Safety has become a social issue, especially on college campuses. “I feel unsafe.” No one can argue with that. In the old days, you might think about safety under well defined conditions related to fear: a so-called friend hangs you over a railing as a prank, the driver next to you accelerates to 120 miles an hour, a criminal pulls a gun and points it at your head. Now people utter these words whenever it suits them, even if no unsafe condition exists. We would not be surprised at this point to hear a five-year-old say, as his mother threatens to withhold dessert if he does not eat his brussels sprouts, “This micro-aggression makes me feel unsafe.”
So we call them snowflakes, not recalcitrant children, but the rhetoricians on campus who maneuver to get what they want. The technique seems to work, so why should they not say it? Call me a snowflake all you want. We’re the ones who can make anyone back down with the drop of one word. If an appeal to safety turns any situation to your advantage, why would you demur?
People in power want to demonstrate their empathetic side. No administrator wants to appear callous, inconsiderate, least of all belligerent.
Both sides know safety is not an actual issue. Snowflakes want recognition of their vulnerability, particularly by people in power. People in power want to demonstrate their empathetic side. No administrator wants to appear callous, inconsiderate, least of all belligerent. So you agree. “Yes, yes, if you feel unsafe, it must be so. We know how you feel only because you tell us your state of mind.” If I say the Holy Spirit told me to start a war, no one can contradict me. “I took the matter to God in prayer.” How can you argue against that? The claim that unpleasant or uncomfortable situations make you feel unsafe is no less absurd.
I have to say, I thought the bubble of deference toward the rhetoricians might collapse by now. People that manipulative do not usually get such a long run. Then again, politically correct speech has had a run of at least twenty-five years at this point. It is so well established now that activists threaten speakers who do not conform to their norms about permissible speech. I suppose we should expect that people so conscious of their own safety, so willing to gin up threats to advance their political aims, would also threaten others to make them feel unsafe. However your opponents respond, they lose.