This article contains references to a variety of forms of abuse.
I do not have the privilege to consider discussions of violence as intriguing places to display my intellect. I do not have the privilege to enter these talks as though it’s a game, to ‘play’ and say things in the tone of a dramatized television series politician before leaving the ideas behind when I exit the arena.
Instead I teach and I speak and I read and I write and I talk and I laugh and my body is still injured by the lazy romanticizations of violence from people who consider it meaningful because of its perceived deviance and sense of foreignness from their experiences, like the teenage boy who thinks he will become a man the first time he has sex. I am patient and I learn and I speak to paid listeners and I meditate and I fight and I exercise and I control addictions to substances or work or hobbies or people and I am still haunted by ghosts and still I react to conflicts in public that others have the luxury to laugh off.
Look at the people around you. Whether you are on the bus or at work or in line or in class or at the gym or in a library or in a grocery store or on the sidewalk many of the people around you do not have the luxury to ponder the presence of violence because they are hurt, trying to heal, about to be attacked again.
I often see groups of people who have not been injured ruminating among themselves over how violence feels or should feel or if it exists at all. Never do these talkers consider to ask the person with the snapped rib if their pain feels real. The argument seems instead that it is impossible to break a bone if the person speaking has not had their bones broken.
Whole cities, planets, must not exist to these people.
Survivors of violence do not have the luxury to engage in such conversations about the illusory nature or impact of violence because we are busy tearing off band-aids and pouring peroxide over wounds or wincing as wrists are pulled and re-broken. We do not consider to ask one another for proof because we have seen the x-rays.
Right now, you likely can’t tell which person around you is surviving violence because we have learned that hiding the tangible evidence of the faults for those who have attacked us is more important than our well-being. Complicated by the fact that Canadian society prefers to punish those who have been attacked than to address those who attack others, we blend. Because so much violence is also not as tangible as a bruise, hiding it is easier than you might think.
While many of these survivors around you listen to the opinions of those who have not been hurt about the proper ways to heal, know they do not take them seriously when they choose to philosophize about the existence or impact of violence. Let’s say a few volleyball players who have never played hockey suggest that hockey should be banned from television because it is too violent. In the least, they suggest, remove all checking from the sport. As a hockey player, how seriously do you take their opinion?
“I often see groups of people who have not been injured ruminating among themselves over how violence feels or should feel or if it exists. Never do these talkers consider to ask the person with the snapped rib if their pain feels real.”
1. The first glaring flaw of the anti-trigger warning speaker is that they believe their opinion to be binding. How seriously do surgeons take the advice of people who have never studied medicine?
2. The weakest and least creative arguments use violence as seasoning. Ask a survivor how much violence improved or ‘exoticized’ their life. How appreciative they were for the growth provided by the experience. The impulse to use trauma tourism as an attempt to expand the perceived depth of one’s personality or work is a mistake. Put in the work or do not touch the subject.
3. The laziest flaw of anti-trigger warnings is a confused connection to censorship. This is the volleyball player who, when a goalie asks for a helmet, suggests that goalies should not wear helmets because they won’t play if they wear them. Besides ignoring the request, this reaction is based on a bizarre logic and seems inspired by a fear of complexity, more designed to rationalize intellectual laziness than to resolve an urgent problem.
“A few volleyball players who have never played hockey suggest that hockey should be banned from television because it is too violent. In the least, they suggest, ban checking from the sport. How seriously do you take their opinion?”
4. The thin foundation of anti-trigger warning advocates is the suggestion that it is possible to speak about a topic without being political. That language has the capacity to be objective-as though omission and history and socialization are separable from experience as a socialized person speaking a language. This is particularly embarrassing to hear when the people are speaking English. Ask nations across the world how they came to learn this language.
5. The person without a history of violence who resists trigger warnings suggests that the bodies around them do not matter as much as the protection of their isolated beliefs. Neurologists have demonstrated that memory of pain and language registers in the same part of the brain as does immediate physical pain.
The last objective of any serious critical discussion should the impossible attempt to exempt ourselves from complicity through passionate defenses of laziness in order to avoid fixing a critical problem. Passive inaction is required for many forms of violence to continue. Don’t be an accessory to murder because your ego was too threatened to adapt.
To the anti-trigger warning camp: grow out of the lazy philosophical presumptions of being able to speak for ‘all’ and ask how to become the accomplices of survivors in your classrooms, in your workplaces, in your romantic relationships, and among your friends, who may not have felt comfortable sharing their history of trauma with you. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t probe. If they do, help them to destroy the insecure ways of socializing people that has normalized and required violence to exact legitimacy (see: mass incarceration; we’re legitimate because we attacked ______ to keep you safe). This philosophy of power has trickled into the structures of our social relationships.
These models of social power relations are outdated and will be crushed. What side will you be on when they are history? The side furiously suggesting that they were not affected by words? Or the side that acknowledged the humanity of those around them and who worked to dismantle the violence that they internalized, from where their luxuries were drawn?
“The last objective of any serious discussion should be the impossible attempt to exempt ourselves from complicity through passionate defenses of laziness in order to avoid resolving a critical problem.”
I want to conclude with a complication of the “survivors” I’ve been using in this piece. I am referring to survivors of violence. I am a ‘survivor’ of child abuse. I do not aim to speak on behalf of all child abuse survivors. We are nuanced. The last time I checked, for example, a cousin of mine was abusing women in the way that he was abused by a woman as a child. I would likely be doing the same should I have lived through his exact conditions because conditions are largely responsible for the development of abusive behaviours (to avoid pain). I fail and I have failed others and I continue to fail for a variety of other attacked groups. Accepting the imperfections of my attempts because of my status as a nuanced human being seems vital to moving forward, toward healthier and less-violent ways of organizing and relating to each other. Protecting self-assessed conceptions of my illusory perfection through passionate defenses of laziness does not.
If you are unable to move past the guilt, and you are not a person dealing with trauma, know that we do not take your tantrums on violence seriously. You may threaten us. You may even attack us. Know that these reactions prove that our society relies on violence when it does not want to do the work of fixing a complex problem. Aligning yourself with passionate laziness is a bad look. Engaging with complex issues requires patience, and we are ready for you to learn how to be an accomplice and join us in the fight. Know that we will also be complete without it.*
The colour, “bla bla bla,” was provided by illustrator Marie Mainguy, who does not necessarily endorse the opinions of the author
Recommended works that continue this discussion
Siede, Caroline.”Sarah Silverman Sides with College Students in the Great PC War,”A.V. Club, 16 Sept 2015.
What’s The Deal With Trigger Warnings?, PBS Idea Channel, 16 Sept 2015.
Ahmed, Sara. “Against Students,” The New Inquiry, 29 June 2015.
Carter, Angela. “Teaching with Trauma: Trigger Warnings, Feminism, and Disability Pedagogy,” Disability Studies, (35), 2, 2015.
Livingston, Kathleen Ann Livingston. “On Rage, Shame, ‘Realness,’ and Accountability to Survivors,” Harlot, (2), 2014.
Mate, Gabor. List of articles
Mate, Gabor. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Vintage Canada, 2009.
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