On The War Against Scary Ideas

The rate at which Jewish liberals – longtime proponents of political correctness — are now suddenly construing political correctness as a bit of a problem (once it hits a little too close to home) is now a bona fide journalistic niche.

Currently, the #1 most-emailed article in the NYT is “In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas”, by Judith Shulevitz, author of The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time. Shulevitz deploys the sexy new terms – such as “triggering” and “microaggressions” – that are not yet known by many of those living outside the PC bubble. (This will all change when the absurdities of college campus bureaucratic rules creeps into the workplace, as it is wont to do.) Among others, Shulevitz references UChicago Law prof Eric Posner’s piece in Slate about the self-infantilization of college liberals increasingly cacooned within unrealistic hypersensitivities, the latter becoming evermore institutionalized.

The piece begins with a typical anecdote:

KATHERINE BYRON, a senior at Brown University and a member of its Sexual Assault Task Force, considers it her duty to make Brown a safe place for rape victims, free from anything that might prompt memories of trauma.

So when she heard last fall that a student group had organized a debate about campus sexual assault between Jessica Valenti, the founder of feministing.com, and Wendy McElroy, a libertarian, and that Ms. McElroy was likely to criticize the term “rape culture,” Ms. Byron was alarmed. “Bringing in a speaker like that could serve to invalidate people’s experiences,” she told me. It could be “damaging.”

Ms. Byron and some fellow task force members secured a meeting with administrators. Not long after, Brown’s president, Christina H. Paxson, announced that the university would hold a simultaneous, competing talk to provide “research and facts” about “the role of culture in sexual assault.” Meanwhile, student volunteers put up posters advertising that a “safe space” would be available for anyone who found the debate too upsetting.

The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.

Cookies, coloring books, Play-Doh, and flolicking puppies.

For college students.

You can’t make this sh*t up.

Despite her wishy washy caveats (“…seemed like a perfectly fine idea”), it’s nice to see a typical NYT-type begrudgingly acknowledge the ultimate source of such absurdities:

Safe spaces are an expression of the conviction, increasingly prevalent among college students, that their schools should keep them from being “bombarded” by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints. Think of the safe space as the live-action version of the better-known trigger warning, a notice put on top of a syllabus or an assigned reading to alert students to the presence of potentially disturbing material.

Some people trace safe spaces back to the feminist consciousness-raising groups of the 1960s and 1970s, others to the gay and lesbian movement of the early 1990s. In most cases, safe spaces are innocuous gatherings of like-minded people who agree to refrain from ridicule, criticism or what they term microaggressions — subtle displays of racial or sexual bias — so that everyone can relax enough to explore the nuances of, say, a fluid gender identity. As long as all parties consent to such restrictions, these little islands of self-restraint seem like a perfectly fine idea…

The theory that vulnerable students should be guaranteed psychological security has roots in a body of legal thought elaborated in the 1980s and 1990s and still read today. Feminist and anti-racist legal scholars argued that the First Amendment should not safeguard language that inflicted emotional injury through racist or sexist stigmatization.

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