The thing is, triggering is a valid concept in psychology and counseling. But it has been swiped and used inappropriately.
The area I’m familiar with is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), but it’s a useful concept in other areas, like PTSD. DID is what used to be called “multiple personality disorder.” Years ago I married a woman with DID. She was high functioning, but under stress, she started switching alters (terms of art). In other words, she started changing personalities. I didn’t know it at the time, so the behavior appeared either deliberate and purely evil, or it was some form of extreme psychosis. I didn’t know. I couldn’t tell. This is where a little knowledge on my part would have gone a long way.* It turns out I was triggering her. I know this in retrospect, having put the pieces together in the time since. I’m the one who increased her stress. My stark reactions to her behavior made her switching worse. I was, frankly, scared out of my wits, and my honest what the hell? responses were damaging. I was a machine gun of triggers. Worst of all, I eventually brought out her protection alters. These personalities will defend the ego at any cost. They lack empathy and, indeed, appear sociopathic. They have to. They have a job to do.
* She didn’t tell me. Knowing what was going on — knowing about DID and triggering — would have allowed me to respond properly. The right way is to a) be attuned to the possibility of a switch and b) be polite and respectful when one arises and kindly explain to the “new personality” things like where you are, how you got there and, most importantly, that everything is okay. Here’s an example of when this would have been helpful: she switched in a grocery store checkout line once. She suddenly appeared surprised and bewildered to be standing there. She seemed amazed at her clothes. I didn’t know what was going on, but at least I didn’t say anything that time. My private reaction: “What the hell was that?” The best reaction would have been something like, “Hi, hon. We stopped by here on the way home from work. So glad it’s Friday. I’m looking forward to the cookout tonight.”
Another thing caring family members and friends can do is develop a mental list of potential triggers and try to avoid them. The point is, this is what the the concept of “triggering” is all about. This is who triggering is for. It’s for people who have serious medical issues. It’s not about the New Victorians and things that make them uncomfy, even if they do get the vapours on occasion.
The concept of triggering is for those who are close to a person who is hurting: family members, close friends, and mental health professionals. It is for when you are knowingly dealing with someone who has a problem. If you know a topic, a word, or an image that might cause someone difficulty, you can avoid it. Accordingly, trigger warnings are for known situations where sufferers might encounter common triggers, like if you’re conducting a seminar for people with PTSD or writing a book for people with DID. Triggering is not a concern for the general public. You and I do not have to worry about triggering some unknown person. There is no way to trigger-proof our entire culture on the chance you might affect a stranger with an emotional or mental problem. And there is absolutely no need to worry about triggering Social Justice Warrior snowflakes and prudes. No one has to walk on eggshells around them. They need to learn to own their feelings.
Speech police types who use triggering improperly to shut down speech are misguided. Opposing political views should be discussed. Comedy does not have to be anodyne. Stories and movies need not be bland, and we do not need to live in a way that kowtows to those with aggressively delicate sensibilities. Unless you’re dealing with a family member or a friend who has a real problem, say what you want to say. Don’t allow the speech police to make fun, free expression taboo.
rdbrewer, “Triggers and Triggering”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2015-05-13.
May 22, 2015
May 19, 2015
I should say I’m no free-speech absolutist. I think the notion that we should treat pole dancing like constitutionally protected speech while we try to ban actual political speech is just one of the loopiest manifestations of our popular confusion over the First Amendment. In fact, government support for the arts doesn’t offend me in theory, it’s just how they do it in practice that bothers me.
Specifically, I cannot stand the way New Class bureaucrats think they must be autonomous from the taxpayers who pay their salaries. Imagine if we lived in anything like the “Christianist” theocracy so many lefties live in quaking fear of. Evangelical bureaucrats would likely fund art they liked. The professional Bohemians would shriek — with some justification — that the state was imposing its values on the rest of us. But when those same people are in driving the gravy train, they think there’s nothing wrong — and everything right — with imposing their values.
Of course, this is a problem that extends far beyond outposts like the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Public teachers’ unions and ed-school priests hate the idea that parents and other taxpayers should have a real say in how education money is spent. Bureaucrats in general have become a kind of secular aristocracy that resents second-guessing by the people who fund their will-to-power.
