The Coddling of the American Mind

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure is a 2018 book by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. It is an expansion of a popular essay the two wrote for The Atlantic in 2015. Lukianoff and Haidt argue that overprotection is having a negative effect on university students and that the use of trigger warnings and safe spaces does more harm than good.

The Coddling of the American Mind
AuthorsGreg Lukianoff
Jonathan Haidt
Audio read byJonathan Haidt
CountryUnited States
PublisherPenguin Books
Publication date
September 4, 2018
Media typePrint

Overview edit

Lukianoff and Haidt argue that many problems on campus have their origins in three "great untruths" that have become prominent in education: "What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker"; "always trust your feelings"; and "life is a battle between good people and evil people". The authors state that these three "great untruths" contradict modern psychology and ancient wisdom from many cultures.[1]

The book goes on to discuss microaggressions, identity politics, "safetyism", call-out culture, and intersectionality.[1] The authors define safetyism as a culture or belief system in which safety (which includes "emotional safety") has become a sacred value, which means that people become unwilling to make trade-offs demanded by other practical and moral concerns. They argue that embracing the culture of safetyism has interfered with young people’s social, emotional, and intellectual development.[2] Continuing on to discuss contemporary partisanship or the "rising political polarization and cross party animosity", they state that the left and right are "locked into a game of mutual provocation and reciprocal outrage".[2]: 125 

The authors call on university and college administrators to identify with freedom of inquiry by endorsing the Chicago principles on free speech,[2]: 255–257  through which university and colleges notify students in advance that they do not support the use of trigger warnings or safe spaces.[3] They suggest specific programs, such as LetGrow, Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids, teaching children mindfulness, and the basics of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).[2]: 241  They encourage a charitable approach to the interpretations of other peoples' statements instead of assuming they meant offense.

In their conclusion, the authors write that there will be positive changes in the near future as small groups of universities "develop a different sort of academic culture—one that finds ways to make students from all identity groups feel welcome without using the divisive methods." They say that "market forces will take care of the rest" as "applications and enrollment" surge at these schools.[2]: 268 

Safetyism edit

Safetyism is an approach to policy that seeks to prioritize feelings of safety. According to its critics, this comes at the cost of academic intellectual rigor, open debate and free expression of ideas. The term "safetyism" is pejorative, and it is not self-applied by its proponents. While Haidt and Lukianoff popularized the concept in 2018, use of the term may dovetail with conservative or right wing talking points in its effect on the Overton window.

Safetyism seeks to regulate some speech or intellectual environments by minimizing the array of ideas or beliefs that make some or most people in that environment feel uncomfortable.[4] The term was popularized in the book The Coddling of the American Mind, about the rise of this approach in higher education in the United States.

Safetyism is an ideology (set of beliefs held by a group) or culture (beliefs and norms for a society) that places self-perceived safety, especially the feeling of being protected from disagreeable ideas and information, above all others.[4] It is based on the belief that it is harmful (including, but not limited to, being medically harmful[5]) to experience uncomfortable emotions.[6] Compared to prior generations, one of the main differences is the belief that the world should not be organized according to what is right or wrong, but according to what is safe or unsafe.[7]

The term was coined by Pamela Paresky[8] and promulgated by The Coddling of the American Mind,[9] which described its status as "a sacred value", meaning that it was not possible to make practical tradeoffs or compromises with other desirable things (e.g., for people to be made to feel uncomfortable in support of free speech or learning new ideas).[10]

Lukianoff and Haidt say that underneath safetyism lie three core beliefs:

Development edit

The belief spread across universities in the United States and Canada, beginning with elite US universities, during the early 21st century, and especially accelerating in 2013.[4][12] It has been compared to scope creep and the overall expansion of the concept of safety in other areas, such as school programs to address severe bullying being slowly expanded to provide adult intervention for ordinary, one-time incidents.[13][14] People who support safetyism are more likely to self-report cognitive distortions (e.g., assuming the worst), to believe that words can cause harm, and to approve of trigger warnings.[6] By contrast, Greg Lukianoff, believes that words and ideas alone, unless they are turned into action, can never cause real harm.[5]

The desire to promote these feelings of safety resulted in universities promoting practices such as content warnings (e.g., telling students in advance that the homework contains disagreeable information about racism), safe spaces (e.g., a designated room where students who support trans rights can avoid those who disagree), and bias-response teams (e.g., university employees who can be called in case of non-criminal racist speech).[7]

Later, the idea spread to other academic areas, such as academic publications.[4] Proponents of safetyism say that certain provocative and unpopular ideas, such as proposing that self-determined transracial identities be socially accepted in the same way that self-determined transgender identities are, are so inherently threatening, harmful, or emotionally damaging to any marginalized students and scholars who might read it, that academic journals should not publish the ideas.[4]

Outside of academia, safetyism has been used to justify the removal of monuments to slaveholders and racist historical figures, rather than countering the historical expressive speech glorifying them with modern expressive speech condemning them.[15]

On the political left, safetyism is used to suppress criticism of trans rights; disagreement with the liberal political viewpoint is claimed to harm trans people.[4]

