A trigger warning for Nineteen Eighty-Four !

January 24, 2022 • 10:30 am

First of all, let’s get the title of Orwell’s book straight: it’s Nineteen Eighty-Fournot 1984. And that’s the way Orwell referred to it.

That out of the way, a British University has issued a trigger warning for that book. Click this screenshot from The Volokh Conspiracy, which mis-titles the book, to read Volokh’s take on this warning.

Volokh’s quotes are indented, while the Daily Fail quote is doubly indented. My thoughts are flush left.

Daily Mail (UK) (Chris Hastings) reports:

[S]taff at the University of Northampton have issued a trigger warning for George Orwell’s novel on the grounds that it contains ‘explicit material’ which some students may find ‘offensive and upsetting’.


The advice [was] revealed following a Freedom of Information request by The Mail on Sunday….

[I]t is one of several literary works which have been flagged up to students at Northampton who are studying a module called Identity Under Construction. They are warned that the module ‘addresses challenging issues related to violence, gender, sexuality, class, race, abuses, sexual abuse, political ideas and offensive language’….

I think if individual faculty members want to warn students about particular books this way, they should be free to do so. And I actually support warning students generally about this—preferably in orientation, but perhaps even at the start of a class syllabus—precisely to remind them that studying the human experience at a university necessarily involves confronting the dark sides of humanity.

But I personally think it’s a mistake to offer such book-by-book advice, precisely because it reinforces the presupposition that students in university literature, history, anthropology, law, etc. classes should by default expect nothing offensive, upsetting, or explicit, and are thus entitled to be warned as to departures from this norm. The history of humanity has been in large part the history of tyranny, mass murder, slavery, rape, racism, sexist oppression, and much more. (Thankfully, it hasn’t been only that, but many serious accounts, real or fictional, will include the evil as well as the good.)

Adults who study humanity should recognize that this is so. They should be prepared to deal with it at all times in their studies. Indeed, the more they want to fight such evils, the more they should be ready to deal with it without the need for trigger warnings or other supposed protections. And the institutions tasked with educating such adults ought to seek to inculcate such a perspective, as part of their educational function.

Yes, I agree with Volokh about the book-by-book warning; but I think that professors should always use a light finger on the trigger lest they infantilize students and make them think, as Volokh notes, that anything bad is “abnormal and traumatic.” Further, as studies have shown, trigger warnings don’t work—that is, they don’t reduce the trauma of students who say they are upset by material in a given genre. If anything —and this is like “implicit bias training”—they tend to have an effect opposite to what’s intended. Volokh gives the references to those studies in his article, and dp realize that the data are based on a handful of studies.

When I thought back on the novel, which I recently reread, I scratched my head about what part of its content would require a trigger warning. The furtive sex between Winston and Julia is not at all explicit. There’s a bit of violence when Winston gets caught and tortured, but even that isn’t very graphic.  Fortunately, the Daily Fail gives the trigger warning itself, which actually applies to a module of several works, one of which is Nineteen Eighty-Four.

From the Fail:

Now staff at the University of Northampton have issued a trigger warning for George Orwell’s novel on the grounds that it contains ‘explicit material’ which some students may find ‘offensive and upsetting’.

. . . Yet it is one of several literary works which have been flagged up to students at Northampton who are studying a module called Identity Under Construction. They are warned that the module ‘addresses challenging issues related to violence, gender, sexuality, class, race, abuses, sexual abuse, political ideas and offensive language’.

What is, exactly, “explicit material”? The violence and sex in Orwell’s book is largely implicit—described obliquely rather than graphically.

And for crying out loud: if you are offended by violence, class, race, political ideas, and so on, you should NOT be reading the newspaper! As for the other topics, you shouldn’t be reading serious literature at all.  Madame Bovary: “Warning: contains adultery, sex, and suicidal violence”.  You could use the same warning for Anna Karenina!  And violence, oy! There goes War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, and even the Bible. (Do they give trigger warnings in theology class?) Ulysses and anything by Henry Miller or Cormac McCarthy are of course out completely. In fact, I defy you to think of a great work of literature that wouldn’t require a trigger warning on any of the grounds above.  I just remembered The Great Gatsby, but of course that has death by auto accident, murder, and domestic violence.

