Over at The New Republic, Jeet Heer puts forward the proposition that trigger warnings and safe spaces is about post-traumatic stress disorder:
And as the label has evolved, it’s taken on wide-ranging usage: PTSD is now used to diagnose the aftereffects of traumatic experiences ranging from domestic abuse to war-zone reporting. The label’s evolution isn’t totally discordant with its origins: The concept of PTSD was an organic outgrowth of research Shatan and Lifton did on civilians as well as soldiers. As far back as the DSM-III, PTSD encompassed traumas that could easily take place outside a military context, like surviving an earthquake. Most recently, the latest definition of PTSD in the DSM-5 (they dropped the roman numerals with this revision), expanded the definition to include the response to the trauma of “sexual assault … [and] recurring exposure that could apply to police officers or first responders.” PTSD has been studied in the context of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, in the effects on boys when they move to a wealthier neighborhood, and injuries suffered by athletes playing hockey and football. After Ferguson and Baltimore, there has been discussion of PTSD as a possible aftereffect of the riots.
The pervasiveness of this diagnosis has been cultural as much as medical. PTSD has shown up in everything from the comic strip “Doonesbury” to movies like The Hurt Locker and even more popular fare like the Bourne spy thrillers. This summer, moviegoers will meet Max, a dog that suffers PTSD after serving in Afghanistan. A recent memoir by conflict-zone reporter Mac McClelland was titled Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story.
The explosion of trigger warnings and the growth of safe spaces is best understood as a consequence of the expanded social and cultural role that PTSD has assumed in our society. The concept of PTSD rests on the importance of buried memories—memory traces—which can be reignited as flashbacks. PTSD is, in a crucial sense, a theory of memory: It posits that for certain people the memory of a trauma always exists, lying just below the surface of consciousness, ready to be triggered. A theory of this sort will naturally lead to a heightened vigilance. In his path-breaking research, Shatan said we have to confront “the unconsummated grief of soldiers—impacted grief, in which an encapsulated, never-ending past deprives the present of meaning.” As silly as trigger warnings and safe spaces may seem, they are rooted in genuine, widely accepted science.
In fairness to Heer, he describes trigger warnings and safe spaces as a “precarious and flimsy form” at the conclusion of his article. Nevertheless, if Heer’s argument is taken to its logical conclusion then exposure to conservative ideas is the equivalent of having been in exposed to war, surviving a natural disaster or terrorism, being a victim of physical or sexual assault, kidnapping or having sustained a serious injury as a result of violence or an accident. How else can one explain the behavior of left-wing activists at Columbia University and Oberlin College during recent lectures by Christina Hoff Sommers?
What being at war, in a natural disaster, in the midst of a terrorist attack or having sustained a serious injury by intent or accident have in common is that people find themselves in a situation beyond their control from which they cannot escape. These kind of events lead to the sort of trauma associated with PTSD. But how can mere ideas make people feel unsafe? Who is forcing anyone to listen to Christina Hoff Sommers or anyone else? And if someone truly finds her ideas objectionable then why not challenge her ideas? You know, ask questions? It does the mind and body good. When I was active in the NDP, I regularly read conservative magazines because I wanted to know what the other side was thinking. Now that I am a conservative, I do the same with left-wing publications because I still want to know what the other side is thinking. I want to know my adversaries and their ideas as well as I know myself.
Unfortunately, we have a generation of young leftists who have been conditioned by their parents, teachers and other authority figures as well as by their peers to hate conservatives and our ideas without knowing what our ideas actually are. Trigger warnings and safe spaces are but the latest manifestation of this closure of the mind. Jeet Heer might not necessarily endorse trigger warnings and safe spaces as a form of PTSD, but he certainly rationalizes it. To even entertain the idea that exposure to conservative ideas is a source of PTSD does the greatest harm to people who have actually endured PTSD be they soldiers or civilians.
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