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Wednesday, November 9, 2016


Another term that might not be very useful is safety. I say this in the wake of yesterday's tragic election.

I saw people focus on Facebook on protecting or providing a sense of safety to our students. We cannot do that. We cannot protect them or make them safe.  Life has risks. Safety might be defined as the (relative) lack of risk. So you are safer with safety belt in car than without, but you are not safe in any absolute sense, since the car is one of the most dangerous things in existence. Things that are really safe we don't even think of as safe. We don't have a safety watch, for example, because people don't cut themselves with a watch very often. We only have a safety razor, designed to produce fewer cuts than the old-fashioned straight razor. Guns have safeties to prevent them from going off accidentally, but my pencil doesn't have a safety.

Also, I don't know how I can protect my students since I am also unsafe. I cannot prevent them from hearing their uncle say something sexist, or from microaggressions from their fellow students. I can't be at a student party preventing people from unwanted sexual attention.

So there is no safety because we are in a struggle against things that actually are dangerous. The elimination of danger is not an option.

What other words have lost their meaning?


Thomas said...

"For years, irate mothers’ groups have demanded playground reform as child-guidance experts, educators, architects and artists formulated the exact number of dangerous illusions in the world." (Tony Tost)

The obsession with safety is itself dangerous, as you point out. So, in fact, is the obsession with the "danger" implied by words and ideas. Americans have never been safer, and yet their politicians (and their media) tell them to be constantly afraid. The election appeared to hinge on whether the primary illusory danger was foreign or domestic. If Clinton had won, half of America would live in fear of foreigners. Now, it seems, half of America has resigned itself to the "fact" that they are hated by their own country.

You ask if there are other words. As minor slights with no real power behind them are construed as "harmful", a great many words lose their meaning. I worry that even words like "assault" and "consent" are starting to become meaningless. It's not just that "unwanted sexual attention" is being turned into a safety issue. There are Title IX cases where the "assault" consists in the woman feeling that she couldn't just refuse to perform oral sex and leave the unlocked room for fear of "reprisals" of some vague kind.

I agree with Robby Soave (who is very knowledgeable about this issue). Trump won in large part because of the irrationality of the "political correctness" mob.

Thomas said...

PS: I don't mean half of America is actually subject to one of these illusions, and the other half to the other. I mean the that the media is suggesting they should be.