The persistent lightness of self-confirmation

What interests me is that how much of the most popular commentary on wordpress, livejournal, facebook, etc.  is essentially a form of confirmation.  Perhaps self-confirmation, but generally more ideological confirmation.  I saw about ten posts today on privilege and trigger warnings that reflected the general responses one sees on the topic.   I am skeptical of trigger warnings because I do not think trauma is that obvious, but if it is interpreted as just walking students through what they are likely to encounter, I really think that is part of good pedagogy anyway.

I have written things skeptical of both claims in regards to privilege theory and standpoint epistemology, but these were theoretical.  My issues with trigger warnings is that they are a often a sloppy and broad way to handle things from the feminist blogosphere that is rooted in both cognitive psychology around PSTD and feminist theory, but is not FIRMLY rooted in either in a rigorous way.  At least, not yet, and the row over Oberlin College’s guidelines made  clear that even if one supports the use of “trigger warnings” that it can be both vague and function as an implicit encouragement of avoidance. .  This, however, does not mean using them or not using them is somehow innately bad.  I, however, doubt there is a psychologically-specific enough operational definition for “triggering” that would lead to precise use of trigger warnings, and their over use would weaken their efficacy.  Furthermore, the politicized nature of triggers would expand and it would be another front in the endlessly asinine culture wars, as an Atlantic article postulates.    The idea that one can somehow warn for all of this specifically in a way that can be put in guidelines is problematic at best, and yet, I do think training professors on how to inform their students of the seriousness of content would be a helpful step for universities to take.  Particularly with a young students who are increasing harmed and perhaps even culturally primed to experience trauma in certain ways, partly from the very internet culture that produced trigger warnings in the first place.

Feminist leaning professors I know are much more mixed than the few graduate students I talked on the implication and seriousness of the proposal.  That is anecdotal, take it as you will.

Most of the discussions pro- or con-, however, seem to be predicated on either some notion of “respecting the rights of the victim” or “letting individuals have agency and responsibility.”    These sorts of abstract and anecdotal discussions do not clarify the seriousness of the position anymore than writing up the effects of a class room intervention proves that a notion or strategy can be generalized as a good pedagogy.  It is good personally reflective practice, but in the context of the blogosphere, I am not sure if it functions to enlighten people or just to set them into their already rationalized notions tied to their particular politico-culturals tribes.

That said, posts that do this are likely to be most well read and liked.

Such is the nature of popularity, we tend to trust those who already believe what we do, and, as we learned from the Dunning-Kruger effect and generalized confirmation bias, no matter how smart we may be, we are often given to rationalizing our beliefs and over-estimating our expertise.

Yours truly is, of course, guilty of this too.


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