Trigger warnings: give me input on them

This post contains a references to extreme forms of violence

So, I’m about to start writing a book chapter or two on religious morality, the question of whether religion is harmful, and so on. The thing that I’m hesitating on is, well… okay, so I’m thinking of starting off with a discussion not of any currently popular religion, but of the Homeric Epics. And how they assume raping and pillaging is perfectly suitable behavior for a “hero.” To the point where the plot of the Iliad basically revolves around who will get to rape a particular female prisoner.

Having just typed that, I’m now feeling a bit ill, and not at all in the mood to explain some of the other things I’m going to be writing about. And I’m not carrying around any major traumas with me. I can’t imagine what reading something like the above paragraph might be like for someone who is carrying around certain traumas. Which is basically the reason for trigger warnings.

I’m going to force myself to mention one other example of this: the fact that a recurring motif in the Old Testament is God forcing people to eat their own children in return for disobeying him. Feeling nauseous again. And I don’t have any kids. I imagine there are some parents out there who do not under any circumstances want to read about that sort of thing, even if it’s in the service of making an important point.

I don’t want to scale back these parts of what I’m going to write at all. Not only am I willing to make people uncomfortable, I want to make them uncomfortable. We should be uncomfortable with the contents of the holy books revered by billions of people around the globe. But I recognize that what’s uncomfortable for most readers may be absolutely unbearable for a minority.

What I’m unsure of is whether trigger warnings are really the answer here. One, I’m worried they’ll just confuse people who aren’t part of those subcultures where trigger warnings are common. And there’s the question of where the line should really be drawn between “trigger warnings are necessary” and “trigger warnings are unnecessary.” The discussions will not be in any way graphic, or even as extensive as they might be, but I do mean them to be uncomfortable. So what side of the line does that fall on?

One other issue is that I personally find matter-of-fact descriptions of horrifying things to be especially stomach-churning. Styles of writing that, for other people, dilute the emotional impact can have the opposite effect on me. I may be in a minority there, but I don’t think I’m alone. Issues like that, I worry, may make the whole business of trigger warnings futile.

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