The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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A timely investigation into the new "safety culture" on campus and the dangers it poses to free speech, mental health, education, and ultimately democracy
The generation now coming of age has been taught three Great Untruths: their feelings are always right; they should avoid pain and discomfort; and they should look for faults in others and not themselves. These three Great Untruths are part of a larger philosophy that sees young people as fragile creatures who must be protected and supervised by adults. But despite the good intentions of the adults who impart them, the Great Untruths are harming kids by teaching them the opposite of ancient wisdom and the opposite of modern psychological findings on grit, growth, and antifragility.
The result is rising rates of depression and anxiety, along with endless stories of college campuses torn apart by moralistic divisions and mutual recriminations.
This is a book about how we got here. First Amendment expert Greg Lukianoff and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt take us on a tour of the social trends stretching back to the 1980s that have produced the confusion and conflict on campus today, including the loss of unsupervised play time and the birth of social media, all during a time of rising political polarization.
This is a book about how to fix the mess. The culture of “safety” and its intolerance of opposing viewpoints has left many young people anxious and unprepared for adult life, with devastating consequences for them, for their parents, for the companies that will soon hire them, and for a democracy that is already pushed to the brink of violence over its growing political divisions. Lukianoff and Haidt offer a comprehensive set of reforms that will strengthen young people and institutions, allowing us all to reap the benefits of diversity, including viewpoint diversity.
This is a book for anyone who is confused by what’s happening on college campuses today, or has children, or is concerned about the growing inability of Americans to live and work and cooperate across party lines.
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|Listening Length||10 hours and 6 minutes|
|Author||Jonathan Haidt, Greg Lukianoff|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||September 04, 2018|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #521 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#2 in Education & Learning
#2 in Popular Culture Studies
#5 in Anthropology (Audible Books & Originals)
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And yes, I am serious about that.
The Coddling of the American Mind grew out of the increased support among college students for censorship of controversial opinions, a trend that Lukianoff began to notice in the fall of 2013. Lukianoff is president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a leading advocate for free speech on college and university campuses. In his experience, until that time, the leading advocates for censorship had been college administrators. What was driving the rapid rise of support for censorship among students?
For much of his life, Lukianoff had suffered clinical depression, even contemplating suicide in late 2007. In 2008, he underwent cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy that identifies distorted patterns of thinking that often underlie depression and anxiety, and this helped him tremendously. As Lukianoff interacted with students, he noticed that the way they reasoned about controversial issues often mirrored the same cognitive distortions CBT teaches people to control.
This insight led to a conversation with Haidt, a social psychologist, Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business, and author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. That conversation led to a feature story in the September 2015 issue of The Atlantic. The book builds out the article’s core thesis.
Lukianoff and Haidt unfold their argument in three parts: Part I, “Three Bad Ideas,” looks at “three Great Untruths”:
1. The Untruth of Fragility: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Weaker
2. The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always Trust Your Feelings
3. The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life Is a Battled Between Good People and Evil People
Taken together, these untruths result in “a culture of safetyism” on campus, whereby students must be protected from opposing opinions that might “harm” their “safety,” no longer defined as physical safety but now as emotional safety too.
The results of this culture of safetyism, ironically enough, are intimidation and violence on the one hand and witch hunts on the other, as the Lukianoff and Haidt argue in Part II, “Bad Ideas in Action.”
They cite the February 1, 2017, anti-Milo Yiannopoulos riot at the University of California at Berkeley as an example of the former, though there are many such examples scattered throughout the book. But the threats of violence are not merely coming from leftwing Antifa activists on campus. The authors point to alt-right off-campus provocation as well, specifically the neo-Nazi march through the University of Virginia’s campus on August 11, 2017. The confrontation between protesters and counterprotesters the next day resulted in the vehicular murder of Heather Heyer by an alt-right driver.
Lukianoff and Haidt cite several examples of academic witch hunts conducted against professors who utter heterodox ideas, even if they are liberal or leftwing. Prof. Bret Weinstein’s protest of the “Day of Absence” at Evergreen State College in Washington is a leading example of this. The school is quite liberal, as is Weinstein. On its annual Day of Absence, minority faculty students had since the 1970s gone off campus to make their absence, and hence contributions, palpable. But in 2017, organizers of the event asked white faculty and students not to show up. Weinstein thought this went too far and was subjected to vicious protests for saying so.
