“Trigger Warnings” and The Great American Right to
Offend

By

Leonard Zwelling

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/us/warning-the-literary-canon-could-make-students-squirm.html?hp&_r=0

         I had no
idea.

Jennifer Medina reports in the NY Times (link
above) on Sunday, May 18 about something called “trigger warnings.” These
warnings are like the ones before most television dramas on HBO. They inform
anyone about to watch a show that sex, nudity, drug use, violence or other reflections
of the human condition that might offend some other humans might be
dramatically depicted so that sensitive eyes and/or ears should be averted for
the next 60 minutes.

I am not really sure that anyone watching
HBO, Showtime or Cinemax is surprised to see these warnings since my guess is
that is exactly why people are watching the pay-for-view networks. They are
looking for what they cannot get on fee-free, commercial-laden networks
although that gap is narrowing considerably thanks to shows like Scandal,
Dallas and The Good Wife being willing to push the boundaries of neck lines,
hem lines and punch lines.

In Ms. Medina’s front page piece, she
reports exactly what these trigger warnings are supposed to alert the senses of
the sensitive about:

“Triggers are not only relevant to
sexual misconduct, but also anything that might cause trauma. Be aware of
racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism and other issues of
privilege and oppression” (language for the proposed guide for those preparing
curricula at Oberlin College).

For those needing some assistance:

Cissexism=Implying inferiority of transgender
people

Ableism=Implying the inferiority of the
disabled

What this is all about is trying to
assure that the potentially emotionally disturbing past experiences of students
are not used to make them feel bad again by those teaching them. In other
words, college teachers are supposed to anticipate what aspects of classic or
contemporary literature (e.g., Huckleberry Finn for African-Americans or The
Merchant of Venice for Jews) might offend a student and warn all of the
students in his or her class of the possibly offensive nature of the contents
of assigned literature—Mark Twain, Shakespeare or otherwise.

This, I presume, will allow everyone to
get his or her sh-t together and keep it that way without a bout of PTSD
interfering with the student’s $40,000/year college education. It is my great
friend and spiritual teacher Stephen Levine who taught me that whenever he
heard someone say they have their sh-t together, it usually meant they were
standing in it. I would say the PC police are knee deep in it with these
trigger warnings.

“Trigger warnings” may be the biggest
pile of crap I have ever heard. It is not foolish because the passages in some
books should not be offensive. They may well be. It is foolish because
offending is one of the great American rights. Where would Will Rogers, Don
Rickles, Richard Pryor, Lewis Black, Jackie Mason, or Jon Stewart be without
the right to offend? And where would we be without them? Being offensive is as
American as an apple pie—in the face! And we are all better for it.

That some politically correct sub-group
of liberal knuckleheads wants warning labels on every piece of literature that
might offend someone is silly enough. That the NY Times should write about it
as if the two sides have equally valid arguments is even worse.

If college campuses should be anything,
they should be the laboratories of ideas, including bad ones. The latest wave
of protests against invited graduation speakers like Condoleezza Rice or
Christine Lagarde that have caused these distinguished women to cancel their commencement
speeches is horrifying. Former Princeton President William Bowen agrees with me
for he lambasted the students graduating from Haverford on May 18 when he
stepped in as commencement speaker for Robert Birgeneau who, like Rice and
Lagarde, withdrew from his prior commitment to speak at Haverford after some
students protested his participation for political reasons. They didn’t like
the way Birgeneau handled a protest at Berkeley in 2011 when he was chancellor
there. Bowen, to his credit, also criticized Birgeneau for not appearing anyway
and engaging in a meaningful discussion with those who disagreed with what he
had done. That would have been mature and perhaps not expected of the students,
but certainly of a former chancellor of a major university.

This goes along with the campus uproar
against Palestinian speakers or members of J Street. On a college campus,
anyone should be heard as long as he or she does not promote the harming of
others. Thus, I will put some limits on who I would allow to be a graduation
speaker. No Nazis or Klansmen or members of Al Qaeda.

Rather than causing blood pressures to
rise due to nonsense like this being on the front page, better you should be
ballistic about the story by Robert Pear on page 18. Pear reports that Medicaid
patients that recently gained access to insurance under the ACA are sicker than
everyone else despite being younger. They have more diabetes, more lung disease
and more vessel disease. This is all documented in a recent study in JAMA
Surgery from the University of Michigan. And this too, like the fact that some
people are offended at passages from classic literature, should surprise no
one. Many of those newly Medicaid eligible under the ACA were never patients before.
Of course they present with greater surgical risk. Here’s the link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/us/poorer-health-of-surgery-patients-on-medicaid-may-alter-laws-bottom-line.html?action=click&module=Search&region=searchResults&mabReward=relbias%3Ar&url=http%3A%2F%2Fquery.nytimes.com%2Fsearch%2Fsitesearch%2F%3Faction%3Dclick%26region%3DMasthead%26pgtype%3DHomepage%26module%3DSearchSubmit%26contentCollection%3DHomepage%26t%3Dqry650%23%2Fpoorer%2Bhealth%252Bmediciad%2F&_r=0

We could offer a course on how to be a
patient on the college curriculum except the very people needing the
instruction, those on Medicaid, probably are not in your son or daughter’s politically
correct college class. How to be a patient needs to be in the kindergarten
syllabus in all public schools along with gym, home ec, shop and sex ed. And,
the sooner the better.

Now if you really want to be offended,
check out Elisabeth Rosenthal’s opinion piece documenting that if anyone’s
salaries are pushing up the costs of health care, it isn’t the salaries of the
doctors, but those of the administrators. Here’s this one:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/sunday-review/doctors-salaries-are-not-the-big-cost.html

Now if you want to put up a “warning” of
some sort, how about one on the forehead of every medical administrator, lawyer
and accountant who is controlling the resources by which doctors are trying to
care for patients. The domination of the health care-industrial complex by
these non-docs is what is truly offensive! Better yet, how about trigger
warnings on guns instead of books?

My Kindle Fire was burning up on the
elliptical trainer Sunday morning with these three articles. Political
correctness, the excessive burden of illness on the needy and the outrageous
salaries of putative health care leaders who know nothing about health care:
that’s enough to make by blood boil. What about yours?

Leonard Zwelling