AS240: Social Justice Commentary

Well today’s the day I finally speak up after staying virtually silent for 3 episodes. I talk about some aspects of the Eli James debate and actually also explain some practical issues, like why I stayed virtually silent for 4 hours. There’s absolutely no way I can cover everything or even like half the things, but I picked a few highlights from each side to go over and give my opinions on.

12 thoughts on “AS240: Social Justice Commentary”

  1. First of all I think it was the right choice to just let them talk. Secondly while I agree James spoke more he was citing, and explaining actual evidence in the form of peer reviewed studies. It takes additional time to do that. I’m sure if Eli had done the same James would have granted him the time present his evidence as well. I mean it really wasn’t the case that Eli wanted to talk, and James wouldn’t let him, Eli graciously appeared to want to hear the evidence, before largely dismissing it. :p

    1. I agree. James tried to establish a framework to address each of these issues, tried to show there was a problem and finally tried to why the evidence tried to

  2. Thomas I really wish you would stop calling one side the “social justice” side, and the other either “the other side”, or the “anti-social justice” side. I, and I’m sure James as well, support the ideals of social justice as much as Eli does. I refer to his side as the “social justice warrior” side based on a difference in strategy not goals. The SJW side, because they know they are on the morally correct side, which I agree they agree they are, think because of that, they are ethically justified in no-platforming, shouting down speakers, demonizing speakers, and abusing safe spaces, and trigger warnings to stifle dissent. I like to think that because we’re correct, and call ourselves liberals, that we are better than that.

  3. Thomas maybe you can explain this to me. You said that someone like Milo speaking “hurts transgendered people”. Why is that? I ask this for 2 reasons. First of all my son in law is transgendered, and he just thinks people like Milo are idiots, it might annoy him that such idiots exist, or anger him when such sentiments hold sway, and result in legislation that prevents him from using certain bathrooms, but it doesn’t hurt him. Secondly I’m an atheist living in Alabama. I’m surrounded by people who think I’m wrong, people who think I should suffer in hell for all eternity for it. My sentiments towards them mirror my son in laws feelings towards people like Milo. Now I’m not totally heartless, and can imagine some emotionally fragile people being hurt, but I think in most cases it’s anger, and the desire for retribution that motivate people who wish to no-platform him, not hurt feelings. Also are we helping those emotionally fragile people by no-platforming Milo? Or might it not be better for them to see large numbers of people protesting in support of them, and speaking in opposition to Milo?

  4. Final comment is that I thought part 3 was fine. I don’t think James was saying “trigger warnings are bad”. He was saying there isn’t enough evidence to wholeheartedly support them as many seem to. I personally had no problem with trigger warnings before James brought those studies to my attention. Now I think it’s something we need to look into more because it seems they potentially could be bad in certain circumstances.

  5. No platforming:

    The role of EDUCATION might be filtering, that is true, but let’s critically examine what that means:

    The curriculum committee gets together at the college for a department, they analyze research in their field, analyze the needs of industry and academia for graduates of their class, then they put together a curriculum for that course that gets students the necessary information. Filtering is imperative at this stage due to the time constraints of a course, if for no other reason. So filtering is fine. If you think your class is being set up by the Orwellian Ministry of Truth, look at your syllabus and drop out if you must. Fine.

    Now let’s talk about inviting student speakers on campus. This is NOT education in this sense, and the LAST thing I’d ascribe to such an affair would be “filtering”. If a student club saves up money to go to a trip to a foreign country, where’s the filtering? They want to experience another culture, nothing is being filtered. They’re using money they earned via the rules to fundraising to enrich themselves by experiencing another culture.

    In the same vein, students saving money to invite a speaker is the same concept. These students want to enrich themselves ideologically by inviting a speaker that’s outside the echo chamber they get on their campus. Same motivation there, and just like I would hate the authoritarianism stopping students from going on their trip they saved for, I’d balk (as any good Liberal should) and the moral posturing that would not allow the speaker on campus.

    There’s no polite way to say this. On this issue, Eli was terrifying. Felt like he was ripped right out of Orwell’s 1984. “X is settled”. Yeah so was Corpuscles until we thought up the Theory of Gravity. Yes, to be clear, Eli’s “side” is dead wrong on this issue. A society in which we can hear anything we choose if far more preferable than a society in which some conclave decides what we hear at all times, by deciding what is “settled”. In fact, sounds dangerously like the Catholic church when I put it that way.

