Followup On Fourth Street

Had a long talk with a good and smart friend, who conveyed to me some of the confusion over my opening at Fourth Street. She says that it could be interpreted as regretting the “good old days” when women could be freely preyed on by pros at conventions.

It is difficult to explain why I chose to use “safe spaces” and “threatened” in that talk without a long explanation which is inappropriate to this post, though I’ll happily get into it in comments if anyone wishes. I had thought that when I referred to physically safe and “no unwanted harassment” (a stupid phrase, sorry; I mean, as opposed to the more usual wanted harassment? Sheesh, Steve) that would be sufficient to make clear that I proposed no such thing.

Evidently I was wrong. And, while one can always blame the reader for failing to understand, when enough readers get it wrong, one begins to side-eye the writer.

So let me state clearly and for the record I do not support that kind of atmosphere, I do not want that kind of convention, and I deeply apologize for any pain or fear that was caused by anyone thinking I did mean that.  My fault, not yours.

ETA: It’s worth pointing out that it isn’t just a matter of reading, but that this was a speech, not presented as text, and a speech that, moreover, I deliberately opened with a shocker.  This makes more reasonable the number of people who went past the “physically safe” and “no harassment” parts.  Again, my bad.

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66 thoughts on “Followup On Fourth Street”

  1. This is one of the times when your preference for concision hurt you with an audience that has an especially high regard for the specific words you used. I’m still trying to understand how anyone could simultaneously understand you were speaking metaphorically and be upset. My only conclusion is that to the people who were upset, using the words metaphorically made it seem as if you did not give the ideas behind them enough respect.

    Be that as it may, I hope this attempt helps clarify your meaning.

  2. Pretty sure Will is speaking for himself. If we started speaking for each other, I’d have to become a free speech absolutist and he’d have to quote more Trotsky.

  3. Mac, what Steve said.

    Were you there? I missed opening ceremonies, but I have read the speech and talked with people who were there who understood that it was a metaphor and were not threatened by his willingness to use it as a metaphor.

  4. MacAllister Stone: “Stop trying to help”. Because, you know, when one of your best and oldest friends is struggling with something, by all means be silent. Don’t so much as post a comment on his blog.

    I wish I’d known that was the correct response. I wouldn’t have felt quite as hurt during Racefail by the silence of many of my friends.

    And what in Will’s comment seemed to you to be speaking for Steve, or saying anything to make things worse for him?

  5. I don’t want to question the intelligence of your friend, but from my perspective as an outsider to 4th street but being pretty heavily involved in discussion on the atmosphere and culture of cons and SFF fandom in general, that seems like an over-simplification.

  6. Emma, I’m bowing out. I respect and appreciate your regard for your spouse. I”d perhaps gently suggest that exchanges that attempt to dismiss valid observations by sneering about verbiage betraying someone’s brand of feminism aren’t helping anyone, though.

    I’m a racefail survivor, too, and as such, wish NOT to do damage to any of the participants on either side of this conversation, many of whom I’ve held in high regard for decades.

  7. Emma, to be fair to Mac, the orthodox never want to hear from heretics.

    Mac, I think you’re referring to an aborted conversation, so you should be hesitant to draw any conclusions from it. But I’m a little surprised you haven’t noticed that members of groups can be identified by the phrases that are common in their groups. Ideology will out.

  8. Will, other people were threatened, obviously. Thus the kerfluffle. But I think this post is a decent response on Steve’s part.

  9. Will, please don’t attempt to draw conclusions regarding what I do or don’t notice. It’s patronising and dismissive. I just
    want people I like and respect to stop with the circular firing squad.

  10. Mac, I respect you, too, which is why I’m sorry you want to bow out. Because I’m serious about the questions I asked–I can’t figure out what you’re seeing in Steve’s post and Will’s comment that’s making you say these things. Now I’m trying to find any sneering about a particular brand of feminism’s verbiage, and not finding that either. Do you think either Will or Steve are making fun of the phrase “safe space”? I’m not seeing it. Will appears to be explicitly suggesting that using it metaphorically might have implied to some listeners that the concept wasn’t held in the respect it deserved.

    And no, I’m not talking for Will there. I’m trying to express what I thought from what I read.

    Since I didn’t see what you saw in the post and comments, I thought you were suggesting that Will, as one of the great Folk Devils of the Internet, would hurt Steve by speaking up for him. Since Steve is also one of *my* oldest and dearest friends, the idea that someone would want Steve to have fewer people to discuss his troubles with angered me. And to warn Will off as if you could speak for Steve, and stipulate who he wanted help from–? I have no idea where that comes from, because you and I both know that Steve is more than capable of deciding who he wants to hear from.

    I hope you can stick around this thread long enough to help me understand why you said what you did.

  11. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

  12. Ah, I think I figured out one of Mac’s misunderstandings. My first comment here concluded, “I hope this attempt helps clarify your meaning.” I meant I hoped what Steve is attempting to say in this post will help clarify things with his critics, but Mac seems to think I was referring to what I wrote. I’m glad that didn’t confuse Steve or Emma.

  13. Mac, the “I think” means I was offering a possibility; when I speak with certainty, I don’t qualify my statements. But I see I was wrong about why you insisted I was pretending to speak for Steve. Since you won’t do it for my sake, please explain it for Emma’s.

    Okay, and I gotta note this whole thing started because you misread my mind and motives in your first comment.

