This is post following a debate on TW that I had with some on Twitter, following the publication by Richard Dawkins a paper on TW in Universities and issues it raises (I like reading Richard Dawkins as he aims at being the most rationalist possible, and I find this approach, although not interesting to me personnally, interesting from an observer pov). You can read the paper here:
The authors wonders (aloud) or rather concludes, that TW are an obstacle to a fully-conscious and well-educated generation as it may censor some pans of education programms at the university. He uses some specific cases, specific to the USA, that I can’t relate to. One of his tweet following up the publication of the paper was "University is about confronting new ideas, unfamiliar, un-"safe". If you want to be “safe” you’re not worthy of a university education.". Let’s forget about him deciding who’s worth of what, that’s some kind of punchlines he likes to throw and let people react on (and I must say, I do sometimes, since I find this so “hochnase”).
What disturbed me about the post and reactions to the post was qui easy to understand, on my pov. Using a condescendant tone, that only un-empathic people can use, Richard Dawkins and Twittos were implying some very dangerous ideas about TW in general. What I didn’t make clear in my reactions were that I didn’t really care about those specific cases in the US University they were talking about, I’m not from the US, never lived there and can’t judge anything going on there. What I found very touchy in those reactions of theirs (yours if you’re reading this following our debate yesterday), is that
– there’s no reminder of what TW are, RD makes general assumption on what TW are used for + specific cases at the Uni = general conclusion on how ppl are not worthy studying at the University (I got this reaction a lot "then you shouldn’t go to the university blah blah. Hum I’m a teacher + a PhD at the University, so I guess I can relate quite well on how to use and how to receipt TW in courses).
– the very very condescending tone of RD and reactions that implied that the generation of TW is a “fragile” generation, worse: a weak generation. I hate all hypothesis on which such assumptions are made on (aside from the pretty disrespectful vocabulary and ppl judging other ppl on their ability to live or not). So life is tough, then you need to get over it and be tough enough to face the conflicts of the world you’re living in. That’s the biggest WTF and that’s where we’ll never agree on with “tough ppl that judge others as weak because needing TW”: the world isn’t tough in itself, ppl make it tough, conflicts make it tough. There are many scale of violence: it goes from penibility of work or study environment (No, not everyone is fitted to our current societal model, sorry, and some are even rethinking it, such weakness, OMG) to wars. If you endured wars, you might find that some TW are really stupid since it doesn’t imply real violence as you experienced it. But let’s say we never endured wars, none of us. Then our sensitiveness has its own scale of privilegied first world societies. Our sensitiveness is some the same, our daily life can’t be compared to issues raised by other daily lives around the world. We have all different experiences and we, as individuals, have different ways of dealing pain, suffering, fear...
Having said that (which is a basic principle of empathy), the argument of ppl becoming fragile facing society conflicts is inappropriate. How can you only judge someone sensitiveness?
Second point: what TW originally are and why RD is basing his presumptions on specific case that are, in no way, usual TW. He’s dealing with the misuse (and not overuse, sorry) of TW.
TW are a tool for “bienveillance” (there I can’t find any translation except from kindness, and knwoing the meaning of kindness, it doesn’t reflect the same). Bienveillance is when you’ve got empathy enough to take into consideration one’s pov, standing in her or his shoes and trying to be as well-aiming as possible (I hope this is clear, if not please ask me to rephrase). TW are used on Twitter to announce that you’re going to talk about something that can recalla trauma to a person (or many) in the audience, that is considered as violent, that can hurt people. The trigger-warned content can be pictures, words, or sounds, any medium of information is. This content can help some figuring out in their ways what we’re talking about, and others that already experienced such things or that don’t want to be confronted to it are allowed (that’s my pov) to know before chosing whether or not to have access to this information, whether or not the content can be hurtful. We already do this for porn, for erotic, violent films, explicit song lyrics. That exists, and sometimes it’s an abusive use (come on erotic films guys, are boobs that violent even for kids? I don’t think so).
TW are NOT disabling anyone from reaching a content. NOT EVEN CLOSE. They are, I thought it was clear since it stands in the name, warnings. WARNINGS. I mean, how is that unclear?
