You are here:   Columns >  The Outsider's Diary > Student Sensibilities
 
All smiles: Hillary Clinton earlier this year (photo: Hillary For Iowa CC BY-SA 2.0)

On the tenth anniversary of the publication of the Danish cartoons the country’s Free Speech Society invited four speakers, including Mark Steyn and me, to commemorate the occasion. After the deadly attack on a free speech event in Copenhagen last February, the only place secure enough to house the event was the country’s Parliament. Afterwards I learned that in anticipation of the now traditional terrorist attack, both the US State Department and UK Foreign Office issued official warnings to their citizens not to go near the Parliament building on the day — not a piece of advice they had passed on to the speakers.  In any case all fears were unnecessary and several hours of discussion on free speech, cartoons, Islam and the migration crisis played to a full and happily secure house.

I told the audience that apart from the realisation that free speech isn’t that popular, the other thing I had learnt in the last ten years is how rapidly fear spreads. As if on cue, the restaurant we were meant to be having dinner at cancelled when the police went around to do a preliminary security check. We all ended up at a party in a bar that felt slightly like a party at the end of the world — and none the worse for it. Shots of a quite foul Danish spirit, much beer and wine, the dense, uncommon smog of cigarette and cigar smoke, and at some point the opening of a bottle of champagne with a sword all played their part. Only the security guards at the door remained unmoved.

***

A few days later I was at Wellesley College near Boston for more of the same (discussion, that is). One major issue was the now heightened form of student sensibility which demands “trigger warnings” before reading anything and a “safe space” to protect students against uncomfortable ideas. This phenomenon assumes that a very large number of students suffer some form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A girl who was hospitalised after reading a novel is cited by way of example. One professor says that 56 per cent of American students have self-referred for stress, depression, PTSD and other mental illnesses. I feel unsympathetic towards this societal breakdown, and say so.

One serious and thoughtful student invites me to consider that what I believe to be efforts to limit free speech is in fact more a matter of “linguistic conscientiousness”, requiring advance consideration of the harm one’s words could do to vulnerable people (the gay, the disabled, the female, victims of genocide and kidnap and so on). To some extent I understand this concern. When speaking to different audiences we all slightly moderate our speech, but these students are growing up in a world where technology has eradicated this divide.

View Full Article
 
Share/Save
 
 
 
 
HAL
November 24th, 2015
4:11 PM
"One major issue was the now heightened form of student sensibility which demands “trigger warnings” before reading anything and a “safe space” to protect students against uncomfortable ideas. This phenomenon assumes that a very large number of students suffer some form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A girl who was hospitalised after reading a novel is cited by way of example." hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

Richard the Second
November 23rd, 2015
10:11 AM
I hope the Wellesley audience took notice. Incidentally, unless Hillary has undergone gender reassignment it's probably more correct to describe her as an alumna - though I am conscious this is a minefield and I may be committing transphobia by pointing it out.

Post your comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.