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Trigger warnings, being offended, and all that jazz
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Darqcyde



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 12, 2015 3:43 pm    Post subject: Trigger warnings, being offended, and all that jazz Reply with quote

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356/

Quote:
Claims of a right not to be offended have continued to arise . . . and universities have continued to privilege them. In a particularly egregious 2008 case, for instance, Indiana University–Purdue University at Indianapolis found a white student guilty of racial harassment for reading a book titled Notre Dame vs. the Klan. The book honored student opposition to the Ku Klux Klan when it marched on Notre Dame in 1924. Nonetheless, the picture of a Klan rally on the book’s cover offended at least one of the student’s co-workers (he was a janitor as well as a student), and that was enough for a guilty finding by the university’s Affirmative Action Office.


These examples may seem extreme, but the reasoning behind them has become more commonplace on campus in recent years. Last year, at the University of St. Thomas, in Minnesota, an event called Hump Day, which would have allowed people to pet a camel, was abruptly canceled. Students had created a Facebook group where they protested the event for animal cruelty, for being a waste of money, and for being insensitive to people from the Middle East. The inspiration for the camel had almost certainly come from a popular TV commercial in which a camel saunters around an office on a Wednesday, celebrating “hump day”; it was devoid of any reference to Middle Eastern peoples. Nevertheless, the group organizing the event announced on its Facebook page that the event would be canceled because the “program [was] dividing people and would make for an uncomfortable and possibly unsafe environment.”

Because there is a broad ban in academic circles on “blaming the victim,” it is generally considered unacceptable to question the reasonableness (let alone the sincerity) of someone’s emotional state, particularly if those emotions are linked to one’s group identity. The thin argument “I’m offended” becomes an unbeatable trump card. This leads to what Jonathan Rauch, a contributing editor at this magazine, calls the “offendedness sweepstakes,” in which opposing parties use claims of offense as cudgels. In the process, the bar for what we consider unacceptable speech is lowered further and further.


Since 2013, new pressure from the federal government has reinforced this trend. Federal antidiscrimination statutes regulate on-campus harassment and unequal treatment based on sex, race, religion, and national origin. Until recently, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights acknowledged that speech must be “objectively offensive” before it could be deemed actionable as sexual harassment—it would have to pass the “reasonable person” test. To be prohibited, the office wrote in 2003, allegedly harassing speech would have to go “beyond the mere expression of views, words, symbols or thoughts that some person finds offensive.”

But in 2013, the Departments of Justice and Education greatly broadened the definition of sexual harassment to include verbal conduct that is simply “unwelcome.” Out of fear of federal investigations, universities are now applying that standard—defining unwelcome speech as harassment—not just to sex, but to race, religion, and veteran status as well. Everyone is supposed to rely upon his or her own subjective feelings to decide whether a comment by a professor or a fellow student is unwelcome, and therefore grounds for a harassment claim. Emotional reasoning is now accepted as evidence.

If our universities are teaching students that their emotions can be used effectively as weapons—or at least as evidence in administrative proceedings—then they are teaching students to nurture a kind of hypersensitivity that will lead them into countless drawn-out conflicts in college and beyond. Schools may be training students in thinking styles that will damage their careers and friendships, along with their mental health.


In some ways this was a more depressing read than the one confirming that environmental devastation has truly reached catastrophic levels. As I said on fb: "This is the dangerous slippery slope you find yourself on when you try to have intelligent discussions about things like slavery and women's rights YET don't want to deal with the discomfort of hearing or seeing words like 'nigger' or 'vagina'. One is a harsh reminder (nigger) that should bother people because it represents some very bothersome things that did happen and shouldn't be forgotten WHILE the other is the proper medical term more commonly used as synecdoche (vagina) to refer female reproductive organs and is something that should never cause discomfort when said or being heard. I could go on and on but please, just go read the article."

I'm kinda thinking that there's a fine line between "victim blaming" and "calling out someone on their own personal discomfort" and that we need to figure out where this line lies, like yesterday.
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Samsally



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 12, 2015 10:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

i really don't think using an actual slur is even a little bit like using the word vagina.
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mouse



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 12, 2015 11:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

yes, but people seem to be equally offended by both. which is stupid, but there you are.

i'm a bit disturbed that appearance seems to trump content (e.g., the Notre Dame vs. the Klan book) - how is one supposed to learn about these things if one is criticized for having something about it? it leads to the (nonexistent) right not to be offended trumping the (constitutional) right to free speech. someone here linked a blogger who was replacing "politically correct" with "respect for others" in news feeds - i want to think that's the way to go, but if you think my knowing that a group like the klan even exists shows lack of respect for you...well, i don't know where to go with that.
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stripeypants



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PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2015 12:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Asking for trigger warnings for things that hinder your ability to function is different from asking people to keep everything that offends you out of your presence. I would like it if discussions didn't almost completely revolve trigger warnings being used for the latter purpose.

i think trigger warnings are good for exposure therapy. Being able to make the decision to work on things that throw you into a panic means you don't have to set yourself back on a day you're not prepared to work on it.
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mouse



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PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2015 12:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

yes - there doesn't seem to be a clear distinction being made in the general discussion. and that leads to people dismissing a request for trigger warnings (from someone who has suffered trauma) as being just "politically correct" and not wanting to be offended. which is unhelpful all around.

now we just have to get people to understand that being (unintentionally) offended is not, in fact, a trauma.

someone who is intentionally offensive is of course a different thing yet again, but there doesn't seem to be any effort being made to distinguish those who are being intentionally offensive (say, by waving a confederate flag at a civil rights rally) vs. those who offend unintentionally (by, say, carrying a book about the impact of the voting rights act on african-american political activities in the south, which has a confederate flag on the cover)
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Darqcyde



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PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2015 12:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

stripeypants wrote:
Asking for trigger warnings for things that hinder your ability to function is different from asking people to keep everything that offends you out of your presence. I would like it if discussions didn't almost completely revolve trigger warnings being used for the latter purpose.

i think trigger warnings are good for exposure therapy. Being able to make the decision to work on things that throw you into a panic means you don't have to set yourself back on a day you're not prepared to work on it.


Yeah, the problem seems to be on the application side, on the part of administrators and managers, which seems motivated more from a limiting/mitigating potential lawsuits type of mentality than one of actual progressive education, enrichment, and understanding i.e. making people better people.

I think that many an offending incident originates with misunderstandings (to one degree or another) on the part of the offended and all those cognitive biases that keep us from readily changing our minds about thing when presented with new evidence. This may be kinda anecdotal, but from my experience, people seem to have a tendency to be unwilling to accept that other points of views and interpretations might just have as much validity and accuracy as their own. To me, an unwillingness to discuss whether or not things might have more than one meaning or interpretation is a dangerous and closed-off mindset.

As I see it, this article is discussing the long term effects of the mishandling and poorly applied blanket policies regarding what offends people and what is defined as offensive. I mean we can now say shit on TV. There's irony in all of this somewhere in how messed up our views have become.
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Mr Gary



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PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2015 12:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

But what about Dick, or Rod, or ... Johnson?
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Sojobo



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PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2015 6:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think the OP excerpt implies a much greater severity to the situation than is warranted.

First, the two examples it uses, while valid descriptions of real mistakes having been made, are not commonplace. How many "PC gone mad" complaints do we read every day? How many of them use somewhat valid examples like this one? Now how many of them are people whinging that they're not allowed to be bigoted without being called on it?

Second, it completely ignores the progress created by the attitudes it is criticizing. The academic circles' "ban" on blaming the victim has done a fuckton of good. It is absolutely worth having a few too many complaints of being offended to successfully reduce the incidence of harassment and bigotry.

Notice how I put the quotes around ban, because a common attitude is not actually a real ban. Notice also that I didn't put them around blaming the victim, which is an actual thing I do not want to trivialize. Unlike the article, apparently.
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Darqcyde



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PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2015 2:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There are FAR, FAR more than two examples in the article and some of them don't necessarily involve students.

Quote:
Catastrophizing rhetoric about physical danger is employed by campus administrators more commonly than you might think—sometimes, it seems, with cynical ends in mind. For instance, last year administrators at Bergen Community College, in New Jersey, suspended Francis Schmidt, a professor, after he posted a picture of his daughter on his Google+ account. The photo showed her in a yoga pose, wearing a T-shirt that read I will take what is mine with fire & blood, a quote from the HBO show Game of Thrones. Schmidt had filed a grievance against the school about two months earlier after being passed over for a sabbatical. The quote was interpreted as a threat by a campus administrator, who received a notification after Schmidt posted the picture; it had been sent, automatically, to a whole group of contacts. According to Schmidt, a Bergen security official present at a subsequent meeting between administrators and Schmidt thought the word fire could refer to AK-47s.

Then there is the eight-year legal saga at Valdosta State University, in Georgia, where a student was expelled for protesting the construction of a parking garage by posting an allegedly “threatening” collage on Facebook. The collage described the proposed structure as a “memorial” parking garage—a joke referring to a claim by the university president that the garage would be part of his legacy. The president interpreted the collage as a threat against his life.


It should be no surprise that students are exhibiting similar sensitivity. At the University of Central Florida in 2013, for example, Hyung-il Jung, an accounting instructor, was suspended after a student reported that Jung had made a threatening comment during a review session. Jung explained to the Orlando Sentinel that the material he was reviewing was difficult, and he’d noticed the pained look on students’ faces, so he made a joke. “It looks like you guys are being slowly suffocated by these questions,” he recalled saying. “Am I on a killing spree or what?”

After the student reported Jung’s comment, a group of nearly 20 others e-mailed the UCF administration explaining that the comment had clearly been made in jest. Nevertheless, UCF suspended Jung from all university duties and demanded that he obtain written certification from a mental-health professional that he was “not a threat to [himself] or to the university community” before he would be allowed to return to campus.

All of these actions teach a common lesson: smart people do, in fact, overreact to innocuous speech, make mountains out of molehills, and seek punishment for anyone whose words make anyone else feel uncomfortable.


Also, you can't forget that current social views and trends amongst millennials is often warped and coddled by years of helicopter parenting, with strong evidence showing at least correlation, albeit not necessarily causation, of mental health failings:

http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2015/07/helicopter_parenting_is_increasingly_correlated_with_college_age_depression.html

Quote:
In 2013 the American College Health Association surveyed close to 100,000 college students from 153 different campuses about their health. When asked about their experiences, at some point over the past 12 months:

84.3 percent felt overwhelmed by all they had to do
60.5 percent felt very sad
57.0 percent felt very lonely
51.3 percent felt overwhelming anxiety
8.0 percent seriously considered suicide
The 153 schools surveyed included campuses in all 50 states, small liberal arts colleges and large research universities, religious institutions and nonreligious, from the small to medium-sized to the very the large. The mental health crisis is not a Yale (or Stanford or Harvard) problem; these poor mental health outcomes are occurring in kids everywhere. The increase in mental health problems among college students may reflect the lengths to which we push kids toward academic achievement, but since they are happening to kids who end up at hundreds of schools in every tier, they appear to stem not from what it takes to get into the most elite schools but from some facet of American childhood itself.

As parents, our intentions are sound—more than sound: We love our kids fiercely and want only the very best for them. Yet, having succumbed to a combination of safety fears, a college admissions arms race, and perhaps our own needy ego, our sense of what is “best” for our kids is completely out of whack. We don’t want our kids to bonk their heads or have hurt feelings, but we’re willing to take real chances with their mental health?

You’re right to be thinking Yes, but do we know whether overparenting causes this rise in mental health problems? The answer is that we don’t have studies proving causation, but a number of recent studies show correlation.


My paranoid and cynical self sees this as the building blocks of a future left of center liberal version of today's nutty GOP.
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Sam



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PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2015 2:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I do have to agree that a ton of shit that's been happening in academia recently with regards to trigger warnings and anti-offensiveness brigading (of various sorts) is and will continue to be completely insane, and I don't even know what will cause the tide to break and the habit to recede to some possible sort of golden mean. One that could hypothetically improve discourse even if it isn't going to placate the conflict theory 101 activists or people who seem to get their activist protocol from internet identity politics circles.

On the subject of the psychological observations in the article, they seem to match my own experiences exactly, to a disturbing degree. Between negative filtering, mind reading, and catastrophizing, literally all of the people I know who went in full on conflict theory microagression policing have essentially trained themselves to be extremely and often pathologically hypervigilant about any and all microaggressions to the extent that they cannot not search for them in any conceivable situation, and they are extremely and pervasively negatively responsive to most interactions with any potentially problematic person. In essence, it has made them astoundingly brittle and negatively reactive to everything to the extent that it is literally impeding their ability to function normally.

I have even watched it create a distinct and immediately observable phenomenon of people becoming phobic of white people. Even when the person with this phobia is white themselves. It's amazing and I'm continually fascinated by it.

It does not seem healthy. This coming from a person who agrees with the ideals of the movement in sum - I can't shake that it seems to be a hive of conspicuous creation and exacerbation of negative pathology, in direct relation to how seriously one invests themselves in it.
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ShadowCell



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PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2015 3:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

it also leads to another weird self-protective strategy where you just don't talk to anyone who isn't exactly like you, which is a hilariously counterproductive development.
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Sam



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PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2015 3:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I also think it is probably worth noting that there is a chance that the brigading and/or what the article calls "vindictive protectiveness" may just not abate and become some entrenched part of the status quo. Which is bizarre, but then again if any parent from the 1970's saw how much we developed a culture of fear that ended unstructured play time and that we're now a nation that will literally arrest parents for letting children go play at the park with no adult supervision, they'd think it was super bizarre too. But it ended up being the way it turned out, no matter how negative the consequences ultimately are.

The two may be interrelated. Hover parenting may now just be turning into hover academia.
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Sojobo



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PostPosted: Fri Aug 14, 2015 12:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Darqcyde wrote:
here are FAR, FAR more than two examples in the article and some of them don't necessarily involve students.

The title of your thread is about trigger warnings and being offended. The examples in your first excerpt are about being offended. My response was about being offended, and how the article's reaction was exaggerated (seriously, the harms still seem very small) and dismissive.

Your second excerpt is not about being offended, it's about being oversensitive to danger signals. These are not more examples of the same thing, but instead a different topic. No one complained about being offended by the Game of Thrones quotation, they interpreted it (very wrongly) as an actual threat. The article may well have valuable things to say about other topics, but the part you quoted about people taking too much offense isn't very good.

But I should forget about the article; it is what it is, and cannot defend itself. Instead, I should be responding to you:

Darqcyde wrote:
I think that many an offending incident originates with misunderstandings (to one degree or another) on the part of the offended and all those cognitive biases that keep us from readily changing our minds about thing when presented with new evidence. This may be kinda anecdotal, but from my experience, people seem to have a tendency to be unwilling to accept that other points of views and interpretations might just have as much validity and accuracy as their own. To me, an unwillingness to discuss whether or not things might have more than one meaning or interpretation is a dangerous and closed-off mindset.

I agree that many an offending incident are based on misunderstanding on the part of the offended. I feel it is important to pair that statement with the realization that more offending incidents are the fault of the offender.

I also agree that people are unwilling to accept other points of view. I assert that the offenders still do this much more often than the offended.

I also agree that an unwillingness to discuss interpretations is dangerous. I again assert that the offenders are more unwilling to discuss their offenses than the offended are unwilling to see that the offense was misunderstood.

I think it is very important to view extreme political correctness, not as a brand new cultural element which is causing problems, but as an over-correction to an older, much more dangerous culture. Would we really prefer to stifle the objections of the too-offended at the cost of stifling the objections of the actually oppressed? Would we really trade the harms of a few oversensitive reactions for the much greater harms of racist, sexist and homophobic bullying?
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Sojobo



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PostPosted: Fri Aug 14, 2015 1:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sam, I know it's a little unfair to press this at you, because you disclaimed that you agree with the ideals of the movement, and you have plenty of post-history backing that up.

Nonetheless.

Yes, it is bad to create a culture where people are afraid to speak because they might be called insensitive. But it is worse to retain a culture where people are afraid to air their criticisms of the oppression they suffer.

Yes, there are faults with current culture that a parent from the 1970's would find bizzare. But the current generation could just as easily point out larger and more dangerous faults from 1970's parenting.

I think you are better informed than I am, both in general, and regarding current events surrounding this topic. I do not doubt you have a better sense of the harms involved on both sides. That makes is confusing to me that you comments seem to be one-sided.
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Sam



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PostPosted: Fri Aug 14, 2015 12:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

the one-sidedness is probably going to be as a result of two things - one, that I'm more inclined to find discussion useful about ethics and protocol in the sides I think are generally right, versus the sides I think are generally wrong.

Like, I wouldn't be having the same conversation I would be having about identity politics that I would be having with, say, MRA's. There's no point in wondering "does MRA as a group go too far?" because I think the whole movement is toxic and unsalvageable to begin with and there's no real benefit to pointing out where their strategies are counterproductive, because "productive" strategies on their benefit hurt rather than help progressive causes anyway.

Whereas when you're talking about IP and related movements (feminism, blm, whatever) I think it's super important to pay careful attention to the peculiarities of radical activism and how they end up impacting the identity and methods of a group.

And secondly, there's a bit of an echo chamber blowout. I can throw out a number of statements here in support of progressive or even radical social change against bigotry but it's all so essentially noncontroversial that it's just preaching to the choir. But there seems to be a lot of things to actually be said and talked about when it comes to the issues with social justice that I am probably more inclined to talk about them in the few places I could discuss them productively.
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