A word with you

There’s nothing quite like watching an addled crusade to get the juices flowing again. I cannot get through the Shakesville commenting guide and maintain a straight face. At issue is whether blogs that traffic in pain and abuse be appropriately denoted “safe spaces” with trigger warnings and compulsive moderation to make sure indelicate oafs who fail to approach the walking wounded with proper temerity don’t get away with it for a single fucking second.

Maybe it seemed a good idea at the time but safe spaces end up like eXtreme mindgropes, with serious hands-on evaluation and excessive analysis of thread commenters. If there’s a point to it, they’ve failed to get it across, since plenty of us see the only gratification in putting funny people down, as if to engender the same joylessness, shame and humiliation at large that is borne in solitude by abuse survivors, who from their pain have devolved into rigid scolds haranguing their guests to “check your privilege, fauxprogressive, you’re harming us and you don’t care.”

Harm is serious, and if it’s not happening should be denied. Of course “their blog, their rules” and all that, but spread that foolishness around and it takes on the air of provocation, which makes for a beautiful day in the neighborhood, arguing about the same old same old. Oh you may call it a non sequitur, until I use it to wash out your disrespecting mouth, never thought of that now didja? Abuse; it’s a terrain. Walk a mile in these moccasins and become extra spaycial.

Simply put, this fascinating interblog PC war will never end, because some of us progressives stand for political correctness and some of us progressives won’t stand for it a whit. That’s called individuation — the development of the individual from the general. Very good for mental health, not so good for the groupthink.

Oh sure, oppressive PC nannies have the lead right now, but I’m so old I remember when they were usurpers. Those were the days my friend. I thought they’d never end. Now it seems the best you can do is try to be clear about your stances, don’t misrepresent them and inadvertently create drama and betrayal when the unbelievably awful truth about your principles will out. You know what I mean, right?

Number one, I don’t hold with all these beliefs that being offended truly matters, and hope to never put guaranteed diminishing returns into anticipating and creating strategies to ward off Internet assholery, which is a feature, not a bug. It’s tempting, I understand the impulse but there’s no strategy for asshole prevention, just a tendency to get pissed off ten times a day, and no need to turn that into something else if you don’t despise your inner life. Though there will always be someone who says my god you are an angry person, and be quite persuasive about how and why you need to change that, but fuck them people, and never stop, every single day, like so.

All this, after a four month absence, trigger warnings, seriously?

I see I’m going to have to write in depth about this problem, maybe twice as much as I originally intended. They’re so ubiquitous it’s very easy to become inured to them, the climate they create. But I know writers who use trigger warnings can just as easily have the opposite effect and put off the very people they aim to chaperone. The sheer gall of it. What makes you qualified to inform me I can’t handle the subject matter?

Good point if I say so myself. What else?

It smells like a set up. Are you warning me or priming me?


It’s a directive? Trigger warning as a sneaky way to tell me how I should respond to your post.

And if I ignore the hint?

This is getting dark. It seems so very well-meaning. You should know about this trigger, dear, it’s attached to my gun. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Now, now. Trigger warnings are given to convey a self-protective, cautionary approach best taken to the post at issue: Brace yourself. What you’re about to read could better be very upsetting, frightening, disruptive, distressing, devastating, leave you feeling crippled, weak, needy and worthless, but hey, I get that, and I’m in your corner!

Someone is being manipulative. And if we want to get psychological about it we’d say they were playing *hot potato* with their neurosis. Toss it over, now you have it and I don’t, hooray for endless mindfucking.

Ignore all that, respond to the trigger warning as expected, no problem. Surprise us, and it’s off to the re-education camp for you. Some progressives think this is perfectly acceptable social policy and it can’t be overstated that some of us do not.

Those who do favor restricting speech will say it’s not about preference, aesthetics or mere offense, but preventable harm. Safe spaces are ruled with an iron fist, they say, to avoid the infliction of psychological damage, which, if true, gives them the moral high ground.

HTML Mencken objects to safe spaces on those very grounds, and refers to them as hellholes –

“Since the hellholes’ policies are about moral judgment, they are subject to moral judgment.”

He shreds through the whole charade, post after post. But he would, coming from the anti-safe space blog that so happens to be the safest afoot and number one scourge of high-minded liberal PC adherents.

Coincidence? Sadly, no.

Look, run a blog however you want. But to call groupthink therapeutic and say others don’t get it  because they haven’t been traumatized is just asking for the smackdown.

