Friday 13 June 2014
Puzzled reader I. P. Freely has asked the Viliage Idiot to explain these so-called “trigger warnings” that seem to be showing up everywhere of late. Did something happen with Roy Rogers’ steed? he asks. Or is it some new concealed carry restriction? To the best of his limited abilities, the Idiot herein responds.
Well, Mr Freely, you have no doubt also observed a parallel phenomenon: the allergy alarums now ubiquitous everywhere that food is bought, sold, or served. The formula is “Please alert your waiter/a member of our staff if you or anyone in your party has a food allergy.” How so many among us have suddenly become mortally allergic to just about everything comestible is a mystery that must await its own solution. But I think you can easily guess that the purpose of such advertisements is to be legally prophylactic in the case of a lawsuit: “We warned you!”
And it seems we are becoming even more allergic to words (spoken or written) and to images (still or moving) that have unpleasant effects on our emotions. There is a quasi-medical basis to this, it appears. In psychology a “trigger” is any action or sensation that can awaken a painful memory of some trauma such as war, rape, or abuse. It seems part of the Post Traumatic Stress condition. Like the allergy notices, a trigger warning’s purpose is to prevent an undesirable reaction to something heard, read, or viewed. But since these triggers could be infinite in number and variety, due to the infinite variety of human experience, it is manifestly unfeasible to warn everyone of every possible instance. It is also absurd, since a warning itself could just as well trigger an unhappy memory as any material content.
Such practical considerations have not troubled the righteous gang of the hypersensitive, who follow a victimist path of reasoning to claim the status of “disability.” Of course, since Bush ’41 signed the Americans With Disabilities Act (1990), that term has suffered definitional metastasis. Once the manifold unhappinesses of life are officially classified as disadvantages, there will be no end of rent-seeking demands for rights and privileges and beneficent state involvement in the lives of citizens. And, as with allergies, this will be a growth area for attorneys.
The trigger warnings you’ve been reading about of late, I. P., are monitory prefaces to syllabuses for college courses. Reading and discussing the Iliad, for example, could awaken painful memories of battle among students who are combat veterans. The Merchant of Venice contains anti-Semitic language, and so on. Students of a more delicate nature are driving this innovation forward. They imagine themselves champions of the disabled, marginalized, oppressed and victimized. Indeed, there is a whole Tumblr “community” of such persons at the charmingly-named site “Fuck Yeah, Trigger Warnings.” Some professors, especially those of the feminist/queer camp, find this wholly appropriate, while others are anxious about possible limitations on course expectations and free speech.
A healthy (in the Idiot’s view) satire has also begun. My good friends at the National Association of Scholars, for example, have set up a contest for the most humorous trigger warnings to classic literature and film. But will this ridicule be enough to halt the movement’s progress? One certainly hopes so. But two forces are poised to take maximum advantage of the trend: the spokespersons of political correctness, and Islamofascists, both of whom have common tyrannical inclinations.
For it is a very short step from alerting students to upcoming scenes of the violence and cruelty of which humankind is so capable to proactively banning any topic that might offend the sensibilities of a tender few. We are talking here not of the truly offensive but of Things One Does Not Like. Indeed, in our culture of comfort, the belief is now widespread among high school and college students that one has a legal right not to be offended by others, even if the offending party has been dead for centuries. This puts quite a veto power in the hands of the emotionally anointed.
Islamofascists will be delighted by this opportunity to forbid any uncomplimentary references to the Religion of Peace and its Prophet, of course. Their modus operandi is well-known by now. Professors who make such a mistake as to assign The Satanic Verses, say, or teach the history of Islam or of Israeli-Palestinian conflict according to actual known facts, will soon find themselves accused of “hate speech” and named as tortfeasors and made the objects of vexatious litigation.
That’s as much as the Idiot has to say for the moment, Mr Freely, but who knows where this might go? Thank you for writing, and, as always, I certainly hope I have caused no offense.