When voters say that bureaucrats shouldn’t spend money on X, the bureaucrats shriek “censorship!” But it is only the equivalent of censorship if you work from the assumption that it’s all the government’s money anyhow. As Bill Clinton once said about the federal surplus, “We could give it all back to you and hope you spend it right.” But if we did, alas, not enough of you would spend it on urophagic art.
Jonah Goldberg, “Bureaucrats Use Taxpayer Money to Subsidize Their Own Values — and No One Else’s”, National Review, 2015-05-09.
May 12, 2015
An interesting article in Salon:
Whatever her views on other matters are, Pamela Geller is right about one thing: last week’s Islamist assault on the “Draw Muhammad” cartoon contest she hosted in Texas proves the jihad against freedom of expression has opened a front in the United States. “There is,” she said, “a war on free speech and this violent attack is a harbinger of things to come.” Apparently undaunted, Geller promises to continue with such “freedom of speech” events. ISIS is now threatening to assassinate her. She and her cohorts came close to becoming victims, yet some in the media on the right and the center-right have essentially blamed her for the gunmen’s attack, just as far too many, last January, surreptitiously pardoned the Kouachi brothers and, with consummate perfidy to human decency, inculpated the satirical cartoonists they slaughtered, saying “Charlie Hebdo asked for it.”
One must, though, call out New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof for backing up Affleck on the same show, and, later, in an editorial. Kristof, after all, should know better. He trades in words and ideas, and his acceptance of the fraudulent term “Islamophobia” contributes to the generalized befuddlement on the left about the faith in question and whether negative talk about it constitutes some sort of racism, or proxy for it. It patently does not. Unlike skin color, faith is not inherited and is susceptible to change. As with any other ideology, it should be subject to unfettered discussion, which may include satire, ridicule and even derision. The First Amendment protects both our right to practice the religion of our choosing (or no religion at all) as well as our right to speak freely, even offensively, about it.
One must, however, recoil in stupefaction and disgust at the consortium of prominent writers who just signaled de facto capitulation to the Enforcers of Shariah. I’m referring, of course, to the recent decision of 204 authors to sign a letter dissociating themselves from PEN’s granting the Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award to the brave, talented surviving artists of Charlie Hebdo. (Disclosure: I have friends among Charlie Hebdo’s staff.) The authors objecting did so out of concern, according to their statement, for “the section of the French population” – its Muslims – “that is already marginalized, embattled, and victimized, a population that is shaped by the legacy of France’s various colonial enterprises.” A “large percentage” of these Muslims are “devout,” contend the writers, and should thus be spared the “humiliation and suffering” Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons allegedly caused them.
Europe’s colonial past and the United States’ current (endless) military campaigns in the Islamic world, as well as prejudice against nonwhites in Europe, have predisposed many to see, with some justification, Muslims as victims. But apart from the blundering wrongheadedness of the PEN writers’ dissent (Charlie Hebdo’s undeniable courage won them the award, not their artwork) and putting aside the question of whether France’s Muslims are necessarily “devout” (French law prohibits religion-based polling, so who could know?), or uniformly “humiliated” by Charlie Hebdo, or necessarily “embattled,” one thing transpires with arresting clarity from the authors’ declaration: Among the left, the confusion surrounding Islam and how we should relate to it imperils the free speech rights without which no secular republic can survive. We have to clear this up, and fast.
There is no legitimate controversy over why the Kouachi brothers targeted Charlie Hebdo. They murdered not to redress the social grievances or right the historical wrongs the PEN authors named. They explicitly told us why they murdered — for Islam, to avenge the Prophet Muhammad. Progressives who think otherwise need to face that reality. Put another way, the Kouachi brothers may have suffered racial discrimination and even “marginalization,” yet had they not been Muslims, they would not have attacked Charlie Hebdo. They would have had no motive.
