The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. The book sprang out of an article that the authors wrote for The Atlantic – How Trigger Warnings Are Hurting Mental Health on Campus.
Haidt is a social psychologist by training and currently serves as professor of ethical leadership at New York University Stern School of Business. I heard an interview with Haidt on the the dark psychology of social networks and this book came up which was the key reason why I bought it.
Lukianoff is a lawyer by training and president of Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a US based group that free speech rights on college campuses. If it was Lukianoff on his own I would likely dismiss this book as partisan.
Premise of The Coddling of the American Minds
In The Coddling of the American Mind Haidt and Lukianoff discuss factors that are affecting the resilience of young people emerging from colleges in the US.
They suggest a number of factors for the increasing intolerance and threats to American life from the left and the right.
- Intimidation and violence on campus – the book highlights examples on both the left and right of the political spectrum. Violence by left wing protestors at Berkeley was particularly disturbing due to the lack of action by law enforcement
- Witch hunts against academics
- Self reinforcing cycle of political polarisation
- Paranoid parenting compared to the latch-key parenting that older people would have been used to growing up
- The decline of outdoor play
- Safetyism – the move of safety culture from improving physical safety promoted by the likes of Ralph Nader (safer workplaces, no lead paint on toys etc) to encompass mental and emotional safety as a priority
- The quest for justice. The complexity of how you define justice is important
Haidt and Lukianoff are of the opinion that you need to prepare people for life and to be resilient. That this approach doesn’t detract from the desire to change the world seems to be ignored by advocates of the status quo.
How the book has been received?
The Financial Times generally praised the book and it ended up on the New York Times bestsellers list.
The book was perceived as an attack on progressive liberal values by some reviewers, whereas I think it wasn’t attack on those values, but the means by which they are being pursued. It confronts the hard truth that there is intolerance at both ends of the political spectrum and a lack of dialogue.