    Also, Milo has never questioned anyone’s humanity. The hyperbole gains no one anything in this discussion, and privilege is a cringe-worthy term.

    Trigger warnings:

    The joke has been made, but it will be funny so long as it’s relevant.

    James’ position was strong!? No. His position, flat out, is that the research has the effectiveness of trigger warnings as an open question, with some speculating that there are better solutions out there. That’s hardly a strong position to take. All James did was shut Eli down whenever he said, “Yeah but the net good done-” we don’t know that good is necessarily being done because the research is out. That’s it. Eli’s position was too strong, James called him out. The end. That this was a mystery to either of you was baffling.

    “James was conflating trigger warnings with the culture that allows trigger warnings.”

    No. You two were conflating the concept of trigger warnings with their implementation. James, not being prepared to argue that trigger warnings are conceptually wrong, wasn’t going to say that the concept of trigger warnings are bad. What several of his referenced papers were saying, was that the way universities were having them be used was bad and was causing a great crisis in certain fields. Eli, not James, was trying to muddy the discussion by going back to “But how does that make trigger warnings wrong?”

    As for my 2 cents, what’s the purpose of trigger warnings? I’m warned graphic material is about to be put in front of me, do I watch it, or do I leave? If I watch it, I don’t think a mere warning is going to sufficiently prepare me for the truly graphic material which would be deserving of such a warning. If I don’t watch it because I know I can’t handle that material that day, welcome to the articles that James was presenting. Students are opting for option 2, and they’re coming out of their courses unprepared because of it.

    In short, to make James’ point for him: Trigger warnings won’t do anything for students that a properly prepared syllabus wouldn’t, and at worst they can cause students to avoid material they find distressing because they’re warned too far in advance. I think being mentally prepared for all the material in a course should be a pre-requisite for that course. If a student can’t handle it, they shouldn’t register, making this entire discussion moot.

    If James had brought up the Oberlin example, Eli would have deflected again. “B-but they’re just misusing trigger warnings! Muh minority!” I think you’re being too neutrally biased. Eli’s side knows damn well who the brunt of the “trigger warning” jokes are aimed at. It’s patently obvious. No one, ever, in serious main stream conversation has complained about “this video may contain the following graphic content, viewer discretion is advised” in fact that’s the damned NORM. So if a joke is going to be made about trigger warnings, SPOILER ALERT: it’s probably not that. No extra nuance need be made here, unless you want to believe that out of nowhere, the internet is deciding to meme against a perfectly normal mainstream view of how we consume media out of nowhere.

    Occam’s Razor, for god’s sake.

    By the way, a Feminist claims she got PTSD from Twitter. Listen and believe.

    James is right about Trump. See Rotheram and how police were afraid of breaking up muslim gangs drugging and raping underage girls because they didn’t want to be called racist. See Cologne and how the German media tried to hide the fact that ANYTHING happened on New Year’s Eve. See Tommy Robinson and the smear job done on him. See Gamergate and the mainstream media coming out in an Orwellian fashion and branding the movement as a “Righwing misogynistic hate movement”.

    See the Feminist reaction to Cologne and Sweden. While people wanted to have a conversation about rampant unchecked immigration and how prepared the police were to handle such large scale events that happened on Cologne, the Feminists were decrying all the protests as “racist” hence the video posted by Dawkins. That whole bit was a reaction to Cologne and how frightening it is that so-called “Liberalism” (Over my dead body) is teaming up with a force that seeks to undermine all Liberal principles just because “fuck the capitalist patriarchy”.

    So yes. Trump is here. The SJW’s created him. If Hillary is the Democratic nominee, I’m voting Trump, and I’m not feeling the least bit bad about it. The Left, having gained an Orwellian control of the media, has forgotten what it means to be Liberal. Maybe it’s time they regained that knowledge. Sup. I am the person you’ve never met.

    As far as suggested guests. Bring Milo on, and anyone else you feel could coherently argue that anything he says “dehumanizes people”. I think he’d get a chuckle out of that.

    If you want more info on Trump as SJW backlash, bring on Sargon of Akkad (gogo Brit Senpai!) and he’ll straighten you out on all of this. He has a whole backlog of “This Week in Stupid” where all he does is document the creeping increase of Social Justice run amok in our culture.

  6. I clicked enter before I finished writing, please ignore the first post. I agree with all of Thomas’ comments in this episode, saying that James didn’t directly address trigger warnings and why they are worthy of ridicule, and why Eli didn’t really engage with why no platforming is such a bad thing.