March 24, 2015
A fascinating … and disturbing … post from a Tumblr blog called White Hot Harlots on the pervasive fear among some academics. Not fear of the troglodytes of the right, but fear of their own students:
Personally, liberal students scare the shit out of me. I know how to get conservative students to question their beliefs and confront awful truths, and I know that, should one of these conservative students make a facebook page calling me a communist or else seek to formally protest my liberal lies, the university would have my back. I would not get fired for pissing off a Republican, so long as I did so respectfully, and so long as it happened in the course of legitimate classroom instruction.
The same cannot be said of liberal students. All it takes is one slip — not even an outright challenging of their beliefs, but even momentarily exposing them to any uncomfortable thought or imagery — and that’s it, your classroom is triggering, you are insensitive, kids are bringing mattresses to your office hours and there’s a twitter petition out demanding you chop off your hand in repentance.
Is paranoid? Yes, of course. But paranoia isn’t uncalled for within the current academic job climate. Jobs are really, really, really, really hard to get. And since no reasonable person wants to put their livelihood in danger, we reasonably do not take any risks vis-a-vis momentarily upsetting liberal students. And so we leave upsetting truths unspoken, uncomfortable texts unread.
There are literally dozens of articles and books I thought nothing of teaching, 5-6 years ago, that I wouldn’t even reference in passing today. I just re-read a passage of Late Victorian Holocausts, an account of the British genocide against India, and, wow, today I’d be scared if someone saw a copy of it in my office. There’s graphic pictures right on the cover, harsh rhetoric (“genocide”), historical accounts filled with racially insensitive epithets, and a profound, disquieting indictment of capitalism. No way in hell would I assign that today. Not even to grad students.
March 6, 2015
It seems to be forgotten that the current American theory that political heresy should be put down by force, that a man who disputes whatever is official has no rights in law or equity, that he is lucky if he fares no worse than to lose his constitutional benefits of free speech, free assemblage and the use of the mails it seems to be forgotten that this theory was invented, not by Dr. Wilson, but by Roosevelt. Most Liberals, I suppose, would credit it, if asked, to Wilson. He has carried it to extravagant lengths; he is the father superior of all the present advocates of it; he will probably go down into American history as its greatest prophet. But it was first clearly stated, not in any Wilsonian bull to the right-thinkers of all lands, but in Roosevelt’s proceedings against the so-called Paterson anarchists. You will find it set forth at length in an opinion prepared for him by his Attorney-General, Charles J. Bonaparte, another curious and almost fabulous character, also an absolutist wearing the false whiskers of a democrat. Bonaparte furnished the law, and Roosevelt furnished the blood and iron. It was an almost ideal combination; Bonaparte had precisely the touch of Italian finesse that the Rough Rider always lacked. Roosevelt believed in the Paterson doctrine in brief, that the Constitution does not throw its cloak around heretics to the end of his days. In the face of what he conceived to be contumacy to revelation his fury took on a sort of lyrical grandeur. There was nothing too awful for the culprit in the dock. Upon his head were poured denunciations as violent as the wildest interdicts of a mediaeval pope.
The appearance of such men, of course, is inevitable under a democracy. Consummate showmen, they arrest the wonder of the mob, and so put its suspicions to sleep. What they actually believe is of secondary consequence; the main thing is what they say; even more, the way they say it. Obviously, their activity does a great deal of damage to the democratic theory, for they are standing refutations of the primary doctrine that the common folk choose their leaders wisely. They damage it again in another and more subtle way. That is to say, their ineradicable contempt for the. minds they must heat up and bamboozle leads them into a fatalism that shows itself in a cynical and opportunistic politics, a deliberate avoidance of fundamentals. The policy of a democracy thus becomes an eternal improvisation, changing with the private ambitions of its leaders and the transient and often unintelligible emotions of its rank and file.
H.L. Mencken, “Roosevelt: An Autopsy”, Prejudices, Second Series, 1920
March 4, 2015
Published on 2 Mar 2015
Time to stop indulging privileged militant “progressive” puritan student bigots.
February 5, 2015
At Coyote Blog, Warren Meyer is starting to think that a large number of internet fans are idiots:
So, out of the fear […] that some people will get better service than others — something that, oh by the way, has never really happened so is entirely hypothetical — you are urging on a regulatory regime originally designed for land-line phone companies, a technology that basically went unchanged for decades at a time. The phones that were in my home at my birth in 1962 were identical to the one in my dorm room when AT&T was broken up in 1982. Jesus, we are turning the Internet into a public utility — name three innovations from an American public utility in the last 40 years. Name one.