Policy discussions edit

While commonly associated with liberal and progressive values, safetyism is used by actors on some on the political right as well, on a handful of issues.[4] Safetyism is used to reject criticism of Israel and anti-racist ideas and organizations, such as critical race theory and Black Lives Matter. Disagreement with the conservative political viewpoint is claimed to harm Jewish people and white children.[4]

Personal victimhood by prominent figures edit

Conservatives who have been accused of engaging in safetyism to protect themselves from criticism include the former US president Donald Trump, due to his "inability to withstand even the slightest criticism without lashing out" against less powerful people,[16][17] and Bret Stephens, who complained about the existence of safe spaces at universities, but also accused another Jewish person of antisemitism for jokingly calling him a bed bug.[16][18]

Release edit

The book reached number eight on The New York Times hardcover nonfiction best-sellers list.[19] It spent four weeks on the list.[20]

Reception edit

Edward Luce of the Financial Times praised the book, saying the authors "do a great job of showing how 'safetyism' is cramping young minds."[21] Writing for The New York Times, Thomas Chatterton Williams praised the book's explanations and analysis of recent college campus trends as "compelling".[22] Historian Niall Ferguson and journalist Conor Friedersdorf also gave the book positive reviews.[23][24]

Writing for The Washington Post, Michael S. Roth, president of Wesleyan University, gave the book a mixed review. He questioned the book's assertion that students today are "disempowered because they’ve been convinced they are fragile," but said that the authors' "insights on the dangers of creating habits of 'moral dependency' are timely and important."[25] Moira Weigel, writing for The Guardian, criticized Lukianoff and Haidt for insisting that "the crises moving young people to action are all in their heads."[1]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b c Weigel, Moira (20 September 2018). "The Coddling of the American Mind review – how elite US liberals have turned rightwards". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e Greg Lukianoff; Jonathan Haidt (2018). The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. Penguin Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-7352-2489-6.
  3. ^ Kingkade, Tyler (15 May 2015). "Purdue Takes A Stand For Free Speech, No Matter How Offensive Or Unwise". Huffington Post. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Howard-Hassmann, Rhoda E.; McLaughlin, Neil (August 2022). "Ideacide: How On-Line Petitions and Open Letters Undermine Academic Freedom and Free Expression". Human Rights Quarterly. 44 (3): 451–475. doi:10.1353/hrq.2022.0023. ISSN 1085-794X. S2CID 251239148.
  5. ^ a b Lukianoff, Greg (4 September 2018). "Playing it Safe" (Interview). Interviewed by Devon Frye.
  6. ^ a b Celniker, Jared B.; Ringel, Megan M.; Nelson, Karli; Ditto, Peter H. (February 2022). "Correlates of "Coddling": Cognitive distortions predict safetyism-inspired beliefs, belief that words can harm, and trigger warning endorsement in college students". Personality and Individual Differences. 185: 111243. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2021.111243.
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^ "The Coddling of the American Mind - Notes". coddling. Retrieved 20 November 2023.
  9. ^ Reno, R. R. (November 2021). "Safetyism." ''First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion & Public Life'', 65–66.
  10. ^ Lukianoff, G., & Haidt, J. (2019). "The Safety Police". Saturday Evening Post, 291(5), 12–84.
  11. ^ Seltzer, Leon F (21 June 2017). "What's "Emotional Reasoning"—And Why Is It Such a Problem?". Psychology Today. Retrieved 26 November 2023.
  12. ^ a b Marks, J. (September 2018). "Bad Therapy". Commentary, 146(2), 63–65. Book review.
  13. ^ Burns, R. (2021). :The Cult of Wellbeing Infecting Our Schools". Quadrant Magazine, 65(12), 14–18.
  14. ^ Humphries, Stephen (14 August 2019). "How 'Safety First' Ethos is Destabilizing US Society". Christian Science Monitor. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved 15 November 2023.
  15. ^ Bell, Macalester (November 2022). "Against Simple Removal: A Defence of Defacement as a Response to Racist Monuments". Journal of Applied Philosophy. 39 (5): 778–792. doi:10.1111/japp.12525. ISSN 0264-3758. S2CID 237899836.
  16. ^ a b Warner, John. "Safetyism Was Never Real". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved 20 November 2023.
  17. ^ Brooks, David (10 August 2023). "Hey, America, Grow Up!". The New York Times.
  18. ^ "Bret Stephens Compared Me to a Nazi Propagandist in the New York Times. It Proved My Point". Esquire. 3 September 2019. Retrieved 20 November 2023.
  19. ^ "Hardcover Nonfiction Books - Best Sellers". The New York Times. 23 September 2018. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  20. ^ "Hardcover Nonfiction Books - Best Sellers". The New York Times. 18 November 2018. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  21. ^ Luce, Edward (29 August 2018). "Has campus liberalism gone too far?". Financial Times. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  22. ^ Williams, Thomas Chatterton (27 August 2018). "Does Our Cultural Obsession With Safety Spell the Downfall of Democracy?". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  23. ^ Ferguson, Niall. "Review: The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt — fear and loathing on campus". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 22 August 2023.
  24. ^ Friedersdorf, Conor (16 October 2018). "The Idioms of Non-Argument". The Atlantic. Retrieved 22 September 2019.
  25. ^ Roth, Michael S. (7 September 2018). "Have parents made their kids too fragile for the rough-and-tumble of life?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 18 February 2019.

External links edit