Of course trigger warnings and safe spaces are a good thing…

…we furries use them all the time.

We note when something is NSFW. We tag art describing potentially offensive content, so people can opt to ignore it. We write about rape and murder and we make sure our readers are forewarned. Here at [a][s], we mention controversial topics in the opening sentences, giving readers the choice before they click through to the entire article.

A trigger warning on a recent article here at [adjective][species]. By mentioning the potentially harmful content, the reader can decide whether to read on.
A trigger warning on a recent article here at [adjective][species]. By mentioning the potentially harmful content, the reader can decide whether to read on.
Sometimes, furry edges into expression of extreme ideas and concepts. And on the whole we do a really good, uncomplicated, uncontroversial job of balancing the desire to freely express ourselves—however bizarrely—without unduly freaking out furs who would prefer not to deal with that right now, thanks very much.

Recently here on [a][s] we published an article by Angriff that worried itself with the potential for trigger warnings and safe spaces to unreasonably impinge on furry freedom of expression. It’s a contrarian point of view compared with most of [a][s]‘s readers and writers, and it generated a lot of discussion – most of it in the right spirit.

Angriff cites a small handful of examples where (non furry) progressive social justice politics have (in his opinion) gone a bit overboard. He feels, like me, that the furry world currently has a good balance, but he worries that we may head in the wrong direction by becoming overly sensitive towards vulnerable people.

He illustrates his point with a hypothetical, where a fursuiter’s accoutrements might be banned from a convention for being potentially triggering. He recognizes that there is a contest of two legitimate preferences: that of the fursuiter to display, say, realistic toy guns; and that of a convention to ban said guns for being potentially traumatic.

Angriff is tilting at windmills. He is comparing the current furry world with a hypothetical one. He doesn’t have an enemy, so he’s imagined a situation where one might appear.

I’m being a bit glib. I don’t mean to impugn the validity of Angriff’s opinion. I am, after all, the editor who worked with him to arrange and polish the article for publication here at [a][s]. Obviously I think it’s an argument worth making, even as I write here that it’s flawed, slight, and perhaps unnecessarily provocative.

Angriff’s argument is, at heart, a conservative one. He sees the way furry balances the competing preferences for maximum freedom and minimum harm and worries about how this may change in the future. He sees change—the progressive alternative—as being potentially negative, and he would like to resist that.

Angriff’s conservative argument—things are good the way they are right now—is the default position for anyone who feels comfortable with their place in the world. (Another formulation is “everything was good back when I was 18 years old”.) It’s an argument that resists change, and it’s no coincidence that the people who make conservative arguments are overwhelmingly those who have the easiest ride in society: they are—roughly—older, white, straight, cis, men.

History shows that progressive arguments tend to be insurgent. They come from a disaffected minority, motivated by inequality or by envy, attacking the values of the majority. Progressive movements tend to be young, and made up—at least initially—of the minority group being repressed. In the last hundred years or so, that would include the suffragettes, civil rights movements, gay rights, and our current crop of progressive activists. Warriors for social justice, all.

People agitating for better trigger warnings and public safe spaces are motivated by the wish to protect the vulnerable. They feel that, right now, vulnerable people are being unfairly exposed to traumatic content, and so they wish for things to change to redress this problem.

The progressive argument is a compelling one, if only because it doesn’t rely on the premise that things happen to be good exactly the way they are. From the conservative perspective, progressive change has gone just far enough, and to go further may tilt the balance to unfairly privilege a vocal minority. But, like a stopped clock telling the right time, that seems vanishingly unlikely. The conservative argument is one based on fear (of change)—things might get worse—, the progressive based on hope: things might get better.

Angriff is right when he says that things are good at the moment. I agree that furry is doing a pretty terrific job of balancing our competing preferences of maximum freedom and minimum harm. But I disagree that we can’t do more to protect the vulnerable. It’s a worthy, progressive, goal to change our world to make it a fairer one, even if we risk overbalancing and tipping the scales the other way.

Change is something to be embraced. We can make our world a better, fairer, more inclusive place.

Which begs the question: why publish Angriff’s piece in the first place?

