Finn McRedmond Week 6 TW: Opinions
Content Note: David Cameron, other totally innocuous things
The culture in Cambridge around trigger warnings is doing more harm than good.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, a trigger warning is something which allows readers who have suffered from traumatic events, like sexual assault or extreme levels of violence, to avoid material that might trigger flashbacks, panic attacks or episodes of PTSD.
Trigger warnings in the above sense need to exist. They are extremely important. But in practice it has gone too far.
Trigger warnings – or Content Notes – are now being used to “alert readers” of ridiculous content. Yesterday, I read on Cuntry Living – a feminist discussion forum – “TW: David Cameron”. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a Facebook status preceded by “TW: Indian Politics”. Yes, really.
These concerned individuals evidently care a lot about the masses of Facebook users, for whom just the mere mention of David Cameron can send them into a state of such abject terror that they are literally made unsafe. (And likewise for all my many Facebook friends who’ve been traumatised by that time they ran for the Indian Parliament.)
These are extreme examples but are indicative of the serious problem. What trigger warnings have become is not a system designed to prevent trauma, but rather a long list of ideas that students find politically or culturally offensive. Not only does this undermine their purpose and trivialise trauma, it creates a culture of criminalising difference.
Because this attitude toward trigger warnings was developed on the (false) pretence of prevention of harm, the consequence is that anyone who tries to question the legitimacy of this practice is labelled as someone who openly and willingly wishes to inflict it.
Preventing harm in this capacity becomes a moral obligation, and so anyone who does not adhere to this ridiculous culture is violent, amoral and should be silenced.
Maybe David Cameron and Indian politics (really?!) offend you, or cause you discomfort. I can, at a push, understand that. But we need to be able to distinguish between offence and harm. Discomfort is different to distress. We cannot continue to habitually refuse to engage with normal life, which is full of David Cameron and Indian politics. We can’t TW: cissexism because we live and operate in a society full of cis-gendered people.
And we cannot demonise those who think discussion of these things needn’t be confined and shut down by your desire never to encounter a challenging idea.
Your assertion that offence is reasonable grounds to be sheltered from political ideas that are different to your own increases political polarisation and generates hostility to ideological difference. The claim of offence has become not a subjective issue. Nope, now under the use and proliferation of trigger warnings, it means that the speaker has done something objectively wrong. Introducing discussion online about classism without a trigger warning means you have set out to cause harm. That you want people to be endangered.
This is totally absurd.
The world, and I apologise to my readers who already understand this basic concept, doesn’t revolve around you and your various upsets or pet hates.
The way so many of us use trigger warnings is causing a serious issue. Sensibilities go out the window and what we are left with is a space that is so fucking safe that we never learn how to deal with discomfort.
Cultivating our online, and now even literary – with Columbia University introducing trigger warnings for Ovid – presence to be un-challenging and totally un-threatening is destroying rigorous thinking and intellectual discussion. And it’s making living and operating in normal class-ridden, David Cameron-occupied, cissexual society ripe with discussion of Indian politics more and more difficult.
We have created the ultimate safe space – where David Cameron isn’t Prime Minister and India doesn’t require a political system and we never encounter people who are cis-gendered. Where Cambridge students feel it’s worth their time starting a petition on change.org for trigger warnings before lectures – as they did in 2014.
This is a self-perpetuating hive mind which prioritises comfort over challenge and demonises those who don’t. The one trend visible across all instances of hive mind mentality is a disregard, disrespect or dislike for any sort of deviation.
What we create in terms of online discussion is unanimous, emotional and anti-intellectual. And anyone who doesn’t fall into that category and refuses to trigger warning “classism”, “Osbourne” or “dogs” – all real life examples I’ve encountered – is vindictive.
To be honest, if you’re really that traumatised by any mention of David Cameron, you’ve probably got a bigger issue to deal with.
Not ones you’re going to solve with a “TW: everything”.