The definition of solipsism is a preoccupation with one’s own feelings, which is exemplified by the overuse of trigger warnings on the Internet.
If you’ve surfed the web long enough, or even paid attention to Tumblr, you know that a trigger warning is often used to advise an audience of ensuing graphic content. This could be anything from eating disorders to rape, but the message is always supposed to be the same: We care about your feelings and sensitivities, so we’re here to warn you about all of the bad stuff.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t actually work the way it’s supposed to. According to newrepublic.com, trigger warnings can be provided for just about anything at the request of just about anyone. At the University of California, Santa Barbara, students recently passed a resolution to include trigger warnings on syllabi, letting students know ahead of time what kind of content they’re going to be exposed to.
Yes, it’s sensitive, but it’s also incredibly short-sighted.
Trigger warnings are problematic from the outset because they blur the line between genuine sensitivity and downright censorship. Where do we stop having open discussion about the implications of complex topics displayed in the media and start limiting ourselves solely to our comfort zone?
Reading about rape may be especially difficult for a rape victim, but when we most need to talk about and deal with rape and raise social awareness, we’re shutting down the conversations before they’re even allowed to take place. Trigger warnings should not be an excuse to just skip over sensitive topics, especially at the collegiate level.
In another instance, students at Wellesley College protested a sculpture of a man in his underwear because it triggered thoughts of sexual assault. They demanded it be moved inside even when the artist explained that it was merely a representation of sleepwalking. A piece of art and personal expression was hidden from the rest of the student body because of triggers not associated with the intent of the piece itself. This incident isn’t reactionary sensitivity, but a stifling of artistic creativity and expression because of the rampant solipsism of a select group of students.
While the original intent of trigger warnings was to prevent survivors with post-traumatic stress disorder from suffering panic attacks or uncomfortable flashbacks, their widespread use is far less virtuous. There is no way to know how every person is going to react to every possible scenario and every reaction will be different. Without the ability to anticipate reaction, we’re not doing ourselves any favors by limiting the things we read or experience in the real world. Life does not come with trigger warnings, and neither should anything else we’re exposed to.
We are becoming so preoccupied with our feelings that we forget how to learn from inflammatory or sensitive material. Novels like “The Color Purple” or “The Kite Runner,” both of which include explicit themes such as rape and domestic violence, are also incredible stories of strength and personal development.
Trigger warnings aren’t protecting us. If we were to cite every seemingly explicit scene or insinuation in every classic novel, we’d be left with a short list of culturally irrelevant novels that teach us nothing about society or the realities of life. They’re a catalyst to stunt our own growth as students and as individuals who must deal with our share of trauma. We should be pursuing open and informed discussion about these topics not ignoring or brushing aside the issues. There is no way to address every single concern for each person.
The cure to solipsism is discourse, something we can’t have if we’re too caught up in posting trigger warnings along the way.
— Mackenzie Brown is a pre-physiology freshman. Follow her @mac_brown01