The first answer is that, in my opinion, it met [adjective][species] editorial standards for style and content. I found Angriff’s first draft to be interesting, and we worked together until it reached a standard where I was happy for it to be published.

The second answer is that I wanted it published because I disagree with Angriff. I like hearing the points of view of people I disagree with, because that is how I learn new things. I usually—not always—have a good handle on the reasons for my own point of view. I learn more by paying attention to contrarians.

I have a rule of thumb when I’m expressing an opinion, or listening to someone else expressing an opinion: if you can’t describe the other side’s point of view—using words they would agree with—then you don’t understand the topic at hand.

(In that spirit, Angriff has read an early draft of this piece, and he is comfortable with my characterization of his argument. He has also agreed to refrain from commenting.)

Articles like Angriff’s are valuable because they add to the diversity of voices here on [a][s]. That breadth of perspective is what drives conversation, and ultimately understanding between divergent groups. Furry is a broad church and the [adjective][species] tagline—the furry world from the inside out—implicitly includes that full range of voices.

That said, there are things that we could have done better, not least presenting Angriff’s contrarian argument in a more positive way. But we will keep seeking and publishing informed and intelligent writing here on [a][s], and accept that sometimes mistakes will happen. We have a lot to talk about.

About JM

JM is a horse-of-all-trades who was introduced to furry in his native Australia by the excellent group known collectively as the Perthfurs. JM now helps run [adjective][species] from London, where he is most commonly spotted holding a pint and talking nonsense.

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17 thoughts on “Of course trigger warnings and safe spaces are a good thing…

  1. I want to think it’s kind of missing the point, though.

    Opinions are okay. Contrarian opinions are okay. But opinions are also built on facts, and intentionally getting the facts wrong to support your opinion is a problem. As an editor, you should step in and say “No, this fact is factually wrong. It is incorrect. It is untrue. I cannot allow, even if it is an opinion piece, for you to state wrong facts in the support of your opinion.”

    An argument only becomes bolstered by the premises that are true. By posting false premises, a straw man argument / editorial was created, and it is your job as editor to prohibit these type of editorials if you wish to maintain some level of journalistic and professional integrity.

    People most definitely have the right to their opinions, but they do not have the right to their own facts. You went for a shock article, because I guess you wanted to create traffic, and you got what you got.

    Ultimately, it’s on you. You say articles like Angriff’s are important because they add to the diversity of voices, but that’s just a lie. That article didn’t add to a diverse voice, it just showed that [A][S] does not have good editorial control. It wasn’t persuasive, it was a joke. It was shoddy. It wasn’t a service, it was a disservice and dishonesty to your readers.

    There are plenty of comments and commentary that can be made about trigger warnings and safe spaces and the changing viewpoints of what we create and how we interact with it both as creators and consumers, and those can be for or against those warnings for logical, sound, factual reasons. But don’t pretend a lack of editorial integrity was good because it generated “commentary.” Conspirarcy theory websites arguing that Obama is part of the Muslim Brotherhood generate commentary. It doesn’t make them factual OR valuable.

    1. Graeme, thanks for the comment and for expressing how many people feel about Angriff’s piece.

      You are right to say that this one is “on me”: I fact-checked Angriff’s piece, as well as editing it, and I deemed it appropriate for [a][s]. I respect that you disagree with that, for all the reasons you cite, and that it’s fair to blame shoddy editorial control. That’s a reasonable value judgement, one I don’t share (although the article was lineball for me), but one you probably have in common with a few people.

      The only thing I’ll say is that wanting to create traffic was never a consideration. We’ve written about a lot of controversial topics here on [a][s] over the years, and we’ve done so because we think they are relevant to furry.

      All I can say is that, I hope that the “shoddy” 1% of [a][s] doesn’t scare you off the 99%. We are a collaborative blog, and that means that some of our contributors and content will be perceived as irrelevant or unwanted or negative by pretty much everyone from time to time.

      When we touch on topics like Angriff’s, we will seek and publish counterpoints to provide balance as we have done here. And of course we will always consider ideas and drafts at submit@adjectivespecies.com.

