Todd ‘The Sixties’ Gitlin, a quintessential silver ponytail, is the latest in what is becoming a new slice of niche journalism: Leftist Jews, now under assault by the very political correctness they unleashed, beginning to question said political correctness now that its strictures are getting uncomfortably close to home. Gitlin’s piece in Tablet is titled “Please Be Disturbed: Triggering Can Be Good for You, Kids“:
Which brings me to the subject of “trigger warnings.” This term does not refer to apprehension about the prospect of guns brought onto campus. It has to do with the subject matter and tenor of texts and films thought, rightly or wrongly, to be frightening. It’s argued that students who’ve been sexually assaulted are particularly vulnerable to flashbacks from unhealed traumas. At Columbia, students read Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the required Literature Humanities course (known familiarly as Lit Hum), which runs through the first year of the College’s Core Curriculum. Last year, one student advocate of trigger warnings scoured the entire Lit Hum syllabus and counted “80 instances of assault” in Ovid alone. There are rapes, there are more rapes, and there are attempted rapes. Partly to protect the vulnerable and partly on ideological principle, trigger-warning advocates want to mandate advance alerts in class. Teachers should be required to signal beforehand—Caution: Rapes Ahead…
There’s another way of looking at the annals of slaughter and rape that thread through the history of civilization—this civilization or any other. It is this: A record of civilization that lacks such accounts is a lie. “There is no document of civilization,” wrote Walter Benjamin, “which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” Universities are not fallout shelters. (Once again, Kant: Dare to know!) Brutalities cry for attention. Attention to the appalling causes disturbance. Deal with it. You’re at school to be disturbed. Universities are very much in the business of trying to get you to rethink why you believe what you believe and whether you have grounds for believing it…
And on this score, it’s hard to resist the thought that overwrought charges against the trigger-happy curriculum are outgrowths of fragility, or perceptions of fragility, or of fears of fragility running amok. When students are held, or hold themselves, to be just minutes away from psychic disaster, is it because they know “real” fragility is sweeping across the land? Or has there arisen a new generational norm of fragility, against which fortifications are needed? Whatever the case, angst about fragility cuts across political lines and crosses campus borders. Shall we therefore stop talking about rape, lynching, death camps? Shall we stop reading the annals of civilization, which are, among other things, annals of slaughter? I was talking the other day to a Columbia sophomore, Tony Qian, who put the point pithily: “If you’re going to live outside Plato’s cave, you’ve got to be brave.” What ever happened to, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make ye free”? Not comfortable—free.
When the primary targets of political correctness were white, Protestant, and male, the ‘fragility factor’ rebuttal didn’t exist.
Political correctness is getting stronger, more irrational and more totalitarian. Furthermore, the teleological arc of political correctness is more and more resembling the Stalinist purges of the Communist Party in the 1930s.
Gitlin and his ilk, that is, old ‘New Left’ Party apparatchiks, are now starting to wring their hands in an increasingly harmonizing unison.