Friday, May 15, 2015

Down With Ovid; Up With Therapy

It’s getting so bad that even liberal professors are opposing it.

By “it” I mean that current academic mania about attaching trigger warnings to every text that might perhaps slightly hurt the feelings of a delicate student.

In place of trigger warnings they should all adopt Megyn Kelly’s line: “Toughen up, buttercup.”

This time, University of Chicago professor Jerry Coyne, stalwart defender of evolution and atheism, has had enough.

Writing in the New Republic, Coyne denounced the Columbia University students who declared that Ovid’s Metamorphosis should contain a trigger warning because it portrays the rape of Persephone, among other horrors. Heck, it even includes the story of Narcissus and Echo.

Evidently, the trigger-warning mania is a stealth assault on the Western literary canon. Taken to its logical limit, it will lead to a college curriculum that is stuffed full of texts that promote the proper ideology.

As you know, the great totalitarian dictatorships of the twentieth century banned most of the Western canon. They only allowed people to read prescribed and politically correct texts.

And, socialist art was designed to propagate an ideology, not to edify or even to entertain.

The master of the game was Mao Zedong whose Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution forbade students (and everyone else) from reading anything but the little red book of his writings. Under the aegis of his wife, Jiang Qing, leader of the gang of four, people were only allowed to watch and listen to approved artistic artistic productions.

Anyway, Coyne lays out his argument:

 After all, what body of literature, including the Bible and the Muslim hadith, doesn’t mention violence and sexual assault? The Bible even sanctions rape. Should divinity schools put trigger warnings on the Old Testament? I am sorry about the student who couldn’t abide the mention of sexual assault, but she should be getting help for her triggering from a therapist, not from a professor. Without such help, she’ll go through life triggered by every magazine and newspaper she sees.

He continues:

The pathway of such trigger warnings—not just for sexual assault but for violence, bigotry, and racism—will eventually lead to every work of literature being labeled as potentially offensive. There goes the Bible, there goes Dante, there goes Huck Finn (loaded with racism), there goes all the old literature written before we realized that minorities, women, and gays weren’t second-class people. And as for violence and hatred, well, they’re everywhere, for they’re just as much parts of literature as parts of life. Crime and Punishment? Trigger warning: brutal violence against an old woman. The Great Gatsby? Trigger warning: violence against women (remember when Tom Buchanan broke Mrs. Wilson’s nose?). The Inferno? Trigger warning: graphic violence, sodomy, and torture. Dubliners? Trigger warning: pedophilia. 

I have occasionally suggested that the mania about trigger warnings derives from the fact that more than a few professors do not know enough to teach certain canonical texts. Such is academic life.

One must also wonder whether the students who insist on taking all the insalubrious and offensive remarks and actions in great literature personally are really masking their inability to learn from the texts. Worse than that, they are refusing to learn from the great books of Western civilization.

This feels like the logical consequence of an educational establishment that believes, as an article of faith, that pupils and students should relate personally to what they are reading.

In this they are grievously wrong. Students should try to understand what Shakespeare is dramatizing, regardless of whether it falls within the rather limited bounds of their personal experience.

If you think that the story of Persephone is a feminist parable, you will have missed the point. If you believe that Romeo and Juliet is an adolescent love story, you will have diminished Shakespeare’s text.

As Coyne astutely points out, being hypersensitive to offense will limit you to hearing only thoughts that echo your own. Is there a better definition of narcissism?

In the end, anybody can claim offense or triggering about anything: liberals about conservative politics, pacifists against violence, women against sexism, minorities against bigotry, Jews against anti-Semitism, Muslims against any mention of Israel, creationists against evolution, religionists against atheism, and so on.

And he is quite right to see it all as part of the imperialistic encroachment of the therapy culture. It’s almost as though the educational establishment has gotten in the business of producing more psychotherapy customers.

Coyne offers a cogent analysis:

But the core [curriculum] is not a form of therapy; it’s a form of exposure to diverse ideas, and it should not have the aim of making people feel “safe.” In fact, that’s precisely the opposite of its aim. 

