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I’m not convinced by the arguments I’ve seen by @JonHaidt and @glukianoff but decided I’d take a *listen* to the Coddling of the American Mind (only way to consume books with a 6 month old!). Following my enjoyment of @wgervais’ thread on ‘Sense and Nonsense’ gonna follow suit.
Might not work as well in audio format (no screenshots of the holy relic of printed text) but let’s see. For reference thanks to excessive podcasting and a general lack of free time I’m now listening to things at 1.8-2X speed. (Makes everyone sound stoned at normal speed.)
Introduction: Trip to Greece to visit a guru in a cave sounded very weird/suspicious, which makes perfect sense given that is (spoiler) just a parable to illustrate three modern and supposedly popular problematic axioms. Side note: Haidt is a decent voice actor.
Not sure I appreciate the framing but 🤷🏻‍♂️, maybe I’m not the target audience. Book’s goal is to undo three untruths:
1. Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
2. Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.
3. Us vs Them: Life is a battle between good & evil ppl.
Ok, also seems important, these are judged as being wrong/untruths based on three criteria:

1. They contradict ancient wisdom.
2. They contradict psychology research on well being.
3. They harm the communities that accept them.
They lay a lot of bad stuff at the feet of these untruths: spike in teen suicides, political partisanship, appeal of online extremism, etc. etc. I’m sceptical about reality of a sudden and sustained spike in various indicators but I’m sure relevant data will be discussed later.
Real introduction is interesting. Greg seems well placed given his career and position at Fire to spot trends. It also does seem true that there is more talk of feeling unsafe and ‘triggering’ in modern times. Am not sure I agree this marks such a dramatic shift from the past...
...rather than a shift in terminology though. They talk about past protests and objections to EO Wilson and sociobiology but claim that students didn’t regard the ideas as being harmful to their health. Modern focus on health and feeling safe what is new and ‘significant’ 🧐.
Concept of fragility is the problem and CBT shows that thinking in this pattern can make people more anxious and depressed. They endorse the alternative of gaining strength by overcoming opposition and challenging negative thinking. (My temporary listening buddy pictured too).
Rest of intro chapter lays out more info about how book came about and structure of book. Concept of moral matrixes is interesting but doesn’t seem much different than existing concept of partisan bubbles. Real meat of thesis seems to be that new trend is promotion of pathology.
Things like ‘vindictive protectiveness’ (aka call out culture) are harmful to students development. They take positive reception of their original Atlantic article as + sign but alternative take is it was popular because it fed popular narratives. Fox at 7: ‘PC culture run amok!’
Talk about social turmoil from 2016-2018. Mass shootings in US, terrorist attacks in Europe, Trump, rise in activism in response to police brutality, antifa vandalism, Charlottesville. No mention of Brexit = anti-UK prejudice 🤗.
Stated ambivalence over word ‘coddling’ seems somewhat at odds with recent embrace e.g. constant reference in interviews and website name (thecoddling.com). See Haidt’s recent tweets for example. Feels a bit like having your cake and eating it 🎂.
Claim that argument is pragmatic not moralistic also strains credulity given what I’ve seen in other media. That might be the intention but that is not how the arguments are often presented. Wary of sounding like ‘get off my lawn’ scolds, but inevitably some aspect of that!
Chapter 1: Untruth of Fragility

As is standard for pop-sci books, chapter opens with illustrative story and study. This time a preschool being overcautious about peanut allergies & a study that revealed early exposure to peanuts helped reduces amount of allergic reactions.
Looked it up and it seems a pretty compelling case. One in which old (well intentioned) recommendations were found to be harmful and counterproductive. directorsblog.nih.gov/2015/03/03/pea…
Feel like too much credit is being given to @nntaleb for his contrarianism and tendency to rename well established facts. Case and point replacing resilient with ‘anti fragile’. Yes he makes a case for this, but I suspect the primary case is ‘it helps me sell more books’.
Meh, I guess I just don’t like Taleb. Guy is supposed to be some genius but buys into bog standard GMO paranoia. Citing where their thesis agrees with Taleb is having the opposite of its intended effect. I suspect anyone who follows him on twitter would understand that.
Protecting physical safety of infants = good.

Conflating protection of emotion/feeling of university students as safety = bad.

