America The Sensitive: The Era of Trigger Warnings.

trigger-warningTrigger warnings in Academia and elsewhere are becoming de rigueur or put in another way : “the in-thing to do.”  They are descendants from the Legion of Decency’s  censoring of movies that began in the ‘30s protecting young and old from suggestive sexual material and violence. They are reflected in the Hollywood lettering system: G, PG, PG – 13, R, or NC -17 which advises parents of the type of material they are about to view on the big (or now the little) screen so that they  can protect their children. There was a finally an acceptance that adults were able to censor their own viewing habits.

Today’s trigger warnings don’t relate to what one might see but what one might hear or read. Although it also may relate to some things that are visible. You all recall the kerfuffle at Wellesley College over the sculpture “sleepwalker” that graced the Wellesley campus. Some students suggested it was: “a source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault for some members of our campus community.”  We were told that some feared some students viewing the statute might end up with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The idea behind the need for trigger warnings is to protect the sensitivity of the most sensitive. A discussion of the issue by the American Association of University Professors noted there are proposals: “that students be alerted to all manner of topics that some believe may deeply offend and even set off a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) response in some individuals.”

An article by Boston lawyer Harvey Silverglate touches upon the issue.  He wrote about a woman on a panel at Smith College, Wendy Kaminer, who was defending free speech which she suggested was being thwarted by the “proliferation of campus speech codes that restrict supposedly offensive languages.” During her presentation the issue of Mark Twain’s “The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn” came up which apparently is considered “hate speech” because it has the n-word in it.

Ms Kaminer in response to that verbally said the n-word. She noted there is a difference in using it in an academic discussion than when one uses it as an epithet. That went over like a lead balloon and produced an uproar that ebbed a bit when the president of Smith “apologized to students and faculty who were “hurt” and made to feel “unsafe” by Ms Kaminer’s use of the n-word and her defense of free speech.

(As an aside, I note Silverglate quoted Ms Kaminer but he didn’t spell out the n-word. Nor do I feel comfortable using it. I’d suggest it follows Ms Kaminer should not have used it.)

Silverglate spelled out the trigger warning that accompanied an audio recording and transcript of Ms Kaminer’s talk: “Trigger/Content Warnings: Racism/racial slurs, ableist slurs, anti-Semitic language,  anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language, anti-immigrant language, sexists/misogynistic slurs, reference to race based violence.”

Apparently this warning is routinely given in the academic world without regard for the hurt feelings of males or members of ethnic groups who may likewise suffer when they are slurred. Is hate speech all right when used against some and not others? Who decides?

Along with movies other items were censored in the past. Books like James Joyce’s Ulysses were banned in the United States. In 1953 Judge Elijah Adlow shut down two burlesque houses because the ladies bared too much. Twenty years earlier Mayor James Michael Curley hearing complaints that these businesses were corrupting the morals of the citizens of Boston “decided to take a look himself. He sat through one entire performance. His comment on leaving the theater: “They had a full house, but all of the people there seemed to come from Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.”” 

The irony of the situation is that it took a while to accept the idea that adults could make decisions for themselves in what to read or view. Now we seem to be going backwards. Some feel we must either protect adults from hearing or seeing things that may upset them or that perhaps students in college are not adults.

Charlotte Atler writing to the Dish about the Wellesley matter noted: “There’s something spoiled about our knee-jerk reaction to abolish anything that could be considered even remotely insensitive. The message is, “it’s possible that someone somewhere might feel momentarily bad because of this, so get rid of it right this second! And by the way, you’re an asshole if you don’t agree.”  

I agree that seems to be the case but my thoughts go over to the idea of Orwell’s 1984. By eliminating some topics from discussions either outright or suggesting through trigger warnings they are to be avoided a small group is an attempt to control what we can think or say. As we move on, more and more topics will be added to the list of forbidden topics.

To paraphrase Orwell we’re at the point where: “We all have the right to free speech, but some speech is more equal than others.”


  1. Halo Brother … Can ya’ spayahhhh’ uh’ dyummmm’ ?!? …Ayuh’ 🙂

  2. Look, in the spirit of transparency,
    I get paid by the non sequitor and
    every time Matt cracks a smile
    reading the responses to his blog.

    Funding comes from a NIMH grant
    studying the Halo Effect created
    by blogs that are nothing more
    than psychological soup kitchens
    for the political homeless, eh?

    • MS:

      “Psychological soup kitchens for the political homeless” Keep up talk like that and the non sequitors and smiles will stop and you’ll not be able to buy coffee at that truck stop.

  3. * is in inverse proportion …etc.

