TRIGGER WARNING: Contains rambling. Also, contains Trigger.
So the NYT has taken note of the “trigger warning” phenomenon, with an article addressing it over the weekend. I talked about this a bit during my recent trip to Kalamazoo, but I suppose a bit more commentary may be in order.
First of all, I think the money quote from the Times article comes from Greg Lukianoff, who continues to fight the good fight at FIRE:
“Frankly it seems this is sort of an inevitable movement toward people increasingly expecting physical comfort and intellectual comfort in their lives,” said Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit group that advocates free speech. “It is only going to get harder to teach people that there is a real important and serious value to being offended. Part of that is talking about deadly serious and uncomfortable subjects.”
In Mondoville, meanwhile, I find myself thinking about what I do. One of the reasons we study literature is to use imagination as a way of getting at some larger truth. The truth is sometimes hideous, as life is sometimes hideous. There is no right to be comfortable, in life or in fiction. (In fact, I say that in my syllabus.) If you can’t tough it out through stories, poems, and movies, take a different course.
Of course, there’s another option, and that’s to exercise a heckler’s veto over ideas (and the holders of those ideas) with which the potential audience disagrees. We’ve seen that in the current low-impact Cultural Revolution that is currently affecting commencement ceremonies, with various potential speakers being disinvited for holding unpopular beliefs or being affiliated with other bugbears of modern proggy propriety. As it happens, William G. Bowen, ex-Princeton prez and the replacement speaker at Haverford College’s ceremony (who was himself brought in after the usual suspects hounded erstwhile speaker Robert Birgenau — former Berkeley chancellor — out of the picture) delivered a bit of a spanking in his address. Good for him. Meanwhile, columnist and Yale Law prof Stephen L. Carter gets a bit more Juvenalian about these matters. Good for him as well — even if he does dump a bit on my beloved Middle Ages.
Of course, what all this stuff has in common is a weird sort of vaingloriousness, with people trying to gain a victim’s earned sympathy on the cheap, or similarly trying to cast themselves in the role of some sort of paladins of Correct Attitude. It’s the same sort of thing one sees in the idea that hashtags and selfies make a difference. Omphaloskepsis, all of it.
And how are you?