I had this conversation yesterday with someone that didn’t understand what TW stand for and how to apply them on the Internet and IRL. When she heard the definition (as I wrote above), it was far clearer, and I gave her some very clear example of implementing them in the Uni courses (yes, it is possible to trigger warn your students and give them free choice to access contents or not, and if you think their reaction is irrationnal, then this is YOUR role as a teacher to use pedagogy and make them express why they are sensitive to things that aren’t common to be sensitive on. I was teaching an economic appraisal course. One of the main subjects is the monetary valorisation of the human life (for road schemes for example). As we’re talking about hospitalisation (long terme ones), evacuation, death, psychological traumas... and since they didn’t really chose to study that particular point, I warn them at the beginning of the class: “Hey today class is about that, that and that. Here are some material you can find online, if you don’t want to attend this class, please feel free to go”. And some got out. One that I talked to afterwards (not really about this particular event, but it came up) told me both his parents died in a car crash a year ago, and he wasn’t prepared to hear such “primary” considerations of how much it costs to society, to have his parents dead on the road.
What did it cost to me to warn my 200 students, for 3 or 4 that went out? Maybe 13 seconds speech. Or 14 to let them out without disturbing class. Did I find it useful? YES. Hearing that boy story made me even more confident about the “bienveillance” (sorry, again) of the approach.
On Twitter, this is the same. Some girls had a movement I can’t remember the hashtag, where they wanted to raise the attention on hwo risky city life can be to them, and how unsafe they feel. Some talked about their rape and harrassment. And some didn’t want to read since they had been raped like a month ago, or even two years ago, doesn’t matter. So everyone decided to introduce their tweets with TW:rape. As simple as that. Twittos could still express their ideas, some could read them, it raises awareness, and victims that didn’t want to be confronted didn’t have to be suprised by the reminder of their trauma. Again, as simple as that. And when I say victims, it can also not be victims. Like today, if I don’t feel like being confronted to harrassment posts (since street harrassement is making me 100 x more nervous now I live in Paris), I don’t feel like reading it today and TW help me chose whether or not to read content talking about it. Maybe I’ll read them tomorrow, why not. At least I’ve got the information.
And examples can go on forever. Much had this about homophobia. To raise awareness some posted photos and quotes of homophobics. And not being TW depressed some since they has greatly suffered from homophobia (youknow? weak people that have depression or committ suicide after years of exclusion, harrassment and oppression? so weak for this tough tough world).
Finally, I got this reaction too about “we’re not going to trigger warn every possibly sensitive subject”. Do you have this word in english “bad faith”? That’s a literal translation from French, saying that you’re not making any effort to construct the debate and you’re making pointless statements just to show how absurd you feel the debate is by just not giving a thought about it (mmmh fortunately I don’t work for the Oxford dictionnary).
Well, let’s be clear, I disagree with misuse of TW, everything is worth knowing, when appropriate of course, and you should have all access to all information you cant, especially when studying (strugging to get databases every single day). But this is common sense to know what is potentially sensitive and what is not. I mean, I find this very “easy” to imagine how this or that subject can be hurtful to talk about for some. And how other things that some ask a TW for that can be discussed by teachers if not violent and obviously hurtful for potentially everyone. Religion, sex, deviant behaviours, that are all subjects you need to raise awareness on while struggling with TW and censorship. That’s the role of teachers and professors to debate on this, to laucnh discussions, to make offended speak aloud on why and how they feel offended etc. That takes some times (empathy takes always time), but that is our society today: not the tough life that you imagine we’re all living in along with you. No, it’s taking into account we live in a complex world, where you need to get into everyone’s shoes to understand their pov, their feelings... And to learn from these diverging opinion (and finally maybe not to agree, doesn’t matter). How does that make us weak in your minds? I can’t figure out (maybe I don’t have empathy enough). But, I’d rather live in such society where we try as much as possbile, as teacher or as individual, to elarn from each other and yes TW some subjects and not censoring, rather that in “your” society where YOU are tough and decide on who is worth enough studying at the university. In France, University is for all and everyone. We like talking about uni as a melting-pot where people that wouldn’t meet outside would gather and discuss and work together. That’s our University and I hope your vision of what University should be (full of very very tough big boy that don’t cry) will never cross the Ocean).
And god, I find censorship unacceptable. Do I really need to state the obvous? Living in the country of “Charlie” where much debates was gien to freedom of speech (which in France is already mocked since ppl use that excuse to speak out loud their racism but “OOOOH freedom of speech, let me be a racist pleease”. We had hundred on debates on it, and apprently, even if it takes some deeper thoughts, some time and endless disagreements, I’d rather try than face your fatality and despise.
I might be weak, but I’m really not sorry.