Triggered


When you teach American undergrads about the privilege/oppression dichotomy and they shit bricks


Posted 16 Mar 2017    Edited 01 Jun 2017



Trigger warning: there will be no more trigger warnings.

When you are a mechanical engineering student, here's what you do:
  • You wake up.
  • You go to your fluid dynamics class.
  • Your professor lectures over the material you studied last night.
  • Your professor introduces a single problem based on the material.
  • You work to solve the problem in groups of three or four.
  • After ten or fifteen minutes, the professor asks you to stop.
  • About one-third of the groups have arrived at an answer.
  • The professor asks the one group who actually found the correct solution to explain the steps they took to arrive there.
  • You get half-way through a second example problem and class is over.
  • You go to your machine design class and do the same thing you did in fluids.
  • You go to your non-mechanical-engineering class and don't pay any attention.
  • You go back to the physical sciences building to work on your group project and stay until about 7PM.
  • You go back to your apartment and do homework til you pass out.

When you're a history major, here's what you do [I think]:
  • You wake up.
  • You read a chapter of a book.
  • You go to history of the American West.
  • Your professor talks about the role of land grant colleges or something.
  • You discuss what you read before class.
  • The same three or four students make a majority of the comments.
  • You get another reading assignment and class is over.
  • You read another chapter of a book before your constitutional law class.
  • You go to constitutional law class.
  • Your old guy professor lectures; no discussion.
  • You get a reading assignment there.
  • You go back to your apartment and write a paper on just war tradition.
  • You read a chapter from a book.
  • You read another chapter from a different book til you pass out.

Image courtesy of Practical Action

My impression of most of the mechanical engineering students that I went to school with in Idaho was that they weren't super political, but most political opinions that did get expressed were right-leaning. My friends who were history majors were definitely on the left, politically.

With these shallow, oversimplified prejudices, I entered my junior year in the mechanical engineering program. I was pretty deep in the curriculum as an engineer. All my classes were either math, physics, or engineering; and I was kinda burned out on it. I wasn't allowed to take classes outside of my department's catalogue thanks to a super Down's syndrome credit limit imposed by the policy makers at the university, but I was allowed to audit any course I wanted as long as I got approval from the course instructor.

I looked over a university catalogue, and thought about some classes I could take that would be wildly different from my STEM courses I'd had so far. My best friend was a history major and recommended that I take a class from on of his favorite instructors, Dr. Stieglitz. One of the courses she was offering that semester was called "U.S. Women's History."

Given that the number of female students in my engineering classes averaged about 0.78, and given that I hadn't had a history class since high school seven years prior, I went with that. I emailed her and was like, "Hey, I'm not allowed to take your class, but would you mind if I audited it?" and I left her my student ID so she could look up my school record and see that I wasn't a bad student or pervy-looking or anything. She emailed me back the next day and was like, "Sure."

I was kinda nervous to attend the class. I figured that the history students would basically be speaking a different language and that they'd be cross-referencing other history shits that I wouldn't have any grasp on. Since I was auditing, the grade wasn't going to show up on my transcript or anything, so I wasn't worried about exams or reading assignments or anything like that. But I was really self-conscious. Maybe because I'd got so used to my nerdy mech e compadres and sucked at talking to new people.

The first day of class, we introduced ourselves. Almost all the students in there were history majors, but a few of us were from other places. One was me [mechanical engineering], two were girls [one was an art major, and one was a... I don't remember exactly, but it was a liberal arts thing], and then there were these two older ladies who sat in the back. Both were friends of the professor. One looked older [mid- to late-fifties] and one looked younger [late-thirties to early-forties]. We were briefly introduced to them and told they would be sitting in for the semester with us.

The sexual make-up of the students in the course was about two-thirds female.

Early on in the semester, my eyes were opened to a couple important things. The first is that there exists a spectrum between privilege and oppression that is real and extends into every strata of human society. The second thing is that there is a spectrum between being an adult and being a child, and, in American universities, that spectrum is getting way lopsided, favoring the child end.


The Class

Right out of the gate, we talked about this privilege/oppression thing. Basically, there are people who are born lucky, some who are kinda meh, and some who are very unlucky, relatively. The lucky ones have money, access to education and healthcare, and the satisfaction of being able to pursue whatever career they want with no limit on how far up the ladder they can climb. They make the rules, and the rules they make favor their own advancement.

