By Josh Preston
No-platforming exists within a wider student culture involving safe-spaces, trigger-warnings, and micro-aggressions, that, according to proponents, protect students. Since 2014, Universities have experienced significant increases in student-led demands for administrations to disinvite speakers who hold contrary, almost always right-wing, opinions. ‘Offence’ isn’t the charge against speakers, but ‘harm’. Students contend ‘harmful’ ideas are in fact ‘violence’ that threaten student ‘safety’ and mental health. “We have the right to feel comfortable,” was the cry against Brendan O’Neill when Cambridge students cancelled his abortion debate in 2014.
However, these views are not only misleading, but harmful themselves. Activists’ discourse deliberately conflates harm with violence, as if mutually dependent. Violence implies an attacker, fabricating an us-versus-them mentality, building walls around institutions established to encourage viewpoint diversity and access.
More importantly, in ‘The Coddling of the American Mind’, Lukianoff and Haidt demonstrate how students’ attitudes contradict clinical and ancient wisdom. In behavioural therapy, patients engage with their traumatic stimulus in a safe environment. University is the ideal place to discuss issues that people find traumatic with the knowledge such events won’t materialise. Trigger warnings and no-platforming instead allow students to evade and perpetuate their mental health issues. If cognitive behavioural therapy seeks ‘to minimize distorted thinking,’ campus culture is a symptom of, and contributing to, the mental health crisis.
Recent events on campuses are not political. There are symptomatic of the mental health catastrophe engulfing young people raised exclusively in the digital age.
The case to declare a mental health catastrophe amongst teenagers is now stronger than ever, as assessed in Dr. Gene Twenge’s book iGen. Within the last decade, depression, anxiety and suicidal emotions have risen 25% and 70% in teenage boys and girls respectively. During this period emerged the smartphone and social media, now a feature of every teenager’s pocket. Meanwhile, anti-free speech attitudes on campus began in 2014; the same timeline. As the iGeneration grew up and went to University, so emerged the new campus culture formed around anxiety.
Recent events on campuses are not political. There are symptomatic of the mental health catastrophe engulfing young people raised exclusively in the digital age. We are unique in our lifelong exposure to social media, yet the results are worrying: depression, anxiety, suicide and self-censorship.
The claims of ‘protection’ and ‘safety’ that no-platforming arguments rest upon are at best false, at worst dangerous to our generation’s health. To solve this issue requires de-politicisation, and an assessment on the internet and young people’s exposure to it.
Featured image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr