The Coddling of the American Mind,Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
I loved this book so much. It’s brilliant, applicable to our current society and can be used to better shape our future. This book is particularly relevant if you have children (which I do not, they are icky). Best book I’ve read of the year so far by a long shot.
The basic premise of the book revolves around the famous quote from Nietzsche “What does not kill me makes me stronger”. The world today seems to believe the opposite: what does notkill me makes me weaker, so avoid all possible risks. If we expose our children to no risks, even small ones, how can they ever learn how to overcome big ones? This is frequently referred to as Antifragility, a reference to the absolutely genius book by Nassim Taleb Antifragile, the best book I’ve ever read. The author mentions Antifragility repeatedly throughout this work and it made me very excited because I’ve been hyped about this epi-phenomenon ever since I learned of it. (For more reading on the book Antifragile and the others in the accompanying series, you can read my thoughts here).
You can’t protect your children from the world. Better to teach them that it’s a scary place.
If you don’t let your kids play outside alone or if they don’t free play with other kids, then they will never experience interpersonal conflict, then they have no tools to deal with it in the future. Inevitably they will experience conflict in their life and the single method of recourse they know will be to get an adult. Imagine a child’s entire upbringing being protected from all conflict, I’m sure lots of mom’s think this is ideal, but it’s really a disservice to the child. While parents may want for their children never to experience misfortune, bullying, or social conflict the point is that when kids are not exposed to conflict as a young adult, they don’t develop the tools to resolve these situations on their own as they get older. There is only one situation where an authority figure will be available 24/7: Police state authoritarianism. The world is full of bullies, and getting mom to scold him never helps, the only solution to a bully is to stand up to them immediately. Also that kid is going to have his feelings hurt a lot as he grows up, and even more as a full grown adult. So what’s the plan here? Protect their delicate dainty little feelings by putting bubble wrap around all the sharp objects in the world? Nah, far better to just grow calluses.
Politically correctness gone overboard
I love the idea of political correctness, the idea that we are somewhat civilized people and should act like it is one that appeals to me. The downside is when it goes so far to the extreme that we end up apologizing for the perception of insult to even the smallest of a sub group. There should be little question that political correctness has gone awry, this is half the reason Donald Trump was elected in the first place, he is the anti-political correctness. This is a pretty obvious re-correction in societal ideals.
So the book talks about this pretty extensively and essentially it comes down to “equality of outcome”. Equality of outcome is impossible, has been tried, and always will be impossible. The idea that every subgroup of every group can have not just equal opportunity in life (which they should have), but equal outcome of their life experience. Life isn’t fair my friends, and some people have better ones than others, for no cosmic reason other than random luck. Some people are smarter than others, more attractive, stronger, harder working, etc. Maybe not dramatically, but there are differences in individuals (I’m sure this is breaking news to you). Humans are not all perfectly equal and it’s unrealistic to expect perfect equal treatment for every one of us. Hopefully you are not just learning this from me, but it seems this is the unintentional path forward when people want to prop up every small subgroup and claim mistreatment.
College is a paid for experience
The book describes an interesting idea, that college is essentially a luxury experience, and the student paying top dollar for that experience should rightfully feel entitled to have a say in how that experience unfolds. I must say this was initially a compelling argument to me. If a student pays $60,000 a year for college, maybe that student should have a say in what speakers they are subjected to, or what lessons they are asked to learn. Sounds plausible at least.
Just because it sounds like a good argument doesn’t really mean it’s in anyone’s best interest. Should a student have a say in a college campus when they paid for their tuition on debt that was subsidized by the taxpayer but was appropriated by government??? I think probably not. That’s what happens though when rampant capitalism infects every corner of our culture. We run college like a business, then become beholden to the customers, and in this circumstance the customers are 18 year old entitled idiots. I never want to be such a whore for money that I put myself at the mercy of college kids who throw a tantrum when you try to teach them something uncomfortable. Essentially what this has become is society agreeing to give kids money for college, the college jacks the price up and rips off the taxpayer, the student is left with a ton of debt, and to top it all off during the time they are at college instead of learning hard lessons for the future ahead, so they can earn some return on investment for that debt, they are calling for safe spaces and protesting against speech they find offensive.
Beyond the college campus
Shutting down free speech and high levels of identity politics / group think are generally reserved for the political college left, and that’s where this book starts, though it’s hardly the only place participating in “negative partisanship”. As described in the book “negative partisanship” is where a political group cares more about hatred for the other side rather than excitement for their team. In this context, I think the problem in particular encompasses a large body of our general electorate.
Just try and talk to people about politics these days, they are insufferable. Any time I try to have a real dialogue about differing opinions on political topics becomes a mad dash to turf war. People only seem to want to know what side you’re on so they can be nice to a friend or wage war against an enemy. The left is calls everyone they deem slightly imperfect a racists fascist, and the right doesn’t seem to care about any values other than “I want to see liberals heads explode”. Neither of these are positions I can personally get behind, and I don’t see it as particularly productive, it’s also become tiresome for me to talk to people who engage in this behaviour.
There is one hidden benefit to this hyper partisanship that works towards my own personal gain. I love to call people morons, and this type of behaviour makes it so damn easy for people to prove me right.
What’s the fix?
I don’t know, probably war or famine. Not that I want or advocate for either one but the reality is that people’s lives are too damn easy. These kids on college saying that offensive speech is equal to physical violence obviously have never been in a place where physical violence is prevalent. Maybe they should go without food for a few days, then tell me how much a slightly perceived insult hurts?
To circle back to my earlier comment, the biggest danger I see of this verbal hypochondriac syndrome is the rise of a autocratic dictator. Someone can simply walk up and TAKE from the world what he wants while all these whiners are too busy arguing about theoretical right and wrong. Donald Trump is the first early sign of this, certainly not a strongman in the historical sense, but many believe (and openly admit this) that he is the product of a backlash in political correctness. The world has gone into hysterics over this guy and while cult of personality is always something to worry about, the real outrage should be saved for the truly scary threats.
Jordan Peterson’s latest book recent book, 12 rules for life is a fantastic guide on how not to fall for blind ideology and hyper partisanship but to be an individual. If you find all your political arguments are rehashed from whatever your favorite new pundit is saying, you’re doing yourself a disservice. In fact, if you think the biggest problems the country faces are the same ones the news is currently yammering about (since it changes every 90 days or so), then maybe your ideas aren’t really your own. Easy solution, stop watching the news.
The last solution I can present is to just realize that you’re probably not a victim, and weakness has no virtue. It seems like all this identity politics, overprotectiveness, and safety ism is based on unwarranted fear and desire to gain social credibility from being in an oppressed group. Elizabeth Warren recently came out and said she is 1/64th native american. I can’t even understand how that makes a difference to her day to day life, it sure does seem like posturing for social credibility by being in a perceived disenfranchised group of people. This is sad, unhelpful, and it completely disregards real value to strive for like individuality, courage, and integrity.
I know a lot of this is rambling, I just wanted to get some thoughts out about what I learned.. The book is fantastic and it’s good on audible too, I highly recommend everyone read it and if you want to disagree with my points I would love for you to read it and write a rebuttal.