  4. William, Perhaps the degree to which one descends into insanity it in inverse proportion to the degree that Ms. Freeh starts to make sense to the person …. And Yettttttttttt 🙂 … Ms. Freeh’s posts have a lot of intelligible Signal in all the White Noise; So, less Noise and more Signal would be in order, you are correct to criticize the delivery format. As to Ms. being a Co-Intel Fed operative it is certainly an interesting strategy to deflect attention from misdeeds by having your operative so explicitly delineate misdeeds. Ms. Freeh’s SOC … Stream Of Consciousness … is what we physicians of the Soul are really interested in, but her impudent digressions make her an elusive patient. ….. Ah Well, We, in the best therapeutic hypnosis manner simply adapt ourselves to Ms. Freeh’s ” Reality Orientation. ” It is a great and helpful technique in this crazy ol’ World we all live in. There are many virtual rooms in the Mansion of the Cyber God ….. Reservations Folks? !? 🙂

  5. William,

    We need only witness the latest lefty contretemps with the leading academic architect of Obamacare, Herr Doktor Jonathan Gruber, being publicly disowned by Pelosi and Obama, to perceive that we are in the Semantic Twilight Zone. Pelosi’s amnesia was immediately belied by video testimonials she made to the brilliant Gruber Ubermensch. Obama’s disclaimers about this colossal prat are put to the lie by Gruber’s 19 White House ” Man On A Missions ” and the 5 Million the Administration paid him. Blatant lying and arbitrary languaging of any position, however radically out of symmetry with REALITY, is the default lefty philosophical mode. Agitprop and THE BIG LIE ; Dr. Goebbels you are such an inspiration !!!!!! …. Achtung … All of US ” Stupid Americans !!! “

  6. * Indeed be …

  7. Ms. Freeh,

    Not for nuttin’ but your blaze orange Mossberg cradling dirt path carved into the side of John Brown Mountain to ” In Other News” is just plain entertaining writing. More of such preamble, and less of ” Other News” perhaps? … That may not indeed a deer hidden by the bush, but the blazing light of Ms. Freeh’s genuine talent !!! Ayuhhhhhh’ 🙂

    • John, this blog is far better off if Msfreeh simply references an article, essay, or stream of consciousness, rather than posting the whole damn thing. So, please Msfreeh, cut the detours and digressions, and stick to the point, or we’ll sic Fred the Fed Flintsonte, Fred the Fed Wyshak, other federal prosecutors and, or worse, academic censors on you. I thinks Msfreeh is part of the federal conspiracy to suppress free speech, free thought and free association. The feds disinformation campaigns are to turn all dissenters into militia type kooks, conspiracy type kooks. Remember, Janet Napolitano created a list of “suspects” for terrorism (home grown terrorists) and on that list she put Veterans of the Vietnam War who presently had gun permits. My very dear friend from Savin Hill wrote to her and said, “How dare you!’ 2. Don’t put anything past the FEDS and their cohorts: Academic and the Media. It was reported yesterday that not only the FBI has “undercover operations” but so does the IRS and other Federal government agencies. Watch out! Big Brother is for real. Take up pens against Big Brother. Raise your voices against our increasingly Fascist and Imperialistic Federal government. Speak now or Big Brother will make sure you forever hold your peace.

  8. Matt: sleep well my friend.

    oh oh!
    here come that stench of

    Ted Stevens Case Looms Over DOJ’s Handling of Alleged FBI Misconduct

    Zoe Tillman

  9. The Repubs in Congress could have a lot of fun with this issue. They should pass a law that says colleges can’t have speech codes or interfere with the Constitutional guarantee of free speech otherwise they forfeit federal funding. It could be similar to the Soloman Amendment that provided that if a college removed ROTC from campus they lost all federal funding. Remember Professor Warren joined a bunch of other goofy law professors and filed a lawsuit challenging that law. The USSC said a school could kick ROTC off but would forfeit the federal funds. Of course the Academic money grubbers caved and abandoned their claimed principles and took the dough instead.

  10. Nope … Anchors Make Good Rudders !!! … All respects to Ms.Freeh at Flying Pond Variety … Where all the Women are Women and Some of the Men are named Shirley !!! … Oh yuh’ … yuh’ … yep 🙂

  11. Rudders make good Anchors … Yuh huh 🙂

  12. The boyz in the flying pond hood
    were gathered around the Green Mountain coffee machine at Flying Pond Variety ,
    all decked out in their blaze orange vests
    and hats.They were all taking a break
    from the cold 34 degree rain falling ,
    as they had been out all morning walking
    the dirt paths carved into the
    sides of of John Brown mountain,
    cradling their Mossberg 500 or Remington
    .308 hoping to bag their first Buck
    of this year’s hunting season.
    Their pickup trucks littered the
    parking lot at Flying Pond Variety
    with the engines idling and the gun
    racks filled. Couple of hours left
    of daylight, time to head out and walk
    those lonely backwoods roads.
    Couple of the hunters could be heard
    mumbling after reading this post.
    “Sounds like a circle jerk to me…ayuh”

    in other news

    50 years later no one has pulled a citizens arrest
    on the FBI for assassinating President Kennedy,

    • Msfreeh, the fed, the disinformation spreader, the obstructionist, now mocks those who mock the feds. Msfreeh “the circle jerk”? Look in the mirror! Msfreeh, continually adding only non-sequitors to our conversations. Where is the Queen of Hearts when we need her: “Off with her head!!!” “Off the non-sequitors.”

