I thought their finest recent innovation, encouraged by the White House itself, was the “guilty until presumed innocent” standard for sexual assault suspects. But now this video from Reason TV has me wondering. Can’t we, mustn’t we, do what we can to protect people from speech they find upsetting? That was a key argument of Orwell’s in “Animal Farm,” as I recall.
The slippery slope potential here is so obvious that it really doesn’t need stating. The warnings are supposed to help people with honest-to-goodness PTSD avoid media that might upset them, but someone in the tiny percentage at risk of that can (and often does, I’m sure) take sensible precautions to shield themselves. Demanding warnings for the 96 percent who won’t be “triggered” is just a foot in the door towards regulation, not unlike how mandatory calorie counts on menus tend to precede attempts to ban certain ingredients or serving platforms (Happy Meals, Big Gulps etc). Warnings invite restrictions, almost inevitably. The tacit goal here, at a minimum, is to kickstart some sort of rating system for speech on campus; the worse the rating, the more pressure there’ll be on administrators to exclude that speech from the curriculum. And as much as I feel for well-meaning kids who have to suffer through it, I have to say that I find it a fascinating experiment to watch from afar now that I’m a few decades removed. What’s the next “advance” after this wihin the academic commune? We should start a pool.
Silver lining: Maybe, if trigger warnings catch on, disfavored speakers can be invited back to campus with warnings attached instead of being pressured into dropping out altogether. That’d be progress, no?