    I don’t think that Thomas addressed the most important difference in the debate, which was how much ‘burden of proof’ each side assumed. James tried to establish a theoretical framework to address each of these issues and tried to show there was a problem; normally tying it to ‘victimhood culture’. I don’t think Eli put much effort into nailing down some principles or examples to defend and instead simply asserted that the examples of ‘safe spaces’, ‘trigger warnings’ etc. being criticised were abuses made by a tiny minority of people. He should have (at a minimum) established that the abuses were coming from a minority of people.

    Also, I largely agree with both Mike Paps comments. James did have and should have been allowed to speak more because he actually bothered to set-up a structured argument. Referencing studies and constructing a framework to address these societal problems takes more time than the arguments Eli brought forth. I still think he repeated his point far too often (mainly in the third part regarding trigger warnings) and should have been ‘shut-down’ to allow Eli the opportunity to set-up an argument.

    I don’t think calling the “Social Justice” side “SJW’s” is the correct phrasing, simply because it is recognized in many urban dictionaries as a pejorative, but both sides supporting social justice with differing strategies but not goals is a pretty fundamental point.

    Finally, I looked up an interview with the ‘feminist glaciology’ author (link I can see tha the title of the paper was click-baity, but the research premise is still worthy of ridicule. James follows ‏@real_peerreview on twitter, who finds half a dozen papers like this a day.

    quoting from the interview above;

    Q: Were you aware that “feminist glaciology” might draw strong reactions? Was that the hope?

    A: We chose the title “feminist glaciology” to provoke discussion about who is producing knowledge about glaciers and what the implications of that existing knowledge are, including whose voices are left out and what types of scientific questions are asked (and which ones might thus be ignored). We also wanted to present a variety of different sociocultural forms of glacier knowledge that go beyond science, to generate discussion. Our goal was to ask questions about the role of gender in science and knowledge—to start a conversation, not conclude the discussion.

  7. Like I’ve said elsewhere, my real concern is the implied existence in Eli and other’s thinking of a Supervisor Class (of people) who decide who is allowed to speak at a university or not and who requires a trigger warning under what circumstances and who doesn’t. Is the Supervisor Class self-appointed? Elected democratically? Appointed by a board of governors somewhere? Or what? Who exactly do Eli et al envision making these decisions? And how do I get rid of them when they overstep their authority? I’m just sayin’ . . .

  8. Yes there is a backlash against political rectitude. The “privileged class” (white males) has for about 25 years now had to walk on egg shells around the “protected classes” (primarily women, Hispanics and blacks). In the Workplace of Tomorrow, if a member of a protected class claims offense, the offending member of the privileged class may find that their job is on the line. No kidding. It DOES NOT work the other way. Members of the privileged class can be as offended as they wish but the attitude of the corporation and the government toward their offense is, categorically, “tough shit.” The privileged class has become very adept at egg shell walking and keeping their mouths shut under all circumstances (can you say “suppressed anger?”).

    I don’t always listen to the radio, but when I do, I tend to listen to NPR, Alan Combs, Bill Press, Diane Rehm, Thom Hartman and that crowd. I have heard them interview several Trump supporters who admit that Trump will never be able to build a wall and charge it to Mexico, he will never be able to deport 11-12 million people, he will never be able to rid the US of Muslims, etc. etc. When the incredulous interviewer asks, “Then why do you support him if you don’t think he’ll do what he promises?” the supporters say things like, “I’m just so tired of political correctness. Trump says what he thinks even if it pisses people off and I like that.” The backlash against political rectitude isn’t causing them to support his really dumb-ass ideas, but it is causing them to admire his brashness and his “fuck you” attitude. Beware of this going into the general.

    Also, as an aside, remember how we thought we were living in a primarily post-racial society until a black president was elected and it became painfully obvious that racism in the US was sub-surface but still rampant? Well, Trump is dog-whistling rampant suppressed misogyny in the same way. We might think we’ve come a long way, Baby, but wait until self-described disenfranchised white males feel it is OK to say what they really think. Spurinna is whispering, “beware the general,” election, that is. This is not going to be the cakewalk we all assume it will be.