That makes two of us. It’s not to champion free speech, or more level-headed comment moderation. What I am is territorial. I explained all this yesterday at a comedy blog. In no uncertain terms, I most certainly did, and repeat myself, with your forbearance:

I’ll say my piece now that this thread’s dead. I’ll never relinquish my own boundless contempt for Shakesville and Alas A Blog because I see them trivializing a horrifying psychiatric disorder that is already considered a joke among too many mental health providers. I am also one of “them” but they don’t speak for me. I find their safe spaces emotionally damaging, counterproductive toward recovery and easing re-traumatization and getting over it and shit.

I used to get triggered to where you couldn’t take me anywhere, diving under tables in restaurants and staying frozen under desks til the office cleared out, talking in a little baby voice or becoming violent and fighting with store clerks or some innocent who bumped me in passing. That’s PTSD. You lose the in between space that separates stimulus and response. Normally it’s stimulus>>thought>>response but when PTSD exists there’s nothing between the two, and there really needs to be; the ability to recognize and accurately perceive a stimulus is basic and that’s what PTSD ruins. When the stimulus/response is instantaneous, it’s impaired. People living with unresolved major trauma put current experience into the past and act as if a horrible thing is happening now and they don’t realize they’re doing this. They don’t know where they are. To be unable to tell when sounds/behaviors/facial expressions/and yes, words are a threat or benign is hell to live with, it needs to be repaired and there are ways of doing that.

Everyone I know who has sincerely worked on healing from trauma would laugh at the very fucking idea of a “safe space”, because number one we are beyond safe spaces, and second, trying to create a womblike social milieu promotes the continuing psychosis we’re trying to get over.

Recovery is about learning to discern the difference between a benign and threatening stimuli, and how to respond to each accordingly. This is broken in PTSD where everything is coming at you and all of it potentially threatening. Reactions to sounds, words, facial expressions, ringing phones and knocks on the door are often unpredictable, bizarre, disproportionate, hysterical, confusing, scary to experience and scary to witness, and come out of nowhere with a life of their own. The triggers are real, and the material being activated is meaningful, but it’s all happening inside, and that’s where the responsibility lies. Why is that so hard to grasp? I read those blogs and their trigger warnings and PTSD admonishments to everyone as if their speech is a factor in keeping the self-identified PTSD sufferer stable. Maybe the sufferer should be disturbed; PTSD is a serious mental illness.

Good therapy would have you re-engaging with life in all its noisome messiness and ambiguity, none of which carries a trigger warning. Being upset and staying with it. Building tolerance, getting stronger. But you have to pass through so much catastrophe without externalizing it, and that’s hard. Easier to say it’s you, Mencken, you’ve put me back in that horrible place I need to forget and you had better not ever do that again. But now I’ve abandoned me and made you the thing that needs attention. This is why I think what they do is so anti-therapeutic. Plus it’s lazy, no need for commitment to learning how to handle it, and the craziness is very difficult to overcome. The first step has to be in identifying who it belongs to, and I’ve yet to see an inkling of self-responsibility at those safe space blogs. It infuriates me that they’re so silly and superficial about what PTSD takes from people, and how they will ameliorate the damage with clever, wordy, linear debates about insensitive speech. I don’t see it. PTSD is a disorder, it creates disordered personalities, jumbled discourse, irrational paragraphs, regular meltdowns, if you have PTSD issues and you post regularly at a blog it’s going to show. They insult people who really do struggle with chronic re-traumatization by presenting themselves as what that looks like. And by arguing that recovery is about suppressing particular stimuli rather than confronting what it is that particular stimuli activates within. The triggers start something inside. We can ignore the words that started the process. It’s my mind at issue, not what goes on in yours. That is, if we’re talking about PTSD, which is totalizing. I don’t know what to make of it, certain female-oriented bloggers exploit a faddish disorder to legitimize garden variety irritants and use it to prop up their absolute moralism? Shocking.

18 thoughts on “A word with you

  1. I have PTSD, worse now because of re-traumatization, but I couldn’t read Shakesville or Alas a Blog without being triggered even before now, wouldn’t go near them now, my therapist wouldn’t like it if I asked her I bet. Plenty of triggers right in my head, they don’t know what they are, the presumptuousness that these woman can keep me safe when they allow nasty comments about mental illness all the time or really just because they don’t know me at all, have never been where I have been, have no clue how much “privilege” THEY have not to have PTSD, not to be afraid to sleep in their own beds and wouldn’t care if I told them why now, would probably tell me I was being “triggering”. Fuck em. My blog isn’t safe space, it’s all about triggers, I get comments, often unpublished if the person is suing in court or something or privately now on FB about how reading my trauma helped someone else who had a similar trauma, not that it made them unsafe. WTF do these women know about our lives?

