What Shakespeare and Katt Williams Remind Us About The Futility of “Trigger Warnings”

“O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life is cheap as beast’s. Thou art a lady:
If only to go warm were gorgeous,
Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear’st
Which scarcely keeps thee warm. But, for true need-
You heavens, give me that patience, patience I need!
You see me here, you gods, a poor old man,
As full of grief as age; wretched in both.
If it be you that stirs these daughters’ hearts
Against their father, fool me not so much
To bear it tamely; touch me with noble anger”
– King Lear (Act II, Scene IV, William Shakespeare’s “King Lear”)

“What do you mean I messed up your self esteem? It’s the esteem of your muthafuckin’ self! How can I fuck up the way you feel about you?”
Katt Williams

We seem to have reached a cultural tipping point in the last year, wherein the venerable and important ideals of equality and mutual respect have been eroded and replaced with an unreasonable expectation of emotional protection that essentially seems to demand a perfectly undisturbed emotional existence. With things like ‘trigger warnings’ and the Yale professor being attacked for simply pointing out how ridiculous it is to try to never offend anyone, we see a disturbing trend towards both a complete blanching of our society.

With his ‘Reason not the need’ soliloquy, Shakespeare (through King Lear) points out the most challenging of dichotomies in life: How do we (and why should we) lift ourselves up from our animal instincts?

This question is vitally important to our nature as humans. Our ability to be kinder, more innovative, more curious, more thoughtful and cognizant of the larger world that we inhabit is the greatest gift we inherit as humans. However, we must remain tethered to nature through our body’s requirements for warmth, sustenance and the propagation of our genes, as without these things, we would perish. In striking that balance of perfect intellectualism vs. reverting to a feral state, we find the middle ground we occupy, called being human.

The greatest issues of human history derive from the unregulated and poorly considered confluence of human intellect and natural drives. Slavery, tyrannical governments, racism, sexism, rape, war, almost all major human rights issues are caused by people’s base desires going not only unchecked, but propelled by our ingenuity. It is no accident that it was only after the ‘enlightenment’ in Europe, when we first began to truly probe our motivations for our actions as humans, that we began to second guess the rights and wrongs of misogynistic, racist, colonial, classist Europe for the first time. We must consciously use our intellectual abilities to moderate ourselves, but it is important to do so while appreciating that we will never fully liberate ourselves from the bondage of Nature (with a capital ‘N’, in the Hobbesian sense).

When we seek to insulate ourselves completely from offense and emotional injury through things like trigger warnings and the regulation of costumes by institutional policy, we resolve nothing and only put more power in the hands of bigots.

There is no world in which we will ever be free from emotional turmoil. Even if we all speak and act in perfect harmony, the harsh realities of nature will not cease to tear our hearts apart. We will lose loved ones to disease, we will be left by our partners and fail in our attempts to win them back.

These are unavoidable facts of living, and to insulate oneself from emotional pain by exterminating ‘micro-aggressions’ or implementing ‘trigger warnings’ is no less foolish and detrimental to our lives than a ditch digger filing off a callus to make his hand smoother, only to find that there is still digging left to do in the morning, a suddenly more traumatic experience with less padding to absorb the friction.

Experiencing small emotional traumas is important because it prepares us for when something worse happens. Experiencing major emotional trauma is unavoidable, and running from it does us no good. Confronting past emotional trauma is all the more important, because it allows us to regain control of ourselves.

It’s worth considering that every trigger warning you expect is ultimately an insult to yourself since what you’re tacitly saying is: “I’m not strong enough to survive an encounter with this, so please help me ward off the interaction before it starts.” When we coddle ourselves emotionally, we cede power to those who would hurt us, because when they do, we then have no experience to push back with. If you cultivate your sense of self through weathering emotional trauma you’ll build an unshakable foundation that can better withstand whatever storm you surely will encounter in life.

About Will Dawson

Will Dawson runs a distillery down in Appalachia. He builds furniture in his free time. Before making whiskey, he ran a contracting company. He has a BA in History from Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. He likes long walks on the beach and talking about your feelings.

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