  14. Your opening address was in no way aggressive and I heartily approved of it. Speaking as a disabled woman.

    If a writer has nothing to say about society, I don’t read their work and I certainly don’t go to hear them speak. Why would I, if they have nothing to say? Surely nearly every story is about society and the individual’s place in it. Especially SFF, aka “the literature of ideas.”

    By “safe space” do those who object actually mean “commercially safe space”? If groups are socially and economically disadvantaged to the point they don’t feel safe speaking up in public discussions, hadn’t the panel better address the political forces behind that? If you don’t talk about real things, real people don’t care. They don’t have the time. The purpose of the discussion becomes insular, otherwise; maybe even indulgent. It’s the very thing that puts busy, cash-strapped, tired people off reading in the first place. Anti-intellectualism relies on art which says nothing.

    It seems a fairly typical use of identity politics to quash genuine political discussion, whether it’s done consciously or not. And anyway, (to make the old joke) speaking as a woman, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

  15. I’d love to read your thoughts on what you meant by safe spaces, Steve, if you’re so inclined.

  16. I really appreciate your willingness to listen, to think carefully not only about what you intended to say, but about how it was received, and to stay in the conversation about how we talk and hear. I really believe all “sides” in this want the same thing– for Fourth Street to be a place where everyone feels able to get their ideas and questions out there, bump them against other people’s, and polish, refine, discard and improve them.

  17. Hopping689: Thank you, and welcome to the conversation.

    Skyler: Same thing, but different priorities. Some want everyone to feel welcome to come to Fourth Street as the highest priority; others want those *who are there* to feel free to fight for any idea that relates to the creation of fiction. We cannot have both, and the dispute is over to what degree we should prioritize one or the other.

    henryseward: The usual meaning of “safe space” is a place where racism and sexism are not tolerated. The trouble is, ideas can be (and have been) considered racist or sexist, and thus suppressed for that reason. I have been so shut down, and so have others in this discussion. These are ideas that I consider important for writers to discuss, and thus the concept of “safe space” with all of its baggage is one that, to me, conflicts with the free exchange of ideas. I think there are places where avoiding making people feel ideologically threatened should be the highest priority, and places where, I think, the freedom to fully express dangerous ideas should be the highest priority. I want Fourth Street to be the latter; the current consensus appears to favor the former.

  18. Steve: I’m sorry you felt compelled to apologize. Your original post clearly made a distinction between threatening ideas and threats to physical well-being. Anyone who failed to appreciate that distinction either failed to carefully read your post or manufactured their outrage. I find it sad that so many people objected to a post advocating freedom of speech/expression/thought, that you felt compelled to issue an apology.

  19. kukuforguns: It’s important to remember that is was a speech. After opening with something designed to shock, I didn’t take into account that, at least for a while, people were going to be, well, shocked, and thus not processing everything. It’s an important lesson to those of us who believe(d) that if you can write for readers, you can write a speech. Different skills. Of course, that’s not all that’s going on here, but it is one of the things.

  20. I (belatedly) read the comments in the prior post. I understand your point that a group can identify what constitutes accepted speech for that group. Thank you for trying (belatedly) to guide the Con towards an inclusive scope of accepted speech.

    I have little sympathy for the people who profess to have experienced “pain or fear” because they thought you were advocating for a physically threatening environment (which is what I understand to be the scope of your apology). Yes, the structure of your speech was intended to start with a shock. The tactic is not new – everyone at the Con should have encountered it previously. When I encounter a shocking statement (either audio or written), my attention becomes heightened as I try to clarify the meaning of the statement. I was not at the Con, so I do not know if there was a swell of indignation that drowned out your explanation. That’s about the only way I could condone indignation at your speech. The other explanation is that the offendees are incapable of critical listening after hearing a shocking statement. If that is the explanation, then they are examples of the failure of our culture to prepare people to participate in society.

  21. Thank you, Steve, for this acknowledgement that your do not want an atmosphere in which women feel preyed upon. I interpret the above as an acknowledgement that your realized you blew it and are apologizing.

    I also want to thank you for your response to my comment on your last post. I feel heartened that I can go back to 4th Street and continue in writerly musings with fellow writers.

    However, I have been mulling over your introductory remarks for seven days now. What you have written above does not address the whole gamut of the audience’s negative response to your speech.

    The thing is, many meanings for “unsafe” exist. It means different things to different people. It is not JUST a women’s issue. I talked to several men at 4th Street who felt just as threatened as the many of women did.

    But there are other things, too.

    You mentioned the correlation between art and politics in your sixth sentence. I haven’t seen anyone complain about that, but it is inescapable that seven months after our nation elected a new president that there are many people who are still estranged from their families because they couldn’t agree who to vote for. Others live in fear of being deported, and still others fear bodily harm because they are not white, heterosexual males. The word “politics” is a trigger point for many.

    In other words, in this present time, many people are uncomfortable with political discussion. You may not be. But others are and it is unsafe for them to emotionally to engage in it.

    Lastly, I’d like to point out, that many people simply need healing. Deep wounds from childhood and unhealthy relationships later in life leave people scarred and vulnerable. The words “challenged”, “threatened” and “unsafe” may trigger memories of being being a helpless kid getting thrown up against a wall or being ten years old and enduring rape where the perpetrator is a coach or a priest or a family member.

    Others have experienced emotional blackmail from a spouse or a close family member. And certainly a person living with an alcoholic and/or drug abuser will feel threatened and unsafe a good part of the time.

    You used words that can mean very different things to people who have experienced significant trauma in their lives.

