Trigger Warnings Are Offensive

Trigger Warnings Are Offensive May 13, 2015

Elizabeth Scalia directed me to a story about Columbia University students who are offended by Ovid’s The Metamorphoses, because Generation Participation Trophy never gets tired of tryIng to slap a bike helmet and elbow pads on civilization.

The poor little snowflakes are claiming that ancient classics like Ovid’s retelling of The Rape of Persephone triggered a rape victim, and that the professor was insensitive to her complaints. They don’t bother to say what she wanted (probably a pass on finishing an assignment: these are college students we’re talking about) or what he was supposed to do.

By the way, we translated The Metamorphoses from the Latin in ninth grade. Apparently 1980s high-school freshmen were made of tougher stuff than the little buttercups wandering college campuses today.

Here’s what a group of them had to say:

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.

The BS is strong with this one.

Note the nonsense buzzwords and the attacks on “the Western canon,” which were going on when I was in college 30 years ago. What the current generation has done is pathologize the canon so that it’s seen not merely as “racist” or “imperialist” or “sexist,” but as physically and mentally harmful. It’s a scam, and they make it clear that it’s a scam by extending it from victims of real and horrific sexual violence (“survivors” in their cushiony patois) to “a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.”

Rembrandt, Rape of Prosperina
Rembrandt, Rape of Prosperina
By doing this, they extend the pathology from genuine trauma to include race and class as well. They are saying that race and class are themselves implicitly traumatic and need to be approached as one would a true mental illness. They’re saying that being non-white or poor is a kind of disability that requires special accommodations. Am I the only person who sees that as grossly offensive?

Here’s the deeper problem: triggering is a real thing in mental illness and trauma. A trigger can lead to serious psychological and physiological effects, trawling up memories that haven’t been properly dealt with and leading to anxiety attacks. Anyone who understands anxiety knows this to be true.

However, a victim of violence who is triggered so easily and frequently is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and needs serious counseling and medication. If they try to assiduously avoid any and all potential triggers, then they are not engaged in healing. They are engaged in avoidance. Indeed, avoiding “triggers” is a way of avoiding coming to grips with the problem, which has the effect of worsening the PTSD.

The answer is not to reshape the public square to accommodate them, because literally anything (a color, a smell) can be a trigger. Trigger warnings exist only to claim public victim status and reshape the debate. Where sexual violence is the issue, they are working hand-in-hand with the myth of the “rape epidemic” as a way of demonizing men to serve a political agenda. (Rates of sexual violence have plummeted over the past two decades. There is no epidemic.)

Trigger warnings are not an outgrowth of a real healing process that shows concern for someone who is suffering, but rather a way for the individual (and their ideological clique) to assert control and declare autonomy and self-importance. Generations of people suffering serious trauma, from things like war and ethnic cleansing, managed to integrate themselves into society without being swaddled in a bubble-wrap of warnings and accommodations. This attempt to neuter the college campus and remove anything difficult or offensive is just the latest front in the war of identity politics, and they trivialize the real struggles of those who suffer from psychological problems.

My other writing about mental illness can be found here.

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