      1. I think you still miss my point.

        False information does not need “counterpoints”, it needs to be outright rejected as false at it’s face. Arguments and issues have multiple sides, but facts do not. Facts are singular and tautological. You don’t owe it to us to provide “balance”, which is a logical fallacy in its own right (re: false balance, false equivellance), you owe it to us to provide factual arguments.

        1. Graeme, thanks for the clarification. I think our only disagreement is whether Angriff’s article and argument was fallacious. I can see both sides. I felt—and still feel—that it on balance it was okay. But I respect that you, and others, don’t see it that way.

  2. Warnings about violence, sex etc are one things. Warnings about every potentially upsetting thing is another. The problem with trigger warnings and safe spaces is that they are being taken to ridiculous extremes.

    In the so-called name of tolerance and diversity we are seeing people writing about how eating food from foreign countries or doing yoga is “cultural appropriation” and should be stopped. When universities have to come up with new terms for house masters because some people think the term master evokes memories of slavery (despite plenty of other meanings for the word) then we have a problem.

    Those events are not protecting the vulnerable or being progressive, they are short-sighted, superficial changes that will have long term negative consequences. Think how in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, TV schedules were changed and anything mentioning shooting became taboo out of sensitivity. That was for 100 people killed. Approximately 150 000 people die every day yet we don’t think about all those who might be mourning the recent deaths of loved ones every Halloween.

    1. Rakuen, thanks for the comment, and I think you do a pretty good job of summing up the argument opposed to the one I’ve outlined in my article.

      Social justice movements are, almost by definition, progressive and intended to protect the vulnerable. But you’re right to say that not every idea turns out to be a good one. Thinking back to first wave feminism for example, an awful lot of good came out of that movement, not least of which was the right of women to vote. However there were also negatives that only became clear in the balance of time, not the least of which was prohibition.

      Justice movements often look silly or superficial because they raise things that the mainstream think are non-issues. Your mention of cultural appropriation and yoga is a good example. Maybe that’s something that will ultimately being progressive-good rather than progressive-bad. But I don’t know. As I said in the article, I need to understand both sides—and be able to explain them using words they would agree with—otherwise I’m speaking from ignorance.

      That’s why I think conversation, like we’ve tried to do here on [a][s], is a good thing. It helps us understand the people we don’t agree with. That’s why I think Angriff’s piece has value, and indeed why I think my own piece has value. I’m not going to shout down ideas because they seem silly or superficial, and nor should you.

      But all that said, I do agree with your fundamental point: that there is a balance to be found. Not all progressive ideas are good ones, and even good ideas can go too far. We won’t know we’ve reached that balance without talking about it, trying it out, and in the fullness of time.

      1. We’ve discussed this before :-)

        Generally, I’d like to apply gentle pressure against folks clamoring for public safe spaces, and warnings on anything possibly upsetting – not because I’m not in favor of an inclusive society, but because I believe strongly for an inclusive society. I don’t want to see the pendulum swing too far, I know its swinging though. In the past conservatives used their social standing, control of the press, control of the public square as a brick bat to squelch views they disagreed with.

        The first wave feminists as you adroitly pointed outed out, used the power of the word of god, and the men of the cloth to outlaw alcohol, so while I know the pendulum will swing back if we go too far down the rabbit hole, I’d just assume to prevent us from going down the rabbit hole in the first place.

        In short, no one has the right to not be offended.

        Everyone should be able to go thru life and be themselves, but this does not mean they get a life free from discomfort or adversity, and just this is what some of the people who identify as social justice warriors state as their desire. Adversity makes your stronger, discomfort teaches you things, life must exist in the balance between joy and wonder, and discomfort and strife.

  3. So when older, white, straight, cis, men are in the minority, as seems soon to be the case, will support for their causes and interests become progressive? :-)

    “He illustrates his point with a hypothetical, where a fursuiter’s accoutrements might be banned from a convention for being potentially triggering.” – in case you missed it, this just happened at MFF. There weren’t even any guns involved. Seems the hypothetical world is all too quickly becoming the real one.

        1. For what it’s worth, I think it may technically have been the hotel which banned them; though when you have a contract with said hotel through 2018, it has much the same effect as a con-led ban. Also, the wording was “until 2017”, so technically it’s for one more year, as well as the past event.