    I refuse to believe you intentionally tried to alienate and scare people, but at the same time you need to see the depth of how your words can affect people that you don’t know.

  22. Scalywag: You are, of course, free to interpret things as you please. In fact, with the caveats specifically noted above, I stand by what I said at the convention.

    You have the option of avoiding discussions that make you uncomfortable, and staying away from conventions where such discussions are accepted. Conventions, on the other hand, have the right to create a place where people can be safe from discussions that make them uncomfortable, or a place in which ideas, however uncomfortable they may make people, may be expressed freely within the limits of courtesy and respect. (For the record, overt, blatant bigotry, homophobia, and male chauvinism are examples of things that fall outside those limits in my opinion.)

    None of these decisions are absolutes. They are options among the individuals attending, and among the conventions. The fundamental choices may be outlined thus: A place where everyone feels welcome, or a place where those present feel welcome to express their thoughts freely. These goals are in some measure in conflict, and every convention has the right to choose where in this spectrum it wishes to fall. You’re a graduate of Viable Paradise; that is an example of a setting where everyone feeling safe must have a higher priority than full exchange of ideas. When there, there are times I bite my tongue, because expressing my opinions could make people uncomfortable, and that would be inappropriate given my position. This does not mean it is inappropriate everywhere, under all conditions.

    A convention in which the emotional comfort of individuals is considered more important than the free exchange of ideas is considerably less useful to my growth as a writer than a convention in which ideas can be exchanged and unpopular opinions fought for and defended, without fear of being suppressed because it does or might make someone feel threatened.

    Therefore, I, along with David Dyer-Bennet, Joel Halpern, and Martin Schafer created a convention in which free exchange of ideas was encouraged, and the emotional safety of individuals was given a lower priority than the freedom to express any and all ideas that had an influence on the craft of writing. The tone, the feel, the *nature* of the convention was my responsibility, and I am proud of my work. Certainly, I believe it resulted in making me a better writer, and I’m convinced it has done this for many others.

    Over the course of years, the convention changed, as things do, both because of the change of individuals attending and running it, and because of social changes around us. Over the last three years, the change has become more dramatic. People (including me) have been shut down for expressing ideas that could have or did (I don’t remember, it was a few years ago) make people uncomfortable. This is anathema to the convention as I conceived it.

    My opening speech was, if you will, my last ditch effort to preserve the convention I wished to attend. I believe I have the right to fight for a convention to be what I wish, just as others have the right to fight for it to be what they wish, so long as we are all respectful, and all such efforts are honest and take place in the plain light of day, with no effort to suppress others. One could argue that I unfairly used my platform; I reject this argument, because I believe, after all I have done with and for and at the convention, I have the right to make one last plea using a platform that no one could argue I haven’t earned.

    Just as a point of information, making a speech was not my first choice; I wanted a full discussion of these issues, with several people who don’t agree with me. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen, not by anyone’s ill will, but because of what I learned after the convention was a simple email glitch.

    I am sad that the convention I founded and did so much to create has changed in the ways it has, but as I said, things change; it’s part of life. And in spite of the change, I believe the convention continues to provide an excellent experience. It cannot have the sort of influence on writers it once did, but in exchange, it has become in certain ways a safer and warmer community, and that is not without value.

  23. I’ve attended one SFF convention. It was in Madison, WI back in the 1990s. I was living in Ft Wayne, IN at the time, but my favorite SFF author (skzb) was going to be there so I picked up a friend in Chicago (and an exhibitor who needed a ride) and made a weekend out of it.

    While helping the exhibitor unload her stuff I was able to see and overhear a few conversations from other attendees. I also roamed around the site for another hour or so getting the lay of the land so-to-speak. I came to the to the conclusion (shocking to me at the time) that I didn’t really want to be there or know most of these people. I couldn’t even precisely put a finger on why – just that I was really not comfortable. I left and didn’t return until it was time to pick up the exhibitor for the return home a couple days later.

    My discomfort had nothing to do with ‘safe spaces’ – real or metaphorical. I don’t know if that term was even in my lexicon back then. If anything it’s probably a reflection on what a lousy groupie I’d make. I’ve never asked a celebrity for an autograph or rarely even acknowledged their existence when accidentally coming upon one in real life. I actually passed skzb by on my short walk through the convention halls and didn’t even say, “Hi” – despite the fact he was supposedly the whole reason I’d made the trip.

    The idea that someone could misconstrue skzb’s words and believe that he’s downplaying actual physical or verbal harassment just leaves me shaking my head. He’s not exactly someone with zero history to draw upon before arriving at a conclusion. To my mind, you really have to be looking for something to criticize if that’s what you took away from his speech.

    That said, the whole idea of ‘safe spaces’ (or trigger warnings) is probably beyond my understanding. As teenagers we used to force each other into uncomfortable situations. As an adult the ability to deal with different and/or difficult situations is a character attribute we should all desire. I may cry when I watch Ol’ Yeller, but I’m apparently not sensitive enough about any of my emotional or physical scars to warrant a need to be safe or warned that one of them may need to be confronted.

  24. Thanks, Steve. The term is new to me. I became familiar with it in the last year or so. I guess it’s a lot older than that.

  25. Kevin O’Neill: “The idea that someone could misconstrue skzb’s words and believe that he’s downplaying actual physical or verbal harassment just leaves me shaking my head.”

    I had the same reaction.

