I got into an internet argument today about censorship. Well, originally it was about the Clean Reader app that blocks “offensive” words in books and replaces them with a “cleaner” version but it suddenly devolved into a discussion of the merits of trigger warnings.
This gentleman’s opinion, if I’m interpreting it correctly, appears to be that trigger warnings are a form of censorship because they force an author to censor their own work in the event that a stray word would make someone feel “slightly uncomfortable.” His used the example of college professors being mandated to use trigger warnings for certain classes. My opinion is that a warning of potentially harmful material is not the same thing as a product that actively alters the words in an author’s work.
Unfortunately, the discussion devolved from there, and to be fair, I was the one who initiated the downward spiral of nastiness, as his even tone and elegant turn of phrase began to filter into my mind as condescension. In my defense, I was on my phone which automatically made having any kind of reasonable discussion a hundred times more difficult, but I took offense to his assertion that trigger warnings have become a matter of faith in the same manner as black cats and broken mirrors. One can’t argue with faith, so why bother?
And then I typed this: Maybe because your accusation that my viewpoint is superstitious nonsense triggered me.
Yes, I was trivializing a serious subject with flippant use (which I should not have done), but I was also reacting emotionally. I have experienced a traumatic event, and I would definitely appreciate the kindness of a warning that gives me the choice to proceed or not as I see fit. This is not coddling or censorship. The material doesn’t have to be altered or hidden from me by any arbitrary set of rules, I just want a heads up. Is that too much to ask?
What I found most disturbing about the entire conversation was his viewpoint that because people are already misusing trigger warnings, it’s next to impossible to know what will trigger an individual, and psychologists assert that avoidance is a poor way to deal with a traumatic event, that we shouldn’t even try to create a way to alert people to potentially harmful content. While one person may be triggered by a particular color, which is obviously impossible to foresee, there’s a pretty good chance that a graphic description of a gang rape would trigger a victim of sexual abuse. Yes, that person should definitely seek professional help, but what if they can’t afford it? Or are too embarrassed, the trauma is too recent, or whatever their own personal reason might be for not getting help? As for those misusing trigger warnings, stop. Just stop it. You know who you are.
At the end of the day, my internet argument was a good thing because it made me consider something about which I didn’t originally have an opinion. It also reminded me that even though I become almost incoherent when I’m upset, my feelings do count and I have every right to express them, just as you have the right to choose not to agree with me or even read what I have to say. That’s not censorship. That’s a perk of being an adult.