It’s time for students to learn that Life is Triggering. Once they leave college, they’ll be constantly exposed to views that challenge or offend them. There are a lot of jerks out there, and no matter what your politics are, a lot of people will have the opposite view. If you’re an atheist, you’ll live in a world of people whom you see as hostile and delusional believers. If you’re a believer, you’ll encounter vociferous heathens like me. If you’re a feminist, well, sexism is alive and well.

That’s why one of college’s most important functions is to learn how to hear and deal with challenging ideas. Cocooning oneself in a Big Safe Space for four years gets it exactly backwards. “Safety” has been transformed by colleges from “protection from physical harm” to “protection from disturbing ideas.”


Leo G said...

Off this topic, but thought you might find this interesting.

Leaning in

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks, I'm happy to see it... especially since it confirms my own attitudes toward the idea. I'll try to blog about it this weekend.

priss rules said...

Some time ago, academia turned into a game of 'hunt the dead white male'. Or dig him up to beat him over and over.

So, English departments, humanities, and various victim studies departments all focused on hunting and smoking out 'dead white males'.

Initially, this idiocy took over only the colleges. But since higher academia set the standards for rest of education, even K thru 12 education came to focus on rooting out 'racism', 'sexism', 'homophobia', and etc.
When going after the obvious targets -- KKK, Nazism, etc.-- got boring(especially as the far right has zero power in the modern west), the progs had to keep finding new enemies, or else they'd be out of business.
So, it turned into a game of finding 'microaggressions' and 'white privilege'.

Kids from young age have been introduced to art, culture, and ideas not as forums for critical thinking, imagination, and possibilities but as hunting ground for bad guys, bad ideas, and etc.

So, millennials grew up reading books and watching movies in terms of 'that is racist', 'that is homophobic', and etc. We now live in a country where businesses are shut down because they won't cater to 'gay weddings'. Not seeing the beauty of 'gay marriage' is thought to be Evil. 80% of millennials think this way since PC had reached all the way down to kindergarten.

Since millennials were raised that way by our educational system, they enter college with PC mindsets. It used to be kids became PC in college. Now, they come to college with PC mentality already installed as it's been fed to them since cradle.

Some blame must go to the Jewish community. While Jewish worries about antisemitism are understandable given recent history, the constant seeing-Nazis-everywhere mentality has morphed into comparable hysteria among other would-be victim groups. And in some cases, this outlook is coming to boomerang against Jews.

Many liberal Jews promoted the 'white privilege' hysteria, but it's coming back to haunt Jews as BDS movement is mostly about people of color seeing Zionism and white male privilege as one and the same, not least because Netanyahu is seen with the GOP, much loathed in the academia.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

It is a mania.

If these kids are to be sheltered from subjects, topics and authors because of supposed "triggers," maybe they require some kind of healing intervention before they go out into the big, bad world of... (gulp) college. Really?

This endless coddling and mass adjustment to subjective threats and paranoid perceptions has to be quarantined and addressed. The idea that the content or language in Huckleberry Finn or any other classic work is a "trigger" for someone and must be banned is akin to this zaniness going on with ever-expanding peanut-free zones and hazmat treatment of other predatory doomsday allergens.

Since when does one afflicted person mean the rest of humanity needs to adjust? Why do schools need to protect "transgendered" elementary schoolchildren who are going through what we used to scientifically refer to as "a phase"? Because it's THAT serious??? We have children and their parents trampling over each other to come up with superlative excuses, claiming their child is "special" or "exceptional" or "different" or "bright" or "gifted" so as to rationalize their failure to socialize normally.

This is life. Yep, there are jerks out there. Pain, ostracization, cooties, boogers hanging from your nose and being called "weird" from time to time are normal happenings in the movement to adulthood that now never occurs because childhood never ends. Simultaneously, educrats, humanities faculties and wacky parents claim childhood should be rid of such episodes, and instead uniqueness (no matter how bizzarre) should be... celebrated. Toleration is now synonymous with premeditated neglect.

How the hell do you ever grow? If a kid is truly different, things will shake out. Everyone is so terrified of making a mistake and somehow imprinting a child with the grotesque trauma of mispronouncing their last name, which elicits cruel giggles from the other students. Sorry, but such events are inevitable. Buck up, camper!