    I read about a lecturer at Yale a few years back. She wrote an open letter (in my opinion, a very reasonable one) encouraging students to dress how they like on Halloween. I think it was in response to a group of students who felt threatened by the possible choices of dress. And indeed, some costume choices I’ve seen in the past are offensive to me personally. It turns the stomach to see a person dressed in blackface, for example. But, I shrugged it off because it was happening at Yale, and I will never step foot on that campus. People like me aren’t allowed there.

    Anyway, protests erupted at Yale over the professors email, and she was fired. Her husband (who was also a professor) calmly confronted a group of students who were angry about the open letter. And I remember watching a video of a young woman (a POC) who angrily shouted at the professor. She finally said, “we wanna make a safe space here!” She was later dubbed “the shrieking girl” on social media.

    At the time, I felt nothing but contempt for her. I discovered through a little internet research that her parents were in real estate or finances, (or something equally parasitic) and thus concluded that this was a young woman who never in her life had to worry about where next meal was coming from, or whether or not she would have a roof over her head for the foreseeable future. She was a member of the upper middle-class, and in general, contempt is my default for that class as a whole, with exceptions for individuals.

    After a little reflection, I began to wonder why a person would act in such a way at the professors simple insistence of academic freedom and discussion. I still don’t have an objective answer. But I can’t help but wonder if the obsession with “safe spaces” might have something to do with 16+ years of war and austerity. After all, these layers – despite their privilege – must be feeling the pinch in some fashion.

    This is not to criticize Steven for his comments. I read them too and I thought that they were reasonable, yet forceful. I just wanted to share some thoughts on my understanding of safe spaces.

  26. Many people seem to have an idea that if there is a word for something then it must be a distinct thing that can be set on a shelf or locked away.
    Politics, art, culture and life are all words for parts of the continuum of being a sentient member of society. Those are also words and all of them intertwine, interact and reflect upon each other.

  27. One of the things that I follow Mr. Burst for, both his fiction and his blog, is that he shows considered thought and the ability to have perspective that is not aligned to his professed political beliefs or (what I assume is) his ethos in general. I cannot imagine that a convention that is unwilling to host discussions that are challenging and even uncomfortable (which I interpreted his usage of not being a safe space to be) to be of much value to authors who are trying to develop their craft or readers who want to expand their capability to absorb and appreciate more refined (to them) work.

    If someone (including yourself, Mr. Brust) can point out a SFF convention that continues to provide that challenging environment, please do so. I believe that is where I would like to attend.

    Lastly, on the subject of welcoming environments, I must say that in my experience, it is just such challenging gatherings in which I have seen participants to actively welcome newcomers for their different perspectives and challenging discussions.

  28. @skzb

    “Therefore, I, along with David Dyer-Bennet, Joel Halpern, and Martin Schafer created a convention in which free exchange of ideas was encouraged, and the emotional safety of individuals was given a lower priority than the freedom to express any and all ideas that had an influence on the craft of writing. The tone, the feel, the *nature* of the convention was my responsibility, and I am proud of my work.”

    Maybe it’s time for somebody to start a new one along those lines, inspired by what Fourth Street used to be.

  29. So I read this blog because I have fond memories of meeting you at a convention and your patience with some ill-phrased questions… Also, once upon a time, you owned a kuvasz! At the same time, reading your posts, I sometimes think you have gone completely mad… and yet I still read your posts and your books.

    For what it’s worth, what you wrote wasn’t unclear. It wasn’t, in my opinion, a promotion of anything that needed to be recanted or clarified. Then. reading further, I see you weren’t recanting (good!) and reading the comments it feels like blogs and discussion posts are the worst medium for the discussion of anything meaningful, ever. It’s asynchronous to a fault. There’s no real feedback. There’s never any closure. New readers start with the ugly history and crawl through the misunderstandings. It’s like reading about the history of a wound: knife cut 1, stitches 13, bandages 8, ointment 14, scab 1, reopened wound 1, scab 1, …, scar 1. Add in some medical malpractice and faulty diagnoses and reading these kinds of things is just a recipe for despair.

    I’m glad you made the attempt to raise the issue. At my work, we went through a costly training exercise with HR to resolve a dispute between two teams and the core of it was that management was stifling conflict because they didn’t understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy conflict. It made them uncomfortable. Also, some were opportunistic and used any perceivable conflict to press agendas. In the end, we had to ask the managers (who thought they were the adults in the room) to stand down, to allow conflict, because otherwise we couldn’t be productive.

    It’s not that you haven’t written things I think you should recant. You have. Congratulations! That just wasn’t one of them. :)

    Thanks for trying.

  30. At some point, free speech has to be allowed back into the room or else what you have is a religion, not a literary convention. And I’m the type of person who’d be declared a heretic in ANY religion.

    Which is why I use pseudonyms online; I know what happens to heretics.

  31. There is a problem here (in Steve’s speech) and in the larger cultures:

    To most liberals (in my experience) “safe space” means free from harassment or danger and free from overt racism/sexism/transphobia, etc. In other words, you’re free to attack ideas, but not people. Another way of putting this is, “a space that promotes discussion, and debate, rather than shutting it down or steering everyone into an anger-brain adrenaline-fueled shouting match.” The assumption of a safe space is that everyone there is equal and equally worthy of joining in the discussion (though you may be expected to have certain pre-requisite knowledge depending on the situation) and equally worthy of being treated like a human being. This comes up most frequently on college campuses, but in the context of conventions, it can refer to a convention that actually has a code of conduct and rules for enforcing it to protect attendees and presenters.

