Triggered reactions can be intense and unpleasant, and may even overtake our consciousness, as with a flashback experienced by a war veteran. But even more common conditions can have this effect. Think, for example, about the experience of intense nausea. It comes upon a person unbidden, without rational reflection. And you can no more reason your way out of it than you reasoned your way into it. It’s also hard, if not impossible, to engage productively with other matters while you are in the grip of it. You might say that such states temporarily eclipse our rational capacities.
For someone who has experienced major trauma, vivid reminders can serve to induce states of body and mind that are rationally eclipsing in much the same manner. A common symptom of PTSD is panic attacks. Those undergoing these attacks may be flooded with anxiety to the point of struggling to draw breath, and feeling disoriented, dizzy and nauseated. Under conditions such as these, it’s impossible to think straight.
The thought behind trigger warnings isn’t just that these states are highly unpleasant (although they certainly are). It’s that they temporarily render people unable to focus, regardless of their desire or determination to do so. Trigger warnings can work to prevent or counteract this.
As teachers, we can’t foresee every instance of potentially triggering material; some triggers are unpredictable. But others are easy enough to anticipate, specifically, depictions or discussions of the very kinds of experiences that often result in post-traumatic stress and even, for some, a clinical disorder. With appropriate warnings in place, vulnerable students may be able to employ effective anxiety management techniques, by meditating or taking prescribed medication . . . It’s not about coddling anyone. It’s about enabling everyone’s rational engagement.
Why One Philosopher Uses Trigger Warnings September 20, 2015
On the Syrian Refugee Crisis September 5, 2015
A few pieces on the Syrian refugee crisis have been published by philosophers in the last couple of days. If you know of others please do mention them in the comments.
The question of how many refugees to accept is purely a political one, not an economic one. Government officials have claimed that it’s a better use of public funds to help abroad. But that’s completely wrong. If we let refugees in and allow them to work (as they would be keen to do), the evidence shows that the standard of living and unemployment rates for UK natives would remain about the same; the main effect is to radically increase the quality of life for the refugee. Compare the situation now to the Hungarian revolution of 1956: Austria, still broken from the second world war, took in 2% of its population in refugees, and emerged even stronger as a result. The UK could welcome hundreds of thousands of refugees to work here without damaging our economy.
This is not about us. It is not entirely clear whether we would suffer from increasing our refugee intake. But suppose we did. How could we possibly lose anything close to what these families would gain from being here? And how is it that our being lucky enough to be born into affluence could possibly justify not sacrificing some of that for those born into warzones? How can we talk so much about our own economic growth and yet ignore the families torn apart around the world, who come humbly to us, knocking on our door for help? Economics is important. And practical politics is important. But it is all worthless if it is not put to the service of those who need our help most desperately.
And our own Jenny Saul writes in the NewStatesman:
To some, this attack [on the use of the term ‘migrant’] is baffling. A migrant is just a person who migrates, surely, and these people are migrating. What can be wrong with this truthful description? One thing that might be wrong with it, however, is that, according to the UN, that’s not what a migrant is:
The term ‘migrant’… should be understood as covering all cases where the decision to migrate is taken freely by the individual concerned, for reasons of ‘personal convenience’ and without intervention of an external compelling factor.
While maybe among the desperate risking their lives to escape places like Syria and Afghanistan, there is a person or two who has joined them for reasons of “convenience”, these people are surely vanishingly rare. According to the UN, then, it is simply factually wrong to call these people migrants.
But why, a more compelling objection goes, should we even care about language? People are dying and need help, and there goes the left again worrying about words. The reason to care about language is that the language we deliberate in shapes our deliberations.
How not to address sexual harassment August 19, 2015
Missouri legislature edition (via HuffPo):
“We need a good, modest, conservative dress code for both the males and females,” state Rep. Nick King (R) said in an email to colleagues. “Removing one more distraction will help everyone keep their focus on legislative matters.”
The state legislature began working on its new intern program policies after Missouri House Speaker John Diehl (R) resigned in May, when the Kansas City Star revealed he sent sexually suggestive text messages to a 19-year-old intern.
But the problem appears to be more widespread. Dozens of women have said they were sexually harassed while working at the state capitol. In that report, a former state senator called the culture in Jefferson City “very anything goes.”
On Monday, state Rep. Kevin Engler (R) sent out a list of proposed changes for the program to his fellow House members. The Kansas City Star reported that that’s when several legislators, initiated by state Rep. Bill Kidd (R), responded by suggesting Engler should add an intern dress code to the list.
Kiran Gandhi: Menstrual blood and the London Marathon August 15, 2015
The picture to the left is of Kiran Gandhi, a drummer for M.I.A., who ran the recent London Marathon after having started her period. She did not use a tampon. One result is the stain between her legs. Another is a lot of outrage and accusations. Her account of her motives is on her blog.
There are a lot of issues that surround menstruation. One set of issues she wants addressed more widely is the shame many women feel about menstruating. Another is the fact that many women in the world do not have access to products that can in some way contain the blood. She also thought she would be compromising her health choices in order to make people more comfortable, which doesn’t sound like a great idea.
