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The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure

Greg Lukianoff, Jonathan Haidt · 8 HN comments
HN Books has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention "The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure" by Greg Lukianoff, Jonathan Haidt.
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Amazon Summary
A finalist for the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction A New York Times Notable Book Bloomberg Best Book of 2018 The New York Times bestseller! Something has been going wrong on many college campuses in the last few years. Speakers are shouted down. Students and professors say they are walking on eggshells and are afraid to speak honestly. Rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide are rising—on campus as well as nationally. How did this happen? First Amendment expert Greg Lukianoff and social psychologist 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. These three Great Untruths contradict basic psychological principles about well-being and ancient wisdom from many cultures.  Embracing these untruths—and the resulting culture of safetyism—interferes with young people’s social, emotional, and intellectual development. It makes it harder for them to become autonomous adults who are able to navigate the bumpy road of life. Lukianoff and Haidt investigate the many social trends that have intersected to promote the spread of these untruths. They explore changes in childhood such as the rise of fearful parenting, the decline of unsupervised, child-directed play, and the new world of social media that has engulfed teenagers in the last decade. They examine changes on campus, including the corporatization of universities and the emergence of new ideas about identity and justice. They situate the conflicts on campus within the context of America’s rapidly rising political polarization and dysfunction. This is a book for anyone who is confused by what is happening on college campuses today, or has children, or is concerned about the growing inability of Americans to live, work, and cooperate across party lines.
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All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this book.
This is a good time to recommend some supplementary reading: The Coddling of the American Mind[1], a book that does a great job of outlining what has changed in the last 30 years and why there is very much a generational gap at play with how people perceive themselves. It turns out, raising kids in an environment of "safetyism" where nothing ever goes wrong makes full-grown adults really unresilient, and more prone to thinking of themselves as victims.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Coddling-American-Mind-Intentions-Gen...

nverno
I liked this book as well. Going into it, I was pretty baffled by some of the recent stories I'd heard from academia- Evergreen and the like. This book makes a compelling case that the post 2013 or so era of college kids are victims to a certain degree (new psychological problems and whatnot), or at least provides substantial evidence that they are suffering from various psychological issues to greater extent than previous generations. This book helped me emphasize better with some of the college debacles that seem batshit crazy to me.
mhoad
I’ve not read the book but the first thing that came to mind was how does this explain the boomers?

If I am understanding the premise correctly it’s implying there’s some meaningful distinction across generational lines about mental resilience?

The last five years have made that abundantly clear that premise would have some real flaws in it.

brigandish
In what ways are boomers displaying victimhood? The article is quite specific and I wouldn’t recognise that group (though surely there will be individuals within that group) as displaying the kind of victimhood that suggests the high TIV mentioned.
arp242
Even before that; the religious right has been posing themselves as victims for decades. Bill O'Reily started talking about "you're no longer allowed to say 'Merry Christmas'" in the earlier '00s, which aside from being nonsense, is also a good example of their supposed victimhood.
armenarmen
You can totally take it the other way too. A group of people felt they were being victimized by having Christian seasonal greetings directed at them and went on a campaign to make that behavior be seen as uncouth.
arp242
Except that didn't happen.
armenarmen
Who were the people that put forward the “say happy holidays not merry Christmas” issue?

Or was the issue invented (and lost) by conservative talking heads?

XorNot
I like how at no point it's occurred to you that maybe people are just being polite or considerate towards the beliefs of others...or that a business might not want to stipulate a specific theological belief it's employees must put forward.

That just can't be it for some reason, it's got to be a conspiracy against christianity!

Talk about victimhood...

kodah
Depending on where you live in the US, this actually did happen. I'm one of the people who bought into that crap.
havernator
White "Elder millennial" here, who grew up in red states with a Boomer dad who tried really hard not to drop the N-word in anger around me, but I still heard it a couple times. The "programming" worked on me great. I was all primed for this post-hate, post-racial society. I believed it. Legitimately. I was dedicated to judging people by the content of their character. Men, women. White, black. Whatever. IDK how it worked on everyone else but if fucking worked on me. It worked.

My... I dunno, mid 20s? Were a shock as I discovered we weren't all on the same page. It's just gotten worse over time.

phobosanomaly
It worked too well on my parents. I have to try to explain to them why going so far out of their way to find something nice to say about every single African-American waiter/waitress whenever we go out to eat is in-and-of-itself racist. I fucking cringe when I hear yet-another "he was so articulate."

I think left-wing people from a certain era overshot the mark and instead of just treating every average Joe like every other average Joe (black/white/green/whatever), they overcompensated in a way that is also kind of problematic.

