OUR CONVERSATIONS TO NOWHERE: The pros and cons of feeling “safe!”


Interlude—Minder knows best:
We couldn’t help feeling that Lawrence O’Donnell was helping us liberals feel “safe.”

Let’s be clear about that. No physical danger was being avoided as we watched The Last Word Monday night. We were being protected from something else—from various types of information which we liberals may not most enjoy.

For background, see yesterday’s report.

In a rational world, there was no reason why liberals and progressives should be shielded from the information at issue. That said, Lawrence and a scripted panel seemed intent on keeping us safe from information like this:
Information which got disappeared:
1) There's no reason to think that a widely-discussed gang rape actually happened.
2) The alleged victim in that case had made a long series of statements and claims which turned out to be false.
3) In failing to fact-check this person’s claims, Rolling Stone engaged in an astounding journalistic fail.
In a rational world, it would be helpful for progressives and liberals to understand those things. It would be helpful for us to know that not all claims turn out to be true, even if they comport with our larger beliefs, and that our “liberal” news orgs can massively fail, especially when they overreach in the pursuit of Tribal True Belief.

It would be helpful for liberals to know those things, but Lawrence wasn’t selling. Instead, he and his panel let us hear some familiar old scripts, the ones we most enjoy:
Some things we were told instead:
1) Universities won’t involve the police in rape allegations because it’s bad for business. (In the case of this rape claim, UVa seems to have called in the local police on three separate occasions.)
2) A black student was recently “brutalized” on the UVa campus. (The investigation of the incident has barely begun. The agency in question seems to have no history of mistreating black students.)
Was Martese Johnson “brutalized” in this recent incident? Like Lawrence’s unfortunate panel, we simply don’t know at this time.

Alas! Lawrence seemed to be protecting us from facts which don’t comport with our views in the most simple-minded ways. This unhelpful service is now being performed all over the “liberal” world.

Rush and Sean have always treated the public this way. Now, people like Lawrence are paid big bucks by corporate entities to bring these practices into the liberal world.

Remember when we fought a war “to keep the world safe for democracy?” People like Lawrence are striving to keep the world safe for the most simple-minded true belief.

This isn’t good for progressive causes, but these practices are widespread. Consider what happened at Brown last fall when a non-ideological student group decided to stage a debate.

The debate bore this title: “How Should Colleges Handle Sexual Assault?” Plainly, that’s a sensible topic—but the inclusion of Wendy McElroy, an “individualist feminist,” sparked a pre-debate debate which included concerns about “safety.”

In Last Sunday’s New York Times, Judith Shulevitz discussed these events, events which are well worth discussing. At the same time, we think Shulevitz was a bit snarky, especially toward several students at Brown, who may be 19 years old.

We thought Shulevitz should have focused more on the adults at Brown—at the adult authorities who, like O’Donnell, seemed to be keeping our “liberal” world safe for the most simple-minded ideas.

With those trigger warnings in place, here’s how Shulevitz started her piece. We include the headline, which basically pokes the students:
SHULEVITZ (3/22/15): In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas

Katherine Byron, a senior at Brown University and a member of its Sexual Assault Task Force, considers it her duty to make Brown a safe place for rape victims, free from anything that might prompt memories of trauma.

So when she heard last fall that a student group had organized a debate about campus sexual assault between Jessica Valenti, the founder of feministing.com, and Wendy McElroy, a libertarian, and that Ms. McElroy was likely to criticize the term “rape culture,” Ms. Byron was alarmed. “Bringing in a speaker like that could serve to invalidate people’s experiences,” she told me. It could be “damaging.”

Ms. Byron and some fellow task force members secured a meeting with administrators. Not long after, Brown’s president, Christina H. Paxson, announced that the university would hold a simultaneous, competing talk to provide “research and facts” about “the role of culture in sexual assault.” Meanwhile, student volunteers put up posters advertising that a “safe space” would be available for anyone who found the debate too upsetting.

The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma. Emma Hall, a junior, rape survivor and “sexual assault peer educator” who helped set up the room and worked in it during the debate, estimates that a couple of dozen people used it. At one point she went to the lecture hall—it was packed—but after a while, she had to return to the safe space. “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,” Ms. Hall said.
Byron and Hall, who are students at Brown, got snarked at pretty good in that passage. The description of the “safe space” which Hall helped set up pretty much lowered the boom on These Kids Today.