There’s a common thread in much wokeness, one first brought up by Haidt and Lukianoff in their excellent book The Coddling of the American Mind, which suggests these three principles (they call them the “Great Untruths”) for understanding the behavior of modern young people:

  1. “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker”
  2. “Always trust your feelings”, and
  3. “Life is a battle between good people and evil people.”

It’s time to stop infantilizing people and treat them like adults. (One example: when we wrote our critique of the hit job on Ed Wilson published in Scientific American, several people warned us that we should go easy on the author—or even not criticize her views—because she was black. That outraged me, because if you believe in affirming the dignity of all people, you must treat the arguments of minorities as you would the arguments of anyone else: if you object to them, you do so strongly but civilly. To do otherwise is to be condescending, paternalistic, and, in fact, racist.)

But enough. Yes, professors can dispense trigger warnings if they want, but they should realize that there’s no evidence that they work, and that when they do so they are practicing the first Great Untruth. I don’t know how my generation got through college without mass trauma.

h/t: Anna

60 thoughts on “A trigger warning for Nineteen Eighty-Four !

    1. Indeed, and it should be obvious that a rational and sensible person ought to treat any argument on its merits, whether it be from “people of pallor” or BIPOC, yet, in fact, it is hardly difficult to find “wokesters” who (apparently) believe sincerely that to be “color-blind” is somehow to be anti-anti-racist, according to the irrational Kendian binary “logic” (or, rather, lack thereof). Interestingly, it was Orwell (a man of the left, albeit a contrarian) who warned, 75 years ago, about the misuse of the word “fascism” to mean simply anything “not desirable.”

  1. Trigger warnings are essentially useless without some kind of magnitude or level. California’s prop 65 requires warnings on items which contain cancer-causing chemicals. The warning is on so many products and places without any indication of relative hazard that it doesn’t mean much.

    1. And if you can’t provide certified results that you don’t have them, you have to label. So many just label and avoid the high cost of testing. Yes, this negates the whole point of the labeling.

      Another instance of the general public bein incapable of understanding the implications of a law.

      Direct democracy is generally performing pretty poorly: As should be expected. The average skill level is far below that of “the elites” who normally formulate law and policy. The expected result!

  2. My wife and I started watching the Netflix series “The Witcher” (meh) over the weekend, and there was a trigger warning that included the usual sex/violence/nudity, and then smoking. And it was a gyp because there was no smoking in that episode!

    Now, for a show like that, it makes sense to have a warning because you might have kids in the house whom you don’t want to see a giant spider with a man’s face (a spider-man, if you will). It seems to me, though, that, when you do that to a book, you are really warning readers away. The idea that college-age students need to be warned about life is like rushing over to a toddler who has fallen down, and asking if they are alright: usually the fuss will convince them that they are not. Trigger warnings are disrespectful to the students, set the wrong tone, and as much as tell students that these topics should be avoided.

    1. Well the lawyers probably have them do it to immunize them from lawsuit, so in that sense it’s sincere.

      But in another sense, it’s a form of advertising. No movie or TV show loses viewership with a “warning: nudity” alert.

      1. Yes, on the movie warnings at the beginning of DVDs, when it says contains sex (especially), language, and violence, my wife usually says, “Excellent. Let’s watch!”

  3. Students need to be told that a dystopian novel has people experiencing bad stuff in it? Do they not understand the concept?

    Similarly with historical fiction. Do they not understand that in past eras, a lot more sexism, racism, and violence happened? We aren’t even a hundred years away from ‘good fathering’ including beating your kids with sticks and marital rape being legal. This stuff happened. Along with less intentionally malicious but still horrific things like lots of children dying from disease. Books set in eras when that stuff happened will likely have some of that stuff happening in them.

