Skip to comments.What Plato Said About Trigger Warnings
Posted on 04/25/2015 6:23:00 PM PDT by Second Amendment First
So the anti-feminist feminist got heckled again by the PC kids. We can disdain them. But instead lets turn to Plato, who can explain them.
Beyond its entertainment value, mockery plays a useful role in a society as riven and weary as ours: it substitutes for understanding. Confronted with incomprehensible public rage, the quickest way to survive is simply to denigrate it from a safe distance. Diving down the rabbit hole, sinking into the morass, seems an act of cultural suicide.
But as the deepening of our campus culture crisis should alert us, the strategy is leading to mutually assured destruction.
On and off of campus, fighting reflexive disparagement with reflexive disparagement has entrenched the belief that our cultural enemies are not just irrational but unthinkably so. Yet it is on campus where the political theater of hatred is at its most visceral. There, accounting for the madness of ones enemies is now as worthless and misguided an exercise as trying to account for evil. Their hypocrisy is assumed to be so violent and so deep that trying to explain it becomes almost an act of treason.
The quads have yet to run with the blood of the infidels, of course. Christina Hoff Sommers, for instance, author of Who Stole Feminism?, has survived her latest encounter with a hostile student bodythis time, at Oberlin. Despite a torrent of virtually panic-stricken opposition, she managed to complete a lecture on rape, wages, and other womens issues, leaving trauma, if not a body count, in her wake.
Students now known as safe spacers, for their insistence on dialogue protected from triggering psychic and verbal assaults, sank into a delirium of invective. Convinced that Sommers participates in the reality of rape culture by peddling bullshit facts, they offered jeers and mockery throughout her remarks, on one occasion shouting down what Sommers described as a kindly philosophy professor who urged students to be civil.
Meanwhile, in response to Sommers address, the Oberlin Review ran a letter to the editor entitled a love letter to ourselves, complete with a content warning cautioning readers about an impending discussion of, among other things, harassment. Her talk is happening, it read, so lets pull together in the face of this violence and make our own space to support each other.
In a world where the triumph of money and the triumph of trivia threaten it at every turn, extremism in the defense of meaning is no vice at all.
From a traditionally liberal standpoint, the intellectual inconsistency displayed by Oberlins outraged students is frightful. When they harass, they are freedom fighters; when they feel harassed, they are victims of terrorism. One group of students who organized an alternative to the Sommers event warned that any toxic, dangerous, and/or violent people would be screened out. Were pretty cool, said one, crystallizing the apparent hypocrisy with a knowing half-joke. We only bite people we dislike. Trigger warning indeed!
But rather than mocking Oberlins rancorous undergrads, its imperative, in spite of it all, to understand them. At stake is not just our niceness or meanness, but our ability to make sense of the world we live in. Fact: We really do not want the culture war to become a fight between demonized, depersonalized, thoroughly othered camps.
We hesitate, however, to embrace such forbearance, because traditional liberalism has failed so hard in explaining the source of our mutual rancor. From the standpoint of traditional liberalismwhat with its cherished values like openness, tolerance, and conversationthere is just no way to access the phenomenon of todays culture war, or the psychology of its frenzied combatants.
With apologies to liberalism, its time to hark back to a much earlier philosophical framework in order to escape the black hole suction of the culture wars.
Lucky for us, one flare up in particular at the Sommers event shows how more ancient wisdom can explain our fury. As Sommers recounted:
Told students that women could narrow wage gap by changing majors from, say, sociology to engineering. Room erupted. Horrified gasps & jeers.
From the perspective of mainstream, old-school philosophical liberalism, this is inexplicable. From Platos perspective, however, it makes perfect sense.
In the Republic, Plato presented Socrates as claiming that different types of political regimes follow one upon the next in a depressing slide from the rule of the best to the rule of the worst. Platos Socrates theorizes that society declines this way because we humans imitate each other even in spite of ourselves. Although succeeding generations reject the flawed models of their forebears, their attempts to improve those models cant help but smuggle in the flawed ideals at their heart. By trying to fix whats broken, we only get better at brokenness.
Platos Socrates explains that one generations love of honor strikes its children as too warlike, cruel, and hard a life to secure happiness. So the children replace it with a love of money. But their children see oligarchic life as too materialistic, shallow, and all-consuming to secure happiness. So they replace it with a love of all things equally. From there, says Platos Socrates, this democratic taste for respecting all values causes a new generation to embrace tyranny in political life and trivia in cultural lifewhere, in the parlance of our times, lol nothing matters.
Another way of putting this is that the democratic soul wants to defend the equal value of everything because only that kind of equality protects our ability to choose what to love in accordance with what we find meaning in. From this standpoint, both money and trivia are too crass and empty to give our lives meaning. We need to make life safe for meaning. And in a world where the triumph of money and the triumph of trivia threaten it at every turn, extremism in the defense of meaning is no vice at all.
Why would a call for more women in engineering provoke a hideous outcry? Because, Plato might say, although the longing to close the wage gap is strong, it is not as strong as the longing to protect and privilege the meaning of experience. It is an attack on the primacy of meaning for people like Sommers to propose that sociology (which today is almost synonymous with the study of how to politicize meaning) must be sacrificed to increase monetary equality. By giving up the study of sociology in favor of playing the patriarchal game by its own rules, the logic runs, women risk achieving marginal higher wages at the cost of dismantling the apparatus of social justice.
The politics of meaning is a brutal fight, ancient philosophy counsels, and its a powerful reason democratic life is destined to fail. Of course, ancient philosophy failed, too. It left democratic souls to their own destructionunlike Christianity. But thats a culture-war scandal for another day.
Yeah, well Socrates is a just a dead White guy, besides isn’t he one of those “Greek homos” Al “Bobble Head” Sharpton talked about?
“Fact: We really do not want the culture war to become a fight between demonized, depersonalized, thoroughly othered camps.”
What we want is irrelevant. It’s coming anyway. In fact it’s already here. It’s only a matter of time before the shooting starts.
In other words "I should be rewarded for deconstructing the accomplishments of others."
What breathtaking conceit and vanity!
By giving up the study of sociology in favor of playing the patriarchal game by its own rules, the logic runs, women risk achieving marginal higher wages at the cost of dismantling the apparatus of social justice.
The difficulty here is that the "apparatus of social justice" has never produced any, nor is it likely to, being a facade of high-sounding jargon laid over a structure of pure resentment. It is not even sociology as that putative science was originally intended; frail as that was, they've managed to corrupt and degrade its objective pretensions in favor of a thin veneer covering rage and naked force.
The real reason behind the horrified gasping at Sommers' comment is, I am afraid, rather simple: sociology is easy and engineering is not, and despite a trendy denial in the liberal arts departments everyone who is remotely acquainted with college curricula knows it. That might not be an easy sell at Oberlin but every engineering major at A&M is nodding his or her head. Most of them don't have time for trigger warnings and safe spaces. Differential equations don't care about your feelings.
I think, too, that campus radicalism is reaching for another heyday largely because it was rewarded by accession to the highest offices in the land in the 0bama administration, and a new generation might be forgiven for the conviction that effortless screeching leads to political power, and that that trumps the ability to build a bridge or invent a vaccine. Nor, the author's wishes despite, are they likely to be amenable to reason when raw violence works so much better.
That is a superb and deeply insightful post; well articulated.
I concur Skooz.
thanks for the post Bill.
Education v. indoctrination.
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