(Just for the record, that “safe space” was actually run by Bwell Health Promotion, a part of Brown health services. Shulevitz may have had her thumb on the scale a tad as she seemed to mock an overwrought Hall.)

Byron and Hall got snarked at good. In our view, President Paxson got off easy. Let’s discuss three types of conduct cited in that short passage.

Creating the safe space: It may sound silly—in fact, it does sound silly—to stock a “safe space” at a college with coloring books and videotape of puppies. This may sound especially silly since no one was forced to attend the debate.

That safe space may sound silly; in fact, it pretty much does. That said, if some Brown students have emotional issues stemming from past assaults, it isn’t silly to think that Brown would provide counseling services.

We’ve never done such work ourselves, whether for victims of sexual assault or for traumatized former soldiers. For that reason, we’ll hold off on passing judgment about the best practices for young people who may be struggling with such issues.

The views of These Kids Today: Byron and Hall seem to express some peculiar views in that passage. Outside a therapeutic context, the views they express are strange.

Outside a therapeutic context, it’s hard to know why a person would expect to be protected from hearing “viewpoints that really go against their dearly and closely held beliefs.” Beyond that, it sounds like Byron may not have wanted McElroy to be allowed to speak at all, although we don’t know if that's true.

Outside the therapeutic context, Byron and Hall are expressing strange views—unless you watch Lawrence O’Donnell each night, where we liberals are protected against feeling bombarded by viewpoints and facts that go against our dearly held pseudo-beliefs. In our view, a lot of overpaid corporate figures are engaged in exactly the conduct these young people seem to desire—although again we stress the fact that Byron and Hall were speaking here in a therapeutic context.

Shulevitz hammers Byron and Hall. At this point, let’s hail on the chief.

Assistant professor knows best: In our view, it’s President Paxson, the adult here, whose conduct is deeply unfortunate.

It seems to us she was working hard to cast herself in the Lawrence role—to keep students safe from facts and ideas which don’t comport with “liberal” views in the most simple-minded way possible.

Good God! Confronted with a campus debate in which students would hear competing views, Paxson created a simultaneous forum in which students would be able to hear just one set of views. Here's how Paxson described her plan in an email to the masses:
PAXSON (11/14/14): Over the past year, as the issue of sexual assault on college campuses has attracted national attention, the role of culture in sexual assault has been a subject of debate. Some people–including writer Wendy McElroy, who will speak with Jessica Valenti at a Janus Forum event next week–have argued that sexual assault is the work of small numbers of predatory individuals whose behaviors are impervious to the culture and values of their communities. I disagree. Although evidence suggests that a relatively small number of individuals perpetrate sexual assault, extensive research shows that culture and values do matter. Societies that have strong norms against sexual assault have fewer assaults. Furthermore, people are more likely to come forward to report assaults in communities that understand the seriousness of assault and support survivors.

In order to provide the community with more research and facts about these important issues, students and administrators have worked together to sponsor a lecture by Brown University Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Lindsay Orchowski, entitled The Research on Rape Culture. This presentation will take place at 4:30 pm on Tuesday, November 18th in Wilson 102 as an alternative to the Janus Forum (which will be held at the same time and date in Salomon 101).
At this second event, students would be provided “with more research and facts” about the issues in question. More specifically, they would hear the “research and facts” of which Dear Leader approved.

In effect, President Paxson was creating a second “safe space.” But this safe space had been designed for students who weren’t trauma victims.

This safe space had been designed so students would only be asked to hear viewpoints with which they already agreed. The event would be held at the same time as the previously scheduled debate!

Students were bright enough to see the downside to this move. Below, you see part of the way the Brown Daily Herald reported the president’s plan.

Two undergraduate journalists created a cool, clear report, if you’re willing to swallow the concept of “feeling attacked by viewpoints:”
BRANDFIELD-HARVEY AND KELLY (11/17/14): Students who may feel attacked by the viewpoints expressed at the forum or feel the speakers will dismiss their experiences can find a safe space and separate discussion held at the same time in Salomon 203. This “BWell Safe Space” will have sexual assault peer educators, women peer counselors and staff from BWell on hand to provide support.