  2. Oh my goodness, yes.

    I’ve put trigger warnings up on my blog, and I realize now that it’s only been on posts that would “trigger” [read: upset] people *without* PTSD. And I guess I’ve internalized that a bit, this idea that I need to highlight the things that would bother a *reasonable* person, even though there’s probably all kinds of shit on my blog that could potentially set off someone with PTSD.

    And thinking about it, I don’t know of a single blog written with the intent of describing life with PTSD that could be considered a “safe space.” There’s always some level of perceptible hostility and anger and pain, and there’s always the understanding that a commenter could say the wrong thing and the author or other commenters could lose their shit entirely. It’s not safe. There’s nothing safe about it. And why should it be?

    Anyway, yeah. Really diggin this post.

  3. This was an absolutely excellent post. Surely part of being egalitarian is to acknowledge that we all, at the very least, have areas of ignorance about one another’s lives, if not areas of unconscious prejudice? Claiming that you can keep strangers “safe” in this way would be fairly ludicrous when applied to any group of people – even a group to which you were a member. When it’s specifically about mental health, well… you said it better than I could.

    Even a group of war vets with PTSD who were present at the same traumatic incident wouldn’t know how to keep one another “safe”.

  4. Everyone I know who has sincerely worked on healing from trauma would laugh at the very fucking idea of a “safe space”, because number one we are beyond safe spaces, and second, trying to create a womblike social milieu promotes the continuing psychosis we’re trying to get over

    I Love You So ((((Robin))))

    Kiss-Kiss-Bang-Bang-co co co

  5. Robert Stolorow on his own experience of trauma:

    “After hearing Atwood’s presentation, I began to think about the role such absolutisms unconsciously play in everyday life. When a person says to a friend, “I’ll see you later,” or a parent says to a child at bedtime, “I’11 see you in the morning,” these are statements, like delusions, whose validity is not open for discussion. Such absolutisms are the basis for a kind of naive realism and optimism that allow one to function in the world, experienced as stable and predictable. It is in the essence of psychological trauma that it shatters these absolutisms, a catastrophic loss of innocence that permanently alters one’s sense of being-in-the-world. Massive deconstruction of the absolutisms of everyday life exposes the inescapable contingency of existence on a universe that is random and unpredictable and in which no safety or continuity of being can be assured. Trauma thereby exposes “the unbearable embeddedness of being” (Stolorow & Atwood, 1992, p. 22). As a result, the traumatized person cannot help but perceive aspects of existence that lie well outside the absolutized horizons of normal everydayness. It is in this sense that the worlds of traumatized persons are fundamentally incommensurable with those of others, the deep chasm in which an anguished sense of estrangement and solitude takes form.”

    Get it? Of course you do. There is no safe space once the illusory absolutisms are gone. Safe space is a mindfuck.

  6. And I thought it was just me. I would read, sometimes comment, and then just want to vomit. Either I was not “with it” enough or just couldn’t follow the inside baseball of it all.

    I can remove them with a clear consciousness now.

    Glad to see you are writing. Hope you are being yourself. I would say, “I hope you are well,” but shit, what does that mean. I still care if you are not well.

    I have my days. I have my minutes.

    Safe place my ass. I have enough trouble with my own thoughts without being told that something might trigger me which of course then makes me feel like a fucking freak and I get all triggered. (Insert horse photo here. Goddamnit that was funny.) And how the hell can they make me feel safe when my well paid shrink can’t always do it.

  7. Jaye, you did it again, I was thinking about you just today, we haven’t talked in months and here you are.

    Mentally I’ve been in a good place lately, and that can kill writing. I’m way into tweeting these days, but when that gets old I reckon I’ll blow the dust off this old joint and take it up again. Meanwhile this here is a good thread, I’m proud to have such smart and approachable commenters, thanks to all for participating

  8. I’ve read this several times and what I can’t get over is the sheer excellence of the writing. It reads as if you just spilled it out … or polished it till it shone. Either way, just terrific. In every way.

  9. Pingback: Some things I’ve been reading « Urocyon’s Meanderings

  10. “Everyone I know who has sincerely worked on healing from trauma would laugh at the very fucking idea of a “safe space”, because number one we are beyond safe spaces, and second, trying to create a womblike social milieu promotes the continuing psychosis we’re trying to get over”

    I think this is true for all mental illnesses.

    I haven’t had PTSD but I have friends who have, thank you for informative site.

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