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The Sad Philosophy of "Safe Spaces" -- How They are Counter-Intuitive

Updated: May 15

Safe underwater hubs

"Safe Spaces" are organizations, or specific events, where people gather and communicate, in an attempt to have, even for a while, a safer time with other people. By "safer", I do not refer to what we usually refer to as security, but rather, to the safety of "the heart", per se. The safety of one's emotional balance, where one is "immune" to insults, hate, and so on, temporarily. The point isn't to protect one's life, but one's sense of emotional and interpersonal security, even for a little while.

Such specific safety appears to be one that many seek nowadays. I also sought it once, but eventually gave up on the endeavor, when I realized that it goes against my best interests as a philosopher. This is why I'll repeat that I too am more sensitive than average, but I find it counterintuitive to submit to it. Submitting to it would mean that I would not have the courage or desire to engage in philosophical discussions with people and gain insights as a result. And of course, a philosopher needs insights to write good books, articles and so on. That's also why, I do not really support the notion of safe spaces. I once thought that Quora was my "safe space", but oh, I was very wrong. I was wrong because, frankly, no one owes me anything and vice versa as long as no rules where violated.

Logic applies even in safe spaces by the rules of which it is based on. Moderators are there to enforce said laws, even in spaces which are not necessarily as "safe". And as discussed elsewhere, logic is cold and does not have to consider your emotions, thus making your emotions irrelevant even in the context of safe spaces.

Safe spaces do not require you to have empathy towards other people unless stated by the rules. As such, you are not really safe in them if you want people to care for your distress and emotions. Their caring is their own prerogative, and they are not obliged to care. They are only obliged to not disregard anything else that is required by a space's law to regard. Empathy is not only a choice but something that may require a certain degree of intellect, regardless of emotion. It's known as cognitive empathy.

In safe spaces it is only those who are more liked than others that will receive empathy for their distress, as safe spaces is about allowing people to be more of who they are, rather than compel them to do things they do not want, such as caring for people they do not want to care about. Ironically this may lead to conflicts between people because different authentic selves may collide with other authentic selves, along with their interests. In other words you are not compelled to care for others in safe spaces (other than the bare minimum demanded by the rules), and others are not compelled to care for you.

The problem comes when we need to empathize with other people in order to understand their situations. And in the lack of understanding, people may get into conflicts with one another, thus making safe spaces not exactly safe. How can safe spaces be safe when there are conflicts within?

There will always be some degree of potential conflict between people, and the best way to reduce it is by having empathy. Cognitive, emotional, does not matter. If you are unable or unwilling to empathize with other people, you are not going to be safe in a safe space, and that applies to other members as well. Ironically it is this very component that brings us safety.

Heated debates may stem from wanting to be righter than understanding the other side one argues with. And heated debates may exist in safe spaces as well. It is even more problematic in safe spaces because moderators may censor some exchange of ideas. How can you be more of yourself in a safe environment if you are not allowed to discuss topics you'd like to be discussed?

It's why I do not really support the notion of safe spaces. I once thought that Quora was my "safe space", but oh, I was very wrong. I was wrong because, frankly, no one owes me anything and vice versa as long as no rules were violated.

I do support the reduction of sensitivity as that can either eliminate or significantly reduce the need of safe spaces. When you need moderators to make you feel protected because you are sensitive, then sensitivity is a problem. Sensitivity is a problem when it causes you to get into meltdowns and panic attacks. And it is hard being a philosopher or being in certain other occupations if you react abnormally to insults, for example.

The whole idea of being tougher lies on the notion that you would be able to endure other people better and not be very affected by their interactions. Tougher people do not need the safety element of safe spaces because they do not require the help of moderators to "protect" them from insults or other triggers. For they already have that safety within them.

Sensitivity isn't necessarily a disability, but sometimes it appears that some people just submit to it as a fact they can't change. They, as well as I, were wrong. Essentially, it is but a synonym to being vulnerable, and the reasons as to why people do not want to be less vulnerable, is a different subject. I do think that I managed to reduce my own sensitivity, when I realized how much potential, it prevents me from having in life. The same can be applicable to you as well.

Insights, experiences, meaningful relationships with other people, and even love -- all of those can be absent from you as long as you lack the courage to endure the inevitable possibility of adversity, found in any human interaction.

So, when people gather up in these "safe spaces", I feel sad towards them, more than anything. I think that the need to even have such things, is sad to me, because it implies that some people are just too afraid of the external, unforgiving world. They may be afraid, like I was, long before I began writing online to people worldwide. They may let their social anxiety run their lives.

And as stated before, safe spaces are not as safe as one may think, either way. And as long as different people will have access to them, conflicts may ensue. You cannot eliminate this factor completely because human beings may insult and disrespect each other without even intending to. How can you criticize other viewpoints if criticism may be seen as a sign of disrespect? How can you have meaningful, fruitful discussions if you are going to let your emotions decide for you? How is giving in to an imaginary feel of insult is going to help you?

By the way, empathy and criticism do not have to collide with one another. You can both empathize and criticize. However, whether or not the other side has the resilience to accept it, is another thing that isn't necessarily your responsibility.

People's emotional problems are their own responsibility either way. Are you imposing strangers on the internet, be responsible for your vulnerabilities? Why would you? They don't owe you anything, do they? The irony is that it's also true in safe spaces, especially online where anyone, anywhere in the world, can be accepted as long as they fill the criteria demanded by the management.

I have had a certain issue recently, where I was required to either change or censor a certain word I used (Not on Philosocom, no worries), only because it "triggered" someone, even though I used that word, without any connection to them. I did not even insult any of that post's readers, in the post itself, and yet, the fact that I was demanded to censor myself, was indeed unfortunate.

Censorship of words can also apply in safe spaces as another means to protect members. The problem comes when it is undemocratic. Which is, you know, contradictory.

I've seen in general, censorship of words that were not offensive in any way towards anyone. It's because they were grimmer or whatever, that made some people, a desire to censor them, as if they were like any other curses. Suicide, for example, I've seen that word censored several times, even on videos. How can you allow an effective exchange of ideas when some words just trigger certain people, and as a result may attempt to stand in your way? In a sense, trigger warnings and censorship are anti-philosophic as they can prevent the philosopher from engaging in contemplation of important subjects.

Wouldn't you say that suicide is an important topic philosophically, regardless of what it makes you feel? Must one always regard the exception to a few people, and thus not contemplate on certain subjects, because of them? Content creators can't please everyone, either way.

I am sometimes angry, yes, and I am sometimes uncomfortable, but it does not mean that I will try and extend my authority over things that are not within my control, as if I do not live in a democracy.

When a certain video maker told me to "grow up", for example, because of a comment I made, I was angry at him, of course, but I did not really take any action of authority against him. Why would I? It's his video, not mine, and his video deserves to be online just like my own articles. I simply decided to not watch his videos any longer. Since he technically did not break any rule, I have no reason to really take any further action, but permanent disconnection.

That video maker is not responsible for my emotions nor I am responsible to his. So, there is no reason to whine about things that are beyond our control, like other people's behaviors. As social or anti-social as they may be.

He's not exactly responsible for my sensitivity with certain audio, yes? The sad truth is, that no one bears such desired responsibility, unless it breaks a law, like a screaming in the middle of the night, according to the Israeli law, at least. I left the metropolis I lived in because I know people are not responsible for my misophonia, and are not obliged to care. There is no absolute safety amongst anyone. Why bother looking for things one can't find? Why not reduce the need for external psychological safety when that is certainly possible? Misophonia has no cure, but being mentally tougher is possible in the name of survival.

It's quite absurd to think that we have a "moral responsibility" for the feelings of others. Do we really? Even to those we have no professional responsibility towards? Complete strangers? Do you see where this is going? Perhaps we have an interest to not hurt the feelings of certain people like friends and family, for we have a certain bias in their name. Perhaps we have other interests as well to not keep them emotionally reactive, as well.

It is going to the uneasy comparison between the concept of a "safe space" and that of a dictatorship. They both share quite a lot in the field of intense limitation of free speech. To be in a safe space, is to be denied saying things that could hurt others' feelings... Of course, tyrannies also do not allow expressing criticism, even though, in their cases, the results are far severer than in the former.

So, I wager that safe spaces are essentially dictatorships that are there to serve the more delicate, and not the people in general, like a proper democracy should have. The appreciation of human diversity is only towards the diversity which is accepted under the rules and guidelines of the safe space. The insensitive, although part of that diverse spectrum as well, will not be as accepted, as those whose safe space is intended mainly for them. For some reason, others may see criticism, as threatening, even though no threat was even made in mind.

Philosocom is not a safe space in that regard. I've written here a lot on darker topics, and some of which, may also be depressing. I do not wish for this site to be a safe space, because as a philosopher, it is a part of my occupation to explore and exchange with you, ideas that might be difficult to contain. The whole point of philosophy is to seek the truth, no matter how grim it may be.

I have no desire to censor potential truths, just for the safety of some of my readers, who might be more sensitive than average (like I was, ironically). It is your responsibility to work on yourself and choose to read only what you want to read from the huge variety of articles I have in store for you. The only safe features I allow on Philosocom are the rule that compels us all to respect one another and the rule of not posting disturbing imagery in the comments.

Other than that, I try to respect others' freedom of speech, just like I expect them, to respect mine.

Please understand that I do not believe in being responsible to another's sensitivity, and that you don't have to comment if you feel that you're too vulnerable to may own criticism. Consider not pushing yourself too hard for your own good. Either way, I have no ill will towards my readers, so please take that into account.

Yes, of course I may care about others' emotions. However, these emotions are not mine, and are beyond my authority. It's not my job to make my readers feel safe, in the same aspect of the mentioned "safe spaces". And Philosocom isn't a safe space even for me because my own emotions can get in the way whenever someone comments according to the rules. It is my job to keep them in check, and that I will do.

I, at least, do not wish to submit to my own vulnerabilities. So I became stronger and more masculine.

Success requires sacrifice! If my own comfort was my priority, I wouldn't been a public figure. I'm no longer a private person, so I'm going to be despised anyways, just like since my very beginning. I will not let offense stand in the path I believe I'm eligible of going in. Because I and my writings deserve the chance of being more relevant.

And as such I do not appear in safe spaces because I need protection. I simply use safe spaces like any other space -- for getting insights and thus, for my own gain, which can be translated to yours as well, should I write on them.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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