The meh ones are okay. They still can get educated and can climb up hierarchies according to their achievements, to a certain point. But they're kept from achieving the highest levels of well-being by those at the top; thus, they belong to some category of oppressed people.

Comic by Toby Morris

The really unlucky ones are born as girls in places like Syria and Pakistan and Muslim-controlled Africa. They get their genitals mutilated and live in constant fear of savage punishment and they can't go to school or express themselves in society in any way. Everything is decided for them by their dads/husbands/religious-guys-and-military-overlords. They are unequivocally the oppressed.

I guess I had understood that dynamic before, but I didn't see that we were all on the spectrum: all of us have some privilege, and all of us are in some way oppressed. Based on the way it was presented to me by Stieglitz, I kind of got the impression that we were all holding a hand in a card game: each of us has some combination of good cards and bad cards, and we can use those cards to trump other players.

Like, I'm
  1. White
  2. Male
  3. Straight
  4. Upper-middle class
  5. Mormon

Most of my cards are privilege cards. About four in five of the girls in the class had a deck that looked kinda like:
  1. White
  2. Female
  3. Straight
  4. Upper-middle class
  5. Mormon

So, when one of them and I go head to head, I win. Our matching cards cancel each other out, and my "male" trumps her "female" because women are considered one of the oppressed classes. Here's a run down of some of the common privilege/oppression comparisons:
  • Male > Female
  • White > Black > Latino/a
  • Straight > Gay/Lesbian > Trans
  • Rich > Poor
  • Mainstream Christian > Mormon > Muslim

">" doesn't actually mean "better than" or "greater than." It just means more privileged. Like, no one in serious American academia actually believes that white people are better than black people in any important way. But the priv-opp theory is that black people are oppressed as a whole by privileged white people as a whole.

The well-thought-out version of this should not say that you can hold up any random white guy and any random black guy and show that the white guy is taking something away from the black guy. I mean, if the white guy you pull is Joe Dirt and the black guy you land on is Ben Carson, we all know who's at the top of that two-man totem pole.

It's just that, statistically and systematically, black Americans don't have the same access to education, career development, and general status in society as white people. That can be proven: taking as many other factors off the table as possible, white people have more. Getting in to the specifics of why that happens is interesting; but, it's not consistent. Obviously, you're going to see a huge discrepancy between how black people are viewed and treated by society generally in the South versus the Northeast.

What got really interesting, for me, was seeing how freaking complicated it is to track privilege in society. Like, say you've got a successful financial advising company, and there are women who are fighting to get on equal ground with the men. The board of directors is made up entirely of men, and has been since the company's founding. In meetings, they tell dick jokes and stories about hooking up with their secretaries or whatever. To maintain the fraternal culture, the board isn't going to consider letting women in no matter how capable they might be. Meanwhile, there are no board members of color, because those candidates aren't being hired or promoted anywhere in the company anyway [which could be thanks to racist hiring managers, or just a lack of qualified candidates even applying from those groups]. So you've got oppression of the women, but you've got even more severe oppression of blacks and hispanics.

The world is made up of all these systems of power. Within them, you can find groups who end up closer to the bottom. Often it's women. Sometimes it's Christians. Sometimes it's Muslims. Sometimes it's Mexicans. Very seldom, it's white people. Probably never is it men.

This isn't a theory that compares individuals. It's a comparison of groups that span whole societies.

Anyway, I bought most of this as it was presented to me. I was like, "This is totally evident to me now that it has been explained."

The university [BYU-Idaho] was financed by the Mormon church, so much of the class discussions centered around the patriarchal history and culture of the LDS church, which have always been overwhelmingly white. Dr. S shared a lot of personal experiences.

She brought up situations where she was definitely treated unfairly. Like, she talked about how, consistently, there would be male students in her classes who expressed that, as a woman, she wasn't really in a position to educate them. A lot of this was due to the ultra conservative nature of the church membership of Idaho and Utah where a lot of the students at the university were from.

She also brought up the huge gender gap present in most departments on campus. She was the only female instructor in the entire history department. She was one of very few women across campus in a teaching role. She said that she heard sentiments expressed like, "...it wasn't really appropriate for her to be pursuing a full-time career when she had children at home." She was like, "It's not really the time I'm spending that people have a problem with. I mean, almost every administrative assistant role in this school is filled by a woman, and they and I work the exact same hours. The problem people have is that I'm occupying a position they believe belongs to a man."