  9. I know that these episodes focused mainly on social justice and trigger warnings in a university setting, but I think that part of James’ issues with trigger warnings might be when they leak into social media and the “real world.” For example, Skepchick did a review on the Jessica Jones series on Netflix, and the author wrote that she thought that there should of been a trigger warning before the show….even though in the synopsis it’s made clear that something bad happened to Jessica, and that she has PTSD as a result. In that situation, I wouldn’t be in favor of making another warning statement; the summary suffices. Another case is YouTube videos and comments. As an anecdote, I was watching a Scishow video about insects, and it showed bugs carrying clusters of eggs on their back. I will admit, it wasn’t exactly the most pleasing of images, but it’s nature and nature is weird. But there were people commenting saying things among the lines of “there needs to be a trypophobia warning for this video!” Now, I’m not really sure how common this fear is, and I’m sure it would help those who do have it decide whether or not to watch the video, but since it might not be that common, is it really necessary to issue a warning statement? The video wasn’t trying to offend anyone and it was just showing how some insects care for their young. It seems like it would be overly cautious to the point of ridiculous; people can be triggered by so many different things and it’s impossible to placate everyone. Also, what I think James meant by the study he was referring to about victimhood culture was that issuing trigger warnings might feed into that culture. By taking time to address little things that bother people (I’m not talking about the really obvious warnings, like graphic rape and murder), you’re validating these little complaints and rewarding the behavior; the more a behavior is rewarded, the more that behavior is performed. It can seem excessive and prima donna-ish to demand trigger warnings for obscure phobias or other uncommon experiences that only serve to benefit a few people. Again, I think it was mostly conjecture, as the study wasn’t specifically connecting those things, but it does seem to logically follow, at least to me, that overuse of trigger warnings could foster a victimhood culture. Does it actually? The jury’s still out. Maybe I’m just beating a dead horse, since James and Eli might actually agree about trigger warnings.

  10. ironically you prove the necessity of the ‘anti social justice’ side when you question their validity just because they are mostly white males (of course when discussing milo you have to leave out the hetero part :p)

    the reason white males gravitate to that side is because white males are universally demonized by ‘critical theory’ which is really just a wrapper for slave morality that sees ‘white men’ as rapists and oppressors and therefore inherently evil (or at least, their opinions matter less by virtue of that identity). of course white guys are the first ones to take notice when they’re the ones targeted by the totally fucked up mentality of the ‘social justice’ herd.

  11. I’ve been considering this episode, and I’ve got some potential questions/thoughts which could be worth exploring in future discussions.

    1. Are there benefits/uses of trigger warnings beyond responding to a clinically significant trauma response?

    There’s a common misconception about mental illness that a diagnosis corresponds to some kind of specific entity that manifests in a categorically identifiable way (e.g., depression causes low mood, suicidal ideation, unfounded guilt/shame, etc.). A more valid conceptualization is that clinicians identify particular clusters of symptoms which tend to occur together and respond to particular treatments. Atypical presentations are not uncommon (e.g., anger as a symptom of depression). Moreover, diagnosing using the DSM5 requires assessment of whether the individual’s symptoms cause “significant distress or impairment” in various life domains (e.g., social, professional, academic). What constitutes “significant distress” is left vague.

    I wonder if, by drawing a line at “trauma responses which engage an involuntary activation of the limbic system,” we’re potentially discounting those with atypical presentations, or those with subclinical levels of distress. In this sense, I can imagine potential benefit to trigger warnings for some of the topics that tend to be identified as frivolous by comparison, but do still genuinely impact people (e.g., classism, abelism, misogyny, etc.).

    When we view those individuals through the lens of whether they medically require a trigger warning to avoid a panic attack, they can seem like the absurd extreme of overly-entitled PC culture. If instead, we present those “subclinical trigger warnings” as validation that the assigned text contains themes that are deemed troubling by advocates, there’s room to explore their usefulness with more nuance.

    For instance, it’s worth taking into context the teaching modality and the scope of the lesson/discussion. Trigger warnings tend to be lambasted by people lionizing the classroom as a battleground of ideas, but not every classroom is an open forum, and not every discussion is most fruitfully had as a debate. Trigger warnings before a lecture can convey that there are troubling themes in a text which may not be addressed by the lecturer but could be rightly taken as disenfranchising. Similarly, a classroom discussion about evocative themes in a given text might benefit from a reminder that people in the room may be affected by what is said, and that a dispassionate, hyper-rational, devil’s advocate challenging of one’s peers may not be the most useful/respectful way to engage.

