Emotional Triggers, Safe Spaces, PTSD and Politically Correct Language


A New Republic essay discusses the long history of social declarations about “appropriate” speech. Author Jeet Heer then makes the case that today’s emphasis on language “political correctness” on many college and university campuses may have less to do with politics than with how we process trauma.

“The explosion of trigger warnings and the growth of safe spaces is best understood as a consequence of the expanded social and cultural role that PTSD has assumed in our society,” writes Heer. “The concept of PTSD rests on the importance of buried memories—memory traces—which can be reignited as flashbacks. PTSD is, in a crucial sense, a theory of memory: It posits that for certain people the memory of a trauma always exists, lying just below the surface of consciousness, ready to be triggered. A theory of this sort will naturally lead to a heightened vigilance.”

Stress Test (New Republic, May 20, 2015)

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