Within the last 10 years, United States politics have become hyperpolarized. Jonathan Haidt, in his speech, “What on Earth is Happening to our Country? The Moral Psychology of Political Division,” argues that Congress is extremely polarized and describes this polarization as a “disaster.” While Haidt provides a detailed explanation of the reasons for this polarization, he gives an example that college campuses reflect this hyperpolarization in his Atlantic article. I will give a response to his argument criticizing political correctness and trigger warnings on campuses and argue that political correctness and trigger warnings are not necessarily bad.
According to Haidt, the founders failed to predict hyperpolarization in Congress, which is one of the major flaws of the constitution. They assumed that politicians would work together on issues. They did not foresee parties as ideologically divided to the point of inability to work with each other. Historically, after the Civil War, parties became hyperpolarized. This changed after World War I; it was a period of the least polarization. Politicians with different views worked with each other on issue bases and were able to compromise on legislations. Since the 1970s, political polarization has increased, and according to Haidt, this phenomenon accelerated during the era of Bush and Obama. This polarization has made it very difficult for politicians to work with each other. According to Haidt, this polarization has transferred to people. Under the current polarization, people have less warmth toward people from the other political side.
Haidt implies that college campuses have reflected this polarization. In many instances, students tend to call things offensive and shut down different points of view. Haidt avoids using the term “Political Correctness,” however; he describes this term as coined by the media. Sometimes students send professors emails claiming certain materials are offensive. In Haidt’s article, “The Coddling of The American Mind,” he states, “it is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.” He also mentions examples of comedians, Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher, refusing to go to college campuses because students are “oversensitive.” He also criticizes micro-aggressive words by saying, “small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless.” He implies that we should ignore micro-aggressions, and reacting to words that we deem as offensive by saying “what an asshole?” and move on with our lives. He also sees trigger warnings as not necessary because this does not prepare students for the real life.
Haidt gives a very appealing argument, yet it offers dangerous implications. Firstly, he sees thinking twice before speaking as bad. While Haidt may argue that some people do not have malicious intent when they speak, thinking is not dangerous; it merely requires students to be more careful and respectful when speaking. Words are very important and could be used to harm and belittle others. People can go rampant trading insults and slurs that may show hatred, ignorance and prejudice. Secondly, he argues that the best way to handle hate speech is to be silent about it. This is wrong because the best way to educate the other is to present a speech that challenges the person ideas, beliefs and provide evidence to overcome their ignorance. Being silent on hate speech is similar to participating in it. You cannot stop oppression by being silent on it. Stereotypes need to be removed from the society. This is a point in the society where the society needs to show mature growth and leave stereotypes that may hurt others.
Contrary to Haidt’s argument, trigger warnings are very important on college campuses. There exist diverse students with different experiences and thinking. Some scenes/literature may release traumatic experience to certain students. Rape survivors, and people suffering from PTSDS may not want to relive these experiences. It is important that professors are sensitive to students’ anxieties. Trigger warnings do not limit professors from teaching certain materials but they show professor respect and accommodation to students.
There needs to be a reform to decrease political polarization and increase ideologically diversity in Congress. College is a great place to discuss ideas, rally and be active. Political Correctness in colleges is not necessarily bad. Similarly, using trigger warnings to protect students from traumatic experiences is important. Being respectful to the other and thinking twice before speaking are simple signs of decency. College is a place to learn, think, and challenge our beliefs. It is a place to develop citizens more understanding and accommodating to our multicultural society.