I have much more compassion for the person who risks anaphylaxis from peanut butter than someone who seeks refuge from tales like Moby Dick because he was traumatized by his Aunt Maudie on a whale-watching trip while on 2nd grade summer vacation. The idea that everyone has a fiduciary duty to protect a single, tortured soul from their imagined daytime frights tells me that person has no business being in college, much less being considered an "adult." He who demands such accommodation has no sense of responsibility whatsoever.

It is yet another example of society being ruled by those feeling superlatively aggrieved. We are suffering from a serious spiritual deficit in this country, and life is no longer seen as an existential adventure but instead a cocooned, padded cell with womb-to-tomb entitlements at others' expense. Education is now a social program that mimics local news bulletins about the mayhem that my ensue if you do not sanitize your coffee maker daily. Details at 11:00...

Ares Olympus said...

The version of Megyn Kelly’s line I heard (from running community women) is "Suck it up, buttercup"

I do wonder how deep the "sensitivity trigger" meme has gone. I can't guess.

Perhaps this is a case of the "the squeaky wheel gets the grease", as well of an actual case of a "slippery slope", rather than the fallacious form.

So the best understanding I have is: (1) The wider world is often a dangerous place (2) Society sometimes can make things less dangerous for vulnerable members (3) Sometimes the protective measures infantilize members, keeping them in a fearful state rather than liberating them from their fears.

Its also clear that you can divide space between (1) Private (2) Semiprivate (3) Public, and have different agreed rules in each context.

So even if it may be appropriate to say semipublic spaces, like AA meetings, might recognize the sensitivities and vulnerability of members, that doesn't mean its best to try to impose similar rules to all public spheres.

Like if 10% of the population has a risk to become alcoholics, we might limit public spaces that serve alcohol, and provide signs such as "Alcohol is served here" and vulnerable citizens can heed such warnings, and go elsewhere. (But limiting all public consumption of alcohol as we tried with prohibition, was a complete failure of course.)

Along with drink, cussin' is another vice that certain people of a sensitive nature might want to avoid. Certainly churches might want to ban swearing, and public transit is a fair place to "silence" people with vulgar language, and the sensitive people can win, if they stand up for their rights.

But what if say some television stations wanted to allow swearing, like cable does, should we allow this? Should such stations be required to offer sensitivity warnings before each show starts? Well, actually they do that with violence, and PBS sometimes does it for language too.

Now sensitivity of the trauma sense maybe is something different, not like addiction, and not impoliteness.

We could try a reversal, such as "gay kissing in public", and we know those gay pride parades are places that heterosexuals might feel a tad sensitive, or repulsed sort of way. So it might be fair for a "parade" to have a "sensitivity warning" in all announcements and in the front of the parade that crude sexual behavior is likely to be observed, and sensitive folk should be prepared to close their eyes, or leave.

And a positive side of that "respectful warning" as well is that gays would be acknowledging that their public displays may be offensive to some, and if they are given "temporary rights" to such behavior in a pride parade, it shouldn't mean they should be liberated to act this way in public in general.

But again, perhaps that's mere disgust, and something different than trauma. Trauma would seem to be a VERY PERSONAL thing, that can't be simply categorized and prejudged to protect people. Who knows what sets people off?

I remember my first girlfriend and I saw "A nightmare before Christmas" and she had to leave the theater, and she was near tears, and I was confused why she reacted so strongly. Its hard to imagine we could have enough warnings for all possible repulsions!

Food allergies are a similar thing I guess, although some people really can die from nuts or whatever, but it does make potlucks much more difficult, if all ingredients have to be listed.

But maybe, if only 1% of the population has dangerous allergies, we should dismiss their needs for safety, and just make them carry their own food to potlucks, and then the rest of us could stop worrying about everything?

Probably these things all go in cycles, and some sensible middle ground will be reached?

Dennis said...

I wonder if this isn't an outgrowth of children who were raised by parents who thought that Dr. Spock and his ideas were the way to raise children? It always reminded me of a justification for not having to provide adult guidance or to expect children to grow up into functional adults able to face the challenges of life.

priss rules said...

The Monolith in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY should have come with a trigger warning that says "this object might inspire violent ideas with objects such as bone and rock."