Tales From The Safe Space, Part 41 – UCL Archaeology Students Triggered By ‘Scary Bones’

In tracking the spread of social justice/identity politics poison through the academic world, every day now seems to bring some new ridiculous example of petty intolerance or exaggerated student fragility. And each new story prompts the incredulous reaction that things can’t possibly get any more surreal, that we must surely have now reached Peak SJW. And then something even more ridiculous transpires on a Western university campus.

From the Daily Mail:

Students at UCL taking the archaeologies of modern conflict course have been told that they will encounter ‘historical events that may be disturbing, even traumatising’.

If they feel stressed, they can ‘step outside’ for the rest of the class ‘without penalty’, though they should catch up by copying the notes of another student.

Lecturer Gabriel Moshenska, who co-ordinates the UCL course on how archaeology can help unearth the truth about 20th and 21st century conflicts, said some students had been in the Armed Forces and may have suffered psychological trauma.

He admitted no one had ever complained that they found one of his talks upsetting and said the alert was ‘precautionary’.

What’s particularly concerning here is that the professor involved, Gabriel Moshenska, took the decision to add the precautionary trigger warning to his class entirely voluntarily, through his own initiative. There was no coercion to do so by angry students staging a sit-in outside his office, or through a coordinated social media campaign. Moschenska simply decided that people who had signed up to study the archaeology of modern conflict might need to be warned that they would encounter the remnants of conflict during the course of their studies.

What this shows us is that the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, and its associated infantilising of students, has reached a critical mass whereby the culture of enforcing safe spaces, trigger warnings and treating grown adults like they are children takes place automatically without any further need for threats or campaigns. Professors and lecturers are capitulating to the student babies before anything is even demanded of them, either because they simply want an easy life and to avoid conflict, or because they actively support these efforts to infantilise young adults.

This is not a good development. If we thought it was bad when universities like Yale and Mizzou limply rolled over and capitulated when threatened by snarling, baby-faced SJWs with their protests and boycotts, that’s nothing compared to the further setbacks we may witness when faculty are active co-conspirators.

And this can lead nowhere good, as Brendan O’Neill laments The Spectator:

But of course there’s a major problem here: the relentless infantilisation of students, the treatment of them as overgrown children liable to be plunged by mere words or images into actual trauma (‘a disturbing experience which affects the mind or nerves of a person so as to induce hysteria or psychic conditions’: OED). The very idea of the university becomes impossible if students are presumed to be so mentally fragile that even class chatter could unhinge them psychically.

[..] This presumption of mental frailty among students, now seen as so psychically vulnerable that even F Scott Fitzgerald might traumatise them, is antithetical to the whole idea of university life, whose starting point must surely be that young adults are not only mentally competent but morally autonomous and intellectually curious. The overuse of the word ‘trauma’ to describe everything from an archaeology class to an old play shows how entrenched this view of students has become. As an American professor of psychology says, ‘When we describe misfortune, sadness or even pain as trauma… [we] turn every event into a catastrophe, leaving us helpless, broken and unable to move on’. In short, the more we tell young adults that everything is potentially traumatic, the more likely they are to experience everything as traumatic, or at least terrifying. We’re seriously teaching young people to see Shakespeare as potentially harmful to their mental health.

Strikingly, the UCL archaeology lecturer says that so far none of his students has accepted his offer to leave a ‘traumatic’ class discussion. That’s encouraging. It’s also revealing. It suggests the new campus craziness, the wild allergy to difficult debate and fear of offensive texts, doesn’t always come from students themselves. It’s been institutionalised, among actual academics, to such an extent that universities no longer instil in their students the Kantian idea that one should ‘Dare to know’ but rather tell them: ‘Sometimes it’s risky to know. What you find out might hurt you. So maybe you shouldn’t know that thing, or read that book, or listen to this lecture.’ The safety of ignorance.

Brendan O’Neill is more optimistic than I – he sees it as a positive thing that none of Nanny Moshenska’s students have yet chosen to avail themselves of their Right to Flee. And I suppose it is a good thing. But when professors provide even the option of leaving the classroom when confronted with learning material that arouses anything but positive emotions, they effectively legitimise the idea that words and ideas can cause actual physical harm, that being exposed to contrary viewpoints or shocking information is somehow dangerous, and that avoidance coping (staying away from things that upset you) actually works. In reality, there is no proof for any of these assertions, and many reasons to suspect that they are complete psychobabble hokum.

This year’s intake of Archaeologies of Modern Conflict students may be a hardy bunch (by the low standards we now set for young adults, meaning they won’t burst into tears and soil themselves at the sight of a human skull). But now that it is widely known that professors and Serious Adults consider it perfectly acceptable if students do have extreme reactions to academic material and need to flee the lecture hall, such behaviour is normalised and given the tacit approval of university authorities, making it much more likely that future students – believing it to be normal – will opt out of lectures which cause them emotional or intellectual discomfort.

In other words, academic freedom (and the reasonable expectation that students be treated like responsible adults) is now trapped in a pincer movement, with angry SJWs demanding to be infantilised on one side, and spineless collaborationist professors happy to oblige them on the other.

If there is an upside to all this, it can only be that with student populations and turncoat faculties now racing to outdo each other in their contempt for academic freedom and personal resilience, we will now reach our eventual rock bottom – wherever that may be – sooner than was previously the case.

