Do people in general need trigger warnings? Most likely not. Consider evolution. Consider how we got here at all.

AKA. Emotional Adrenalectomy

There has been an aggressive push in recent times to use “trigger warnings” in mainstream, everyday life. Activists have asked universities to preface any potentially unsettling content with trigger warnings. This includes history, Greek literature,  and anything that isn’t about puppies, rainbows, and unicorns.

Now first, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I personally reason that trigger warnings are fine as a temporary measure for people recovering from a genuine and severe mental health issue. Yet this should not be warped into a blanket measure for everyone. Someone who has PTSD, or a severe phobia, can request accommodations on their own if they need them. The general public, on the other hand, does not need trigger warnings before reading an ancient Greek story or learning about World War II.

It is understandable that someone might have “triggers” following a traumatic event or due to some serious phobia. But what these self-styled social justice activists are doing isn’t simply accommodating triggers; they are cultivating them. The whole point of trauma is that it is a problem that needs to be overcome. If you were to suffer a physical injury, you would go to an emergency room and have it fixed. You would have that head wound sutured, or that broken arm put in a cast. In Social Justice Land, however, people are doing the equivalent of sticking a retractor into a wound and keeping it open forever.

Do people in general need trigger warnings? Most likely not. Consider evolution. Consider how we got here at all. Our ancestors had to fight off saber-toothed tigers, withstand viciously low temperatures, and run for miles on end hunting large game. How is it that your ancestral mother or father could deal with all of these dangers, but you need a trigger warning because reading a Greek myth might mess with your amygdala?

Many of the “trigger” reactions people want to be protected from are normal human emotions that we should be having. When I was a teenager, studying the Holocaust, I did, yes, feel my skin become cold and my heart beat too fast while reading about the things that the Nazis did. But here is what’s important to note: this is a healthy, appropriate reaction that people should be having. People are supposed to feel horror when faced with atrocities. People are supposed to associate certain things, such as violence and mutilation, with a visceral sense of: “Oh my god, what the hell, NO.” Without this response, we would all be psychopaths.

There is a place for stress-free, emotionally undemanding activities. If you want to come home from work and sit at the computer and do nothing but discuss pop culture and post pictures of puppies and kittens, go ahead. But when someone desires the whole world to be a “safe space,” there is something wrong with their reasoning. The world at large is not a yoga studio, or a sensory room.

I appreciate that these activists probably mean well and believe that they are helping people. But to help people when they do not need this help seems likely to simply weaken them. It’s roughly akin to giving out insulin to everyone in the university just in case someone is diabetic. If you were to inject someone with insulin when they did not need it, you would make them very sick. If you were to inject someone with powerful steroids over time, when they did not need them, they would be at risk of dying. This is essentially what the misguided social justice movement is doing to people’s minds: they’re performing an emotional adrenalectomy.

Other measures and campaigns reach even more ridiculous heights of illogic and sensitivity. The “You Don’t Say” campaign has an ever-increasing lexicon of words that they want people to stop using because they’re oppressive. Not just racial slurs, mind you. They campaign against factually descriptive words such as fat or skinny. On social media, users compile vast lists of words to ban. One user actually wanted white people to give up saying the word “ass” because the use of this word in slang supposedly belongs to black people. Never mind that backsides feature in slang and profanities in nearly every language.

I appreciate, again, that these people mean well. I appreciate that they are attempting to be respectful by giving up “oppressive” words and working to convince others to do the same. Yet they do not seem to have given any thought to what happens when the list of banned words becomes unsustainably long. How are we supposed to memorize all these “bad” words that we must not say? These lists are so long, they start to eat up large chunks of the English language.

This “ban all the words!” approach completely fails to consider that rudeness, disrespect, or discrimination can be phrased any which way, and that banning words simply means that people will use other words to say the same things. It also fails to realize that to rely on others not to use “oppressive” words is to render yourself very fragile. It’s not just an emotional adrenalectomy; it’s more like skinning, or melting off the flesh with radiation. They remove outer layers that are supposed to be there, and leave every vulnerable part exposed to the air. They do it to themselves, mind you. Nobody dropped a nuclear warhead on them.

There used to be a saying: “It’s easier to protect your feet with slippers than to carpet the whole world.” Modern social justice activists turn this phrase on its head, then blow it up to epic proportions. Don’t protect your feet with slippers and scream oppression until someone carpets the whole world for you, or remove your skin on purpose, and then demand that the whole world be your personal giant tank of Savlon.

How do we strike a reasonable middle ground, then, between genuinely needed accommodations and willful fragility? I always liked the concept of world-proofing, myself. I additionally think that this concept cuts both ways. Treat others with respect, and be capable of standing up for yourself. When I was a child, I was taught how to treat others properly, but likewise that “sticks and stones will break my bones, but word will never hurt me.”

I was not taught was that “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will shock and wound me.” 

That is not the life I want to live. No one is invulnerable, but being fragile on purpose is ridiculous behaviour. Our ancestors didn’t fight off sabertooth tigers so we could whine about how the words fat and skinny were oppressive.

JM Dunkelheit is a student and multimedia artist from Cork, Ireland who enjoys playing the guitar, singing, growling, writing poetry, playing the keyboard, listening to death metal, and reading science fiction. She has studied law, creative writing, psychology, and philosophy. She also makes Futurist music.