When are safe places okay?

I am against the idea of safe places (see my previous post on the issue), especially in academia. I believe that if an idea is worthwhile it should be able to survive critic from all sides and safe places, regardless of their intent, hamper that process. How can you critic something if you aren’t supposed to even acknowledge its existence?

I also believe that, if our pluralistic society is to continue, we need to be able to empathize with those who are our intellectual opponents. I’m not saying we should become Marxists and rename the site The People’s Notes. Nor should we become Trumpistas. However we should be able to break bread with non-liberals and hear their side of the story out. We can continue to disagree with them, but we need to be careful to not de-humanize someone because of their ideological leanings. Safe places make this hard to do. If X group isn’t politically correct to talk about, much less with, how can we learn about them?

Safe places are, in more than one way, harmful to a free society.

-But they may still have a place in a free society.

Why the change of heart? It is this whole Trump fiasco. If you haven’t read them yet, several NoL bloggers have written about it here, here, here, etc.

I have seen several extreme reactions to the election of Trump, including quite a bit of anger and sadness. I cried for a good six hours myself when I saw the election results; as I’ve mentioned before I’m an illegal alien and so there is a very real chance I’ll be deported and torn away from the country I’ve loved since childhood. After drying up my eyes though I put that aside and went back to work. How I see it, as liberals we are constantly fighting against anti-liberal forces.

Am I sad that Trump won? Yes, but Hillary wasn’t an angel either. Before Trumpistas we had to fight Communists, Fascists, and every other type of ‘ists’ imaginable. After the Trumpistas are defeated we will have new enemies pop up. I am optimistic that in the grand scheme of things the future is better than the past, but I don’t think we will ever be rid of anti-liberal thought. Equilibrium is an illusion.

But I digress. I went back to work after my crying session, but many others around me didn’t. They couldn’t. And we shouldn’t try to force them to.

I still think safe places are a bad idea in so far that we are concerned about promoting free discussion and would never want to go into one. However maybe I can tolerate one or two of them if they help others improve their mental health. Maybe I can use ‘undocumented’ instead of ‘illegal’ if people are really that emotionally disturbed by it. Maybe I can use someone’s preferred pronoun if ‘he’ really hurts them that much. Maybe I can keep my mouth shut and just listen to someone who is in pain.

I think that in the long run we need to be able to stand up to our critics. If you’re gay, you’ll eventually find someone who goes out of their way to tell you your leading a sinful life. If you’re a woman and feel that the patriarchy is why you’re paid less, an economist will eventually lecture you on why that’s wrong. Infantilizing people doesn’t help them. The world is tough, and you need to be rough to survive it. 

However if someone needs a bit more time before they go out and face that world, is it wrong to provide a safe place for them until they feel ready? If I want to make a controversial remark, maybe I shouldn’t do so in the middle of the class. Maybe I should just blog it on NoL.

As always thoughts and comments are always appreciated.

7 thoughts on “When are safe places okay?

  1. I haven’t blogged much, if anything, about safe spaces, largely because I’ve been ambivalent about them.

    If universities want to provide safe spaces for students, they should be free to do so. This is especially apparent if you think about the kind of money students’ parents fork over to schools. If a student experiences some kind of trauma – whether real or imagined – at a university, and it could have been avoided by something like a safe space, then I would definitely provide some if I were running a university.

    On the other hand, as you note, the real world is a harsh place.

    I think of universities as producers of culture. What happens in them eventually trickles down into the rest of society. Corporations are usually the quickest to adapt to university innovations, followed by public institutions such as government-run schools and government bureaucracies, large progressive-minded Protestant churches, and eventually by small businesses, conservative-minded churches (sans the one run from Rome), rural civic associations, etc.

    If the real world is becoming less harsh, and I believe it is thanks to the marginal dismantlement of protectionist/isolationist/welfare-ist government policies, then maybe safe space are just the result of spontaneous order and a much better world…

  2. There are college-age Americans in Syria fighting ISIS and in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban. Do they get safe spaces, too? Here’s an alternative to safe spaces: grow up!

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