I mean, on the spectrum, I'll take this one as a win, but it's a delicate calibration that probably leaves people on the receiving end feeling more than a little weird.

ungrateful-dead
When a society built for Christians (or for “Christian ideals” which this country was founded upon) starts to acknowledge and accept others, the folks against these changes think everyone else is being too sensitive.

When a society built with slaves and r*ping and pillaging indigenous populations starts to acknowledge that there’s issues that stemmed from that, the folks against these changes and dialogue think everyone else is being too sensitive.

Is there a pattern here? There’s a lot of talk here about “victim mentality” here and how “everyone else is so sensitive, I figured it out!”

It’s like the classic looking at bullet patterns on the planes that returned and not analyzing the planes that were taken down.

lazide
You do know that most of the founding fathers were far from religious people (especially Christian religious), and the whole church and state separation thing was there from the beginning because about the only religious thing anyone could agree on was generally A god (and depending on the founding father that was controversial) - not the specific flavor/interpretation of the god?

Unlike some European states, the United States has never been particularly Christian in any solidly identifiable way - more a hand wavey ‘as long as we don’t talk about which sect or really think about it too much’ way.

Quakers? check. Protestants? Check check. Catholics? Check check. Unitarians? Check evangelicals? Check. Gnostics? Check. Sunnis? Check. Jews? Check. Baptists? Check. Mormons? Check. And a whole lot more.

reasons
Hand wavey?

The US was founded by entire colonies of people coming overseas to worship the Christian God freely. Many key founders were deeply religious; believing all forms of government are doomed without the help of the Christian God. The Christian God was a huge factor in government and repeatedly credited as the guiding force and inspiration for the entire endeavor.

Christian prayer and Bible reading was a public school item until the mid 1960s. Church and state separation was entirely redefined around then as well; it didn't mean back then what people think it means now. The ten commandments was in courthouses. There are people still alive today that were led in prayer to the Christian God every single day of public school (and required to read the Bible); they're everywhere.

TheCoelacanth
> The US was founded by entire colonies of people coming overseas to worship the Christian God freely

That's the source of some of the colonies. There were many other reasons that people came.

Some were looking for economic benefit. Some were prisoners that their home countries were looking to get rid of.

> Christian prayer and Bible reading was a public school item until the mid 1960s

Until the 1960s, but starting in the 1940s or 1950s. Much of that public religiosity was a response to the Cold War, opposing the anti-theistic position of the USSR.

lazide
All with different interpretations of the Christian god (or not Christian, as in the Jewish diaspora). The Spanish who settled colonies in Florida and California, the French in Louisiana, the English, Polish, and German settlers in Jamestown would all struggle to agree on a common set of definitions or rituals except there was a bible in there somewhere.

I was led in prayer at public schools, and private - doesn’t mean I or most of the other students were religious, though some were. And that is a very recent thing. Most regions didn’t have public school bible reading then.

You seem to be making a statement that the US has some strong theocratic religious foundation, when it’s more of a ‘we’ve got too many competing groups that can’t get along with each other - we’ll just kinda stay out of it where we can’. Hence the hand waves part. Which is good, we’ve never had the religious wars where a specific group had to fight against another, which is how you end up with the state religions like in Europe (anglicans vs Catholics vs Protestants for instance).

The groups you’re pointing to were often refugees from those fights and came in as waves during the various periods of repression as tides turned, or different regions fell to famine.

reasons
How do you see it that way?

What if it were mathematicians from all over armed with the same Calculus book hand waving that everyone should ignore the idiosyncrasies of their alma mater or their professor's flavor of finding derivatives? What if the founding documents they wrote all spoke highly of Calculus; Calculus books in every classroom. To me it sounds like people weren't hand waving away God, but setting aside their idiosyncrasies to worship the same Christ.

lazide
You’re having a rather odd take on these words! I never said they were hand waving away God. I said they were hand waving all the important details of what religion they were referring to, and about the only thing anyone seemed to agree on is a God somewhere (Usually) and we won’t get into most of the details. Many prominent founding fathers were atheist or agnostic, but that wasn’t the majority.

The American approach is a ‘if we don’t look too hard, it’ll be ok’, since otherwise you end up with the literal large scale religious wars that pushed many of these groups here in the first place from Europe. Or society wide pogroms like Anglicans/Protestants/Catholics have done to each other constantly elsewhere.

And if you think Catholics/Protestants/Mormons/Baptists, etc are hanging out in the same church at any scale, we must hang out with very, very different crowds. They are not all deriving calculus from the same book - or all even agreeing that calculus exists.

A closer analogy would be a bunch of high school English teachers arguing that math exists, and one knows algebra one, another knows calculus, another knows trig, and another is doing arithmetic in base 16 while everyone else is using base 10. And they all think the other is wrong, but not completely so.

But there is no actual math teacher in sight.

heymijo
Roger Ailes, the man who made Fox News, generated the controversy around this when it was a non-issue and drove it into the public spotlight.

You can read the book The Loudest Voice in the Room or watch the mini-series based on it to learn more.

armenarmen
Cool, will do. Thanks for an actual answer
kodah
> Who were the people that put forward the “say happy holidays not merry Christmas” issue?

I was one of these people for a time. Mainly because in certain places, like where I'm from, Christmas was pushed on people. I'm an atheist and those holidays are hard enough. I've been pressured into praying with people, whom when I would try to complain would effectively mock me. I was forced to go to church where a pastor (or priest) would talk about me by proxy, speaking about how terrible I am or how I was going to hell (yaaaaay brimstone and fire). That's just a couple examples, but I'm sure you can fill in the gaps. So, I got to be kind of a dick about it.

I have grown since then, and Christians have generally gotten more tolerant that not everybody pauses for their holidays. This "conversation" could've been a lot healthier though.

tstrimple
Mostly the latter. Happy Holidays isn't about excluding Christmas and Christians. It's acknowledging that there are multiple religious celebrations in similar spirit going on around the same time. I'm not sure why so many people feel like more inclusive language somehow is meant to exclude them. Some more history on the usage.

https://www.history.com/news/the-war-of-words-behind-happy-h...

Rerarom
I live in a 90% Christian country and everyone says "Happy Holidays" and it doesn't have anything to do with religious tolerance but rather with the fact that there are multiple Christian holidays around Christmas time.
lawtalkinghuman
Some corporations put up a mixture of Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays signage/messaging etc.

Christian persecution complex hustlers—and Fox News etc. seeking outraged eyeballs—took the existence of people saying "Happy Holidays" as an attack on them because "Jesus is the reason for the season" and then unreasonably inferred that somehow people were banned from saying "Merry Christmas".

This led to some very entitled people shouting "It's 'Merry Christmas' actually!" at some underpaid cashier in Walmart because they'd been led to believing that saying Happy Holidays was a form of religious persecution and an attack on their faith.

For a British example, recall the story of "Winterval", where an attempt by a city council to come up with a brand name to cover a series of events including Diwali, Christmas, New Years and so on that was used in addition to "Christmas" led to a full out culture war where the press misrepresented the whole thing as somehow replacing Christmas due to "political correctness". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winterval

refurb
I took that as more social commentary than victimhood. Victimhood would infer some real harm. O’Reilly never said that, just that the situation was ridiculous.
chillwaves
Ridiculous and completely non existent.
burade
These types of books are made to sell, bro, not to be completely truthful.

You got duped.

zwieback
I really like their original The Atlantic article of the same name (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-cod...) but was disappointed by the book, too much repetition and filler material.

Still worth a look, though, and the situation has not gotten better in the last 5 years.

spaetzleesser
“ too much repetition and filler material”

That describes a lot of popular business, psychology and science books. I don’t really understand why authors feel pressure to fill hundreds of pages. A lot of books would be much better if they got to the point in 50 pages.

emmelaich
https://archive.is/rgv6L

(as updated 2019, though I don't know if there are any differences, significant or not)

> dominance-driven approach to discussion

Damn... guess that Socrates was a dominance driven asshole then huh?

It’s only “dominance driven” if you take it personally. If instead you realize that strong conversations are a way to elucidate clear logical thought and arguments on both sides, then you see it as a tool for understanding.

> condescension, and a refusal to even look at what you're saying and how you're saying it

That’s not me. I’ve been adding to the discussion with fact, and discourse. You’re the one who has quickly taken to dismissive ad hominem attacks.

> Maybe you don't have any better ways to spend your time, but I sure do

Says the man who’s cultivated a karma of 38876. You clearly spend wayyyyyyy more time on here than I do. Again, you turned this personal quickly... why?

Look if your so badly triggered by a discussion on HN about bitcoins, to the point where your thinking this is condescending and dominance driven on my half then do yourself a favor and read this book or at least the article.

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intention... https://www.amazon.com/dp/0735224897/ref=cm_sw_r_sms_awdb_im...

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-cod...

And maybe that’s condescending? Or maybe I’m trying to actually help (which I am).

You don’t know me... I don’t know you. But I recognize areas when I know less than someone else and I open myself up to it. Did your teachers in school “condescend to you”?

Reread all the discussions and you’ll simply see that I attempted to shine information and fact where there was ignorance.

Not every human being has equal knowledge and understanding of all fact. I know for a fact I have a greater understanding of this than you do.

And when you post ignorant things, or post conspiracy theories then I respond in kind. And yes, I do have better things to do. But honestly it pains me there is so much ignorance, and conspiracy stuff online rather, retweeted and reposted without thought, than actual facts.