    I’m going to hit trigger warnings right now, because they’re almost always spoken of in the same breath when debates come up. Liberals (in my experience) use “trigger warnings” to refer to giving potential readers/viewers (as in a class or on TV) a heads up that a depiction or description of a traumatic even is going to come up in the book/show/whatever. This is because liberals, by and large, recognize that PTSD is under-diagnosed, physical abuse and rape are both ridiculously common and under-reported, and that descriptions and depictions of traumatic experiences can trigger anxiety attacks and other severe physical/emotional responses in survivors of similar trauma. Such survivors (as I understand it) appreciate the heads up so they can prepare themselves or skip over the most upsetting bits (not skip the whole book/show). It doesn’t stop them from acknowledging or discussing the content. (But generally I see the purpose of such content as being an “eye-opener,” so that those who have not experienced trauma have some hint about real societal problems or real emotional experiences; those who have experienced trauma don’t need to relive it to know it’s a problem.)

    To most conservatives (in my experience), and to _every_ conservative that goes on a radio or television show to debate this, “safe space” means “a place where liberals are free from criticism and conservatives are censored.”
    To most conservatives (in my experience), and to _every_ conservative that goes on a radio or television show to debate this, “trigger warning” means “a rule that lets students get out of reading or viewing material that challenges their ideas.”

    Both of these strawman definitions are (in my opinion) utter bullshit, but the right has been very consistent in their use. And since a lot of people only learn about these terms from conservative outlets or from radio/tv debates, a lot of people start accepting that definition.

    Steve, in reading the transcript of your speech, I didn’t get offended because you were clear about your definitions, and you made a point of saying you wanted the convention to be physically safe and free from harassment.

    _But_, by intentionally choosing “safe space” as the phrase you were using to describe an atmosphere you were critiquing, you were overtly aligning yourself with the right’s bullshit definition of safe space.

    And this does a tremendous disservice to folks around the country who are fighting for actual safe spaces, where they don’t get beat up, groped, called slurs while they’re trying to learn something or (at cons) have a good time, or threatened with death or attacks on their families, and where they don’t have to worry about being imprisoned or deported for sharing an experience, and where they can use the goddamn restroom.

    It’s nice that you assume that we all want that kind of safe space. Of course, obviously, it’s a given, right?
    But the fact is that it’s not at all a given. There are many people (including, I am sure, many of your readers) who would disagree.
    As an example, I volunteered at a large video game conference for many years, and the last time I was there we had to prepare for extra levels of security and reporting procedures because some slightly famous feminist speakers receive real, actual death threats every day from alt-right gamergaters, and it is _hard_ to provide those speakers with a space that is actually physically safe given the lengths that the right is willing to go to to dehumanize, bully, and hurt them.
    And that’s not even touching on being, say, black, trans, or gay at a college or convention in, say, the South.

  32. Justin, you are using a common online understanding of safe spaces and trigger warnings, but when you talk of PTSD, you are going against what specialists recommend.

    From “Why Trigger Warnings Don’t Work”

    “According to the National Center for Health, “Avoidance is a maladaptive control strategy… resulting in maintenance of perceived current threat. In line with this, trauma-focused treatments stress the role of avoidance in the maintenance of PTSD. Prolonged exposure to safe but anxiety-provoking trauma-related stimuli is considered a treatment of choice for PTSD.” Avoidance involves distancing oneself from cues, reminders, or situations that remind one of the event that can result in increased social withdrawal. Trigger warnings increase social withdrawal, which contributes to feelings of isolation. If a survivor who suffers from PTSD has had adequate clinical support, they could engage online with thoughts or ideas that previously had been avoided. The individual is in charge of each word he or she reads. At any time, one may close a book or click a screen shut on the computer. What is safer than that? Conversely, trigger warnings perpetuate avoidance. Because the intrusive memories and thoughts are internal, trigger warnings suggest, “Wait! Don’t go here. I need to protect you from yourself.””

    A point made by Elizabeth Nitecki, who suffers from PTSD: “how do you trigger warning the smell of wet paint? i’m still waiting for the answer to that question, because thats what triggers are.”

    Also recommended: “The Trapdoor of Trigger Words: the science of trauma can tell us about an endless campus debate.” by Katy Waldman

  33. Justin:

    You wrote: “As an example, I volunteered at a large video game conference for many years, and the last time I was there we had to prepare for extra levels of security and reporting procedures because some slightly famous feminist speakers receive real, actual death threats every day from alt-right gamergaters, and it is _hard_ to provide those speakers with a space that is actually physically safe given the lengths that the right is willing to go to dehumanize, bully, and hurt them.”

    When you use the word “hurt,” what do you mean? Physically? Emotionally? Both? I’m not aware that the right (are there unbalanced individuals, sure, but I do not criticize the left because Hodgkinson was a member of the left) is trying to physically injure SJWs (to the contrary, many on the right would feel compelled to protect any woman who is being physically attacked, regardless of viewpoint). And, yes, I am conceding that certain segments of “the right” are trying to dehumanize SJWs and emotionally bully them. I disagree with this approach, just as I disagree with “the left’s” efforts to dehumanize and bully speakers like Charles Murray (which have ended with real physical injuries and emergency room visits). Attack the argument, not the speaker.

