Sunday, February 01, 2015

First World Problems

I guess this is a sign of just how far out of the loop I am on some things -- swear to the sanctified pasta soul of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I was entirely unaware of the phrase "trigger warning" until today. Frankly, I wouldn't mind being still unaware of its existence and use; it still makes very little sense, and I'll be goddamned if I can figure out what value it might add to the pursuit of an actual life.

Even though it's the norm rather than the exception, it never fails to amaze how many people act as if it's their inalienable right to spend their entire lives without ever being offended, without ever having to actually listen to someone with an opposing viewpoint. I don't mean the usual onstage back-and-forth jabber of talking points posturing as debate, but to actually listen, and disagree, and assess the situation afterward, and decide if that disagreement merits an equivalent response, or is something to vote against or write or speak out about.

Of course there are many things in this wicked world that all of us can and should speak up about when the opportunity arises. Societies where women are treated like property, bloggers are beaten in public, adulterers are stoned or beheaded, or any number of awful things going on right here at home.

It just seems odd that in a country whose economy is mostly rackets, whose criminal justice system is a cruel joke, and so on and so forth, that seemingly intelligent people would rather choose to police subtle grammatical inflections, bandying words such as "cisgendering" and "othering", words which have zero practical utility outside the walls of academia.

Maybe this ankle-biting type stuff is just what they think they can win, if only by attrition and the fact that most people will just back away slowly from some stranger trying to strong-arm them over their mansplaining. It's not that there isn't some truth to the complaints about the nature of the white male heteronormative power structure, it's that this sort of nanny-policing tends to have a polarizing effect -- it's only going to work on people who are inclined to agree with it in the first place, and will drive everyone else further away, because of its nagging nature.

But then, that's been true of political discourse in general for quite some time; when was the last time you heard of someone "converting" because of something they heard or read? Virtually every ex-lib-turned-con has some self-serving road-to-Damascus story about The Man over-taxing them, over-spending, letting criminals off, etc.; while people who change in the other direction do so because their job got outsourced around the world, they got shit-hammered into bankruptcy by a usurious medical bill, whatever.

In my first go-round in college, right out of high school back in the '80s, I found the campus political correctness folks to be somewhat annoying, but generally harmless, and more or less willing to stir the pot. Which should be the idea -- you come from where you're raised with a certain outlook, and go to a place where that outlook gets challenged, in good ways and not-so-good. Pure ideologues are the ones you need to watch out for; most sensible people are generally syncretic, whether or not they realize it.

Going back to grad school in my early 40s was the exact opposite for me -- since nearly everyone in our weekend-warrior MBA cohort was at least 30 and had some sort of career, they tended to be more conservative, with the couple of 20-somethings being even more conservative. But we all mutually understood, without having to explicitly say so, that it was okay to see the world and its issues differently from one another. We could engage in principled disagreements without having to worry about someone getting "offended". (Then again, while there were some women in the cohort, everyone was still part of the white heteronormative paradigm, so there's that.)

If the "microaggression" concern-trolling serves to at least create some small measure of awareness and tolerance on someone else's part, great. The more likely case is the kids get out into the real world and have to find a decent job or three in a depleted market, and realize that university is about the only place in the world where any of that stuff has any traction.


Unknown said...

Its not about being "offended". Its about some people having had MAJOR TRAUMA in their lives and when topics that relate directly to their trauma(ie discussions of rape, physical abuse, etc.) come up it has become much more usual than previously to to warn people that potentially "triggering" material is on the way. Have you ever dealt with people with trauma issues? They can be fragile, emotionally to say the least. So this isn't about Jonathon Chait and the PC commissars. Its about being considerate of others.

Brian M said...


I see your point, yet if said people are THAT fragile, is an internet discussion on sexual politics with faceless strangers, some of whom might even be asshols, a good place for said fragile individuals to be?

Heywood J. said...

When it's douchebag gamerz lobbing rape and death threats at female programmers, yeah, that's obviously way out of line. I have very little patience with that #redpill #notallmen crowd. It's unacceptable.

But some campus group lecturing on the perils of "cisgendering" and such like? Come on. There's some ankle-biting going on.