    1. Actually, I think the students are probably bright enough to understand these things. I’ve only read two George Orwell books and Nineteen Eighty Four is not one of them. However, when I was at school (high school for the USians), I remember my headmaster reading the scene involving Room 101 out in assembly to the whole school. Nobody seemed to be concerned about the concept of rats in a cage eating their way out through Winston Smith’s head and nobody got triggered or traumatised.

      I sometimes wonder what these people think they are achieving. Do they really think we’re all children who can’t cope with bad things? Worse: do they think constituents of certain minorities can’t cope and need protecting from these bad things? Or are they just weaponising trigger warnings because it gives them power to tell us what to do and what to think? See comment #1 for my thoughts about that.

      1. What they’re achieving is virtue signalling. The content warnings are not there for the benefit of the students, they are there in order to signal: “hey everybody, I’m against sexual abuse …” or whatever the warning is about.

        After all, “silence is violence” so failing to flag your disapproval amounts to being complicit in any dark deeds within the novel.

      2. People have seen far worse that the rat scene nowadays in movies by the time they are in their mid-teens, and have probably been exposed to even more in graphic novels (meaning fancy comic books, not novels with graphic descriptions).

      3. I did read Nineteen Eighty-Four when in school.

        My favorites from Orwell:
        His collected essays
        Homage to Catalonia
        Down and Out in Paris and London
        The Road to Wigan Pier

        I guess that is his non-fiction bibliography, isn’t it? Probably says more about me than about Orwell.

    2. Re “Do they not understand that in past eras, a lot more sexism, racism, and violence happened? We aren’t even a hundred years away from ‘good fathering’ including beating your kids with sticks and marital rape being legal.”

      *Obviously* you’re a cishet white male, no doubt *old* af, and I do NOT appreciate this kind of gaslighting and HATEFUL!!!!!! suggestions that the world is better today!


  4. This is consistent with a theory which is mine :

    If a person or thing is not popular, famous, successful, or otherwise credited with anything modern, then it is not worth the screentime to hold forth on its “problematicity”.

    Orwell, as Tolstoy, IS all those things – the “modern” component being the tangible printed books, or even the Internet copies thereof.

    But that does not explain “why Orwell?” Orwell is worth the screentime because his writing shines like a flashlight on a particular activity in a way nothing else does, which calls for some distinction to be made.

    “Why Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty Four?”

    “Because people need to understand that adapting our language and living life on Tw1773r is not at all what Nineteen-Eighty Four was describing.”

  5. Speaking of coddling and rereading books, I’m near the end of a reread of Robert Hughes’s excellent “Culture of Complaint” from 1993. Here’s an excerpt:

    “For when the 1960s’ animus against elitism entered American education, it brought in its train an enormous and cynical tolerance of student ignorance, rationalized as a regard for ‘personal expression’ and ‘self-esteem.’ Rather than ‘stress’ the kids by asking them to read too much or think too closely, which might cause their fragile personalities to implode on contact with college-level demands, schools reduced their reading assignments, thus automatically reducing their command of language. Untrained in logical analysis, ill-equipped to develop and construct formal arguments about issues, unused to mining texts for deposits of factual material, the students fell back to the only position they could truly call their own: what they FELT about about things. When feelings and attitudes are the main referents of argument, to attack any position is automatically to insult its holder, or even to assail his or her perceived ‘rights’; every argumentum becomes ad hominem, approaching the condition of harassment, if not quite rape. ‘I feel very threatened by your rejection of my views on [check one] phallocentricity/the Mother Goddess/the Treaty of Vienna/Young’s Modulus of Elasticity.’ Cycle this subjectivization of discourse through two or three generations of students turning into teachers, with the sixties’ dioxins accumulating more each time, and you have the entropic background to our culture of complaint.”

