Thought Police on Campus

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

I’m afraid these poor sensitive sophomores can’t read “Huckleberry Finn” without a warning label.

Should students about to read “The Great Gatsby” be forewarned about “a variety of scenes that reference gory, abusive and misogynistic violence,” as one Rutgers student proposed? Would any book that addresses racism — like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or “Things Fall Apart” — have to be preceded by a note of caution? Do sexual images from Greek mythology need to come with a viewer-beware label?

Colleges across the country this spring have been wrestling with student requests for what are known as “trigger warnings,” explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans.

The warnings, which have their ideological roots in feminist thought, have gained the most traction at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where the student government formally called for them.

In a spring when commencement speakers have been banned from campuses, it feels like the PC crowd is completely dominating the rhetoric on campus. The very notion that we can’t hear speeches or read literature that might make us a bit uncomfortable is totally frightening to me. I must say that I am not encountering this at USC, yet. My basic beef is with post modernist writing, which for the life of me is like a secret code, meant to obscure meaning.

Part of the problem with this identity politics view of education is that it confuses content and context. I have been saying for years that many young people have almost no sense of historical context. How could you possibly read Mark Twain without any sense of what growing up in Missouri in 1840 was like? How could they have gotten all the way through high school and not really understand the American Civil War or the fall of the Roman Empire? And remember what Marquez said about history“I cannot imagine how anyone could even think of writing a novel without having at least a vague of idea of the 10,000 years of literature that have gone before.”

Perhaps every entering Freshman should be required to read and take a test on JM Roberts’ The Penguin History of the World before they arrive on campus. Then their poor sensitive souls might not be so shocked by Greek tragedies.

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One Response to Thought Police on Campus

  1. Fentex says:

    It seems especially frightening to me that there are people who think mechanisms of censorship are a good idea and presumably don’t understand, lacking an education in it’s abuse, what’s wrong with the idea.

    The increasing influence of calls to proscribe speech critical of religions most to the fore in the matter.

    But then I’m a middle aged, well heeled, male in a liberal western democracy – the economic and social mores of the world are shaped by and for people like me. I am aware that I should have the grace to stop and listen to the arguments of those not so favoured by circumstances.

    As such I find I have a little sympathy for people asking for consideration, but do get frustrated, and I don’t think there’s anything new about this, by those who parrot demands and policies without sufficient understanding of context.

    I have a friend who is what many would picture if asked to imagine a academic doctor and feminist activist and she may put the case of the disenfranchised and sidelined, but isn’t at all as humourless and incoherent nor immovable or irrational as the earnest student committed with the passions not yet tempered by experience of consequence.

    I don’t think one should forget that of all the people taking blind positions in tow of others ideology LBGT, feminist or like minded activists are nothing like as dangerous to society as the blind patriots and authoritarians who have been terrorised into acquiescing to being stamped, folded and boxed into the role of obedient peasants.

    No one is as great a danger to the rest of us for failing to put politics into context as those cowed into submission to authority.

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