As these events illustrate, college and university campuses, which are supposed to be beacons of free speech, have instead in many cases become their opposite. There is no one-size-fits-all explanation for why this has happened, but in Part III, “How Did We Get Here?,” Lukianoff and Haidt identify “six interacting explanatory threads”:
rising political polarization and cross-part animosity; rising levels of teen anxiety and depression; changes in parenting practices; the decline of free play; the growth of campus bureaucracy; and a rising passion for justice in response to major national events, combined with changing ideas about what justice requires.
This may be the most interesting part of the book, rich in social scientific detail and fair-minded in its analysis. As the parent of three elementary-age children, the chapters on “Paranoid Parenting” and “The Decline of Free Play” were thought-provoking and helpful.
Part IV, “Wising Up,” builds on the analysis of the previous chapters and suggests a way forward for making “Wiser Kids,” “Wiser Universities,” and “Wiser Societies,” as the titles of the three chapters indicate. A table on page 263 summarizes the argument of the entire book, so I’ll reproduce it here:
PSYCHOLOGICAL PRINCIPLE // WISDOM // GREAT UNTRUTH
1. Young people are antifragile. // Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child. // What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
2. We are all prone to emotional reasoning and the confirmation bias. // Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts, unguarded. But once mastered, no one can help you as much, not even your father or your mother. // Always trust your feelings.
3. We are all prone to dichotomous thinking and tribalism. // The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. // Life is battle between good people and evil people.
As I mentioned at the outset of this review, I am serious when I say that every American concerned with the future of our nation’s public discourse and democratic culture should read The Coddling of the American Mind. It stimulated my thinking as a parent and helped form a better opinion of contemporary events as a concerned citizen. As a person, it provided an accessible introduction to cognitive behavioral therapy, identifying the cognitive distortions that misshape our opinions and hence misguide our actions. And as a politically conservative Christian, it reminded me that there are non-religious liberals (e.g., Lukianoff) and centrists (e.g., Haidt) who are intelligent and public-minded and have things to say I need to hear.
So, buy this book. Read it. Then share it.
The penultimate chapter is "Quest for Justice" which says "If you just look at things our way, we don't have any problems". Therefore, no need for government to provide solutions. It starts off with a gem of insight (without any rationale) that young adults in college or early career only care about social justice not economics and politics. But, since the 1980s, the number of good paying jobs started to decrease while economic inequality increased. This group of young people has only known a world where their parents get laid off and their economic prospects are dim. It's the economy, stupid.
The last section of this chapter is "Correlation Does Not Imply Causation". Note the lack of data driven analysis and absence of any data graph. It is all anecdotal. My favorite is UVA Men's Rowing Association, self-funded, versus Women's Rowing Team, university funded. The culprit is Title IX which the Carter administration interpreted to provide equal opportunity to college resources. The authors conveniently ignore the fact that football is by far the most expensive college sport. Instead of analyzing how this disadvantages men crew, they are apoplectic that women are getting a free ride in crew. To give their opus a veneer of logic, they used terms: 'input', ie, interest in crew, versus 'outcome', ie, women's crew being fully funded. The former is qualitative and the latter is quantitative. No matter, they got the right outcome in their analysis.
Bad input - cost of book. Good outcome - teach my child how not to think and how to spot charlatans.
1. what doesn't kill us makes us weaker (humans are fragile and need more than protection, they need safe spaces and safety nets for increasingly less dangerous events in the external world)
2. always trust your feelings (feeling hurt constitutes sufficient evidence that any person or system is wrong/harmful/bad/evil)
3. life is a battle of good and evil people (the world is a perpetual battle of your group versus the other group)
We now live in a world where adults file accusations of harm immediately, especially with social media, before initially doing an internal check. Just because we feel offended does not automatically mean the other person is an aggressor/bad person. And being on a hypervigiliant search for harm ensures you will find it, even from decent folks that would be best served by an assumption of benevolence until proven otherwise.
