Cooling my heels at the airport, I call your attention to a new book by Greg Lukianoff, president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University. The book: The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. (That jawbreaker of a title was obviously taken from Allan Bloom’s surprising 1987 bestseller,The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students).
The screenshot below will take you to the new book’s Amazon site:
You’ll know their views from their 2015 Atlantic piece with the same title, but they’ve expanded and revised it, as you can see from the CBS News video below. In the meantime, the New York Times has, surprisingly, given the book a good review along with a related book by William Egginton (click on screenshot below to see it):
An excerpt of the review:
Lukianoff and Haidt offer a variety of compelling explanations for the rise of the “safetyism” culture that so dominates elite colleges and, increasingly, much journalistic discourse along the lines of The Nation’s editorial note. One of the most intriguing ideas they present is the Australian psychologist Nick Haslam’s notion of “concept creep.” Haslam found that since the 1980s key concepts in clinical and social psychology, including abuse, bullying, trauma and prejudice, have expanded both “downward” and “outward” to apply to less severe circumstances and to take in novel phenomena. “By the early 2000s,” Lukianoff and Haidt write, “the concept of ‘trauma’ within parts of the therapeutic community had crept down so far that it included anything ‘experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful.’”
. . . Lukianoff and Haidt notice something unprecedented and a lot more frightening: a generation, including its most privileged and educated members — especially these members — that has been politically and socially “stunted” by a false and deepening belief in its own fragility. This is a generation engaged in a meritocratic “arms race” of epic proportions, that has racked up the most hours of homework (and screen time) in history but also the fewest ever of something so simple as unsupervised outdoor play. If that sounds trivial, it shouldn’t. “When adult-supervised activities crowd out free play, children are less likely to develop the art of association,” Lukianoff and Haidt write, along with other social skills central to the making of good citizens capable of healthy compromise. Worse, the consequences of a generation unable or disinclined to engage with ideas and interlocutors that make them uncomfortable are dire for society, and open the door — accessible from both the left and the right — to various forms of authoritarianism.
. . . is that if we are going to beat back the regressive populism, mendacity and hyperpolarization in which we are currently mired, we are going to need an educated citizenry fluent in a wise and universal liberalism. This liberalism will neither play down nor fetishize identity grievances, but look instead for a common and generous language to build on who we are more broadly, and to conceive more boldly what we might be able to accomplish in concert. . . If the American university is not the space to cultivate this strong and supple liberalism, then we are in deep and lasting trouble.
Indeed. So don’t chew my tuchas when I keep kvetching about the ludicrous behavior that takes place on American campuses. I get a lot of comments and email saying stuff like, “Why don’t you stop writing about these trivial issues on campuses and deal with the really bad stuff that’s going on?” They mean, of course, the behavior of “President” Trump and his minions, whose perfidy is playing out just today as Brett Kavanaugh is being grilled as a potential Supreme Court justice. (He’ll get though, and if you want to make a bet that he won’t, email me.)
But liberal blogger and writers are nearly all consumed with dissing Trump, so I don’t need to; and my intense dislike (nay, hatred) for him and his cronies is amply witnessed on this site. So if you want to see Trump-dissing, just go over to HuffPo, Salon, or The New York Times. Being situated on a campus, I’m especially concerned with today’s college students, who will of course be tomorrow’s leaders. And major liberal media, such as the New York Times and the New Yorker, are already falling prey to balkanizing identity politics and the outrage culture.
Have a look at this 5-minute video in which Lukianoff and Haidt explain their thesis to interviewers at CBS News.