blame Marie Callender for their pains.

Perhaps
drawings
of Mohammad
should come with “trigger warnings” for Muslims. “Caution!
Visual contact with this picture may offend and traumatize you and make you so unconformable
that you may become homicidal!” But, do Muslims really need “trigger fingers”
for anything?



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4 Comments

  1. revereridesagain

    Are they going to provide these kids with "trigger warnings" for life, or are they just going on the assumption that by the time they graduate the Progressives will have everything under control so that they will never have to suffer the trauma of being confronted with the InCorrect? It is also worth noting that people raised to believe that they have the right to be protected from anything that might "trigger" anxiety by challenging their assumptions might be more inclined to favor censorship of the expression of contradictory views. According to polls, Democrats are more likely to favor the imposition of "hate speech" laws.

    https://today.yougov.com/news/2015/05/20/hate-speech/

    http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/05/21/majority-of-democrats-support-criminalizing-free-speech/

  2. Edward Cline

    Thanks for the Breitbart link, Revereridesagain. Will look into it.

  3. Edward Cline

    Also, Revere, I used the UGOV link in the Hate Crimes vs. Hate Speech column.

    https://today.yougov.com/news/2015/05/20/hate-speech/

  4. David Hayes

    A year before the McDonald's "hot coffee" lawsuit (discussed in the article), a "Doonesbury" comic strip on May 19, 1991, demonstrated the foreseeable absurdity to come from the trends already in place. Artist Gary Trudeau has a commencement speaker address those assembled at a college:

    "Graduating seniors, parents and friends…
    "Let me begin by reassuring you that my remarks today will stand up to the most stringent requirements of the new appropriateness.
    "The intra-college sensitivity advisory committee has vetted the text of even trace amounts of subconscious racism, sexism and classism.
    "Moreover, a faculty panel of deconstructionists have reconfigured the rhetorical components within a post-structuralist framework, so as to expunge any offensive elements of western rationalism and linear logic.
    "Finally, all references flowing from a white, male, eurocentric perspective have been eliminated, as have any other ruminations deemed denigrating to the political consensus of the moment.
    "Thank you and good luck."

    Multiculturalism and moral relativism had already encouraged outliers that they could complain with expectations of receiving concessions. A year after the McDonald's "hot coffee" initial incident, the "water buffalo" case occurred at the University of Pennsylvania. A white student for months faced university discipline and punishment after he, weary from much study and sleepiness while black students yelled at midnight outside his window, called them "water buffalo." In the Hebrew language which he knew, it meant a rowdy loud person. In the "Flintstones" television cartoon series known to many of his generation, it referred to rowdy lodge members. Nonetheless, a black person who heard it took it to mean a racial epithet, and no matter the evidence that the word didn't have this meaning or connotation and that no racial disparagement was meant, the claim that the hearer interpreted it this way led to a drawn-out legal, disciplinary ordeal.

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