So what do you think? For my own sake I have the uneasy feeling as I put this post up that the sky might come crashing down on my head.
Feminist Issues in the Labour Leadership Contest August 4, 2015
As our UK readers can hardly have escaped hearing, and as other readers may know, the UK Labour Party is currently in the midst of a leadership contest that has seen surprisingly high levels of support for the candidate initially seen as a left-wing outsider, Jeremy Corbyn. Last week, Corbyn’s campaign released a document titled ‘Working with Women’ that sets out a strategy aimed at gender equality. It makes for interesting reading. If elected Labour leader, Corbyn promises to work for free universal childcare, mandatory sex and relationships education in schools, career services for young people aimed at disrupting gender stereotypes (in both directions), mandatory equal pay audits for all companies and an end to fees for employees taking their employers to tribunals (1). He recognizes the greater impact on women of cuts to public services, and besides an end to austerity in general he promises to reverse cuts to rape crisis and domestic violence services in particular. He also commits to having 50% women in the Shadow Cabinet. Taken as a whole, this is an impressive position from a feminist perspective and I find it heartening to see it being put forward by Corbyn as part of his leadership campaign.
None of the other three candidates – Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, and Liz Kendall – has issued a similar document. However, I did find the following specific positions each had taken in the campaign:
Andy Burnham: has promised a 50% women shadow cabinet, including a woman shadow first secretary of state.
More information on the positions and pledges of any of the candidates relating to gender equality is very welcome in the comments.
I’ve just found this page where Burnham, Cooper and Corbyn have responded to some questions from End Violence Against Women about the Shadow Equalities Minister, sex education, and shelters and other services. All three candidates answer ‘yes’ to all questions, which is good. To his particular credit, Corbyn specifically highlights the need for specialist services for Black and Minority Ethnic women, and the issues of violence against women asylum seekers in detention.
(1) This is particularly relevant to discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers; a recent Equality and Human Rights Commission report estimated that up to 54 000 women per year in the UK who are pregnant or on maternity leave are dismissed, made compulsorily redundant or treated so poorly they have to quit their job.
clinton, Mind-reading and attributions of racism July 25, 2015
There’s a kind of mind-reading that seems to me to be very prevalent in the US. It often goes so far as to assume that someone other than X is better able to tell what X thinks than X is. This not a harmless assumption, and it is built on a false assumption about our access to other minds. In fact, our mind-reading is prone to a lot of mistakes once we get beyond the very simple tests used on 4 year olds in psychology.
Most recently Hilary Clinton is being victimized by mind-reading. She said:
Race remains a deep fault line in America. Millions of people of color still experience racism in their everyday lives.
Here are some facts.
Let’s be honest: For a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young Black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear. And news reports about poverty and crime and discrimination evoke sympathy, even empathy, but too rarely do they spur us to action or prompt us to question our own assumptions and privilege.
Apparently, a lot of people looked at this and said she wouldn’t have said this unless she felt that fear. So she is a racist.
But in fact the comment about fear was one of a long list of bad facts about racism in the States. And she said we must admit these features exist and get rid of them.
So the racism is most certainly not in her words. It is an injustice to report that it is in her head.
Many thanks to Rachek McKinnon for bringing this up on facebook. Of course, as Rachel said, on the left this might all just be misogyny. If so, hang on because it’s probably going to be a horrible election season.
“I’m Sorry!” July 7, 2015
The research reported in a post below concludes that women are disproportionately made to feel guilty for any lapses in caring behavior. If that’s true, one might expect to see (some/many) women as very prone to apologize a great deal, even for things only vaguely connected to them, to feel bad when they are especially assertive, and even to offer care-taking when it is hardly appropriately.
The skit by the comedian Amy Schumer linked to below captures such behavior. Can you relate?
Nonviolence, Ideal Theory, and Epistemic Injustice April 29, 2015
Jacob Levy has a great post up at Bleeding Heart Libertarians – Folk ideal theory in action (with thanks to Daily Nous for bringing it to my attention) – which made me want to say something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. Earlier, we posted Ta-Nehisi Coates’ piece on nonviolence as compliance; as human beings, and many of us, American citizens, the issues Coates raises are of general interest, but there are important philosophical questions, I think, we should be asking ourselves now too. I know some philosophers bristle at the thought that our academic work should be constrained by such things as goals of social justice — but set that aside. Shouldn’t the modes of thinking we encourage at least not make things worse?
It seems to me, following Charles Mills, that ideal-theory approaches entrench substantial epistemic hindrances for theorizing justice. While we can attempt to engage in thought experiment, e.g., regarding what we might agree to behind a veil of ignorance if we knew nothing about our own social identity, we cannot engage in that thought experiment without thereby deploying a conceptual framework which is, itself, deeply shaped by our existing, non-ideal, social circumstances. Taking Rawls’ for example, by choosing to set the non-ideal to the side until an account of the ideal can be developed, Rawls cut himself off from the means by which we might check the profound impact of inequality and injustice on our very form of thought. An ideal-theory approach to justice is not problematic merely because it is structured in such a way as to fail to offer sufficient guidance in a non-ideal world, but also because it obscures, and consequently risks transmitting the consequences of, that some of our very concepts have been shaped in ways that implicate matters of justice in the first place. There is a distinctive form of conceptual epistemic injustice which ideal theory is disposed to inherit, and engagement with the non-ideal is requisite for correction.
