Trigger Warnings for a Happier Planet

Trigger Warnings for a Happier Planet

The last few months have seen a rising debate over the use of “trigger warnings” and whether or not colleges and universities should implement them in their syllabi.  What’s that?  You haven’t heard of the term “trigger warning?”  Well, then, it’s time for your education on the latest round of feel-good nonsense permeating college and teen culture.

In an age where people wear their various mental illnesses on their sleeves with a level of pride formerly reserved for actual life accomplishments, it stands to reason that everyone would be looking to protect each other from the perils and dangers of adult discussions on things that might be uncomfortable so we now have a culture brewing where warnings of potentially traumatizing content have to be made so that the precious snowflakes can handle it or avoid it appropriately.

The issue is being pushed by academics and student governments at various universities.  Many in favor are arguing that trigger warnings are “the right thing to do” because education should not be a traumatic experience to the young minds that are merely trying to learn new things.  On its surface, this is clearly a movement with good intentions, but once you start thinking about how (and when) to put trigger warnings in place, now you suddenly have an issue.

I’d like you to meet Emily and Alice.  Emily and Alice are two different people.  They check all the “boxes” and have all the usual current mental health buzzwords between them, but Alice is particularly special.  She’s Pluto.

I wish I was kidding, but I’m not.  Alice is Pluto.  Just ask her.

“It’s kind of hard to explain ●︿● But it’s like when I see, or hear about, or even read about Pluto, I just know. Like I see a picture of Pluto and I think “That’s me! ◕3◕” same for when someone talks about Pluto, I just feel it inside me that they’re talking about me. Before I realised I was Pluto I always felt like… idk, a sense of “wrong,” like I had no idea who I was, but when I finally realised it, it was like everything clicked. Everything about me and everything I felt just finally made since! I was Pluto! I did actually consider different planets at first, but Pluto was the only one that resonated so strongly with me. I feel an extremely deep connection with Pluto, that goes far past the feeling of admiration or wonder. It’s the feeling of “this is what I’m supposed to be. This is who I really am.” I hope that makes since (✖﹏✖) I’m sorry if it doesn’t. I have a really hard time putting my thoughts and feelings into words. “

Farbeit from me to tell people they can’t be everything they want to be, and I’m sure Emily’s life as a planet is quite interesting, especially at age 21.  Yes, a 21 year old adult refers to themselves as a planet.

I realised that Pluto and I shared the same soul and spirit when I was ten. I had always kind of understood this but I did not understand it fully until I was ten. It’s been eleven years now I still know that Pluto and I share a soul, just currently separate bodies. I’m not insane, I fully understand that I currently reside in the body of a human, but I know that one day I will return to my true body, where I will be whole again. I can’t wait for that day.

Wow.  I mean, is there any more textbook example of strange?  I try not to judge because everyone has their “thing,” but it’s really hard to read something like this with a straight face.  None the less, Alice seems happy with plurself (the pronoun preferred as opposed to “herself,”) so that’s fine with me.  I’m not judging plu (the pronoun preferred to “her”) no matter how “off” I find this whole thing to be.

I chose to tell you the story of Alice here because Alice has a convenient list of triggers on plu Tumblr.  Here they are, for those of you who are interested.

Alice’s triggers:

  • black holes

  • anything referring to pluto not being a planet

  • gravity

  • asteroids

  • rubber bands

  • shock images (i.e. shocking reaction images of humanoid faces, examples: 1, 2, 3. WARNING. EXTREMELY SHOCKING AND TERRIFYING.)

  • pugs

  • Neil Degrasse Tyson

  • curse words (mostly when yelled or in caps)

  • Elderly humans in crocs

  • Marvel’s Galactus

  • Disney’s movie Hercules

  • cisgender privileges

  • segways

  • metric system

  • galactic cannibalism

  • low opacity photos

Quite a list, no?

Again, I’m not here to judge, and people have their “things” and those “things” are theirs and they’re entitled to them, but if you notice the third to last one, the “metric system,” it probably confuses you.  Don’t worry, Alice has a nice explanation.

I want to sum this up without giving much detail because this one is extremely personal. Basically an older person in my life when I was a child tried to force me to learn the metric system and basically every time I messed up and couldn’t learn it they would hurt me.

I think we can all agree that no matter how strange we find this whole thing, that’s a screwed up situation, right?  Right.  Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, since the metric system is obviously a problem for Alice, any of plur instructors would have to warn plur of anything containing references to the metric system so that plu could choose whether or not to participate in that work.

Go ahead, professors, add your trigger warnings.

Slippery slopes are bad logical arguments.  Very bad.  The idea is that if you allow one thing, you allow an avalanche of made up subsequent things in succession, but it’s hard to see how “trigger warnings” placed on things like reading lists don’t turn into huge laundry lists of terms that could offend anyone, potentially.  Imagine constructing a list of trigger warnings based on Alice’s triggers?  Good luck!

Now it should be noted that I don’t oppose (totally) the idea of being conscientious of the needs of one’s students.  I think it’s perfectly reasonable that, for example, if you’re reading a book on flowers and there’s  a chapter where a mass murder happens, something that is unexpected or out of character, I can understand a warning.  On This Week in Law a few weeks ago they discussed this very issue and one of the guests, a law professor, had a case that was going to be discussed on the final about a coffin company.  He decided against using the case when he had a fear that it would upset a student who recently lost a loved one.

However, he also said that he doesn’t believe doing such should be mandated in any way, but that doing so is simply an example of being a good person and trying to be decent to other people.

Well how about that.

I honestly think that’s the right way to approach this.  Forcing professors (and holding them accountable) to use trigger warnings can result in a crazy array of students seeking recognition and protection from their potential triggers no matter how obscure they are.  It would put educators in the untenable position of having to make sure they think of every possible thing that could trigger every possible person in every possible class.  If our subject, Alice, took an astronomy class, plu would be devastated because they would probably discuss the work of [trigger warning] Neil Degrasse Tyson and Alice would have a mental or emotional breakdown.

I’m not opposed to people voluntarily trying to forewarn those with certain sensitivities about potentially upsetting or traumatizing content.  I am absolutely 100% opposed to making it a mandate in any fashion simply because the range of what people are sensitive to varies so widely that you’d either be tagging everything with warnings, or if you weren’t, probably useless in totality anyway.

Either way, it doesn’t work.




Header Image via Sakura on Flickr


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