    1. One of my favorite books, one of my favorite authors! About twenty years ago I was privileged to be in the audience at a professional conference for a memorable talk Hughes gave on this book. I used to never miss his art criticism in Time magazine. I would also recommend his book, The Fatal Shore, especially apropos given our host’s recent mentions of Botany Bay.

  6. How are these coddled people going to be able survive the many dystopian and murderous features of the real world? Oh! I know! Have them spend their lives strapped into VR goggles and maybe then they will feel secure! I hope there is enough backlash to this idiocy to squash it back to an acceptable level.

  7. I would strongly dispute the characterization “There’s a bit of violence when Winston gets caught and tortured, but even that isn’t very graphic.”. In the Room 101 part, O’Brien chillingly describes how he’s going to torture Winston by having RATS EAT HIS FACE! It’s a scene straight out of a horror movie. I still remember it decades later. O’Brien’s a Hannibal Lector level psychopath, giving a monologue about the pain he’s planning to inflict.

    “‘The rat,’ said O’Brien, still addressing his invisible audience, ‘although a rodent, is carnivorous. You are aware of that. You will have heard of the things that happen in the poor quarters of this town. In some streets a woman dare not leave her baby alone in the house, even for five minutes. The rats are certain to attack it. Within quite a small time they will strip it to the bones. They also attack sick or dying people. They show astonishing intelligence in knowing when a human being is helpless.'”

    “… ‘I have pressed the first lever,’ said O’Brien. ‘You understand the construction of this cage. The mask will fit over your head, leaving no exit. When I press this other lever, the door of the cage will slide up. These starving brutes will shoot out of it like bullets. Have you ever seen a rat leap through the air? They will leap on to your face and bore straight into it. Sometimes they attack the eyes first. Sometimes they burrow through the cheeks and devour the tongue.’ ”

    It’s fine to say students are adults and literature is disturbing. But that is graphic.

      1. I’d describe it as “graphic descriptions of anticipated torture”. Yes, it’s “anticipated” and not actually done. But the text is gruesome:

        “The circle of the mask was large enough now to shut out the vision of anything else. The wire door was a couple of hand-spans from his face. The rats knew what was coming now. One of them was leaping up and down, the other, an old scaly grandfather of the sewers, stood up, with his pink hands against the bars, and fiercely sniffed the air. Winston could see the whiskers and the yellow teeth. Again the black panic took hold of him. He was blind, helpless, mindless.

        ‘It was a common punishment in Imperial China,’ said O’Brien as didactically as ever.”

        If that was rendered faithfully in a TV show or a movie (e.g. point of view close-up camera angle of the mask with hungry rats coming to eat Winston’s face), there definitely would be some sort of notice about disturbing content related to torture.

        1. Whether or not Orwell unleashes the rats onto Winston’s fictional face, I think the text is undeniably graphic and explicit, but does that really then dictate that a trigger warning is required? As Volokh says in the quoted piece

          “Adults who study humanity should recognize that this [the existence of tyranny, violence, slavery, rape, torture etc] is so. They should be prepared to deal with it at all times in their studies. Indeed, the more they want to fight such evils, the more they should be ready to deal with it without the need for trigger warnings or other supposed protections. And the institutions tasked with educating such adults ought to seek to inculcate such a perspective, as part of their educational function”.

          By steering students away from all except the anodyne in order to protect their sensitivities the likely outcome is that they end up less able to cope with the the horrors that exist in real life.

          I also cannot help wondering how many of the students who, in class, cannot be expected to cope with anything remotely dark, go back to their homes or dorms afterwards and play on the many extremely violent and graphic computer games which sell so well.

          1. Whether or not warnings are “required” at all is a question as to what standards are to be followed. My point is that under the typical and completely non-woke standards of general public mores (again, completely apart from the issue if one thinks these are valid or useful), graphic descriptions of anticipated torture do qualify under such standards. That is, there’s a difference between “Students should be expected to take in stride literature with horrible things” vs “Why does anyone think a gory description proposing to torture a prisoner by having rats eat his face, would prompt a warning beforehand?”.

