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Parlor Talk: Warning: This Article May Trigger You

Posted by Kyle Baranko on August 5, 2015 at 1:00 PM

In exercising freedom of speech, there is a fine line between expressing opinion and hateful rhetoric. Some opinions are harmless, and some opinions are destructive. Some material is benign, and some material is offensive. As societal awareness progresses, Americans are forced to challenge long-held beliefs and evaluate many aspects of their own judgment in the context of the modern world. This is good. This is how slavery deteriorated, women’s rights developed, and equality continues to advance. But it is possible to take the process too far. Censoring and banning certain material or practices is necessary to promote equality, but crossing this line creates an entirely new problem by limiting access to information. Censorship has a limiting effect on human thought, and employed to the extreme, eventually leads to a despotic civilization like the Soviet Union or even a dystopia in the form of Orwell’s 1984. Exposure to arguments and opinions of all shapes and sizes allows people to consider all the perspectives of any given scenario; the interaction of these different thinkers and exchange of ideas stimulates true intellectual growth.

It is ironic to find that the symbol of intellectual growth in America, the university, is under serious pressure to censor material and provide trigger warnings for potentially traumatizing material. Many of these arguments are legitimate and cater to those with mental disorders. People suffering from PTSD or other forms of trauma should receive the utmost respect, and we should take every logical step to sympathize with their struggle. We can pretend to relate to these people as much as we want, but in reality, the average person can never truly understand what a trauma victim is going through. Trigger warnings first appeared on feminist blogs to warn rape victims that the article had vivid, disturbing accounts that could set off a panic attack. This sort of censorship is necessary to protect those who have legitimate disorders, mental ailments that can be mitigated by decreasing exposure to sensitive material. Throughout American culture, these restrictions are important because they protect the minds of the vulnerable, like age limits on R-rated movies. Many activists on college campuses across the country are simply trying to take other people’s fragile mentalities into consideration.

But all in all, the vast majority of college students have not taken part in a truly traumatic experience. Those who do suffer from legitimate disorders have lived with it for years; as a result, it is reasonable to assume that most have learned to censor material themselves and go out of their way to make sure they do not come across triggering material. Yet college students, many of which have no relationship to actual victims, are calling for the introduction of trigger warnings in almost every aspect of college classes, inadvertently stifling free speech rights. It is well known that most college professors and students are left leaning, but in their passionate search for the destruction of bigotry and defense of civil rights, they are taking away some of the most important methods of personal enlightenment. In this day and age, Americans can filter almost anything they want, which inevitably results in an instinctive pursuit of pleasurable experiences. Coming across an opinion or idea that contradicts your own deeply held beliefs is not a pleasurable experience, and as a result, many people tend to disregard or censor these views. Modern society is nurturing a sense of entitlement that is dangerous not just to freedom of speech everywhere but to critical thinking in an academic setting. When a student is allowed to skip out on reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because he finds the “N-word” offensive, it basically sends the message that our society refuses to confront the realities of the world.

The biggest irony of this whole ordeal is that these kids are under the impression that what they are doing is progressive and open-minded. It is a testament to great progress in cultural awareness to recognize trauma victims and take their sensitivities into consideration, but the reality is that widespread trigger warnings on college campuses are not worth the costs. When someone reads “Caution: this work may include suicide, violence, rape” at the beginning of a literary work, it alters their mindset when analyzing the text. Some may find themselves asking: did I recognize the sensitive material? If I didn’t catch some racism, am I a bigot? I am not so much worried about spoiler alerts as I am unnecessarily clouding the mind.

It is also not fair to those who deal with traumatic experiences and learn to live with them. People in less fortunate societies have to live with the realities of perpetual racism and violence every single day. When a college student complains about being forced to read a text with gory scenes, it completely disrespects the people scraping by in a country rife with civil war, people who actually see violence in daily life. Allowing students to get away with customizing their intake of opinion does a disservice to those who had to live through the actual circumstances. Offensive material allows us to question both our beliefs and the beliefs of others, which leads to enlightenment; the only way to move forward is to challenge the values of the past. Political correctness can only go so far, and learning from people with contradicting perspectives teaches us how to relate to others. Excessive trigger warnings allow privileged people to run from the past. We should not fear the ugliness of the world, but rather have the confidence to confront it and learn from the mistakes of our ancestors.

Categories: Culture: Anthropology

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