It was a revelation to see the many aspects of the church culture I was so accustomed to in this new light. Women really are viewed differently, and, in most cases, way lower than the men. Even as men "praise" womanhood in the church [this happens very, very often], the act itself establishes them as the authorities over women's position in the church; no matter how important women are told they are, they are always being told by men.

Great stuff.

My mind was being blown on a daily basis in this class. Every once in a while, a student would make a really good comment, but mostly, the professor was guiding us through the history of early feminist leaders to multiple waves of American feminism and, all along, we are learning about some serious, not-openly-talked-about events in LDS church history that didn't paint a super rosy picture of the church, most of the time.


Anyway, about one-third or halfway through the semester, Dr. S brings up the topic of modesty. She asks the class what they think about how we view women's bodies as a society. Immediately, three or four of the male students raise their hands. She goes, "No! This is a discussion about women's bodies, and we're going to leave it to women to answer this question! You guys are free to participate in this class, but you aren't going to chime in right now."



It was really intense, but it was especially satisfying for me to see this one particular guy get shut down because he was always making comments and was kinda annoying and douchey.

At the end of the class, the professor indicates to her friend [the younger one] at the back of the class and is like, "I don't know if any of you guys know this, but [So-and-So, my friend] has been live tweeting this entire class. One of the things she's been keeping track of is the ratio of comments that are made by male students to those made by the girls, and you know what? Consistent with a trend that I believe you'll find in all your classes, the males are dominating the discussion. Even in this class where two-third of the class are girls, about 75-80% of the interjections are coming from the boys."

It was so, so interesting. And the live tweeting was really cool. The prof's friend used the hashtag #uswmnshist, so we could all access it. It was super helpful as a study guide. The day's lesson points and discussion points were all recorded. And, at the end of each class's thread, there was a tally that showed how many male-to-female comments were made. It was an awesome mini-history of the class.

Anyway, there was a little bit of a dip in boys' comments after the revelation that they were hogging the discussion, but it went right back up after just a week or so.

There was, however, about to be a huge upset in the class - from which I learned the second most important lesson of the course: universities are becoming daycare facilities.

Triggered

One day, we were discussing the period of church history when people were practicing polygamy. We talked about the dynamic that existed for women in polygamous marriages. Basically, it was way weird how they were matched up with husbands [a lot of young girls would end up married to old church leaders and it was all rape-y and stuff], but also how some women were able to find greater-than-normal autonomy and expression as "sister wives." Like, since they had other wives at home to watch their kids and have sex with their husbands, some Mormon women were free to go to college and pursue careers. This is like at the end of the 19th century, so this is a privilege that almost no other American woman is enjoying.

Anyway, there was a girl [let's call her Katie] in our class who was actually raised in a polygamous community. Her family abandoned fundamental Mormonism when she was a teenager or something and joined the mainstream church, and that's why she was studying at BYU-Idaho.

One day, we're talking about the polygamous period of the church and how this big schism happened when the church's leadership said, "Okay, no more polygamy" and then these groups of Mormons are like, "No way. We're gonna keep doing it."

Dr. Stieglitz asked Katie a few questions about what her experience was like growing up in a polygamous community. She talked about going to school and stuff there, but mostly gave terse responses and got very quiet toward the end of class. When class was over, Katie stood up quickly and was clearly emotional and ran out of the room. The rest of us were just kinda sitting there, and Stieglitz said, "This is a really heavy issue for Katie. We need to be sensitive of that."

All of us were like, "Word."

After class, I was looking at the tweets from the day's lesson, and one's like:

Discussing polygamy. Student raised in polygamous community leaves class crying. These are heavy subjects.

Something like that. Anyway, the class goes on and we don't talk about polygamy in that much depth again and everything is okay.

After a couple weeks, I come to class, and the professor isn't there, and her two friends aren't there. It's just the students. I'm like, "Are we having class today, or..." and they are like, "Well, Dr. S is out of town this week, so we're meeting up to do a study group for the upcoming exam."

I'm like, "Okay, well, I'm not gonna take the exam on account o' I don't have to anyway, so why would I?" and I head to work early. A couple hours later, while I'm at work, I get this email from one of the guys in the class. The subject title says, "Twitter petition."