            I didn’t see anything about being “steered away” or not “expected to cope”. Way back in high school, I recall being shown part of the film “Night And Fog”, about concentration camps. And beforehand the teacher said some stuff about how these images could be very upsetting. Nobody was told they shouldn’t watch it. But I don’t think it was improper to say that, and it doesn’t seem relevant that horror films can be worse.

      2. And EXTREMELY cool ! It made a huge impact on me at 15 – I can still almost recite many sections of the book.

      3. Since it’s in a book, I’m not sure the distinction between the author of the book describing rats stripping babies to the bone and a character in the book describing rats stripping babies to the bone amounts to very much. The image that passage evokes in my mind is pretty explicit and graphic.

        Nevertheless, as I said above, my headmaster at school once read that passage out to a whole school assembly (this would have been in the early 1980’s). The youngest children there would have been about thirteen. Nobody was traumatised and nobody was triggered.

        It seems that school children back in the 80’s were considered to be more mature and capable of handling “adult themes” than students in the 2020’s.

    1. And teeth pulled, right? I need to read it again. I reread it about 15 years ago and there were two eye-openers for me since reading it as a teen:

      1) It’s not actually very well written or structured, purely from a writing point of view. It felt lumpy. (And that does not in any way for me reduce its importance and powerful messages.)

      2) Sex! Sex is a huge part of the novel, and in fact is central to Winston and Julia’s rebellion. I did not recall Orwell’s emphasis on this.

      Orwell is one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, IMO, and “Nineteen Eighty-four” is brilliant.

  8. I read Nineteen Eighty Four in high school. I also read Portnoy’s Complaint, Tropic of Cancer (or was it Capricorn?), Candy and any seedy, explicit paperback I could find at the Walgreens! I came out just fine, right, just fine. Right as rain, I am. No problemo.

    1. Yes, that’s the other aspect of this situation: parents complaining about content they ingested as teens (and were fine with) being inappropriate for their teens.

      So the kids who grew up on Elmer Fudd hunting Bugs Bunny decided in their ’40s that guns in cartoons would turn their kids into serial killers. The kids who staged Grease in High School grew up into parents who harangue networks to bleep out the sex references in the movie version – for the teens! And so on.

    2. Cancer is set in Depression-era Paris; Capricorn is a prequel of sorts, set in Brooklyn in the Twenties, its main obsession Miller’s tempestuous marriage to June, while working as a messenger for Western Union (aka the “Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company”).

      Maybe that’ll help you remember which one it was. 🙂

  9. I agree with Prof. Coyne’s general thoughts on trigger warnings, but I strongly disagree with this part:

    “I scratched my head about what part of its content would require a trigger warning.”

    True, there is no explicit sex or blood and gore in the book. But the ending is absolutely nightmare-level horrifying. It’s the complete destruction of a person’s mind and spirit. When threatened with torture, Winston breaks down and screams for O’Brien to torture the woman he loves instead. At the end of the story, Winston is an empty husk. He doesn’t love Julia, he doesn’t care about rebelling against the evil system in any way. O’Brien has succeeded in erasing Winston’s character. If that’s not suitable for a trigger warning, I don’t know what is.

    1. I don’t think that’s suitable for a trigger warning. Is the warning supposed to be: Warning: this book details the destruction of a man’s mind and spirit.
      Do you think that generations of students who read that book without trigger warnings are still suffering from PTSD? I don’t think so. Stuff like this appears in the newspaper every day.

      1. I agree. IMO if there is a useful component of trigger warnings, it is to forewarn people with trauma that the book contains a description of an act like the one that traumatized them. Realistically, no high schooler has gone through what Winston does. It should not trigger any flashback, because 99.99% of high schoolers have no similar experience to flash back to. Yes it’s horrifying, but because of it’s differentness to regular life it also has an academic distance to it that should allow the vast majority of kids to understand it without being overcome by it.