Rejoice and be glad.


Safe Space Notice - 2

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What Conservative Government? – Part 5, Conservatives Who Fail To Conserve

Tisbury Roman Villa

This supposedly conservative government is no longer in the business of conserving things – even ancient Roman ruins of great historical and national significance

What kind of a country is modern Britain? And what kind of a people are we?

Sadly, if the behaviour of our own government is any guide we are now such a has-been, good for nothing failure of a once proud country that when we stumble upon one of the largest and most significant domestic archaeological discoveries in a century, we simply shrug our shoulders and cover it back up with dirt because the cost and inconvenience of fully excavating and restoring it would be too great.

And “too great” doesn’t mean Olympic Gamess or Crossrail type money. It means a few hundred thousand pounds, less than pocket change in terms of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport annual budget.

Apparently, discovering the immaculately preserved remains of a great Roman villa – with all of the potential it offers to better understand our past – simply isn’t possible when every last penny of government money has to be diverted to ensure that we continue blindly throwing 0.7% of our GDP into the furnace so that we can be “world leaders” in international aid.

The Telegraph reports:

While laying an electricity cable beneath the grounds of his home, near the village of Tisbury, in Wiltshire, Luke Irwin found the remains of what appeared to be an ornate Roman Mosaic.

But what emerged when archaeologists from Historic England and Salisbury Museum began excavating the site was even more of a surprise.

They found the mosaic was part of the floor of a much larger Roman property, similar in size and structure to the great Roman villa at Chedworth.

But in a move that will surprise many, the remains – some of the most important to be found in decades – have now been re-buried, as Historic England cannot afford to fully excavate and preserve such an extensive site.

Dr David Roberts, archaeologist for Historic England, said:  “This site has not been touched since its collapse 1400 years ago and, as such, is of enormous importance. Without question, this is a hugely valuable site in terms of research, with incredible potential.

“The discovery of such an elaborate and extraordinarily well-preserved villa, undamaged by agriculture for over 1500 years, is unparalleled in recent years. Overall, the excellent preservation, large scale and complexity of this site present a unique opportunity to understand Roman and post-Roman Britain.”

He added: “Unfortunately, it would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to fully excavate and the preserve the site, which cannot be done with the current pressures.

“We would very much like to go back and carry out more digs to further our understanding of the site. But it’s a question of raising the money and taking our time, because as with all archaeological work there is the risk of destroying the very thing you seek to uncover.”

I genuinely don’t know what is worse here – the fact that the government (for Historic England is a subsidiary of DCMS) has become so distracted by trying to trick and scaremonger its way to victory the EU referendum and so untuned from the daily life of this country that nobody within DCMS thought to intervene when they found out that we just weren’t going to bother with this particular ruin, or the fact that one of the archaeologists (Dr. Roberts) himself seems serenely resigned to the fact that he will probably be an ancient relic himself by the time the UK government scrounges the spare change to properly excavate, understand and display this piece our history for the education of all.

This is the country which coughed up over £3 million (mostly voluntary donations) in order to exhume the long-lost body of King Richard III from beneath a car park in the city of Leicester only to rebury him with pomp, swagger and a televised pseudo-state funeral months later. Do we really think that a similar effort could not have been made for the excavation of the Tisbury Villa? Are we not even going to try? And is the government willing to let the ages reclaim this historic site without so much as lifting a finger to help out?

This blog constantly drones on about the virtues of small government and a leaner, more agile state. There are many ways in which the state spends time and resources doing badly things which could and should be done in the non-profit, charitable and private sectors, and this blog will continue to advocate for these libertarian and conservatarian ideals. But surely if we are to have a national government at all, one of the things it absolutely should do is to take some measure of stewardship over our natural and historical built environment.

This blog would be the first to admit that in many areas, excessive government involvement in the arts (as well as a lack of personal tax incentives) crowds out the private sponsorship and philanthropy which so distinguishes the fine arts and cultural in America. But while a plausible case can be made that the state should not be operating its own massive media organisation in the form of the BBC, the historical nature of archaeological discoveries (as well as thorny issues of property rights springing from  such discoveries) mean that this is an area where the state can and should get involved.

It seems self-evident to me that the UK government, through Historic England, should step up and help to preserve this site for the benefit of the nation. But what do we hear from John Whittingdale and David Cameron’s coke zero conservative government? Nothing. Tumbleweeds. This is a government more interested in burying embarrassing stories about the Culture Secretary’s personal life than digging up an archaeological discovery of real importance.

So here we are, a country so lacking in motivation and curiosity that we are willing to re-bury one of the most exciting domestic archaeological discoveries in recent history because it would simply cost too much money and take too much effort to properly excavate the site, study and catalogue it, and maybe throw up a visitors centre at some point so that the thing can begin to pay for itself.

A country where we have much to say about our public services and everything we believe we are owed by the state, but far less to say about what we might do for our country, our society, our community and those who will live here after we are gone.

A country where the ruling Conservative Party has forgotten even how to conserve.

Welcome to David Cameron’s dreary, unaspirational Britain.


Tisbury Roman Villa - artist reconstruction

Top and Bottom Image: Telegraph

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