If enough people sat down with those Trump supporters who marched on the capital and actually condescended to them for a bit to get them to face reality and fact, you could get through to some of them. Not all. But some. And that’s the start of change.

So which kind of person are you. Do you take criticism and seek more knowledge, or will you come away from this never questioning yourself and only seeing condescension in differing opinions?

Good luck, and if you believe it or not, I do wish you the best.

> Yes, those strong convictions have apparently been slipping, but it's across the board and for decades. If anyone has some sources that explain this trend I'd be interested in reading them.

https://www.amazon.com/Coddling-American-Mind-Intentions-Gen...

CT/CRT promotes an external locus of control as the source of societal problems. In other words, its not the fault of the individual/human hardware its the fault of the patterns that society has entrenched aka systemic racism or the software of a culture.

Its a top down theory/solution to what critics would argue is a bottom up problem. Individuals must be responsible for what they say, how they regulate their emotional state, and how their experiences and cognitive distortions skew their thinking. CT/CRT, by my understanding, argues against this. Thus it seems reasonable to say it leads to a lack of accountability if you define accountability as a responsibility for ones actions and beliefs.

I’ve read a small bit on CT/CRT, intersectionality, and the modern culture of safetyism. Primarily from Haidt who has more peer reviewed sources on things than anyone could ever want.

https://www.amazon.com/Coddling-American-Mind-Intentions-Gen...

https://www.amazon.com/Righteous-Mind-Divided-Politics-Relig...

I find CT/CRT to be compelling to a degree, but it brings along with it too much baggage in my opinion. You’re likely not going to find or be given a specific source of data that says CRT leads to lack of accountability (however you would measure that), its an assumption made by the previous poster. You don’t need one either to have a discussion, so don’t fall back on the lack of academic evidence as an argument in itself.

You might find The Coddling of the American Mind[1] an interesting read. I think it explains a lot about the infantilization of the culture.

1. https://www.amazon.com/Coddling-American-Mind-Intentions-Gen...

Oct 07, 2020 · trogdor3000 on Against Xkcd 1357
I agree the article isn't well written but I do share some of the author's concerns about the right to free speech vs. the cultural norms of public discourse, private disagreements among friends, friendly debates, etc.

I read the book The Coddling of the American Mind [1] a while back and think I can sum it up with that modern American equate disagreeing with someone opinions as a personal attack and that we need to avoid touchy subject for the sake of tolerance.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Coddling-American-Mind-Intentions-Gen...

SecurityMinded
Your right to free speech doesn't necessarily mean that I have to listen to you. If I am the ,edia platform you want to shout on top of, well, what you sy better be something that my audience wants to hear. Otherwise, I am not obligated to give you the time of day. That time is costing me money as a media broadcaster. If your half baked ideas is going to cause me a drop in audience following, hence advertising revenue, you can go find yourself another sympathetic ear. It ain't here. Second and fourth squares are saying exactly this and I could not agree with it any more. One of the best Xkcd strips. Good thing it was hashed out. I have forgotten about it.
Those kind of overreactions and bulldozer parenting are in large part the result of 24/7 news, which made unusual events seem common and created an environment of neverending fear.

Additionally, as the world became safer and sanitized, we became more distanced from injury and it seems more traumatic. Parents are more afraid and focused on the downsides. As well as the fact that we have fewer kids than in the past. The potential consequences are greater.

It's also worth noting that the body and brain are anti-fragile. That is, they become stronger and more robust when challenged. Weaker in the absence of it. The end result of all this sanitization, safetyism and overprotection is a fragile human. One that is less able to cope with the challenges and messiness and nuance of the real world.

That negative feedback loop has led to quite a mess. The Coddling of the American Mind does an excellent deep dive on all this: https://www.amazon.com/Coddling-American-Mind-Intentions-Gen...

SoreGums
Anti-fragile indeed, still sucks when your 7month rolls off the bed unexpectedly...
Swizec
I once jumped off the bed straight onto my head and got a concussion at 5. Turned out fine

My sis used to climb out of her crib and flop down to the ground when she was little. Turns out she was just naturally athletic. Now she’s a personal trainer.

Put some pillows next to their bed and let them roll

marcus_holmes
That will be a very educational experience for it.
jacobolus
Not really unexpected. Most babies roll off a bed, couch, chair, ... at least once or twice from age 6–12 months, despite their parents’ best efforts to prevent it. Some babies more times than that. This certainly has a potential to do serious damage, but the great majority of the time just causes some temporary pain and maybe a bruise.
Jonathan Haidt is a famous social psychology professor at NYU, whose work has been widely cited in recent years. He co-authored the book The Coddling of the American Mind: https://www.amazon.com/Coddling-American-Mind-Intentions-Gen...
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