And all you free-speech advocates, do you really think the Feds won’t use this as a back-door to online censorship? We are talking about the same agency that went into a tizzy when Janet Jackson may have accidentally on purpose shown a nipple on TV. All that is good with TV today — The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Arrested Development, etc. etc. etc. results mainly from the fact that cable is able to avoid exactly the kind of freaking regulation you want to impose on the Internet.
Here is my official notice — you have been warned, time and again. There will be no allowing future statements of “I didn’t mean that” or “I didn’t expect that” or “that’s not what I intended.” There is no saying that you only wanted this one little change, that you didn’t buy into all the other mess that is coming. You let the regulatory camel’s nose in the tent and the entire camel is coming inside. I guarantee it.
January 5, 2015
November 25, 2014
November 19, 2014
I heard a lot of that kind of talk during my battles with the Canadian ‘human rights’ commissions a few years ago: of course, we all believe in free speech, but it’s a question of how you ‘strike the balance’, where you ‘draw the line’… which all sounds terribly reasonable and Canadian, and apparently Australian, too. But in reality the point of free speech is for the stuff that’s over the line, and strikingly unbalanced. If free speech is only for polite persons of mild temperament within government-policed parameters, it isn’t free at all. So screw that.
But I don’t really think that many people these days are genuinely interested in ‘striking the balance’; they’ve drawn the line and they’re increasingly unashamed about which side of it they stand. What all the above stories have in common, whether nominally about Israel, gay marriage, climate change, Islam, or even freedom of the press, is that one side has cheerfully swapped that apocryphal Voltaire quote about disagreeing with what you say but defending to the death your right to say it for the pithier Ring Lardner line: ‘“Shut up,” he explained.’
A generation ago, progressive opinion at least felt obliged to pay lip service to the Voltaire shtick. These days, nobody’s asking you to defend yourself to the death: a mildly supportive retweet would do. But even that’s further than most of those in the academy, the arts, the media are prepared to go. As Erin Ching, a student at 60-grand-a-year Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, put it in her college newspaper the other day: ‘What really bothered me is the whole idea that at a liberal arts college we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion.’ Yeah, who needs that? There speaks the voice of a generation: celebrate diversity by enforcing conformity.
Mark Steyn, “The slow death of free speech”, The Spectator, 2014-04-19
November 12, 2014
Susan Kruth on what can happen in the wonderful world of academia when free speech can’t even be used on a panel on free speech:
So what exactly happened at Smith? Smith President Kathleen McCartney, moderating the panel, asked about the line between free speech and hate speech. Torch readers know such a line doesn’t exist. Kaminer said, regarding what’s allowed in the classroom, that there’s a difference between students cursing at each other and students using words in the context of a discussion — for example, talking about the use of “the n-word” in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. She prompted the audience: “When I say, ‘n-word,’ … what word do you all hear in your head?” and proceeded to repeat the answer she got from the audience, remarking that “nothing horrible happened” when she did so. Some students, however, not only condemned Kaminer for uttering the word but also argued that McCartney should have intervened.
Smith’s student newspaper The Smith Sophian later published a transcript of the panel that both prefaces the content with a trigger warning and censors a number of potentially explicit words, to the point that, in some cases, it’s not clear at first glance what was said. This censored transcript is therefore itself an excellent example of how censorship hurts dialogue. All instances of “nigger” are written as “[n-word].” Kaminer’s use of the word “cunt”—which she used one time, to clarify a student’s reference to “the c-word,” was written as “[c-word],” resulting in this line in the transcript:
WK: And by, “the c-word,” you mean the word [c-word]?
Clarification was evidently needed, considering that another c-word was also censored from the transcript:
Kathleen McCartney: … We’re just wild and [ableist slur], aren’t we?
That’s right, wild and crazy. It took my colleagues and me a moment to figure that one out (it is audible in the audio recording of the panel). Despite this word apparently being too offensive to reproduce in the transcript, it was spoken by all three of the other panelists besides Kaminer, in addition to President McCartney.