The survey is a shared document. This guy deleted the document, so I don't have it word-for-word, but as close as I can remember, it basically said:

Votes to delete the Twitter account documenting the BYU-Idaho U.S. Women's History class
Billy
Sally
Debbie
Margaret
Katie
Spencer
Rachel
Eric
Megan
Rosie

Votes to censor content live tweeted from the class
Ruth

Votes to leave the account as is



There are no names on the last section. But, there is a page on the end that is filled with screenshots of some of the tweets under #uswmnshist. There's the one that talks about Katie crying. There is one that shows the number of male-to-female comments. And there's one that says something kinda degrading about Joseph Smith. None of the tweets contain any perspective or embellishment on the part of Dr. S's friend. They're just straight quotes, summaries, and statistics from each day's class.

I read through the petition the first time and was way confused. Then, I read through a second time and felt kinda disgusted; a class of history majors calling for the censorship of a private person's Twitter activity...

It violated everything I thought a group of students trained in the liberal arts would be - especially a group of students who majored in HISTORY; who probably had a whole semester-long course on constitutional government. I thought freedom of expression would be a top priority for them.

I felt really defensive, too. Like, if my classmates are coming together to oppose the expression of our professor's friend, what's to stop them from coming after me and my Twitter account? I felt like I was in some kind of weird turn-based game and it was my move.

Maybe my reply was douchey or passive-aggressive or something, but I took a screenshot of the petition, and tweeted it with the hashtag #uswmnshist and the prof's friend's Twitter handle. I signed the petition under the "leave the account as is" section, and logged out of everything.

Your move, history students.

The next time we met in class, the professor gave the presentation on the day's material, and we had a discussion like normal. In the last five or ten minutes of class, though, she brought up the petition. She basically was like, "Getting my schedule interrupted by this out-of-town trip was a pretty big hassle for me; while I was travelling I had some family problems I had to deal with; and on top of all that, I get an email from my friend and find out that my class is practicing non-violent resistance against me. I've decided with my friend that we will still post content from the class, but we won't include any student comments, and we'll stop posting statistics comparing boys' and girls' participation. Please if you have a problem, just come talk to me about it instead of signing a petition and stuff."

One girl was like, "Well, we didn't mean for it to be all public before talking to you about it, but somebody kind of ruined all that for us."

All the students knew I had posted the screenshot of the petition, and a lot of 'em were real mad at me. By the end of the semester, I had a couple of them that talked to me again. One of the girls actually confronted me on what I did. We didn't come to an agreement, but we had a pretty good discussion. She was like, "Why would you do that?" [implying that I was an asshole for not cooperating with the petition or outing it or whatever]. I explained that I saw the attack on the expression of one person in the class as a threat to my own. She was kinda like, "Huh."

As I talked later with the professor's friend, I heard that Dr. S actually viewed the rise of these students against the Twitter account as a hazard to her standing in the university. Like, if the students felt like their privacy was being violated or they were being distressed by stuff happening in the class, that their complaints could actually put her job at risk.

Because I was not connected to Dr. Stieglitz in any way and because I thought it was interesting af, I started tweeting the class statistics under the hashtag #uswh4kids.

I was blown away by the power the students had over the professor and the class in general.

The situation forced me to confront my own hypocrisy, though:

Earlier in the semester, Katie [the one who cried] and I were in a religion class together. One day, the professor was saying something about women in the church who wanted to be on equal ground with men, and said, "It's like those lesbians who want to be in the Priesthood." I turned and looked at this Katie girl [knowing that we were so "educated" about the oppression of women in institutions and in the church], and we were just kinda like, "That wasn't cool."

Anyway, after class, we were talking like, "We should like write this guy an email." So we did. I wrote him one being like, "Hey, what you said in class about ladies who want to be on par with men being lesbians was pretty messed up. I like you, but that's like discriminatory Title IX stuff to talk like that."

The next day, he wrote an apology email to the class.

I DID THE SAME THING THAT ENDED UP BEING SO DISGUSTING TO ME JUST A COUPLE MONTHS LATER.

Maybe that's why I had such a bad reaction to the petition: because I felt soiled by my own use of force against someone's speech, and felt the fear of someone who could be fired thanks to a slip-up in a classroom.

I mean, at the beginning of the semester, this religion professor guy specifically asked the class not to send complaints against him to his department chair or the university's administration; so, he probably had a habit of putting his foot in his mouth.

But it didn't excuse me for being a silencer and a dick.