  34. Thanks for you thoughts, Justin. I used “safe space” because it is the accepted term for a place that is not only free from sexism and racism, but in which those enforcing this are able to set the definitions of what is sexism and racism. Is the belief that the concept of cultural appropriation is pro-capitalist, reactionary, and anti art inherently racist? Some feel it is, hence, that question, so vital for writers to consider, can be *and has been* shut down at Fourth Street on the grounds that it could make people feel threatened.

    If we consider Fourth Street as a Safe Space with that definition, then we accept that it is okay to shut down that conversation. That is a perfectly legitimate position, but it is not one that reflects my wishes for what the convention should be, hence I made an argument for making the convention what I wished it to be, focusing specifically on the question of safe spaces by the accepted definition, and my belief that Fourth Street wasn’t one, and shouldn’t be.

  35. I’ve been told many times that the main principles of Marxist thought are racist and sexist, that applying ideas like transculturality is threatening because it denies race, etc. Friends of mine, non-American radical leftists, have been told they are supportive of people who murder women simply because they don’t subscribe to US-centric liberalism. Stuff like this happens all the time. I’m all for making spaces physically safe, and I have no love for right-wing bullshit, but when we’re talking about *intellectually* safe spaces, the definition of what’s “not upsetting” is basically a milquetoast American liberalism that excludes, oh, most of the people fighting injustice on this planet.

    In fact, I would say that the main target of American identity politics is leftist individuals who don’t fit the right patterns. I’ve seen more organized attacks (including doxxing, threats, etc.) against people on the left than on the right. Yes, the far-right lunatics do the same thing, also against people generally on the left. But the identity-based left doesn’t attack the right, it attacks the people supposedly its own.

    My main experience of interacting with the American identity crowd has been vicious anticommunism, absolute myopia when it comes to global perspectives, and the feeling that anything goes when someone has been declared Bad. That anyone is rarely some powerful establishment figure, however. It’s usually just someone who said something on the internet.

    Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Vivek Chibber (whose work is excellent) that I keep coming back to:

    “When I entered grad school, you know, I came out of India, and I was from a very radical milieu. It was one of the most shocking experiences in my life to see radical people pointing to Marx as basically being another version of some European intellectual. […] The irony was here I was coming out of India, where Marx was considered a brown man, essentially. I come to these American universities and a bunch of white kids are saying, no, no, he didn’t understand the non-West. That’s the irony of this political culture these days.”

    This kind of thing, the exclusion of leftist thought from all around the globe, is central to the discourse that has produced “safe spaces” and the like. That there’s a frequently unprincipled or even outright malignant opposition from right-wing groups does not mean that this is a healthy or inclusive approach. Quite the opposite.

  36. @Jonas, Thank you! That makes perfect sense.

    What I’m getting from all this is that in the USA there is less and less of a shared culture. The “melting pot” is shut down and the various fractions are crystallizing out separately.

    Not to say that the old consensus was good, where “liberals” and “conservatives” argued vigorously within a narrow range of allowed disagreement. But it’s mostly gone.

    And with the internet there is more room for people to discuss things with a degree of anonymity and no chance to punch each other in the face. More strange opinions get expressed.

    In the USA, in circles that would formerly have been liberal, we get this group that tries to shut everything else down. I don’t know how large it actually is. But they are absolutely convinced they are right, and that they should not allow dissenting views to be expressed, and they are fanatical at talking about it. I don’t know how many of them there are except that there are lots of discussions that don’t have any of them for what seems like a long time, and then they show up. Somebody who monitored a lot of discussions could probably work out the math of that.

    People don’t like to argue with them, the same way that Americans prefer to avoid getting into disagreements with a skunk.

    I think they are a rather small minority, but a dominant one. They are not trying to create any sort of consensus or make any real change. Unless you accept their belief that by shutting down opposing views wherever they are, they create a world where everybody agrees with them.

    I don’t think it’s possible to argue them out of this. They believe that they are sacrificing their own happiness to save the world, by shutting down views opposed to theirs. It looks fairly bullet-proof to me. If you try to persuade them to change their opinions, you are the enemy who should be shut down and not listened to.

    We increasingly have little groups who believe their own weird ideologies and who refuse to interact with other groups. So whatever we achieve must be done without a consensus, unless we find things to get a consensus on that are independent of the various ideologies.

  37. Jonah- “In the USA, in circles that would formerly have been liberal, we get this group that tries to shut everything else down. I don’t know how large it actually is. But they are absolutely convinced they are right, and that they should not allow dissenting views to be expressed, and they are fanatical at talking about it.”

    I don’t think this is a problem confined to any fringe, left or right. Violent defense of echo chambers seems to be infecting every sphere.

    I work part-time at the Public Theater here in New York, and you might have just heard something about the production of Julius Caesar we just did in Central Park. The director chose to make obvious parallels between Caesar and Trump and Breitbart news picked up the story, spinning it as advocating murdering the President. After that, more or less real news sources ran the story as well, sometimes defending what should have been a fairly common artistic choice and sometimes not so much. Never mind that anyone that read past the senate scene could easily understand that the play is completely against the use of assassination as a tool to preserve democracy.

    kukuforguns, sorry to disturb any illusions you might have, but there were plenty of death threats. Against the director, against the director’s wife, against the audience, against Shakespeare theaters all across the country that had nothing to do with our production. We even had protesters rushing the stage shouting “you are all Goebbels” and “stop normalizing violence against the Right.”

    Mind you, the one shouting about Goebbels mispronounced it and we all thought he was calling us gerbils, but that is neither here nor there.