This kind of censorship serves only to distract from the real dialogue that was happening among panel members and the audience at Smith. It is the Sophian’s editors’ prerogative to cut words from its reporting, but to do so is counterproductive. Newspapers exist to provide information, and censorship inhibits that goal. It also cannot be justified in the name of safety, since no reasonable person could interpret the publication of an accurate transcript as threatening.
November 4, 2014
Sean Collins on the spectacle of the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement demanding that speakers must not say “hurtful” things, lest students be upset:
Students at the University of California, Berkeley, are demanding that the administration ‘disinvite’ comedian Bill Maher who had been asked to be the commencement ceremony speaker in December. An online petition from the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition (MEMSA) declares that Maher ‘has made statements that are blatantly bigoted and racist’, in particular about Islam. Examples of ‘hate speech’ cited by the petitioners include Maher’s recent statement that ‘Islam is the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing’.
In response to the clamour for Maher’s disinvitation, the undergraduate committee at UC Berkeley responsible for selecting speakers voted to rescind the invitation to Maher. But the university administration announced the invitation will stand.
The controversy resonates historically at Berkeley. The university is currently celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Free Speech Movement (FSM), a coalition of Berkeley staff and students who fought for free-speech rights for students on campus. ‘I guess they don’t teach irony in college any more’, quipped Maher, in response to his disinvitation.
Maher does not have a ‘right’ to speak at Berkeley’s ceremony; this is not a First Amendment issue. But the campaign to remove him as the speaker at the graduation event is thoroughly censorious and antithetical to the free exchange of ideas. Trying to silence certain views is especially problematic at universities, institutions in which students are expected to engage with a variety of ideas. The attempt to oust Maher is part of a regressive anti-intellectual trend. In the past year alone, there has been a wave of speakers – including Condoleezza Rice, Christine Lagarde, Ayann Hirsi Ali and George Will – who have had invitations rescinded or who decided to decline following protests.
The slogan used by the UC Berkeley campaign against Maher is ‘Free Speech, Not Hate Speech’. This formulation is a contradiction in terms: if you seek to prevent certain speech – say on the grounds of being ‘hateful’ – then you do not support free speech. Alongside Nineteen Eighty-Four’s ‘Freedom is Slavery’, we can now add ‘Censorship is Free Speech’.
In the New Statesman, Sarah Ditum seemed befuddled that the ‘No Platform’ movement — a vigorous effort to deny public platforms to the British National party and the English Defence League — has mysteriously advanced from silencing ‘violent fascists’ to silencing all kinds of other people, like a Guardian feminist who ventured some insufficiently affirming observations about trans-women and is now unfit for polite society. But, once you get a taste for shutting people up, it’s hard to stop. Why bother winning the debate when it’s easier to close it down?
Nick Lowles defined the ‘No Platform’ philosophy as ‘the position where we refuse to allow fascists an opportunity to act like normal political parties’. But free speech is essential to a free society because, when you deny people ‘an opportunity to act like normal political parties’, there’s nothing left for them to do but punch your lights out. Free speech, wrote the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson last week, ‘buttresses the political system’s legitimacy. It helps losers, in the struggle for public opinion and electoral success, to accept their fates. It helps keep them loyal to the system, even though it has disappointed them. They will accept the outcomes, because they believe they’ve had a fair opportunity to express and advance their views. There’s always the next election. Free speech underpins our larger concept of freedom.’
Mark Steyn, “The slow death of free speech”, The Spectator, 2014-04-19
October 29, 2014
The Popehat grand poobah suspects that if you’re passionate about #gamergate, you’re probably wrong … or at least, wrong-headed about your passions:
GamerGate is label-heavy, and labels are lazy, obfuscating bullshit.
Labels are supposed to be shorthand for collections of ideas. I might say “I am libertarian-ish” because it’s not practical to go around announcing the whole array of views I hold about demolishing public roads and privatizing the air force and so forth. This, up to a point, is useful.