        This is in fact one of the primary tools of smart sci-fi (and other genres of fiction, though sci-fi uses it a lot); to place relevant social commentary in a setting that is different enough from real life that a person can think abstractly about a subject that they would otherwise never be emotionally open to. Nineteen Eighty-Four does it marvelously.

      2. The reductio ad absurdum of the current woke fixation on identity and “own stories” and trigger warnings is that they seem to be striving for a world in which people may only write of their own “lived experiences,” even in fiction (gussying is potentially allowable, but soooo many minefields in, say, inventing aliens because, you know, they *will* be perceived by some as stand-ins for X real people), and therefore no trigger warnings will be needed. (On second thought, perhaps it will come to the easily triggered censoring their own painful memories.)

        At any rate, the world of literature and all art will be reduced to navel-gazing memoirs of interest to exactly no one but the writers themselves.

        And this, perhaps, is the goal….

      3. Yes: We need to stop infantilizing high school kids and college students.

        They have not changed that much since I was at university. They are more resilient than the woke crowd think. I don’t think most kids (outside of expensive, elite, liberal arts colleges) fall for the victimhood schtick.

    2. The only trigger warning required is the warning Winston is always giving himself, to await the inevitable bullet that will come from nowhere at the back of his head, finally erasing his life after his spirit is destroyed. If I remember it correctly.

    3. You might as well issue a trigger warning on all great literature.

      I read three Shakespeare plays at school: Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Othello. In all three plays we witness the complete destruction of the protagonists. Othello also has some fairly graphic sexual imagery – albeit only in the form of words spoken by Iago.

      1. Indeed.

        As Jonathan Gottschall explains in his excellent book The Storytelling Animal, what makes a story is: Trouble. And the bigger the trouble, the better.

        All enduring stories deal with enduring human themes: Sex, power, violence, war, family. All “triggering”.

  10. As I recall “trigger warnings” were initially reserved for realistic, detailed depictions of rape or child abuse. The reasoning was that those who had been victimized by the above needed time to either brace themselves or request another assignment if necessary. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, originally a diagnosis for soldiers suffering from what used to be called “shell shock,” had been extended to include civilians who survived horrendous situations. The students who defended trigger warnings in class argued that the small subset of students involved needed particular consideration. Under those limited situations, it was hard to argue against trigger warnings.

    I’m curious then to know to what extent students today want them for themselves, or for others — rape victims and the like. My guess would be that a fair percentage still imagines someone seriously suffering from PTSD requiring them. For the rest of the supporters, it’s concept creep. What started out as a laudable attempt to protect a fraction of people who genuinely benefited from them succeeded in pathologizing anything distressing.

    1. If I was trying to give up smoking, I’d probably avoid shows that have a lot of smoking in them, or books that describe it in detail. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is a decent tool to help overcome bad habits. So in that respect, I’d probably welcome a warning about it on a show etc. Not to be pathological or oversensitive about it and certainly not to tell authors what they ought or ought not put in their stories, but just to provide me with information. Problem is, it’s hard for a show or teacher introducing a book to give that information without sounding to everyone else like a judgmental nanny.

      Is there a web site that lists warning labels by book/movie? Maybe we just refer kids to something like that. That way kids who know they have an issue can look it up (sort of like kids with allergies paying attention to the ingredients list), and kids who don’t have any such issue don’t have to sit through an overbearing, ridiculous, or unintentionally moralistic warning speech.

    2. There is a new book by noted trauma expert George Bonanno, “The End of Trauma: How the New Science of Resilience Is Changing How We Think About PTSD,” which argues (per the description on Amazon):

      “In ‘The End of Trauma,’ pioneering psychologist George A. Bonanno argues that we failed to predict the psychological response to 9/11 because most of what we understand about trauma is wrong. For starters, it’s not nearly as common as we think. In fact, people are overwhelmingly resilient to adversity. What we often interpret as PTSD are signs of a natural process of learning how to deal with a specific situation. We can cope far more effectively if we understand how this process works.”