  13. You know what the aristocracy in England called “hate speech” in the eighteenth century? The answer: The Declaration of Independence. Trigger-warnings required for free speech.

  14. Go figure !!!

  15. “Free speech” is on the way out. Consider where we are headed. In Amsterdam, I just learned, teachers and schools are forbidden to use the “F-” word because it is offensive to Amsterdam’s growing Muslim population. Unbelievably (or more accurately “almost” unbelievably), the “F-” word that is banned is the word “Farm” because pigs are found on farms and pigs themselves and the word “pig” is deemed offensive to those members of “the religion of peace”.

  16. Such complete canting hypocrisy it is to, as Society does, liberally and reflexively substitute the euphemism ” THE N-WORD ” for , oh here we go and it should go without saying except that to cover one’s moral ass you have to say …. for the VILE and Horrible epithet to which it refers. How tedious it is to act and speak as if we can take moral and social cover by placing the taboo word at one ” Remove.” As soon as you hear the euphemism you think of the word it is so decorous a mask for. I would rather just have someone just call me a Mick to my face. Although the chances of ” The M-Word ” coming into vogue are remote. That’s a completely different political discussion, and when you control language you control political discourse and the people who are its communicants. Thus are the mind control trance states of the social and cultural fascists induced. It ALL starts with THE WORD .

    • John, very well said. I wonder if the Baltimore Catechism is considered “hate speech” on college campuses. Remember at BC a group of faculty pushed to get all crucifixes and crosses removed from classrooms. they failed. But today’s fascists do aim to narcotize us, and put us in little boxes, “mind control trances”, induced and coerced states of mindlessness, anomie. Americans are afraid to speak less they offend and afraid to speak, they censor their own thoughts. The Police State rules in Academia. In my novel, Mac the Dog, I have a chapter about State imposed censorship; it’s captioned, “The War of the World’s Words.” Either we are free to think and speak, or we live under tyranny. 2. I was thinking of the Prosecution and Persecution of Probation Officers. The Feds (Fred the Fed) maliciously tied increased funding for the Department of Probation with increased hiring of persons recommended by the Legislature. But since O’Brien and the Probation Department only hired 40% of those recommended by the Legislature, you will think following Wyshak’s logic that the Budget of the Probation Department would be cut 60%. 3. Words and facts are slimy things when used by some federal prosecutors and some academics in Ivy Towers.

      • “lest they offend”
        2. change “you will think” to “You would think”
        What Wyshak and the Feds routinely do is “reason” thusly: Since the sun rises after the night, the night causes the sun to rise, therefore the night is guilty of sunniness. Or, as we learned in first year biostatistics, because pig iron production increased in England in 1964 and the birthrate in America increased in 1964-65, you can’t conclude increased pig iron production increased the number of pregnancies. Wyshak tried to prove that increased funding to an agency (almost all agencies to funds increased from 1990s to 2008) proved the agency heads were corrupt in hiring people recommended by the Legislature, the funding source. 4. On Wyshak’s logic, since his, federal prosecuytors’ and Judge Young’s salaries are fixed by Congress, then when he and Judge Young gave Congressman’s Tierney’s wife One Month in jail for laundering 8 million dollars from her brothers’ offshore gambling enterprise, then both he and Judge Young should be in jail as Racketeers. Shouldn’t they? Or are only state workers doing routine state work (hiring) subject to Racketerring and Corrupt Organization charges (RICO)? Weren’t they as Judge Young lambasted the Probation People “currying favor” with Congress? 5. Since the Feds have now criminalized the hiring of a person recommended by State Legislators, are only federal judges and academics and Globe reporters allowed to recommend people for government jobs. 6. Talk about a corruption of thought. And true enough it begins with the suppressing of words and concepts, and the “deconstruction” of the English language, so words mean only what the FEDS say they mean. (the Cheshire Cat, the Tweedle Dees and Tweedle Dums, the Fascists. the Queen of Hearts, our oppressive Feds and oppressive Academics have spoken. How dare you disagree! How dare you utter a contrary word! Off with your heads! Read Character Assassins II due out next week.)