by Gal Saad, professor and author of The Consuming Instinct and The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption
Last April, I delivered an invited lecture at Wellesley College
titled "How Thought Police Regulate the Free Exchange of Ideas." One of
the topics that I covered in my talk was the recent phenomenon of having
in university courses, namely the idea that some topics should
necessitate an alert prior to being broached lest some audience member
might be disturbed or offended by exposure to such material. As an avid
animal lover, I always recoil in horror at the sight of television
advertisements that depict animal cruelty (e.g., the ad in which Sarah
McLachlan sings her terribly depressing song). As such, I understand the
spirit of trigger warnings when coupled with uniquely gruesome or
troublesome issues. The problem though is that trigger warnings seem to
cover an endless list of possible "triggering" topics. In preparation
for my Wellesley lecture, I visited several websites in order to cull
topics that are considered to be "trigger-worthy." Here is a list of
items most of which stem from Kyriarchy & Privilege 101:
• Sex (even if consensual)
• Pregnancy, childbirth
• Addiction, alcohol, drug use, needles
• Death, dying, suicide, injuries, descriptions and/or images of medical procedures
• Racism, classism, sexism, sizeism, ableism, other "isms"
• Bullying, homophobia, transphobia
• Blood, vomit, insects, snakes, spiders, slimy things, corpses, skulls, skeletons
• Swearing, slurs (including words such as "stupid" or "dumb")
• Abuse (physical, mental, emotional, verbal, sexual), child abuse, rape, kidnapping
• Descriptions and/or images of violence or warfare, Nazi paraphernalia
• Anything that might elicit intrusive thoughts in OCD sufferers
Let's examine my own scientific work in light of the latter list of "trigger-worthy" topics. I tackle the evolutionary roots of consumer behavior,
which include subjects as varied as human mating, sexual signaling,
dark side consumption (pathological gambling, compulsive buying, eating
disorders, pornographic addiction), intra-sexual competition (which
includes male-on-male violence), among countless other "triggering"
topics. I've also authored papers on Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (a form of child abuse), suicide, and OCD. When I discuss the difference between proximate and ultimate scientific explanations, I use the example of pregnancy sickness.
I've supervised a thesis on sexual, moral, and pathogenic disgust, and
I recently submitted a grant application, which examines in part the
links between pathogenic density and various consumer phenomena. I
mention all of these topics to highlight the fact that nearly every
imaginable issue worthy of scientific exploration could conceivably fall
under the "trigger warning" rubric.
Trigger warnings are an instantiation of the West's zeitgeist of
perpetual offense and victimhood that defines much of public discourse.
If the truth might hurt someone's feelings or cause discomfort, well
then we need to cuddle them whilst in a communal fetal position. In one
of my recent YouTube clips titled Malala Versus Trigger Warnings,
I contrasted the heroism of Malala Yousafzai (recipient of the 2014
Nobel Peace Prize) to the pampered reality of university students who
require "trigger warning" protection from central realities of the human
condition. Malala was fighting for the rights of girls to be educated
in a harsh environment wherein they face endemic actual violence. Contrast their reality with that of university students on North American campuses that require protection from discussions of violence in safe classroom settings.
There are justifiable case-by-case situations wherein an educator might
exhibit targeted sensitivity to a student's unique circumstances. This
is humane and laudable. In most instances though, trigger warnings are
not a manifestation of justified empathy but are symptomatic of an
ailing culture. Empires implode from within due to their own excesses.
Trigger warnings are part of the West's debauchery of self-indulgent