Wednesday, 11 November 2015

In Defence of The Shouting Snowflake

I loves me some freedom of expression. I'll defend the right of Dapper and Dappy to perform, mostly in the hope I can review their pitiful efforts at entertainment and have an intellectual wank by deconstructing their behaviour. So, yeah, I've been following the debates about University students banning stuff with utter delight.

The latest episode getting touted about the internet features a very angry young student shouting at an older academic man, telling him that he is supposed to be keeping the campus safe. On Spiked, a website which really digs freedom of speech, the student is described as a 'snowflake': a delicate person who can't bear to hear opinions that challenge their notions of wrong and right.

The snowflake has become a sign of student intolerance. The replaying of the video is the process whereby a myth has been created. The meaning of the myth is: look at how savage these young people are, look at how frightened they have become of other opinions.

I'm a little conflicted about this. First of all, on an analytical level, I'm not sure with whom I agree in this row. She is arguing that the teacher's attitude towards Halloween costumes has made her feel
unsafe and - well, unless you are a Molly dancer, I don't think blacking up is a cool move, bro. His appeal for tolerance - perhaps invoking the saturnalian aspect of guising - is also something I respect. She's shouting her head off, but am I going to say that the way an idea is expressed trumps the value of the idea itself. 

If I tell a racist to fuck off in a loud voice, does the racist have the right to say 'if you'd asked nicely, I would have left, but since you shouted, I am allowed to say the n-word'?

Yeah, I don't know. 

Anyway, back to the snowflake. Ignoring the dominant myth of the video, and acknowledging that diagnosing someone via media is a bit dubious, I don't see an intolerant student protesting an idea.

I see a student experiencing the emotional problems of having been triggered. She is upset, desperate to protect herself, defending herself by attacking, unable to control her passion. This isn't a theoretical triggering: it is the actual, physical manifestation of triggered emotions.

I don't know why she might have been triggered, but it strikes me that she isn't protesting a notional offence. She probably isn't a cosseted snowflake but a woman who has had negative experiences that have made her vulnerable.

To repeat - this kind of diagnosis is sketchy, at best: there's a habit of pathologising people through casual analysis (I think Nick Cohen discusses it). And, yeah, I don't consider this a shining example of campus conversation. 

But try reading below the line on these articles. How quickly do they become aggressive? Do MRAs suddenly appear? Is the language of violence, or racism, used? Is this the mainstream media highlighting a specific case to 'prove' a general trend? Are you using sound-bite politics because it agrees with your opinions, proves a point you already believe? Is it cool to circulate a video of a woman in anguish around the internet? 

Here's a video on the subject: I watched it and found my agreement shifted between different speakers at different times. Just the length of the debate makes it more detailed, but the personalities expose both their critical skills and their biases. 

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