As I move further and further away from distractions, I’ve grown increasingly disillusioned with a host of social justice practices I find unproductive. One of them is trigger warnings (TW’s). Sunday night I wrote a post laying out a few reasons I stopped using them, but as I’ve thought about it, I realize I have a few more I think are worth sharing. In no particular order, here are three more:
Finding out someone is an asshole isn’t such a shock. When you censor people, you can delude yourself into thinking someone is more decent than they are. You might even think you share more values than you really do. When people can freely say what they think, you find out much sooner who you’re really in solidarity with. In this way, TW’s serve a polite, but not necessarily kind function. They allow me to waste my time/effort building with someone what amounts to a house of cards, instead of either seeking an ally elsewhere or addressing my concern from the get go.
Risk Acceptance. In the Facebook post where the Bully Bloggers original post caught my attention I was asked “there a middle ground where we can still allow room for people to decide if they want to do emotional battle randomly or is that being overly cautious?” by someone who looks at TW’s as well as NSFW warnings as a courtesy. The way I look at it: 1) Being triggered/offended/outed is the price of admission to the rodeo of being social/the internet. If I don’t wanna chance opening up objectionable material in a certain setting, I stay off questionable sites. I don’t rely on NSFW tags. If I don’t wanna chance being called out or outed in public, I keep my mouth shut about certain things. Why should TW’s be any different? If you think a situation might be a problem for you, either go into it based on your own gut feelings, or don’t. We collectively know that being in a moving vehicle might get us in an accident. For most of us that’s an acceptable risk (that can actually result in bodily harm, and we do it). Going into situations, sans TW’s is no different. You weigh the pros and cons and decide if the risk (which involves no physical harm, so is much less dangerous to your person) is acceptable to you. This comes down to personal responsibility as well as actual harm being done for me. 2) However courteous individual TWs may be in theory, overall I think it does much more to inhibit progress, silence people and create division than it does to help anyone.
Trigger warnings as ego protection. If you are triggered, what’s the worst that could happen? Taken to the extreme, you have a mental breakdown. On the still unpleasant, less extreme end, you experience a bout of anxiety and flash back to your trauma (if you have one). Neither of these is death or physical harm. In this respect, trigger warnings serve the function of protecting your ego, not your self. If your ego breaks down, it wasn’t healthy to begin with and each bout of avoidance is only delaying the inevitable.
It’s messed up for someone to specifically come at you in a way injurious to your ego. But by no means is it anyone else’s responsibility to look out for yours, but you (unless of course you’re someone’s therapist). Most of us are not someone’s therapist and even if we are, outside of the therapeutic setting, we don’t owe anyone’s ego a thing. For all of social justice’s progressive bastions, this isn’t one of them. Instead of seeing how doing these things plays into the upholding of dominator culture [by keeping us transfixed on our egos], this is being used so that certain groups of people can have a sacred cow that gives them fleeting feelings of power. What I mean by this is that they have the feeling of control by not having to roll the dice on a triggering situation, and also by controlling someone else’s speech or presentation. That’s not a sustainable solution.
I won’t pretend to have all the answers to this. I can only expound upon why I don’t find this resourceful, in the hope that we can move toward something that is. Do you have any ideas about how they are genuinely resourceful or any unproductive social justice idiosyncrasies you’d like to see solutions for?