Babies

After I graduated, I found out that the phenomenon I got caught up in was actually happening all across the country in 2014, to varying degrees. Students, armed with a regurgitated understanding of the privilege/oppression spectrum, started demanding social justice in every tiny particular.

Student groups formed calling for university bans on Halloween costumes that had any tie to foreign or native cultures. You could be called a racist for wearing a handband with feathers in it. That's what they call "cultural appropriation" and it's one of their cardinal sins.

From a University of Colorado campaign

Students who experienced any kind of discomfort when exposed to information in a classroom that contradicted their personal beliefs, or that caused them to recall past stressful experiences could claim to be triggered; and professors who didn't preface material that covered topics like rape, violence, or other forms of abuse with "trigger warnings" could be held responsible for the trauma they caused their students.

There's an NYU professor named Jonathan Haidt. He's a social psychologist specializing in the psychology of morality. He's done lots of research in the origins of morality. One of his positions is that human morality arises from emotionally-dominated processes, not rational ones.

One of the experiments he's conducted in his research is presenting what he calls the dumbfounding scenario. In doing the experiment, Haidt tells the following story to the test subject:

Julie and Mark are brother and sister. They are traveling together in France on summer vacation from college. One night they are staying alone in a cabin near the beach. They decide that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love. At the very least it would be a new experience for each of them. Julie was already taking birth control pills, but Mark uses a condom too, just to be safe. They both enjoy making love, but they decide not to do it again. They keep that night as a special secret, which makes them feel even closer to each other. What do you think about that? Was it OK for them to make love?

~ Haidt (2001) The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychological Review

In another paper, Haidt and some colleagues discuss the typical response:

Most people who hear the above story immediately say that it was wrong for the siblings to make love, and they then begin searching for reasons. They point out the dangers of inbreeding, only to remember that Julie and Mark used two forms of birth control. They argue that Julie and Mark will be hurt, perhaps emotionally, even though the story makes it clear that no harm befell them. Eventually, many people say something like, “I don’t know, I can’t explain it, I just know it’s wrong.”

~ Haidt, J., Bjorklund, F., & Murphy, S. (2000). Moral dumbfounding: When intuition finds no reason. Unpublished manuscript, University of Virginia

Haidt is internationally recognized for his research among psychologists because he's done solid academic work and his stuff is way interesting. Although political correctness and free speech were not really his emphasis, he had a series of experiences that got him into exploring the same trend that I witnessed with the crying students and their call for censorship in the history class.

In a podcast interview with Sam Harris, Haidt recounts the event that initially set off an alarm for him that something was changing in America [you can access the full interview here, or a snippet that I use in the blog here]:

Jonathan Haidt: I've been extremely alarmed by the way campus culture in a lot of our top schools has changed radically, just in the last two years. There are these new ideas about safety; I hear undergraduates often saying things... like, they take it for granted that a classroom is supposed to be a safe space. If they mean that the teacher shouldn't insult them, or that people shouldn't hit each other, of course. But, what they mean is that people should not be exposed to ideas that make them feel marginalized or demeaned.

For example, if somebody were to question Affirmative Action, that could be threatening to students who benefit from Affirmative Action; therefore, you can't question it. And it's very strange that people are getting in trouble. I was dragged before the Equal Opportunity Commission for showing a video that, in class, one student objected to - for one word that another student said in it.

Sam Harris: What was the word?

Haidt: Disgusting. So, it was in the context of a discussion about the dumbfounding scenario, actually. It was a conversation between two UVa undergraduates. One of them is cross examining the other one, and the guy ultimately says, "I don't know... You know? I have a sister myself, and I just find it disgusting to think about having sex with her. So, the experimenter follows the script (because people often say something like that), and he says, "Well, okay, so you find it disgusting. But, does that make it wrong? I mean, personally, you know, if I were, like, to see two men having sex, I personally would find that disgusting. I wouldn't want to watch it. But that doesn't mean it's wrong. I mean, if people are inclined that way they have every right to do what they want. There's nothing wrong with it."

I've shown this video fifty times. But by the time class was over, the student had emailed the Dean to complain about my homophobia. I thought she must have just misunderstood the video, I mean, I said, "Well, come talk to me tomorrow. We'll rewatch that portion of the video. You'll see that he's not condemning homosexuality, he's actually pro gay rights." But, she basically brought the class to a standstill. She demanded that I apologize. She bullied me into apologizing and finally I did, just because I had to keep the class going. Because it was an intensive class: every day for a week. So, I apologized, but she didn't like the apology so she brought me in front of the Equal Opportunity Commission, and, you know, there was no way they were going to convict me.

