"The Coddling of the American Mind" by Lukianoff and Haidt. A Review
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If you have been wondering what is happening among younger adults and college students, and if you have been puzzled by their seeming emotional fragility and lack of ability to engage with reasonable discussions, then a helpful book is out and about. Greg Lukianoff, an attorney, New York Times best-selling author, and the President and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and Jonathan Haidt, American social psychologist, Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business, and author, have pulled together an insightful and useful dossier running 352 pages, "The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure". The hardback came out in September 2018, and was recently reformatted into a softback. The authors have given a fair-minded, thought-filled analysis that is substantive, while being quite readable.
To put the book rather simply, the authors seek to take on and defang three damaging myths that have been grabbing hold of academia, students, and beyond. These three started showing their colors on campuses around 2013. The three untruths are: (1) What doesn't kill you makes you weaker (fragility); (2) Always trust your feelings (emotional reasoning); and (3) Life is a battle between good people and evil people (us versus them). Lukianoff and Haidt masterfully show "how these three Great Untruths - and the policies and political movements that draw on them - are causing problems for young people, universities, and, more generally, liberal democracies" (4).
The first three chapters describe what these treble troubles look like, and how they have been playing out in the academic environs and environments around the country. One of the main culprits that has bred this trifecta of mendacity is suffocating safetyism, the modern obsession with protecting our young people so that never feel unsafe. From it has burbled to the surface harmful notions of fragility, safe spaces, microaggressions, cognitive distortions, common-enemy identity politics, the call-out culture, etc. In the following two chapters, the authors give multiple examples of how these bad ideas have been acted on through intimidation, violence and witch-hunts. The book moves further on to explain how we got here as it examines polarization, rising numbers of young adults affected by anxiety and depression, paranoid parenting, the decline of play for children, and the bureaucratic institutionalizing of safetyism. The authors, always looking to encourage changes, end the book promoting various ways to bring about wiser kids, wiser universities, and wiser societies. As I read, I found myself challenged and humbled, especially with regard to paranoid parenting and safetyism; but I also felt that the authors presented what was constructive and hopeful.
In many areas I discovered the authors aiding me in clarifying certain concepts that gave me a better perspective. One example out of many was their distinction between proportional-procedural social justice as it stands in sharp contrast to equal-outcomes social justice. After reading through the material on this subject, I am convinced that a number of the conflicts over "social justice" are because a majority of folks attribute to it different meanings that go in dissimilar directions. Lukianoff and Haidt gave some much needed clarity on the subject.
"The Coddling of the American Mind" is neither a rant nor a rave; and it is neither left nor right. It is a friendly book intended to give lucidity to what is often baffling, and in my estimation it succeeds! Not only should university and college administrators grab a copy and pour over it, so should moms, dads, grandparents, government officials, law enforcement, and anyone who cares about people, especially the generations rising up at the present and in the future. I highly recommend the book!
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