    In an atmosphere like this, I can see why attempting to have a discussion about the free exchange of uncomfortable ideas would be a minefield. Sorry, Steve! I’m sure you could have written a better speech that might have been better received, but I don’t know if you could have avoided the resulting argument completely no matter how eloquent you might have been.

  38. Lars, while no one can deny that the right attacks the left, the right rarely attacks itself—the circular firing squad is a leftwing phenomenon.

    I’m sure there must be exceptions that I’m not thinking of, but I’m not thinking of the exceptions I’m not thinking of. :)

    The purity crowd that gets called leftist seems to consist primarily of two groups that make unlikely allies: neoliberals and anarchists. In both cases, there’s an intellectual failure to examine the origins of the identitarian theories they embrace.

  39. Will- I direct you to Rand Paul, Michelle Bachmann, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin and every other defender of “Conservative” purity. That is just a partial list of the most mainstream voices. If you want to get down to the neo-nazi level, examples are rife.

    I know some people have a special sensitivity to voices they think of as SJW, but intolerance wears shirts of all colors.

  40. Lars, You’re right that all ideologies have people who want to control the definition of their ideology, and the extremists, the alt right and left, most furiously want that control. “Cuckservative” is another manifestation of what you’re pointing at on the right. But how often have conservatives tried to get anyone on their side fired? Hmm. Besides Milo Yiannopoulos, whose comments that were interpreted as support for pedophilia creeped them out?

    It seems like the identitarian left is trying to ruin the life of another leftist every week.

  41. “But how often have conservatives tried to get anyone on their side fired?”

    You probably pay more attention to the left wing than the right wing, so you wouldn’t notice as much when they do it.

    When there are only a few plum jobs and many hands reaching for them, it probably happens a lot.

    For myself, I have decided I don’t want to be left wing. It looks too hopeless and useless. Right wing looks considerably worse.

    I an instead part of the Radical Front. No, that doesn’t sound right.

    Maybe I will be part of the Radical Downstage. The Radical Center Downstage. Radical Downstage Center? Still not quite the right sound.

    The Radical Apron? At least it’s harder for people to think they already know that way. I hope many will join me in the Radical House.

  42. Jonah Thomas:Maybe throw away the passive typical theater and go for a theater in the round with everyone participating. The Radical Circumference.

  43. That sounds good!

    I was surprised how well the traditional stage terms fit the politics.

    The actual left and right are off in the wings where no one pays attention to them.
    The Center Left and Center Right are where the visible action is.
    The Cross Over is where people go backstage to get from one wing to the other.

  44. Lars:
    I stated that I am unaware of a right movement to physically injure people on the “left.” There is a difference between making a death threat and physically hurting someone (please note I am not saying that it was unreasonable to take precautions given the threats).You are attacking a strawman. I have no illusion that people who consider themselves to be members of the “left” and the “right” are making death threats. That being said, rushing a stage and saying “stop normalizing violence against the right” is not exactly violent behavior.

  45. Kukuforguns:Just google “right wing terrorism.” You will find pleanty of incidents.

    Rushing a stage stage is also not normal. You’ll note that they didn’t seem upset at any of the other depictions of presidents as Caesar. The play ‘Julius Caesar’ is not a normalization of violence but rather a warning against hubris.

  46. This random quote came up and seems particularly apt for the specific situation of the blog post and current events in general:

    “A failure of correspondence between subjective and objective is, generally speaking, the fountain-source of the comic, as also the tragic, in both art and life.”
    — Trotsky

  47. Steve:
    I just googled “right wing terrorism” and found an entire Wikipedia article on it. Since 2001 there have been 50 [FN1] deaths in the U.S. that the New America Foundation attributes to right wing terrorism.

    Yep, about 3 a year. Did I acknowledge that there’s unbalanced people on the right (and the left)? Why yes I did:
    “(are there unbalanced individuals, sure, but I do not criticize the left because Hodgkinson was a member of the left)”
    I hardly think that 3 deaths a year are evidence that the right is trying to kill SJWs (my original statement). I personally believe the right wing could kill more people each year than bees, but maybe I give the right wing too much credit. In any event, how many of those 50 souls were SJWs? I don’t know and neither do you. I do know that police are over-represented in those deaths and that police officers are not stereotyped as SJWs.

    FN1 I question the accuracy of this number. The most recent deaths attributed to right wing terrorism were the two men who stood up for the Muslim teenagers in Portland. The suspect in that case was a supporter of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump and was homeless. I don’t think he’s a clear case of right wing extremism, but rather of mental illness (No, I’m not saying supporting Sen. Sander is evidence of mental illness). Also listed as right wing extremism was the sword wielding killer in Manhattan who killed a black man to prevent white women from having interracial relationships. The killer also was black and I see no evidence that he was a right winger. Again, mental illness seems likely. Getting good data seems to be hard as the people most likely to be collecting data are themselves advocates. GAO came up with a higher number (106) between 9/11/01 and 11/27/15, but trying to figure out the U.S. Extremist Crime Database run by the University of Maryland is taking more time than I’m willing to devote. Still not as effective as bees. Dang, maybe there’s something to this whole cuckservative meme.

  48. kukuforguns:I was just pointing out that it is a non-zero number.

    If you want a larger number (and a pointer to who the actual terrorists are), next google “number of deaths from AHCA.” Estimates, certainly and spread across all political spectrums. The masters of the right don’t care who they kill, just so long as they extract the resources and suppress the potential.

