Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt show how the new problems on campus have their origins in three terrible ideas that have become increasingly woven into American childhood and education: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; always trust your feelings; and life is a battle between good people and evil people.
Lukianoff and Haidt do an excellent job of reminding readers of how the assumption of fragility can be disempowering ... In the effort to grow 'Coddling' from a popular article into a popular book, the authors engage in what they in another context label as distorted thinking: 'catastrophizing.' They turn their target phenomenon into something dramatic, urgent and very new ... Lukianoff and Haidt's insights on the dangers of creating habits of 'moral dependency' are timely and important, and the concluding self-help section of the book is reasonable: Keep 'em safe, but not too safe.
The book, which expands on a widely circulated 2015 article in The Atlantic, identifies what the authors refer to as 'the three Great Untruths' of the current moment: 'what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker'; 'always trust your feelings'; 'life is a battle between good people and evil people.' It’s a moment profoundly reshaped in the sanitized image of the hyper-connected and -protected 'iGen' generation (short for 'internet generation'), which directly succeeds the millennials. Members of iGen, according to the psychologist Jean Twenge, who coined the term, are 'obsessed with safety,' which they define to include expansive notions of 'emotional safety.'
The framing leaves no room to consider how historical and social change might legitimately change institutions or individuals, or that individuals might want to change their world. (This framing also explains how they can write hundreds of pages about what’s wrong with contemporary higher education and not mention debt or adjuncts) ... The Coddling of the American Mind is less interesting for its anecdotes or arguments, which are familiar, than as an epitome of a contemporary liberal style ... The style that does befit an expert, apparently, is the style of TED talks, thinktanks and fellow Atlantic writers and psychologists. The citations in this book draw a circle around a closed world ... Who will fix the crisis? The people who are already in charge ... The rhetorical appeal, here, shares a structure with the appeal that carried the enemy in chief of political correctness to the White House: 'That’s just common sense' ... Like Trump, the authors romanticise a past before 'identity' but get fuzzy and impatient when history itself comes up ... For all their self-conscious reasonableness, and their promises that CBT can master negative emotion, Lukianoff and Haidt often seem slightly hurt ... Their problem with 'microaggressions' is this framework emphasises impact over intentions, a perspective that they dismiss as clearly ludicrous. Can’t these women and minorities see we mean well? This is the incredulity of people who have never feared being stereotyped ... The minds they coddle just may be their own.