Trigger warnings 

Supposedly, students at some of our most prestigious universities find themselves confronted with existential challenges. Some are required to read books and watch films that could conceivably upset them emotionally. Hence many campuses are considering "trigger warnings" to alert the more delicate flowers against getting their little feelings hurt.

"The warnings," reports Jennifer Medina in the New York Times "which have their ideological roots in feminist thought, have gained the most traction at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where the student government formally called for them. But there have been similar requests from students at Oberlin College, Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, George Washington University," etc.

Apparently, we've come full circle if "feminist thought" now means shielding what fools once called "the weaker sex" from unpleasant realities. At Ohio's Oberlin College, which in 2013 suspended classes due to an imaginary intruder in KKK regalia, they've circulated a "trigger" guide for professors.

"Be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression," the guide said. "Realize that all forms of violence are traumatic, and that your students have lives before and outside your classroom, experiences you may not expect or understand."

"Cissexism," for readers innocent of the jargon, means hurtfully implying that most people are either male or female. "Ableism" is making persons with physical handicaps feel inferior, as if any decent human being would do that. Not that everybody's decent, mind you. My objection's to cant, not morals.

The guide stipulated that while, say, Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" may be great literature, it could also "trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide," etc.

One would certainly hope so. Otherwise, what's the point of teaching literature?

I can still remember my own moral horror at reading Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment" as a Rutgers freshman years ago. Many classmates felt the same; we sat up half the night talking about it. Richard Wright's "Native Son" made a similar impact.

What fascinated us was less Raskolnikov's axe murder of an aged pawnbroker than his seductive rationalization of the crime. And while "Native Son" was set in Chicago, we understood that it could easily have been Newark.

But no, I don't believe people suffer post-traumatic stress disorder from storybooks. And I have trouble believing Jersey kids have gone so soft as to demand to be protected from a damn novel. Back then, we thought growing up was what college was for.

Actually, I doubt many Rutgers students do demand "trigger warnings." Merely an impassioned clique of immature students and crackpot faculty that administrators find it easier to humor than to resist.

Meanwhile, an equally ludicrous fracas has broken out down at Princeton. There, a freshman named Tal Fortgang wrote a column for The Princeton Tory objecting to the allegedly common practice of admonishing people who stray from campus orthodoxy to "Check your privilege."

It's a curt reminder, Fortgang thinks, of his solemn duty "to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world," and to conduct himself accordingly. Apparently by never contradicting anybody claiming the morally exalted status of victim — whether of racism, sexism, heterosexism... Well you know the rest.

Check my privilege? How about kiss my...

Well, you know the rest of that phrase too. Just don't go treating me as an abstract symbol, and then expect me to feel your pain.

As Fortgang pointed out, "Check your privilege" amounts to an illogical ad hominem argument at best. You shouldn't be heard because of who you are. Or, as the bleating sheep in Orwell's "Animal Farm" explained: "Four legs good, two legs bad!"

Fortgang actually weakened his argument by explaining that his grandparents' big privilege was arriving in American penniless after surviving the Holocaust in Nazi concentration camps. Even so, they did.

How you can tell the shot went home was that a college freshman's article in a campus newspaper spawned eight full-length personal attacks in the increasingly ridiculous Salon.com, where the author was all-but equated with Cliven Bundy and that old fool Donald Sterling.

The New Yorker consulted Peggy McIntosh, a feminist scholar at Wellesley College whose seminal paper called "White Privilege and Male Privilege," initiated this craze. It enumerates 46 measurable categories of privilege.

McIntosh could understand why Fortgang resisted seeing himself "systematically."

"Whiteness is just one of the many variables that one can look at," she said "starting with, for example, one's place in the birth order, or your body type, or your athletic abilities, or your relationship to written and spoken words, or your parents' places of origin, or your parents' relationship to education and to English, or what is projected onto your religious or ethnic background."

None of which is crazy on its face.