      I think it’s about time we revised our thinking on trauma. It seems the tide has washed way too far inland on the idea of what qualifies as “trauma,” which seems to be one of Bonanno’s point (I’ve not yet read the book, but it’s in my audiobook queue; I’ve heard him interviewed).

  11. Some explain discouraging phenomena like trigger-warning mania with reference to social media, while Haidt and Lukianoff present a theory involving helicopters and styles of parenting in the 1990s. Hughes’ excellent “Culture of Complaint” (1993) and Lasch’s even earlier “Culture of Narcissism” (1979) indicate that something much earlier, and perhaps deeper, has been at work for more than a generation. One possibility might be that a change in family dynamics, following on trends that were perceived as liberative in the 1960s, generated a significant change in personality development.

    Let me suggest the following. The positive side of what we call “the sixties”—general liberation from traditional social roles, the increase in tolerance and empathy—were actually outgrowths of the culture
    of the 1950s (which we in the 60s imagined we were rebelling against). The excesses of the
    60s, and of its partly imaginary rebellion, led exactly to the narcissism and complaint-culture of later
    decades, and thus to all the bullshit we now characterize as “woke”.

    As for a gaffer like me, all I can say is that I need a trigger warning for the phrase “trigger warning”, as well as for the pronoun obsession, the offense brigades, the DEI nomenklatura, and all the rest.

  12. We live a time where fetishizing trauma makes you special and unique and worthy of love. It’s so needy. Stop complaining about trauma. You aren’t traumatized, you had a bad feeling. It’s part of life and experience. Reading something in a book for most people isn’t trauma.

  13. A modest proposal: Attach bland, perfunctory, even performative trigger warnings to every bit of published prose, and let the readers sort it out. I’d be tempted to sort through the trigger warnings for the good stuff.

    1. My solution would be to put on the syllabus: “Note to students: if you are deeply disturbed by the mention or discussion of certain topics, please come see me and I will tell you privately which lectures or readings deal with those topics.” But since I taught evolution and speciation my whole career, I never had to make this decision

      1. But since I taught evolution and speciation…

        “Triggerfish warning…”

        “Lectures cover the birds and the bees.”

        “Readings discuss Boobies, Clams, Tits and Asses.”

        “Scenes of nature red in tooth and claw discussed.”

        “Lectures contain graphic depictions of survival of the fittest, descent with modification, and differential reproductive success. Not every animal wins. Listener discretion is advised.”

        1. “Not every animal wins.”

          At this late stage of Earth’s existence, what are the stats on that. Is it in the 1% ish area? Perhaps it’s an unsolvable question.

          1. Depends on how you measure winning. Still alive today? Longest span on earth? Google tells me sponges hold the current record for animals, at 760 million years and still going strong. Sponges are the GOATS of the animals. 🙂

    1. Sort of reminds me of a Keanu Reeves quote (not that I consider him a paradigm of wisdom):
      “A lot of people don’t struggle with depression, they struggle with the reality that we live in.”

  14. Goodness! I’ve read Nineteen Eighty Four more times than any other book and I’m amazed anybody could even think of (stupid IMHO) “trigger warnings.” Wow.

    Kudos to PCC (E) for NOT going easy on Scientific American’s shenanigans and writing the letter in the first place.

  15. Like videos of actual torture and killings, I didn’t finish that book – no need, only emotional pain. I’m too much of an optimist to find that book’s universe entertaining.

    The Coddling of the American Mind, which suggests these three principles (they call them the “Great Untruths”) for understanding the behavior of modern young people:

    “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker”

    I hadn’t heard about those principles, but maybe I’ve heard them individually – I believed I came up with that one myself after hearing about the reverse principle and reflecting how the above instead applies on your body. Everything that isn’t ordinary damage leaves a scar (so excepting for instance muscle inflammation after training).

    I see where they are coming from but they could be more accurate.

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