Saturday, February 11, 2017

Trigger Warning: This post will contain explicit references to war, sexual violence...

Trigger Warning: This post will contain explicit references to war, sexual violence, overt bigotry, and all other manners of potentially traumatic things.

There, was that so bad? I wasn't required to attach a content label to this blog post. And, if I simply blacked out the text, then you wouldn't even be spoiled. By doing this, all I did was give a heads up to surprisingly large number of Canadians who suffer from PTSD. Not that the quantity of sufferers should matter that much when we're talking about a condition with such an intense magnetude of effect on ones functioning. A condition which is scientifically sound and historically well understood.

Anyways, I'm going to lay out my main proposal now: the outrage against "trigger warnings" is overblown. Most people who have written on the subject do so in non-constructive terms, demanding that we completely eliminate the very concept, rather than working with activists to arrive at common sense solutions. Consider the fact that the AAUP report against Trigger Warnings didn't even acknowledge the fact that PTSD is best dealt with using controlled exposure. The "controlled" part is key. So if one only focuses on the "exposure" part then... well... they probably don't have many friends with PTSD. Or the ones they do have don't follow up with their psychiatrists. Because, after the debate is over, the PTSD sufferer gets to enjoy the trigger-warning free zones they worked so hard to preserve. And now, since I put a trigger warning up beforehand, I think it would be appropriate to show them some of the "benefactors" of this crusade against tyranny. People like child rape survivors, War Veterans, and the children from fucked up families we like to pretend don't exist. And while I'm at it, let me link to an article on what PTSD actually feels like. Of note is this passage:

"I didn't know any of what he was saying, I was still very oblivious to the words, but I knew that it triggered all the abuse I had suppressed. Afterward, I didn't sleep or leave the house for a month-and-a-half and was crying non-stop."

In case you were wondering: yes, that is a qualitative description of what it is like to be triggered. A brief description of the neurological underpinning can be found here. Doesn't sound much like a whiny college student who's feelings were hurt does it? Of course, we could just acknowledge that these people exist, and focus on the implementation details instead. That is, after all, why so many reasonable-seeming people are against "trigger warnings" nowadays, isn't it? Because of the unintended consequences they could have.

Or perhaps, as some people argue, the very idea of "trigger warnings" is simply incompatible with the concept of a perfectly free society. Of which case, all I can say is this: isn't is a shame that we have ratings systems for TV, Movies, Music, and, to a lesser extent, video games? I mean, that is what Content Advisory is, isn't it? They advise you of the content of what you are going to be exposed to. And even give you little symbols and labels to tell you how bad they are. I mean, how else would I know that cussing is bad? Or that an erect penis is worse than a flacid one? Really, aside from a few cases, they don't seem to serve any purpose aside from reinforcing "traditional family values". The industries largely "self govern", using unclear (and sometimes even unknown) criteria of which we have good reason to believe is often inneffective. Although that's hardly a surprise, given that they seem to be based on religious values. It's almost as if the entertainment industry is a corporation with political ties to certain special interests. Some of which are religious in nature. So with that said, I think it's reasonable to suggest that anyone against Trigger Warnings also ought to be against Content Advisory.

It could be argued that Trigger Warnings, in an analogous manner to Content Advisory, could be used as tools for the subjugation of our individual rights if they end up becoming more mainstream. But keep in mind that Trigger Warnings don't necessarily have to be issued by order of law in order to serve their function. Content Advisory, on the other hand, exists in a sort of legal grey area, in that, although they aren't legally enactable, many people act in compliance with them, often due to fear of potential future punishment. Which, by extension, could be considered coercing people to implicitly agree with the values they represent. So methinks that these "trigger warnings" alarmists ought to get their priorities straight. In fact, you'd have a lot of progressive allies that would love to help!

Although this might be a surprise to some, I don't agree with everything everyone who has ever endorsed trigger warnings has said or done. And I certainly don't want to see them follow in the footsteps of the Content Advisory crowd. But I think the concept of "trigger warnings" are an appropriate suggestion to be taken seriously in certain, common sense environments. Like classrooms which teach material relating to common traumas. As the AAUP report implicitly acknowledges, trigger warnings don't have to be mandatory, don't have to water down any content, and can be effective, since some triggers can be predicted. All they do is give students a chance to psychologically prepare themselves. Remember "controlled exposure"? I mean, keep in mind it's hard to get by in todays world without a degree, right? And we know that PTSD negatively affects academic performance. So why couch the debate in non-constructive terms? If one wants a conversation about the reasonable limits of "trigger warnings", then outline requests and make concessions. That is what politics is about, isn't it? And remember - many professors issue trigger warnings by their own volition, despite the AAAP's hard stance. So in addition to treating this as a binary - why treat it as, in some sense, anti-intellectual?

Also, on a related note, there's a trend I've observed about people against equitable things like Trigger Warnings: a belief that millennials are coddled. According to many of these folks, we are "resentful" that we aren't as "successful" as our parents, and that this "coddling" is making us too "weak" to "survive" in the "real world", which is necessarily cold. And if we try to change anything about it, we would be going against our fundamental human nature, which would imminently lead to communism or something like that. Oh yeah, and anyone who disagrees with this view is either ignorant or a radical cultural Marxist who is conspiring to corrupt college campuses nationwide with their silly talk of microaggressions, systemic racism, and more than 2 genders.

I'll have to do a more substantive post on that whole world-view, but for now I'll just say this: I've heard similar lines of reasoning from Republicans and right wing conspiracy theorists. Keep in mind that, when they complain about the indoctrination of students into a "radical leftist ideology", that often includes stuff like same-sex marriage, abortion rights, the reality of climate change, the banning of recreational drugs, etc. No matter what you do in politics, you're always going to side with people you disagree with. The question you have to ask yourself is: on which issues am I going to disagree with them? What are your priorities going to be?

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