The Coddling of the American Mind

How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure

[Amazon Link]

Another book that some UNH faculty member is sitting on ("checked out, due date 04/25/2020"). Prof, it doesn't take that long to read!

So, I'm happy that I got a Portsmouth Public Library card.

The authors, Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, start off by revealing the three Great Untruths:

  • "What doesn't kill you makes you weaker."
  • "Always trust your feelings."
  • "Life is a battle between good people and evil people."

Hey, you don't have to convince me. Those statements look like garbage to me too. But Greg and Jon make a solid case that those untruths have been promulgated in American society, and (to the extent they've been successfully promulgated) have been the source of much mischief and misery, especially on American college campuses, but also slopping over into the larger polity.

The book exudes an aura of sweet reasonableness; the authors go out of their way to understand the social trends they're criticizing, and bend over backwards to give them points for earnestness. Especially their chapter on "social justice"; it would have been very tempting to rhetorically nuke the concept, like some conservatives/libertarians have ably done. But they try, somewhat successfully, to extract a small baby before throwing out the bathwater. People aren't wrong to observe that some groups deserve a better shake.

Greg and Jon wind up with recommendations for reform, mostly in schools. They are cautiously optimistic. Maybe they're right about that: at least at the University Near Here, the stridency seemed much turned down in the previous academic year: no snitfits over Cinco de Mayo or Halloween costumes, no hate crimes, no videos of sorority girls singing rap songs. Fingers crossed.