And certainly not if your ultimate goal is increasing the number of campus Republicans.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Gene Lyons

  • 'Rape culture' merits scrutiny

    If the great Rolling Stone campus rape hoax proved nothing else, it's that True Believers make lousy reporters. I've always found it useful to keep in mind what my brother and I call the state motto of our native New Jersey: "Oh yeah, who says?"
    • Dec 18, 2014
  • Rolling Stone now publishing fiction

    Like the best crime fiction, Rolling Stone's infamous article about a purported gang rape at the University of Virginia was vividly written. I'm embarrassed to say that it almost convinced me.
    • Dec 11, 2014
  • More »

Most Shared

  • Opinions split within GOP on "law and order" issues. Where will Asa stand?

    The New York Times reports that some Republicans are trending away from the lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key approach to criminal justice embraced by the party's old guard, in part out of a recognition that minority votes matter now more than ever. Asa Hutchinson wants to reach out to black voters — what better place to start?
  • Humanists sue over Baxter County nativity scene. Looks like another winner

    The Baxter Bulletin reported today on a lawsuit filed on behalf of a Baxter County resident over the Nativity scene that has been erected on the Baxter County Courthouse lawn for decades by local lawyer Rick Spencer.
  • Live: Weedhorse, Flat Top Tony and John Neal Rock and Roll at Revolution (Photos)

    I arrived at The Rev Room Friday at 7:15 p.m., as a bartender was setting up for a busy night. I saw Mark Colbert (soundman) and Mark Sadler (lighting) and we talked shop a while. I saw Samantha "Sam" Allen (venue manager) and we caught up as well. Soon I met and interviewed Richie Barnard, the website coordinator for the Little Rock Scene, whose 10 Year Anniversary we were here to celebrate.
  • Here's to Hutchinson, McCain and American revulsion at torture

    On Nov. 16, 1776, Gen. George Washington stood on the Jersey Palisades and peered across the Hudson River through his telescope as the British tortured American militiamen who had surrendered and then put them to the sword. Hearing the screams of his men, according to an aide, Washington turned and sobbed "with the tenderness of a child."
  • Easy on the pay raises

    An independent commission appointed by the governor, legislative leaders and the chief justice began work last week to fulfill part of Issue 3, the constitutional amendment that eased term limits, banned lobbyist gifts to legislators (sort of) and provided a mechanism for pay raises.

Latest in Gene Lyons

  • 'Rape culture' merits scrutiny

    If the great Rolling Stone campus rape hoax proved nothing else, it's that True Believers make lousy reporters. I've always found it useful to keep in mind what my brother and I call the state motto of our native New Jersey: "Oh yeah, who says?"
    • Dec 18, 2014
  • Rolling Stone now publishing fiction

    Like the best crime fiction, Rolling Stone's infamous article about a purported gang rape at the University of Virginia was vividly written. I'm embarrassed to say that it almost convinced me.
    • Dec 11, 2014
  • The melodrama of Ferguson

    Whether on Fox News, CNN or MSNBC, marketing racial discord has become a profitable niche industry. There's a well-known cast of ex-prosecutors, defense attorneys and professors who appear to spend more time in TV studios than courthouses or campuses.
    • Dec 3, 2014
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

December

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Easy on the pay raises

    An independent commission appointed by the governor, legislative leaders and the chief justice began work last week to fulfill part of Issue 3, the constitutional amendment that eased term limits, banned lobbyist gifts to legislators (sort of) and provided a mechanism for pay raises.
  • Here's to Hutchinson, McCain and American revulsion at torture

    On Nov. 16, 1776, Gen. George Washington stood on the Jersey Palisades and peered across the Hudson River through his telescope as the British tortured American militiamen who had surrendered and then put them to the sword. Hearing the screams of his men, according to an aide, Washington turned and sobbed "with the tenderness of a child."
  • A double tragedy

    In another week with more than its share of race-based strain on display across the nation, an Arkansas story was one of the saddest and most frustrating. It involved allegations of wide-scale theft of public dollars by a sponsor and administrators of a summer feeding program for poor children financed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Most Recent Comments

 

© 2014 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation