I’m not sure which way Regressive Leftism migrates between Anglophone countries. It may start in the UK and move here, or travel in the reverse direction, or arise spontaneously in both places at the same time as a form of convergent cultural evoltuion. My guess would be option #1 (U.S. origin), but it doesn’t matter. What matters is stopping this fulminating movement whose effect is to promote censorship and enshrine a uniform set of ideas that aren’t to be questioned.
One aspect of this movement is ‘trigger warnings’. While I don’t object to all of them—I, for instance, would call attention beforehand to any gory or gross imagery I’d show classes—they have reached unconscionable extremes. Scenes of violence in classical literature, religion itself, eating and drinking, spiders, Nazis, needles, “dismissal of lived oppressions” (what oppressions are unlived?): all of these have counted as trigger warnings. (If you think I jest, see the list here.) There has even been some objection to law schools teaching sexual assault law as it makes students uncomfortable, but of course such instruction is necessary, and one would think that Leftists would favor it. Such is the dilemma of the Regressive Left, in which two liberal values conflict, with the lesser one often winning.
Trigger warning should always be optional, but professors should, I think, exercise some judgment about giving them. “Eating and drinking” is simply not something that you need to warn people about—it’s everywhere! So is violence, at least the type describe in Greek literature, which is often fictional. My own view is that you should announce at the beginning of a course that if students have problems with some issues, they should see you privately outside of class, but that they should never be allowed to avoid material that you’ve determined is essential to your course.
Now, according to an article in yesterday’s Independent, trigger warnings are spreading to the UK, and over subjects that need to be taught:
Academics at universities including Edinburgh, the London School of Economics (LSE), Goldsmiths, Stirling and Central Lancashire are warning students of material they think could be “disturbing”, giving them the option of leaving the lecture room if they decide to. The warnings have been issued ahead of lectures on topics including Christianity, popular culture, history, forensic science, photography, politics and law.
Seriously? Christianity? History? Photography? Politics and law? What kind of students are we bringing up here? Answer: ones who feel entitled to not only be offended at many things, but to be allowed the option of avoiding them.
Even prominent feminists have decried this trend, and suggested, as has Jon Haidt, that therapy rather than warnings is the way to deal with the issue:
Dr Naomi Wolf, feminist and recent university lecturer in Victorian sexualities, told The Sunday Times: “Trauma from sexual or other assault and abuse is very real, and ‘triggers’ are real for victims of abuse. But the place to process or deal with survivor triggers is with a trained therapist in a counsellor’s office, and not in a classroom or university context.”
. . . Earlier this year, television presenter and Cambridge scholar Mary Beard argued students must not be shielded from difficult subject matters. “It would be dishonest, fundamentally dishonest, to teach only Roman history and to miss out not just the rape of the Sabines but all their rapes. We have to encourage students to be able to face that, even when they find they’re awkward and difficult for all kinds of good reasons,” Ms Beard told TheSunday Times.
The real danger of trigger warnings is that they pressure faculty to either leave material out of the lecture, or to give students the option of not attending those lectures. Some proponents of trigger warnings say this doesn’t happen, but in fact it does, as shown by the permissive policy of LSE, Goldsmiths, Stirling, and Central Lancashire describe above. And here’s more:
Meanwhile archeology students at University College London were reportedly told last month they could leave the lecture without being penalised if they find it too “distressing”, with lecturer Gabriel Moshenka claiming it was a necessary measure as the material might induce psychological trauma. The trend echoes a wave of trigger warnings in universities acorss America, after some colleges highlighted material containing references to subjects such as rape, suicide, abortion and racism that might potentially upset undergraduates who had experienced traumas.
And there’s that pesky issue of teaching rape law:
In May it was revealed undergraduate law students at Oxford University were being issued with trigger warnings before lectures containing material deemed too “distressing”, a move that prompted a wave of criticism. At the time, law lecturer Laura Hoyano insisted those who wish to study law “have to deal with things that are difficult”, telling Mail Online: “We can’t remove sexual offences from the criminal law syllabus – obviously.”
I can only imagine what society, or at least those parts of society involving college students, will be like in 20 years.