Trigger warnings (along with ‘safe spaces’) were an obvious next step in the natural evolution in PC self-censorship. But like so many misguided ideas on the left, these warnings just don’t work.
Politically correct speech is a specifically western phenonemon. In many parts of the world, you can talk openly about your disagreements. In others, authoritarian political or religious figures set out explicit taboos that must not be crossed.
The west is different in that cultural pressures are used by political activists to countermand our own traditions of free speech and expression. The unspoken rule is ‘thou shalt not hurt my feelings’. Closer inspection shows that not everyone’s feelings are treated equally in this bargain, with individuals or interests aligned with the left somehow getting all of the special protections.
Trigger warnings were the next step in self-censorship, in which any time a ‘sensitive’ or ‘hurtful’ topic was raised, the audience was given an opportunity to mentally prepare themselves for the shock that was to come.
One of the more ridiculous examples of trigger warnings being used was this one: WTF? National Archives Labels The Constitution And Other Founding Documents ‘Harmful Content’
It is also a perfect example of how supposedly ‘hurt feelings’ have been used to weaponize our politics and silence a wide variety of ideas the left doesn’t like, and can’t engage with.
But now that trigger warnings have been unleashed on the world for a while, we’ve had an opportunity to see how the left’s theories work in the real world. A Harvard prof, Jeannie Suk Gersen, is already giving them a failing grade.
She wrote a New Yorker article making the case that such warnings can actually increase anxiety in an audience, and because they create more harm than good, could even open schools to legal liability.
Gersen said that around a dozen psychological studies from 2018-21 ‘find that trigger warnings do not seem to lessen negative reactions to disturbing material in students.’
She cited a study this year from three academics – Benjamin Bellet, a Harvard Ph.D. candidate; Payton Jones, who completed his Ph.D. in 2021; and Richard McNally, a psychology professor – who found that ‘those who received trigger warnings reported greater anxiety in response to disturbing literary passages than those who did not.’
The trio found that trigger warnings served to reinforce the belief on the part of trauma survivors that trauma was central to their identity, rather than peripheral.
‘Since there isn’t evidence that trigger warnings help, and there is now some evidence that they might even increase anxiety, McNally, Jones, and Bellet do not recommend the use of trigger warnings,’ Gershen writes.
‘As Jones put it, “From a clinical lens, you should never do anything that doesn’t work, period, even if it doesn’t do harm. If it’s not actively helping, encouraging its use would essentially be engaging in clinical pseudoscience.”’ –DailyMail
What does she do instead?
She explains at the beginning of the course that they will cover a variety of sensitive topics, including issues that may impact people in her class, and that any conversations on the topic will be conducted in a reasonable and respectful manner.
You know, the way adults might approach any difficult topic.
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