...

The point is, it took about a month out of my life. She had people mount a social media campaign, writing things about how homophobic I am. So it was really a nightmare. I was like, "What the hell is going on?" It didn't make any sense. I've been part of groups pushing for gay rights. My research is on disgust. Actually I have a paper based on how you can reduce prejudice against gay people. So, I thought "My intentions are all in the right place. I didn't say anything. What's going on?"

And then other things similar to that happened to me and then began happening to lots of other people. This is in the 2013 - 2014 academic year. The campus disinvitations, the words "trigger warning" and "safe spaces"; they barely exist before 2012, but by 2014, they're everywhere.

...

So a very strange thing is happening and I think it's so interesti... I mean, it's horrible. It's put a freeze on free speech. People are so afraid to say anything that will set off the most sensitive student in the class. Professors all over the country are scrubbing their syllabi clean. We're not showing videos that could provoke. We're not saying things. So, education is taking a nosedive in this country because everyone's afraid of a big social media storm or being charged with marginalizing or whatever it is.

If I hadn't actually experienced this kind of thing personally, I would've thought, "Okay, but there's no way you're going to see any of this stuff at BYU-Idaho. It's a much-too-sheltered environment for a trend like this to get in." I actually wrote a whole other blog entry on my experience at BYU-I.

I would have thought that since professors and administrators were under pressure to teach according to the Mormon church's agenda, the school would be able to keep a movement like this at bay. What Haidt proposes, though, is that the current culture of coddling students comes from something in the students themselves.

Later in the podcast, Haidt says:

I've learned a lot about this [trend] since [this other guy] and I wrote the Atlantic article. This ultimately seems to grow out of the massive changes in child rearing that happened in the United States in the early 1980s. If you were born before about 1975, you had a childhood like people all around the earth have always had, which is that you spent a lot of time without adult supervision. That means sometimes you got in fights, sometimes you got lost, sometimes you got scared. And you figure it out yourself.

But, we had a real crime wave in the 1970s, and we had several high profile abductions... and with cable TV, we have constant 24 hour coverage of every child abduction. So, even though no one really abducts children (besides the non-custodial parent), parents came to fear that if ever they had kids unsupervised, those kids would be abducted. Today, it is literally illegal to let your eight-year-old walk to a park two blocks away. You can be arrested for doing that. So parents don't do that, and kids are never really left unsupervised until some time in their mid-teens in lots of cases.

What happens is that students get to college and they have not had to deal with setbacks (or even insults) on their own. There's always been some authority that they should appeal to. So they get to college and somebody says something. Maybe somebody criticizes Affirmative Action and that hurts. They don't like it. So what do they do? They have this whole ideology built for them (they may have even experienced it before college) that says they are a victim of "microaggression." Some professor or student (mostly complaints are about students) said something and it hurts. So, you don't say something back. You go straight to the Dean or the university administrator. You file charges!

This is what's new. This didn't happen ten or fifteen years ago. This is the last couple years.

Haidt goes on to talk about the history and application of "microaggressions" which take the idea of insult or offence and place them on the spectrum of actual violence. Many professors and students in North America actually, really believe that if you contradict someone's personal belief, or if you challenge someone's claims about his or her or zir identity, you are committing a microaggression. By the way, from what I've seen, the response to these agressions on a micro scale seem more like they're aimed at someone who's really done something macro-sized and heinous.



The term microaggression was first used in 1970 by the Harvard psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce to describe the very real acts of oppression that black people received from white society: like using demeaning terms or serving white people before black people in a restaurant, etc.

Now, though, if you have an Asian student in your class, and she says her L's like R's, and you ask her where she's from, that's a microaggression. Because you're assuming she's foreign and you may make her feel "othered." In extreme cases, you can even be berated for assuming someone's gender. Like, if you say, "Yes, sir," to a man-looking person, and that person doesn't identify as a male, you may be committing a microaggression [or maybe you're always committing a microaggression when you assume gender, whether or not the person is offended].

To Be Clear

I am not saying that racism and sexism and homophobia are not real. Hating or discriminating people because they are black or a lady or gay is a real problem and it's way gay. I think almost all of us Westerners are on the same page there.