A separate event titled “Research on Rape Culture” with Lindsay Orchowski, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, will also take place in BERT 130 during the Janus debate. The Facebook event for these alternative options was created Thursday.

Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations, wrote in an email to The Herald that both the Janus debate and Orchowski’s lecture will be taped and available for students to view later.

Schwartz and Janus Forum Director Alex Friedland ’15 expressed their disappointment in the events being held at the same time, as they both said students invested in the issues who may want to attend both events now must choose between them.

“I think it could have been really great if (Orchowski’s) event happened right before,” Friedland said. “People would have been able to hear the research and then come to our event fully informed.”
Schwartz and Friedland were able to see the downside to simultaneity. That said, even Friedland accepted the notion that Assistant Professor Orchowski would be presenting “the research” (full stop).

In fact, different people will understand “the research” in different ways. In a perfect world, a senior at Brown would understand that there’s no such thing as “the research.”

But then again, so would Brown’s president!

At any rate, students would now be able to hear only one pre-approved account of “the research.” Like Lawrence and so many others, President Paxson seems to know what’s good for us liberals to hear.

Lawrence’s presentation was horrible this Monday night. We liberals were shielded from hearing about the horrible ways a much-discussed claim had failed.

Instead, we got to hear the same old crap our overpaid corporate minders are constantly reciting. President Paxson played the same role in the vineyards of Brown.

Like Lawrence, Paxson created a safe “liberal” space. At her hastily-scheduled alternate forum, the assistant professor would hand us our truth again.

Sadly and horribly, this is part of what the safety-seeking students were told by the assistant professor. Emma Harris did the reporting in the Daily Herald:
HARRIS (11/19/14): Research on assault characteristics has revealed that about half of reported incidents involve alcohol, Orchowski said. Many sexual assault perpetrators are repeat offenders...

Orchowski said only about 20 percent of sexual assault victims correctly labeled their assaults as “rape,” often reporting them as results of miscommunication or bad dates.
Assistant professor knows best! Orchowski knows if you’ve been raped. Eighty percent of the time, we the people can’t tell!

Assistant professor Orchowski knows best! But then, all around the emerging “liberal” world, so do a wide range of others. They are creating a range of safe spaces for people who aren’t trauma victims. In these safe spaces, we liberals keep hearing the “facts” we’ve already memorized.

So it goes when the reins are handed to crackpots like Lawrence. He insists that he’s a kid from the streets—and he knows what we liberals should hear.

Later today: What McElroy said!

Tomorrow: Our (liberal) conversations to nowhere


  1. The mainstream media is the "safe place" for conservatives.


  2. Warning to casual readers of this blog: These comments are unmoderated. They are infested by one or more trolls who routinely attack the blog author in a variety of ways, rarely substantive. Such attacks are not an indicator of the level of interest of other readers, the validity of the content posted nor of the esteem in which the blog author is held by others.

    1. What about the substantive attacks? Or are they a hot potato you avoid like the scandals of Mr. and Mrs. POTUS?

    2. Haven't seen any substantive comments in a long time.

  3. In general, avoiding feared stimuli (triggers, re-exposure to traumatic events in memory or reality, talking about traumatic events) tends to perpetuate symptoms and does not help coping.

    1. In general, generalizations from well intentioned blog commenters trigger mordant chuckling among the unmoderated.

  4. Most of us do not remember the war to keep us safe for democracy (aka WWI) because it happened before we were born.

    1. It was a nasty business let me assure you. You are lucky if you have no recollections of it in this or from a former life. I only have the latter but I can attest it is almost as bad as needing a spellcaster to bring back the spouse.

  5. "Assistant professor Orchowski knows best!" former 5th grade teacher Somerby said snarkily.

  6. In Texas they are going to allow you create safe spaces on campus by carrying the concealed handgun of your choice.

    Every summer appropriately licensed students may celebrate the contributions of Charles Whitman to academic freedom in Texas by attending a summer seminar at the University of Texas at Austin where they are allowed to reenact the return of sniper fire by persons who happened to disagree with the viewpoints expressed by the former Marine in his lecture from the campus tower.

