Monday, 6 March 2017

Why I disagree with Jonathan Pie's comparison of trigger warnings and the ban of public swearing by Salford Council

Jonathan Pie/Tom Walker is a fake news reporter/comedian. He is well known for his rants on how the news is presented. In his latest videos he attacks the idea of trigger warnings when tricky subjects are talked or written about. So his video starts bemoaning the fact that Salford council have banned public swearing and local citizens can be punished for doing so. Then he goes on to attack students on the “liberal left” for what he calls “policing language”. He thinks that having warnings on books at universities is “Orwellian”. Yes because I remember that bit in 1984 when they talked about trigger warnings. Also interesting how he accused left wing students of curtailing freedom when a recent report from Amnesty came out and stated the UK citizens were the most watched in the world in terms of surveillance and of course we have a Tory government.

For those that don’t know what “trigger warnings” are, I’ll explain them. Essentially all they are is that before you speak or write about something, you inform people that a certain subject will come up that could be traumatising. If someone is writing an online blog for example or a Facebook post and put a trigger warning beforehand, they’ll start with the letters TW followed by the subject (i.e. sexism, racism, sexual abuse etc) because these kind of subjects can be triggering for people, as in they’ll recall a time where they suffered one of these things. It’s a way of taking someone’s feelings into account before you write or speak about something. Hardly Orwellian.

According to Jonathan Pie “no one has a right to not be offended”. That’s correct but free speech always comes with consequences. Maybe not lawfully but words can hurt and the human mind is complex and people are affected by words that are said. Anyone like myself that suffered verbal bullying at school every day will understand this. To be fair, Jonathan does state that hurling abuse at someone isn’t acceptable. However bullying isn’t always openly aggressive but it can be subtle and damaging over time as the form of bullying I received was. Words matter. That’s the reality. There is a reason that most of us curtail our language and do not use certain racist, sexist or homophobic slurs. Because we know how awful those words are and that they can be used in a Hate Crime. The thing is, we all vary our language depending on the situation we find ourselves in. For example in your workplace, you may swear a lot less than you do with your friends because it’s against the code of practice at work.

In this latest video, Pie also laments the fact that a university has a trigger warning on copies of the book “to kill a mockingbird” because of the racist language in it. He says that everyone should just simply understand context of words and just not get offended. I understand the context of words is important but there is no banning of words here, just a warning for people that say have suffered a lot of racism and maybe don’t want to read a lot of racist slurs that they themselves have been subject to. We put warnings on films when they are on DVD or in the Cinema because they contain certain content like violence, sex or swearing, yet Pie doesn’t appear to have a problem with that.

I don’t see the harm of trigger warnings. You’re not banning people from saying something, but it just means those that don’t want to read about something that can be triggering, get a polite warning beforehand. It’s not something I believe should be enforced however, as you have no idea about what your friends or colleagues will find distressing or not, unless you know them really well.  If you want to talk about certain subjects online or in a speech then fine but if someone says to you in future can you put a warning on before you write or speak about a certain subject because it’s triggering a horrible part of my life, then it’s a polite thing to consider doing.

I think what it also comes down to is that Pie appears to just think that as long as we all debate with people openly and just don’t be offended or upset by words then that is the way to defeat certain viewpoints. It’s true that when Nick Griffin appeared on Question Time, his views were exposed and ridiculed and the BNP went downhill from there in terms of the number of elected politicians they had. But exposing and openly debating racist or sexist views does not mean they’ll be defeated. The rise of UKIP and Donald Trump very much prove that. Pie has blamed PC lefties for the rise of Trump because they were shutting down debate and not talking to Trump voters about their concerns. That’s partly true but it’s far from the whole story. The lies and the hatred promoted by the right wing media in America and the UK has fuelled the rise of the far-right as well as the failure of centre-left governments of Blair, Bill Clinton and Obama to deal with the rampant inequality and allowing industries and communities to fall apart.

Not everyone has the confidence to openly debate with what they see as horrible view points, and yes people do need places they can feel safe, i.e. “safe spaces.” It appears that Pie thinks certain people are weak for getting offended. It’s not weak to be upset or hurt by words. It’s human. This is sadly how the selfishness and uncaring nature of our society that has developed from the Thatcher years has ingrained itself into the psyche of certain people on the left like Pie. He’s talked before about how we as a society need to seriously deal with the mental health crisis in this country. Yet a lot of people suffer from mental health issues because they are had a go at for being offended at certain words by people like Pie. They should just put up with it, not say anything and just get over it, right?

In general, I think Jonathan Pie’s videos are funny and insightful and with things like this, he certainly gets debates going. However I believes he simplifies the issue of free speech and trigger warnings too much rather than considering the merit in carefully choosing words.

NB: Just to note, I realise Jonathan Pie is a character but after reading a recent interview with Tom Walker, Pie is basically the actor’s views but exaggerated for comic effect.

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