    I think most compellingly, trigger warnings have the potential to take the burden of distress off of the student. In our culture, we are expected to control our reactions, particularly our emotional reactions, in order to be seen as professional, competent, and mature. Recognition that certain themes are difficult to deal with conveys to those students who are engaged with the material enough to struggle with it, that they are not flawed/weak/immature for having a strong reaction.

    2. Do universities have a right/responsibility to support their students’ well-being? Are they within their rights to establish conditions for attendance that limit certain behaviors, including speech, if those limitations can be demonstrated to reduce harm? What if those limitations promote social equality and/or provide the social benefit of education to a greater number of students?

    There are limitations placed on students’ behavior as part of the attendance contract with their university. Similarly, there are limitations placed on universities’ behavior with regard to what they can require of their students. Some of these requirements are legal obligations, while others are self-imposed to conform to professional academic standards or the institutions’ mission statements.

    While it is tempting to view universities as independent actors, solely devoted to generating intellectually rigorous students and sound research, they exist in societies and have obligations to the members of their communities.

    3. Similarly, is unregulated speech necessarily more free, more diverse, and more worthwhile, or is this simply an aesthetic preference? What if regulation of speech on campus can be demonstrated to produce better quality research and education?

    Aside from clever little inversions (e.g., what right do you have to stop me from shouting over this professor?) and potentially irrelevant regulations (e.g., quiet hours in libraries and dorms), speech is already meaningfully limited on campuses. There are strict standards for what constitutes valid empirical evidence, acceptable academic resources, and arduous processes for shaping speech so that a speaker may participate in academic discourse.

    The notion of limitations being placed on speech is immediately jarring, particularly when taken to its extreme (e.g., what if universities decide not to allow “obscene” literature?), but the same could be said of unlimited speech (e.g., won’t it just enable constant unfocused chatter and irrelevant tangents?). I think it’s fundamentally important to ask whether our adherence to the idea of “unregulated speech” actually achieves meaningfully free speech and whether regulation of speech necessarily reduces our ability to communicate.

    4. On the topic of guest speakers, do universities have a right to determine who is given a platform at their institution?

    There’s an argument to be made that universities and students shouldn’t be obligated to make it easy for speakers to argue for the disenfranchisement of certain members of society. Hosting an event, even unofficially via a student group, lends de facto credence to the speaker from the institution. An institution refusing to host a speaker does not deny that speaker the right to speak, only the ability to speak on campus.

    I want to be clear that I’m not advocating for universities to reject challenging speakers outright, and I don’t believe most would, however I think it’s important to note a distinction between rejecting a provocative speaker who challenges an institution/ideas and rejecting a speaker who violates the ethos of respectful discussion as determined by that university.

    5. Is there any validity to no-platforming as analogous to civil disobedience?

    I’m not especially active in campus advocacy, and as you described no-platforming in the episode, I tend to suspect I’d probably agree with you, were I more familiar, however, my first sense of mental push-back is civil disobedience.

    As a student during the 2004 presidential election, I remember being confined to specially designated protest zones, well out of sight of the politicians and journalists, at campaign events. There was a general question as to whether protests that failed to disrupt a system in some way could even be considered protests.

    On paper, I like the idea of responding to bigots by allowing them to expose themselves and trusting that reasonable people will reject the absurd. Additionally, it seems valid to advocate, as you did, for a proportional response that does not disrupt but rather adds another perspective to the discussion. However, as you noted in the episode, I too have never really been in a position to defend my humanity against social messages that I am less than others, that I don’t deserve equal rights, and that my experience is invalid because it doesn’t conform to someone else’s subjective sense of reality. I guess I just wanted to second your hesitancy on that.

    6. Just a general note, but I notice that when we discuss college students, and perhaps more so, people with mental illness, the conversation tends to take on a tone of “how do we best manage them?” (e.g., “are we enabling regression”).

    I mentioned it in a comment on a previous episode, but college is incredibly challenging, particularly if you’re struggling with disenfranchisement, mental illness, and/or additional life stressors. It can be terrifying to advocate for yourself or others when you’re made constantly aware that giving off any sign that you are struggling will be interpreted as confirmation that you are not good/smart/strong enough. Being engaged, emotionally aware, and honest about your own vulnerability takes incredible strength, and it is disgusting when others invalidate that by making shallow condemnations about entitlement, self-indulgence, and over-sensitivity.

    I’m looking forward to your next episode on this topic.

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