The Lower Quote, As If You Didn't Know, Is By Richard Dawkins, Son.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Pulling the Triggers

"If someone tells me I've hurt their feelings, I say, 'I'm still waiting to hear what your point is.'" Christopher Hitchens

I don't like trigger warnings.

I know, this likely won't make me popular with all the large hairpieces of the no-god-having, leftie-leaning groups, but it's just a fact. I think they're bullshit and they're disempowering people, keeping them from actually dealing with their problems. I mean, look at this article from the New York Times in March talking about the subject of triggers, rape, and colleges. If people were "triggered" by this presentation/dialogue they could go to a set-up "safe space" described as follows:
The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.
Sorry? I get that a small minority percentage of the audience might have to take a break and get their head out of the content for a minute, but what is with the childish nonsense? Play doh and bubbles? Are you serious? I thought colleges and universities were for young adults exploring ideas and learning about the world? Check out this quote from a person who made use of said "safe room":
“I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,”
Yeah, welcome to university. As Denis Leary once said, "I thought I was going to be the starting centre fielder for the Boston Red Socks. Life sucks, get a fucking helmet."

I'm sorry if I'm blunt and seemingly unsympathetic. I'm not unsympathetic at all. I teach first aid and CPR and recently at a course for a dental office we were going through the motions of CPR on the mannequins. We were obviously talking about doing the technique on people who present as dead - no heartbeat, no breathing - and that most of the people who have CPR done on them will, unfortunately, not make it. One of the attendees, I noticed, was welling up slightly with tears and certainly was not sharing in the occasional black humour that accompanies our presentation. At the conclusion, she quickly took her leave with moist eyes and a couple of the other office workers mentioned that she recently lost someone very close to her.

I feel for that woman. She experienced loss and had to face a short course that dealt with death in a very up-front way. She was "triggered", but she got through it and was professional about it, albeit understandably with difficulty. I would argue that the fact that she got through the class likely helped her deal with the loss.

The NYT article also makes the very valid point that:
“I don’t see how you can have a therapeutic space that’s also an intellectual space...”
and
...it’s disconcerting to see students clamor for a kind of intrusive supervision that would have outraged students a few generations ago.
The former quote shows the incompatibility of the concepts we're dealing with here. "Safe" spaces just don't do well with intellectual discourse. You are going to be challenged to provide evidence for your position and if you can't, your argument is going to be thrown out with very little ceremony. You feelings be damned.

The last four paragraphs illustrate just what backwards-thinking nonsense this sort of blanketing results in: college students feeling less "safe" than an artist whose comrades were gunned down in their workplace and who was traveling with (very necessary) bodyguards. I urge you to read the whole thing.

Greta Christina (who I admire greatly but disagree with on this topic) wrote an article supportive of trigger warnings in Free Inquiry magazine (FI) (volume 35) wherein she argues that if the reader was supportive of "spoiler alerts" for movies then you should logically be in favor of "trigger warnings". In the most recent issue of FI there is a rebuttal article by Kristine Harley which echoes many of my concerns when I read Christina's original piece.

One point made is the obvious and concerning growth of what can and does "trigger" people and what the ultimate goal is for these warnings:
...the goal of preventing any kind of “trauma” has replaced the reasonable goal of heading off PTSD-related episodes.
Note here that Harley states plainly that some trigger warnings are sensible and necessary to stop trauma victims from having an episode. However, Harley takes on Christina's main analogy thusly:
Triggering material, unlike spoilers, is so poorly defined that almost anything can be a trigger...Law students avoiding rape law in class neither resemble fans of The Empire Strikes Back who don’t want to know beforehand that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, nor do they “decide not to read [the material] on the bus to work.” They rather behave like the pharmacists who do not want to dispense birth control or the Kentucky county clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
I remember listening to Penn Jillette talking on his podcast about an issue much like this. He recounted a story about him and Teller performing on stage at a theatre somewhere and one of the tricks they did was to have a large plexiglass tank, fill it with water with Teller inside, and then Teller would "drown" in it while attempting to escape. Very Penn & Teller.

A woman, during the gag, got up and left the theatre quickly. She was attended to in the lobby by an usher who asked if she was alright and if she needed anything. The woman told the usher that someone very close to her had recently drown and that she didn't know that was part of the show and it just hit a little too close to home. She couldn't stay and watch. The usher apologized and offered to refund her ticket and she refused because, she said, there was nothing wrong with the show, it was just that *she* couldn't stay because of her specific circumstance. She would go back into the show in a few minutes and all would be well. And, against all odds, it was. This woman may not have been ready to see a realistic, fake drowning at that point of her grief process, but she watched some of it. Eventually, that sort of thing won't bother her anymore and she will be able to see it for what it is: a stage gag. It brings up this point from the above article though:
According to the most-basic tenets of psychology, the very idea of helping people with anxiety disorders avoid the things they fear is misguided. A person who is trapped in an elevator during a power outage may panic and think she is going to die. That frightening experience can change neural connections in her amygdala, leading to an elevator phobia. If you want this woman to retain her fear for life, you should help her avoid elevators.
Let people face their fears/triggers. Slowly at first and then they will eventually get over them. The infantilization and coddling is doing no one any favours. To put a point on the quote, ensuring that any time discussion of elevators comes up Susan is told to go get some coffee so her ears won't hear the offending syllables will only make her irrational fear persist and her social anxiety worsen to the point of paralysis.

I'll end with this.
...(W)e should choose to react to our negative experiences with reason, logic, and evidence-based inquiry...As Isaac Asimov famously said, there is “no thumb to suck” in life, and to me these growing demands for an expected outcome are beginning to sound like prayers to a therapeutic god in a feel-good church of conformity.

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5 Barbaric Yawps:

At 25/11/15 7:51 pm, Anonymous Skeptico said...

Greta Christina (who I admire greatly but disagree with on this topic) wrote an article supportive of trigger warnings in Free Inquiry magazine (FI) (volume 35) wherein she argues that if the reader was supportive of "spoiler alerts" for movies then you should logically be in favor of "trigger warnings".

I haven't read Greta's article (behind a paywall) but hasn't she got the issue completely backwards? A trigger alert is not an analog of a spoiler alert, it's an analog of the spoiler itself in the movie review. If a movie has an unexpected or unwelcome twist (e.g. a beloved character gets killed), then if we don't read the spoiler in the movie review then it takes us by surprise when we see the film. So the spoiler is like the trigger warning: it warns us in advance of the thing that's going to happen. The spoiler alert stops us from being warned in advance, and so we are surprised when we see the movie. If you're in favor of spoiler alerts then you should be against being warned in advance and so you should be against trigger warnings.

This shows some of the dangers of reasoning by analogy: rarely a good way to make an argument.

 
At 25/11/15 11:20 pm, Blogger Heathen Mike said...

Skeptico,
Excellent point. Had I thought more carefully, I might have come up with that one. As it stands, I believe I need to buy you a beer.

 
At 27/11/15 11:12 am, Anonymous Skeptico said...

Well, I can't argue with the beer. ;-)

The surprising thing is that Greta made this flawed argument in the first place. She obviously just didn't think this one through.

 
At 14/12/15 7:53 am, Anonymous vikramsingh said...

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At 16/12/15 4:46 am, Anonymous anver said...

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