I am increasingly convinced that there are tremendously negative long-term consequences, especially to young people, coming from this reliance on the language of harm and accusations that things one finds offensive are “deeply problematic” or event violent. Just about everything researchers understand about resilience and mental well-being suggests that people who feel like they are the chief architects of their own life — to mix metaphors, that they captain their own ship, not that they are simply being tossed around by an uncontrollable ocean — are vastly better off than people whose default position is victimization, hurt, and a sense that life simply happens to them and they have no control over their response. That isn’t to say that people who experience victimization or trauma should just muscle through it, or that any individual can bootstraps their way into wellbeing. It is to say, though, that in some circumstances, it is a choice to process feelings of discomfort or even offense through the language of deep emotional, spiritual, or even physical wound, and choosing to do so may make you worse off. Leaning into the language of “harm” creates and reinforces feelings of harm, and while using that language may give a person some short-term power in progressive spaces, it’s pretty bad for most people’s long-term ability to regulate their emotions, to manage inevitable adversity, and to navigate a complicated world.
Two thoughts about this:
Cf. Matt Yglesias’s comment: “Our educational institutions have increasingly created an environment where students are objectively incentivized to cultivate their own fragility as a power move.” This is especially true in elite institutions, and I wonder if we are approaching the point — think for instance about the recent behavior of students at Stanford’s law school — at which some organizations will begin to see a degree from an elite institution as prima facie evidence of unemployability.
I also wonder if some on the left are beginning to perceive the problem with this power move of claiming “harm” now that — as in the situation Filipovic is commenting on — religious and social conservatives are learning how to use the same language. It’s like that moment in the Harry Potter books when Cornelius Fudge has to explain to the Prime Minister that both sides in the wizarding war can use magic.