  7. If you don't defend Lawrence soon, Bob wins. This is the 10th comment or so, and Bob's criticism of Lawrence has gone unaddressed.

    Or... Could it be that Lawrence's bad performance is today's hot potato? It's looking that way, cuz you're not touching it.

    1. Bob "wins" exactly what? Your esteem?

    2. A Perez thinks every turd Bob squeezes out into a post is a potato. He thinks these turds are not addressed because the potato is "hot." He doesn't seem to grasp that many people, regardless of the esteem in which they do or do not hold the author, do not wish to talk about the same old turds
      regardless of their perceived temperature.

      This may be because Mr. Perez is not exceptionally gifted.
      There are many things people like to do with potatoes. That said, conversing with one is not high on the list. In our view.

    3. The statistic I hear is one in five women will be sexually assaulted during their campus stay. The students I teach would be bright enough to flee such a college or laugh at such a ridiculous statistic.

    4. A. Perez:

      Have you seen the February issue of Country Living? It’s chock-full of beautiful and delicious-looking potato recipes, like the Twice-Baked Potato with Chorizo? Yum! Or, if you’re looking for a lighter or vegetarian version of a Twice-Baked Potato, look no further than our brand new Quick & Healthy Twice Baked Potato recipe. Our favorite part of the Country Living magazine feature? Page 124, which reminds readers that “One medium spud contains zero fat grams, 45 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C, and more potassium than a banana!”

    5. Plus, Sparky, many a fine potato hails from Idaho!

    6. "The students I teach . . ."


      Apparently, professor, you are unfamiliar with the strong correlation between "credentials claimed on Internet forums" and "bullshit."

    7. Professor Tucker: if you have a problem with the 1 in 5 ratio, take it up with the December 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study funded by the Dept. of Justice. Unlike your snarky comment, this ratio wasn't just pulled out of somebody's ass.

    8. ProfessorTucker, is this you?


    9. Sexual assault is a very non-specific term referring to anything from unwanted attention to rape. I am surprised the figure is only 1 in 5 -- I assume it is because of the youth of the survey respondents. It will be nearly 100% for older women, especially if you count things like hazing on the street, being followed or stalked, harassment at work, guys who won't take no at a bar or party, breathers on the phone, flashers, and public transit gropers.

    10. Bullshit. "Sexual assault" is a very specific, legal term.

      I know Somerby is trying so hard to teach his sheep that thousands of women who cry "sexual assault" every time some guy asks them out on a date.

      But that only proves how stupid and insensitive both he and his sheep are.

  8. TL;DR:

    -No comments of substance.

    -Commenter pointing that out ridiculed.

    1. The troll likes to pretend he is multiple people, lol.

      And in his attempt to justify his avoidance of the hot potato, he avoided it again.

      Come on trolly, let's talk about Hot Lawrence... Or Bob will continue to own you.

    2. Does your head hurt when you put on a hat?

  9. What Bob wins is the debate against you , anonymous aka Sparky. Don't play dumb. You knew that's what he won, but you asked anyway.

    Fear the burn of the hot potato.

    1. Wow. 17 years of blogging, and Bob wins a debate. Against me.

      I bet his Momma is so proud.

    2. No Lawrence?

    3. Lawrence called out Candy Crowley for her "controversial" question to Mittens during one of the 2012 presidential debates. According to Owner Bob, since Lawrence is a beltway insider and beltway insiders typically honor the Beltway Omerta, his callout on Crowley's question was laudatory.

      Have a French fry on me, A pres ZZZZZZZ.

    4. The hot potatoes were related to the U-VA hoax. You weirdly brought up a 2012 debate. You like cold ones better.

    5. Have a stale old fry, ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

    6. Mr. Potatohead, pardon me but I found the University of Kentucky murdering West Virginia more interesting than contesting your declaration of a victor in a "debate" Bob lost when none of his readers even felt this topic was worth discussing yesterday until five hours had passed since he posted it.

      At that point a couple of nasty old trolls brought up the fact that Bob was beating a dead horse when he first covered the issue in December. You began making an ass out of yourself then and you continue to do so now.

      Nobody here gives much of a shit about Lawrence O'Donnell. And they care less about you.