Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Speak no Evil, Hear no Evil

There has been much talk lately of college campuses becoming overly sensitive politically correct nightmares. From a humanist utilitarian perspective, this is difficult to believe. There is such a thing as being too open and accepting? But with comedians like Seinfeld admitting why they don't play schools anymore, and stories of the hijacking of the Trigger Warning note, and stories of students speaking out against insensitivity for seemingly innocuous statements, this has become a serious question, and has put Freedom of Speech back into the national conversation.

Before I continue further, let me make it very clear, there is a huge difference between this particular issue of free speech and overly sensitive PC police, and the need to combat actual racism and misogyny.

I had a conversation with a good friend of mine the other day about this same issue. She stated that even though sexism is very pervasive in our society and has become toxic, pointing out every single instance in her life would be exhausting, and attacking people (men mostly) for "mansplaining" can be counter productive and no longer effective. She has since picked her battles, understanding the differences between intentional marginalizing comments and actions, and ones that are perfectly reasonable and steeped in cultural normative has made being an active feminist far less stressful.

This doesn't mean women ought to stop shaming men for things like catcalling. In fact, getting creative with it like Elana Adler's project You are my Duchess not only brings the issue to the public, but the humor helps lessen the damage done by these vulgar assaults. As she points out on the website, at first, these cross stitches are cute and funny, but after awhile you realize these are actual things actually shouted out in public from one stranger to another. The whole collection becomes a disgusting monument to what many women deal with on a daily basis. These are the battles worth having, this is not the problem.

less exhausting, and no mansplaining necessary

Our problem of overly protective, political correct schools is not the same issue as gender inequality, or institutional racism. It perhaps is born of both of these larger societal issues, but has since outpaced these movements into something resembling a satire. For example, at Brown, the Sexual Assault Task Force was created to make Brown a safe place for victims of rape and abuse. This is necessary to help these people cope with their trauma and normalize in an accepting community. However, the task force promotes the use of safe spaces, where students can retreat when speakers and debates become too overwhelming. The problem happens when students use the safe spaces not to withdraw and recover from PTSD-like symptoms, but to escape having to engage in competing viewpoints. The New York Times Sunday Review has a full article about that here.
links to the article too

The Right, of course, has linked these issues together to try and undercut Liberals, and try and show that the status quo is fine. We don't have to have serious conversations about Race or Gender, because it's just the Left over reacting. An interview between Rachel Martin of Listen to the Story on NPR and Jamelle Bouie of Slate basically sums this up. Bouie states that this desire to protect Freedom of Speech has minimized the Americans who are trying to stand up and fight to be welcome and accepted in systems that are predominately white and male.

click me

At some point in the last decade, the necessary considerations for equality, and acceptance in educational places took a weird turn. Instead of protecting freedoms of expression and speech in a move to be more open and welcoming to minority groups, colleges have pandered to students' entitlement.

I find this whole thing interesting. Professional comedians like Seinfeld aren't refusing to perform on college campuses because they don't believe in civil rights, or feminism. It has more to do with the way in which the college population responds to perceived slights, either real or imaginary. Part of what makes comedy far more important than just funny cartoon antics, is the ability to have thought provoking conversations wrapped up in jokes. A comedian is able to have those embarrassing, uncomfortable conversations about the difficulties of life, because they're cloaked in comedy. Just like Ms Adler's confrontation with abusive catcalling is wrapped up in needlework. But if a campus has banned topics of feminism, racism, violence, and addiction because they may offend the student body, how can the comedian bring a voice, and a cathartic relief to his audience?

The way in which campuses are dealing with these issues has missed the point. The student body is no longer interested in what is best for the entire student body. This is no longer about feminists wanting equality, or minorities wanting acceptance. Feminism and cultural acceptance aide in the educational system and benefit everyone. The focus has shifted from what is best for education, to what is best for that individual. If colleges refuse to have conversations about certain "trigger" topics, how can their students with these issues perceived or real find cathartic relief and grow stronger and more confident? And, to go one step further, the group as a whole will be better educated and more welcoming and accepting.

These students that call out their peers and professors for insensitive remarks in exaggerating, over the top ways seem to do it, not because it helps inform the perceived aggressor, or to help reclaim lost dignity or stop oppression, but rather because the spotlight is now on them.

Children behave without an understanding of other people. They are unable, at the moment, to empathize. These students seem to behave that way. When something seems to disrupt their perception of their universe, and make them uncomfortable it is made offensive and demonized. Empathy is something learned, and is very important to cultivating a culture of acceptance.

I think, as a society, we often forget that college-aged kids are not yet adults. We want them to be fully functioning grown ups capable of making good, rational decisions and participating in real life society. They can vote, they can serve in the military, they can be prosecuted for crimes as adults. But really, 18-22 year olds don't behave like people in their late 20s, or 30s, or like their parents. If the goal is to promote a safe learning environment for all students in a caring and accepting culture, then we have to promote certain conversations built to teach empathy, no matter how uncomfortable those conversations may be.

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