This book comes at a great time. A lot of societal problems have improved in just the past 100 years (see It's Better Than It Looks by Gregg Easterbrook and Better Angles of Our Nature by Steven Pinker). Yet, explicit sexism, racism, homophobia and their related ilk still remain. Unfortunately, some of the solutions to reduce social problems has produced some undesirable side effects. This book details these problems of progress. With scientific research, sociological analysis, and interesting anecdotes, the authors do a deep dive into the culture of emotional safeguarding - where protecting people from feeling uncomfortable has taken precedence over training people to be critical thinkers.
Essentially, many of the principles for protecting people from dissenting viewpoints runs counter to thousands of years of theory and practice, from stoic philosophy to cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Looking forward to the debates that will arise from this book. It's an easy read - two settings and you'll be finished. I hope every administrator, teacher, parent, and students read this. Regardless of how much you agree with the authors, its time to have a serious conversation of whether the social progress pendulum has swung too far in the other direction and if so, what can be done.
Top reviews from other countries
This is the territory of this book, with an added dimension: modern students may be opposed to such speakers, but must be defended from them lest they be upset. Welcome to a subset of the snowflake generation.
Lukianoff and Haidt begin by amplifying the “three bad ideas” which, they claim, lie at the heart of the modern tendency of “campus safety”. They then give several real world examples of how this thinking manifests itself, suggest reasons for how we got here, and finally propose some ways to break the cycle.
According to the authors, many students now expect “not to be exposed to intolerant and offensive ideals”. It is argued that that the suppression on campus of opinion deemed to be non-egalitarian is not new, and can be traced back to Herbert Marcuse (hence, I believe, the fictitious but realistic episode in the History Man), but has developed due to a variety of factors. These include:
-Reaction to perception of intersectionality. (I first met this term last week, when watching Bath University’s video “Why is my curriculum white?” – required viewing, I suggest.) This can increase the extent of polarisation between different groups (if you’re not a good guy, you’re a bad guy).
-The tendency for social media to increase the frequency and intensity of “call-out culture” (naming and shaming for small offences against political correctness)
-The belief that physical violence is a justifiable means of preventing the expression of “hateful” views, e.g. racism.
As to how these factors came into play, some of the suggested causes are:
-Universities have become more like large corporations, and like them have acquired an ever-growing army of administrators, for whom one main aim is to ensure students are “comfortable” – even if this means severely limiting students’ exposure to new ideas.
[An example of this relates to the very article which was the origin of this book. A professor got his class to read the article, then asked them to discuss a controversial topic of their own choice (transgender issues). After the professor had said that the discussion needed to include the viewpoints of those opposed to some provision for transgender people, a student filed a “bias incident report” against him, after which the university did not rehire him.]
-The students now coming to university – “iGen” arrive having had “less unsupervised time and fewer offline life experience than any previous generation”, which ill prepares them for confronting ideas alien to them. The authors suggest that this is not simply an Internet issue, as the preceding generation - the Millennials – were made of stronger stuff. As an example, the book contrasts a questionnaire given to parents of new first-graders in 1979, which majored on how independent the child was, and a modern equivalent concerned mainly with their academic level.
The remedies the authors suggest are targeted at children, and include CBT, mindfulness and limitation of screen time. If the “campus safety culture” is as embedded as claimed here, and elsewhere in the media, it may take more than these techniques to shift it, but it’s a start.
Bravely, Lukianoff describes how, several years ago, CBT helped him to overcome his own suicidal feelings. He uses this as an example of how to recognise cognitive distortion, the factor which influences so many modern students to exaggerate the impact of speech and ideas which do not suit them.
You may or may not agree with the book, but it is valuable reading for anyone who wants to get a feel for current campus atmosphere, or is concerned about how it has developed. The raguments are generally well-presented, though the authors could havetaken slighltly more of their own medicine, i.e. included more content based on interviews with the “safety” school of thought.
I started with Malcolm Bradbury, so I’ll finish with the statement, erroneously credited to Voltaire, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. This, as much as anything, is the core argument of the book.