          This journal and its comments contain many assertions, but they’re tricky to piece together, and it would be nice to hear the other side of it, particularly from anyone who was harmed by the presence of the suit; perhaps even something from MFF.

        2. Hi Aloha, thanks for the comments and for participating in this discussion. Of course it’s something we have talked about at some length, and I’m sure you can see elements of that conversation reappearing in my article.

          I understand that you respect the flying of the Confederate flag on two grounds: firstly, as an expression of freedom to fly whatever you damn well like, and secondly because it’s a representation of Southern pride. I can imagine that the ban on the fursuit makes you ill for those reasons.

          But surely the racist connotations of the Confederate flag make it inappropriate for a large furry gathering, in the same way my hypothetical “I hate faggots” shirt would be (in my response to Greenreaper)?

          I understand that not everyone thinks the Confederate flag is racist, but everyone is aware that many people think it is. You can see that in the FA journal made by the fursuit creator, where he literally argues that slavery wasn’t racist. More to the point, after our discussion on the topic I came away thinking “yes, that flag is definitely a racist symbol”.

          To put it another way: as a white tourist in the Southern US, if my car had broken down, I would have been perfectly comfortable asking for assistance from someone displaying that flag in their yard. If I were a black tourist: I absolutely would not. Whether the person displaying the flag intends it to be racist or not is irrelevant; what’s important is how it is perceived.

          That’s not to say I think the fursuiter should (or shouldn’t) have been banned. All I’m saying is that – for all the positive expression of the Confederate flag fursuit – there are obviously negative things about it as well.

          1. Largely First Amendment Grounds, if not solely – I find the southern pride argument, while quite relevant, to be less than convincing. I also don’t consider it specifically to be a racist symbol, I will say however a whole lot of people who identify as racists sure seem to like it.

            That said, I’m disconcerted to hear about the fursuit makers comments, and it does make me look at the actions in MFF in a less harsh light – who knows what this duo may have said at con – I would have no problem banning someone with those attitudes at a con I was working. I’m quite tolerant of the confederate flag as a vehicle for free speech, I’m less so of it being used as a racist brickbat, merely as a tactic to inflame and offend others and make asinine statements about the grand equality of slavery.

          2. The first amendment does not apply to private clubs.

            Private clubs and businesses are allowed to ban whoever they want, for almost any reason.

    1. It’s a timely incident indeed!

      The confederate flag fursuit is a terrific, if bizarre, example of exactly what Angriff and I (and Corgi) have written about. There are two clear competing desires: the desire of the fursuiter to express himself (as outlined in his FA journal), and the desire of people to not be exposed to a racist symbol.

      It’s important to note that the flag doesn’t need to be perceived as racist by everybody. Many people don’t think it’s racist. Many people do, as has been comprehensively outlined out there in the non-furry world.

      There is no right answer. To ban the fursuit/er impinges on his freedom of expression; to fail to ban it will cause harm. A judgement call needs to be made, and it’s the sort of judgement call we make all the time, as I’ve talked about in my article here. I don’t want to comment on whether the right call has been made in this case, just that the conflict of interests seems obvious enough.

      To put it another way: I’d probably get banned from a furry convention if I walked around with “I hate faggots” on my t-shirt. The same competing desires are at play: freedom of expression vs freedom from harm.

      1. Honestly, I’d rather you not be banned for symbols which express dislike of some group, interest or person – even if that person is me. If you feel bad when you experience someone’s opinions in a shared space, that doesn’t make them a harm that should be punished. It means you need to get a grip.

        Now, if you started defaming individuals, or threatened violent action against someone, it’d be reasonable to do enough to prevent that from happening; but I don’t see how such a fursuit is a threat to anyone. At most, it might remind you of things you don’t like – if they were in your room party, that might be reason enough to throw them out, but a 5500-person convention is not your safe space.

    2. Hmm…maybe you need to go back and actually read what that “symbol” stood for and what actual generals of the Civil War said about the flag, and while it is not the true confederate flag, it was literally a symbol of slavery.

      So here is a bit of history for you which includes what it represented out of the mouths of those who made it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEbjojA2d9A

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