It stops being useful when we argue over labels instead of over ideas. Take, for instance, “feminist.” A person who describes themselves as “feminist” might associate that term with their grandmother being the first woman in the family to go to college and their mother defying a sexist boss in a male-dominated job and the development of laws saying women can’t be relentlessly harassed in the workplace or fired for being women.1 Someone who routinely criticizes “feminism” might be thinking of Andrea Dworkin saying all heterosexual sex is coercive, or that time a woman snapped at him when he held a door open, or the time someone embarrassed his friend by saying his joke was sexist. When these two people use the term “feminist” in an argument, they are talking past each other and engaging with strawmen rather than ideas. The feminist is engaging the anti-feminist as if he opposes women in the workplace or supports gender-based hiring, which he doesn’t necessarily. The anti-feminist is engaging the feminist as if she thinks all marital sex is rape and as if she thinks jokes should get him fired, which she doesn’t necessarily. Neither is really engaging in the particular issue at hand — because why would you engage with a person who holds such extreme views? Why would it matter if the person you are arguing with has an arguable point on a specific issue, if they also necessarily (based on labels) stand for everything you hate?
Oh, and reacting before thinking (or instead of it)?
People are going to say things about your favorite parts of the culture. Some of these things will be stupid or wrong. It is swell to use more speech to disagree with, criticize, or ridicule the criticism. But when you become completely and tragicomically unbalanced by the existence of cultural criticism, or let it send you into a buffoonish spiral of resentful defensiveness, people may not take you seriously. Rule of thumb: a reasoned rebuttal of wrong-headed cultural criticism mostly likely won’t require you to use the word “cunt.”
There are ten points Ken covers in the original post. I really do recommend that you read it all. By my count, he gores everyone’s ox by the time he’s at point four (and by point five, he’s blaming Canada in the footnotes).
October 26, 2014
Andrew Sullivan carefully dips his toes into the #gamergate war:
Many readers have warned me not to dip a toe into the gamergate debate, which, so far, we’ve been covering through aggregation and reader-input. And I’m not going to dive headlong into an extremely complex series of events, which have generated huge amounts of intense emotion on all sides, in a gamer culture which Dish readers know far, far better than I. But part of my job is to write and think about burning current web discussions – and add maybe two cents, even as an outsider.
So let me make a few limited points. The tactics of harassment, threats of violence, foul misogyny, and stalking have absolutely no legitimate place in any discourse. Having read about what has happened to several women, who have merely dared to exercise their First Amendment rights, I can only say it’s been one of those rare stories that still has the capacity to shock me. I know it isn’t fair to tarnish an entire tendency with this kind of extremism, but the fact that this tactic seemed to be the first thing that some gamergate advocates deployed should send off some red flashing lights as to the culture it is defending.
Second, there’s a missing piece of logic, so far as I have managed to discern, in the gamergate campaign. The argument seems to be that some feminists are attempting to police or control a hyper-male culture of violence, speed, competition and boobage. And in so far as that might be the case, my sympathies do indeed lie with the gamers. The creeping misandry in a lot of current debates – see “Affirmative Consent” and “Check Your Privilege” – and the easy prejudices that define white and male and young as suspect identities (because sexism!) rightly offend many men (and women).
There’s an atmosphere in which it has somehow become problematic to have a classic white, straight male identity, and a lot that goes with it. I’m not really a part of that general culture – indifferent to boobage, as I am, and bored by violence. But I don’t see why it cannot have a place in the world. I believe in the flourishing of all sorts of cultures and subcultures and have long been repulsed by the nannies and busybodies who want to police them – whether from the social right or the feminist left.
But – and here’s where the logic escapes me – if the core gamers really do dominate the market for these games, why do they think the market will stop catering to them? The great (and not-so-great) thing about markets is that they are indifferent to content as such. If “hardcore gamers” skew 7 -1 male, and if corporations want to make lots of money, then this strain of the culture is hardly under threat. It may be supplemented by lots of other, newer varieties, but it won’t die. Will it be diluted? Almost certainly. Does that feel like an assault for a group of people whose identity is deeply bound up in this culture? Absolutely. Is it something anyone should really do anything about? Nah. Let a thousand variety of nerds and post-nerds bloom. And leave Kenny McCormick alone. This doesn’t have to be zero-sum.