When I say that there is a distinctive form of conceptual epistemic injustice, I do not mean just hermeneutical injustice, as Miranda Fricker discusses (though, that’s relevant too), where we may lack some concept because the social group which could develop it lacks the social power or organization to do so. I mean instead that we have concepts which we take to have normative force – like nonviolence as an ideal (or ‘genius‘, or ‘atonement‘) – and these concepts may be perfectly worthy in some sense (that is, the sense in which mean for that concept to aim at), but in actuality they can be perverse, both ethically and epistemically. Note: It is not that I think nonviolence is in anyway perverse itself, and I do not mean that I advocate in any way for violence. What I do mean, though, is that our concept of nonviolence is confused. When embedded in our broader social-conceptual framework, nonviolence becomes something that is expected of those who are subjected to oppression, and violence against them as enacted by certain dominant social groups, or certain forms of the state, fails to be recognized as violence at all. It’s that moment when someone tells you in the span of just a few breaths that yet another death of a black man at the hands of police is an unfortunate event, but that they are saddened, or even heartbroken, by the destructive protests which followed. Violence against persons of color is conceptualized as unfortunate, whereas the destruction of property is conceptualized as violent. The concept of nonviolence is socially limited so as to be unequal in its application.
If you’re a Black person and you live in the Black community, all your life, you walk out on the street every day, seeing white policeman surrounding you. When I was living in Los Angeles, for instance…I was constantly stopped. The police didn’t know who I was, but I was a Black woman, and I had a natural, and I suppose they thought that I might be a “militant”…
You live under that situation constantly, and then you ask me whether I approve of violence. I mean, that just doesn’t make any sense at all.
Whether I approve of guns? I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Some very, very good friends of mine were killed by bombs–bombs that were planted by racists…From the time I was very, very small, I remember the sounds of bombs exploding across the street, our house shaking. I remember my father having to have guns at his disposal at all times because of the fact that at any moment, we might expect to be attacked . . .
In fact, when [one] bombing occurred, one of the mothers of one of the young girls called my mother and said, “Can you take me down to the church? I have to pick up Carole, we heard about the bombing, and I don’t have my car.”
And they went down there, and what did they find? They found limbs and heads strewn all over the place. And then after that, in my neighborhood, all of the men organized themselves into an armed patrol. They had to take their guns and control our community every night because they did not want that to happen again.
I mean, that’s why when someone asks me about violence, I just find it incredible. Because what it means is the person who’s asking that question has absolutely no idea what Black people have gone through–what Black people have experienced in this country since the time the first Black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.
Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Riots in Baltimore April 28, 2015
Now, tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and “nonviolent.” These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question, it’s worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray. An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead. What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead? . . . When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves.
America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.
Why Prison Rape Goes On April 18, 2015
Chandra Bozelko, a former inmate, has an op-ed in the New York Times titled, ‘Why We Let Prison Rape Go On,’ in which she explores why, even 12 year since the Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed, sexual assault in American prisons remains so widespread.
Ultimately, prisons protect rape culture to protect themselves. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about half of prison sexual assault complaints in 2011 were filed against staff. (These reports weren’t all claims of forcible rape; it is considered statutory sexual assault for a guard to have sexual contact with an inmate.)
I was an inmate for six years in Connecticut after being convicted of identity fraud, among other charges. From what I saw, the same small group of guards preyed on inmates again and again, yet never faced discipline. They were protected by prison guard unions, one of the strongest forces in American labor.
Sexualized violence is often used as a tool to subdue inmates whom guards see as upstarts. In May 2008, while in a restricted housing unit, or “the SHU” as it is commonly known, I was sexually assaulted by a guard. The first person I reported the incident to, another guard, ignored it. I finally reached a nurse who reported it to a senior officer.
When the state police arrived, I decided not to talk to them because the harassment I’d received in the intervening hours made me fearful. For the same reason, I refused medical treatment when I was taken to a local emergency room.
Subsequent interviews with officials at the prison amounted to hazing and harassment. They accused me of having been a drug user, which was untrue, and of lying about going to college, though it was true I had. The “investigation,” which I found more traumatic than the assault, dragged on for more than two months until they determined that my allegation couldn’t be substantiated. The law’s guidelines were followed, but in letter not in spirit.
I was also a witness in a case in which an inmate claimed to have been sexually assaulted by a guard and then told me she’d made it up. I reported her — and this time, I was perfectly credible to an investigator, who praised me for having a conscience and a clear head.
The Justice Department estimates that the total bill to society for prison rape and sexual abuse is as high as $51.9 billion per year, including the costs of victims’ compensation and increased recidivism. If states refuse to implement the law when the fiscal benefit is so obvious, something larger is at stake.