I don't even question the soundness of something like Affirmative Action that offers artificial advantages to oppressed groups. Because the whole privilege/oppression thing isn't a bunch of bullshit; a systemic oppressive thing requires a systemic counteracting thing, I think.

Also, overcoming disgust of people that are weird is probably important. I attend church often, and I feel like there's a lot of homophobic crap that gets thrown around in there. The highest-ranking officials in my church have, in the recent past, encouraged members to oppose marriage equality laws. The church was one of the very public supporters of Proposition 8 in California. There are members of that group that are clearly not homophobic, but lots that has been said by some of them gives already-bigoted members lots of ammo to be dicks about it.

I totally think that we should make sure people are legitimately kept safe and kept free to express themselves and kept free to live according to their beliefs and rationality [or lack of both or either].

But:

Words don't hurt. Not like real violence.

I'll grant that, right now, it is morally bad to call a black person a nigger and mean it; and that it's beyond douchey to not bake a cake for a wedding just because the couple is gay; and that calling Muslim immigrants terrorists represents ridiculous, exaggerated prejudice.

But, it doesn't mean that people don't have the right to say any of that stuff.

If you're gay, and someone calls you a faggot...

... maybe a good response would be like, "You're just a double-faggot. You're so gay that you're gay against being gay; and you're back to wanting to have sex with the opposite sex AGAIN."

No need to bring legal action against that double-faggot for hate speech. Just counter his sharty speech with funnier, better speech.

I think this principle was illustrated insanely well at the Women's Rally in protestors' response to the Trump election. Donald Trump, our Commander-in-Chief, and the ruler of America, literally said in a recorded conversation in 2005, talking about women:

You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

...

Grab 'em by the pussy. You can do anything.

Geniuses in the Women's Rally, instead of trying to silence the president's shit mouth, took the grab-'em-by-the-pussy remark and turned it into their own thing. Thousands of demonstrators wore "pussy hats," and tens of thousands found creative ways to turn Trump's claim to his powers of subjecting women to his will into a badge of feminine honor.



To me, that seems like the best tactic for winning a war of ideas and words. Not establishing hate speech or blaspheme laws; not silencing expression; but, hijacking it - taking the power away from words and symbols. Black people have done it with racial epithets. The band Rammstein did it with fascist symbolism. I think we can do it with a lot of things that bother us.

Sam Harris, who interviewed Haidt earlier, made a pretty good analogy for this kind of a system where we don't need to police expression, but that bad people and bad ideas will naturally lose ground. He goes:

Take, for example, the people who think Elvis is still alive... What’s wrong with this claim? Why is this claim not vitiating our academic departments and corporations? I’ll tell you why, and it’s very simple. We have not passed laws against believing Elvis is still alive. It’s just whenever somebody seriously represents his belief that Elvis is still alive – in a conversation, on a first date, at a lecture, at a job interview – he immediately pays a price. He pays a price in ill-concealed laughter.

In my opinion, bringing legal action against a pair of Oregon bakers who refused to bake a gay cake is insane. Like



The end of the road in this situation [where you can legally punish private business owners for choosing to deny service based on their brainwashed conscience - or for any reason, really] seems like it's going to be really bad. I mean, if you started a business and incurred all the risks associated with that and did all the work to maintain that business, isn't it your earned liberty to decide which clients you cater to [for whatever reason]? Legally penalizing a private business owner's commercial activity that literally hurts no one is crazy.

It totally makes sense, though, that a pair of bakers would naturally lose business thanks to being dicks, especially in Oregon. That seems fair. There's more need for well-stated expressions of rationality and enlightened decision-making to offset all the bigoted fart speech and fart behavior.

It's so weird to me that the left have become these loud voices of censorship. I mean, there's probably more in common between Yale anthropology majors and rednecks roasting hot dogs on a burning pile of J.K. Rowling books than any of them would think. It goes back to my crushed expectation in a history class full of babies, I guess; bizarre that the folks who seem the least liberal on paper are now the only ones showing up for the classic liberal value of free speech.

On the bright side, if I can raise my kids to be at least as tough as I am, they'll probably skyrocket to the top of their classes and professions. There won't be a lot of competition they have to overcome, as their classmates and coworkers will be cuddling comfort blankets in safe spaces. Plus my kids will be white.