Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Apr/14

17

Leftist blasphemies

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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.

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1 comment

  • Acilius · April 18, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    I think the word “community” makes this whole thing sound more sinister than it needs to sound, and at the same time may make it operate more cruelly than it needs to operate. To use your example, an Iraqi village is a community, in that its members are bound by ties of geography, genealogy, and economic interest. These ties exist whether laws recognize them or not, and so the laws that are likeliest to be followed in that village are those which begin by acknowledging them. The idea that government, even a government which is ruthlessly aggressive in its use of violence, can remake these most basic social arrangements always reminds me of a young soldier of my acquaintance who was being sent on deployment under the supervision of a sergeant whom I knew to be dangerously undisciplined. Aren’t you afraid he’ll shoot you when you’re out in the desert, I asked. The soldier grinned and said “When he’s asleep, he ain’t got no gun.”

    Anyway, colleges and universities aren’t like Iraqi villages. Schools are bureaucratic institutions, where people are identified with particular functions that are are defined by written policies, controlled by formal relationships of reporting, and expressed in titles. Iraqi villagers can enforce the norms of behavior which make it possible for people to cooperate with each other, to know what to expect of each other and to know how to interpret displays they make for each other’s benefit, without much resort to formal rules and regulations, because the informal ties that make them a community are so strong. To achieve a comparable degree of mutual understanding in a bureaucratic setting, formal rules and regulations are the only tools available.

    Now, it may be that Oberlin’s rules and regulations are not well-thought-out, that in fact they reward hostility and obstruct mutual understanding. Still, I do believe that a code of conduct is a necessity for a college or university, and that such a code of conduct should include restrictions on speech that would be neither necessary nor acceptable for society at large. Not being a leftist in any conventional sense, I would be inclined to propose restrictions that would enforce standards of academic rigor and the courteous behavior appropriate to ladies and gentlemen, and I would avoid settings governed by restrictions crafted to silence dissent from leftist doctrines.

    Since Oberlin is to a very large extent an organization explicitly dedicated to the promotion of certain varieties of leftism, I would for the same reason not want to commit myself to it for any significant part of my life. When I was applying to colleges a couple of decades ago, I did not apply to Oberlin, largely for that reason. I didn’t want to go to an avowedly conservative school either, and was quite satisfied with the large, not very selective state school where I ended up.

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