Oberlin has had to walk back its policies about “trigger warnings.” An op-ed defending the old policy highlights what’s really going on here:
Trigger warnings exist in order to warn readers about sensitive subjects, like sexual violence or war, that could be traumatic to individuals who have had past experiences related to such topics, not to remove these subjects from academic discussion. They do not “glorify victimhood”; instead, they validate the life experiences of certain members of our community and allow individuals to make informed decisions.
Who defines what a “sensitive subject” is? The headline tells you who, “Staff Seeks Balance Between Free Speech and Community Standards in Online Comment Moderation.” The Oberlin community is not the same as the community of an Iraqi village, and its standards of different. The emphasis on sensitivity and emotional reaction and perception is a common one on the liberal-Left, but I wonder if they stop to reflect that this sort of standard has traditionally been used to defend standard religious orthodoxies from vigorous, even blasphemous, critique. I doubt that anyone at Oberlin would wish to censor a thorough thrashing of conservative Christianity, because it seems unlikey that there are many conservative Christians at the university. But the same logic could be used by a different demographic.
Ross Douthat nails it in his most recent column, Diversity and Dishonesty:
It would be a far, far better thing if Harvard and Brandeis and Mozilla would simply say, explicitly, that they are as ideologically progressive as Notre Dame is Catholic or B. Y.U. is Mormon or Chick-fil-A is evangelical, and that they intend to run their institution according to those lights.
As I have stated before, to a great extent neutrality in matters of ideology is a transparent fiction, at least at its root. Consider this recollection by a transgender individual, Fear and Loathing in Public Bathrooms, or How I Learned to Hold My Pee:
Every time I bring up or write about the hassles trans and genderqueer people receive in public washrooms or change rooms, the first thing out of many women’s mouths is that they have a right to feel safe in a public washroom, and that, no offense, but if they saw someone who “looks like me” in there, well, they would feel afraid, too. I hear this from other queer women. Other feminists. This should sting less than it does, but I can’t help it. What is always implied here is that I am other, somehow, that I don’t also need to feel safe. That somehow their safety trumps mine.
I happen to agree with the women on this. But I also think that there’s probably an aspect of hypocrisy here, which the author implies. The same feminists who wish to reorder social norms to their convenience balk when the tables are turned, and they’re the ones who are in the position of defending a conservative normative status quo. The radicalism of many ends when their own comfort zone is impinged. Change is for others.