Over-reaction to speeches that offend, students demand that universities curb such speeches. The authors point out that those speeches may offend, but they are not violent and cause no physical harm. The conventional response, especially in a place of tertiary education, is to present opposing speeches so that the audience and students can evaluate the opposing views. That is no longer the case. Protests by students have led to universities cancel planned lectures or remove speakers whose views the students do not like.
Two important changes have been noted. First, iGen grow up more slowly because they spend less time in social interaction. Secondly, the rate of anxiety and depression has risen rapidly. What has driven the surge in mental illness among the young? The authors point to the spread of smart phones and social media. Combined with a lack of training to deal with adverse comments, young people become more sensitive to criticism – and in social media, social criticism can be extremely harsh. The young need to be toughened, not coddled.
Consequently, those children grow up into adulthood incapable of dealing with criticism. Everything becomes a harassment to them. This leads to the curtailing of enriching alternative views, and in turn, affect one’s understanding of justice. In this regard, the chapter ‘The Quest for Justice’ is enlightening. Justice, the authors point out, is multi-faceted.
How do we redress the problem of safetyism? The authors recommend ‘cognitive behavioural therapy’, a simple guide is set out in the appendix to the book. The last part of the book also provides many ways to help overcome the impact of safetyism.
The CD version is very clear and very well read, with a brief epilogue by Jonathan Haidt.
‘Paranoid parenting… convinces children that the world is full of danger; evil lurks in the shadows, on the streets, and in public parks and restrooms. Kids raised in this way are emotionally prepared to embrace the Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people - a worldview that makes them fear and suspect strangers. We teach children to monitor themselves for the degree to which they “feel unsafe” and then talk about how unsafe they feel. They may come to believe that feeling “unsafe” (the feeling of being uncomfortable or anxious) is a reliable sign that they are unsafe (the Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings). Finally, feeling these emotions is unpleasant; therefore, children may conclude, the feelings are dangerous in and of themselves - stress will harm them if it doesn’t kill them (the Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker)’.
In ‘The Coddling of the American Mind’ free speech campaigner Greg Lukianoff allies social psychologist Jonathan Haidt to challenge these three ‘untruths of fragility, emotional reasoning and ‘us versus them’’ as contradictory to both ancient wisdom and modern psychology besides being harmful to individuals and communities who subscribe to them. A presenting problem is the use of social media by the passionate to rubbish people and not just ideas with loss of the time tested wisdom of giving people the benefit of the doubt. A deception that the world is made up of ‘Us versus Them’ is promoted by the same media as people live in ‘self-confirmatory bubbles, where their worst fears about the evils of the other side can be confirmed and amplified by extremists and cyber trolls intent on sowing discord and division’. Coupled to this deception is promotion of a safety culture in which people’s need to feel comfortable is put on the same level as their need to be protected from physical danger. The consequences for the rising generation is a certain naivety as they grow up protected from life experience they need to develop resilient living.
The authors cite critically a quotation from an essay in EverydayFeminism.com: ‘In the end, what does the intent of our action really matter if our actions have the impact of furthering the marginalization or oppression of those around us? Such an understanding makes bigots of all of us who upset others with our views however pure our intentions’. Paradoxically distinguishing hurtful talk from harmful talk, a distinction widely accepted in ancient wisdom traditions, serves to help address the roots of conflict. This is why universities have been up to now loth to protect their students from ideas some of them find offensive bearing in mind the purpose of education as bringing people out of their comfort zones to make them think.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is commended for rebuking a ‘pathological dualism that sees humanity itself as radically ... divided into the unimpeachably good and the irredeemably bad. You are either one or the other.’ Western society is being crippled by disrespect shown in debates lacking humility in which people rubbish one another, blind to the truth that, whatever opinions they hold, all human beings possess both fragility and beauty. The authors mention unfavourably the oratory of Donald Trump and some of the things being said in the Brexit debate.
What strategies can bring the world out of such error? The authors look particularly to religion as a source of transformative vision quoting Martin Luther-King: ‘Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend… Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’ It's ironic that the vision that impelled King is getting increasingly obscured by those offended by religion’s immemorial place in the public square. This is a challenging, inspiring and timely book.