  49. kuku- if you are going to exclude the mentally ill from the designation of terrorist, then you aren’t going to have many incidents at all.

    I won’t try to convince you, since I hate beating my head against walls, but can you just tell me? Have you ever seen footage of pro-Trump supporters at his big Nuremberg style rallies dragging protesters away, or throwing punches at them while they are restrained? No doubt you think they are fringe elements as well, but I am fairly certain those incidents are just as common as the anarchist punks you are complaining about.

  50. Steve- thanks! It was seriously fun… I even played very small part in the mob scene. First time I have been on stage in 12 years, and definitely the biggest theater. ^_^

  51. Lars: Yes, I saw the footage of various Trump supporters doing variously stupid/violent/illegal things at various Trump rallies. No, I’m not sure I would characterize those incidents as fringe. I really think we’re talking past each other to some extent. I made a very narrow statement: “I’m not aware that the right . . . is trying to physically injure SJWs.” I broadened “SJWs” later to “the left” (which was a mistake on my part, as it was broader than my original statement). My statement was explicitly limited to violence directed at SJWs (or, more broadly the left). My perception is that you and others are trying to get me to recognize that I should retract/correct/modify my statement by pointing out examples of violent behavior that fall outside the scope of my observation. So, with respect to the Trump rallies, do you think the violence there was directed at SJWs (or the left)? Or is a better explanation that the violence was directed at people who were protesting Trump (Trump protesters are not synonymous with the Left, plenty of the Right think Trump is detestable). The violence at the Trump rallies seems more similar to the violence between antifa and alt-right at their various rallies (i.e., when you put nut-jobs with inconsistent outlooks in a limited space, expect violence).

  52. kukuforguns:I’m not clear on what point it is that you are trying to make. Since SJW is an extremely ill defined group, it is fairly difficult to say if anyone is or isn’t in general being targeted for violence who belong to that group.
    This is all a digression from the original blog topic, I think, but that is fine as we do digress every now and then here.

  53. [my last contribution to the digression, I hope]

    kukuforguns- I think maybe we are talking past each other a bit. My original point, if I had one, was that everyone in this country seems far more willing lately to use violence to silence those they see as their ideological enemies. If I called you out, it wasn’t to attack you, only to point out that the “right” seems every bit as likely to engage in that behavior as the “left”… and yes, I think death threats certainly count.

    Here is my proposal: if you don’t like the play I am in, write a bad review or just don’t come to see it. If a speaker whose views you dislike is coming to your college, invite someone you like and have an event on the other side of campus, then tweet obnoxiously about how much bigger your crowd was. There are a lot of ways to express your opinion that don’t involve bellowing incoherently while charging a stage full of actors (last night of Caesar), making not-vague-at-all references to “Second Amendment solutions” to potential election results you don’t like, or threatening to sexually assault women who suggest that video game companies could be less sexist.

    Once again, despite those examples, I’m not claiming that the right is especially violent. I’m just denying the existence of a moral high ground.

    I know that all of this is not new. A huge swath of humanity has always found it easier to throw a rocks at a philosophers than to come up with a well-reasoned, polite refutation of their ideas. It does seem to me that we are currently in a nadir of thoughtful discourse. I remember times almost as bad, and others much better.

    Everything has its season, and reason is in winter.

  54. Lars:
    “the “right” seems every bit as likely to engage in that behavior as the “left”… ” Agree.
    “I think death threats certainly count” Agree that both “Left” and “Right” do this. Agree it’s inappropriate/potentially illegal. Disagree it’s violence.
    “bellowing incoherently while charging a stage full of actors [is inappropriate]” Agree.
    “threatening to sexually assault women [is inappropriate]” Agree
    Regarding the Second Amendment. Friends who identify as socialist and who previously opposed the Second Amendment have changed their viewpoint. They now believe that we do not know, and cannot know, how bad future government will be.

  55. Been a while since I popped in here, but I wanted to say I appreciate the responses to my post, particularly Will’s links regarding PTSD. (Though I also fail to see any harm in knowing the content of a text ahead of time, and I maintain my point that defining “trigger warning” as a “get out of challenging ideas free card” is misleading and problematic.)

    @kukuforguns To answer your question, I meant definitely emotionally, and probably physically. When a person receives hundreds or thousands of death and rape threats, how do you know which of those sending threats are only trying to cause emotional harm and how many are describing real physical harm they intend to attempt? All of threats have to be taken seriously because there’s no easy way to sort trolls from the truly violent.
    And I would argue that the emotional hurt, while not as serious, can be enough to cause real social, economic, mental, and physical damage: when your accounts are flooded with so many threats and so much abuse that you can’t use social media or email for actual communication, then you’ve effectively been denied participation in society, and the act of reading through a constant barrage of personally directed hate from an anonymous army (in an attempt to find actually useful communications) can be physically exhausting and mentally debilitating.

    So yeah, no matter which way you want to define it, I was talking about people who wanted to hurt a speaker. They wanted her to suffer, and some of them may have actually wanted her to suffer horrific physical harm and death, and many of them said that that was what they wanted.

  56. I agree most with Jonas Kyratzes, on this and the previous post.

    And what I think about the USA, from my UK perspective, is that it is half full of crazy violent people, and a lot of the rest look like real wimps! With all their talk of “safe spaces” – meaning free from free speech spaces! Sigh. Snowflakes, totally..❄❄ Chinese and other less privileged people must read these sort of stories and laugh. Americans will all melt away if they’re not careful.

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