Concept creep has lead to the over pathologising of normal behavior/experience.
Discussion about the first mainstream case of ‘safe spaces’ at Brown university in 2015 is interesting covered by NYT. Issue was over debate concerning reality/lack of reality about America being a rape culture. If it is as described it is a useful paradigmatic example...
... the ‘safe space’ mentioned is described exactly like a kid’s crèche with play doh, colouring books and videos of puppies. The quote from the student complaining about having their ‘dearly held beliefs’ challenged also sounds too perfect but see 👇 nytimes.com/2015/03/22/opi…
They use this example to highlight the problems with safety-ism. There is a discussion about how trauma is dealt with through managed exposure in CBT and how this contradicts trigger warnings. They claim safety has become a ‘sacred value’ for some in iGen/Generation Z.
Chapter 2: Untruth of Emotional Reasoning

Hypothetical campus counselling session to start the chapter sounds fantastical. Counsellor advising someone who feels anxious they may be damaged for life and need to hide... seems unlikely. 😂 Contrasted with ancient wisdom examples.
Retreads some of Haidt’s material from the Happiness Hypothesis (which is a book I really liked). Discussion of CBT and it’s origins. Authors are *really* big fans of CBT. I know it’s dominant therapy and description makes it sound reasonable.
List of Cognitive Distortions
1. Emotional reasoning
2. Catastrophizing
3. Over generalising
4. Black and white thinking
5. Mindreading
6. Labelling
7. Negative filtering
8. Discounting positives
9. Blaming
Micro-aggression discussion now. They talk about how attributing aggression/hostility when there is no intentionality is an error. Question the undue focus placed on an individual’s interpretation and a better approach being to clarify conceptions/extend charity.
Talk about how diversity of campus and presence of neuro atypical folk, like people with autism, offer unlimited opportunities for offense taking. They argue it is better to prepare people to not assume bad faith and prioritise their personal judgments. Importance of intent.
They present a dual criticism of encouraging offence talking: 1) that it makes a toxic environment/makes bad situations worse and 2) that it is harmful to the individual’s development. I think these are the parts of ‘coddling’ thesis I agree with most. Being charitable is good.
But I also find that they are generally considering only the issues with false positives (detecting abuse when none was present) and not dealing with false negatives (dismissing issues of prejudice when they actually exist). I think the latter can be a serious problem too.
Now talk about disinvitations and importance of exposure to challenging ideas. There seems to be something of a false dichotomy presented between ‘be in favour of controversial speakers’ and ‘be a fragile reactionary unwilling to hear any other ideas’. I think more space...
... needs to be given to address there being a conscious strategy from bad actors to exploit willingness to hear ‘controversial opinions’. I’m reminded of George Lincoln Rockwell and his constant praise of people who were willing to let him discuss (and promote) fascism at unis.
Ok that’s enough for now. Chapter 3 later.
Commuting, so...

Chapter 3: Us vs. Them

Starts by emphasising importance of charitable interpretation. Discusses controversies over emails from academics (Spellman & Christakis) that led to student outcry. I agree that these two are ex’s of dramatic overreactions by students.
Next talks about minimal group research which I am familiar with. Not familiar with the MG MRI study by Eagleman. But quick scan of the paper and it looks well conducted. I wonder if it’s been replicated, will check later. In any case, this is familiar evidence for tribalness.
Haidt signals his support for multi level selection. Makes a good point about naturalistic fallacy: tribalism being natural doesn’t mean it can’t be overcome. Now into identity politics, of which there are apparently two types: common humanity vs. shared hatred/common enemy.
Discusses MLK and his common humanity identity politics. I’ve seen lots of people take issue with this characterisation of King. From what I’ve read, my take is that he was a complex thinker who promoted different messages at different times to different audiences.
So I think that there is a certain amount of picking and choosing going on. That said, it is true that his most famous speech, the one that even non-Americans know about seems to tread more on the common humanity side of things. But I’m no MLK expert.
Also discusses American civil religion and how it was utilised by King. Made me think about the patriot/militia movements and how the same worship of ‘the founding father’s vision’ can lead to very different (but equally potent) idea of what America is and should be.
Talking now about an anti-white article in the Texas state university student newspaper that apparently got a lot of attention from the right. Haven’t heard about it but notable that the article was withdrawn, author fired, and college apologised. Seems like that says something.
The chapter covers some far left arguments about how repression and indoctrination might be necessary to fight back against exploitative and unjust systems. There are a lot of issues here concerning definitions, and who gets to designate when democracy can be set aside.
I’m not on board with far left ideology so this isn’t hard for me to disagree with. Think it would be worrying if majority of left wing people endorsed those kind of sentiments but I sincerely doubt that is the case.
Interesting to see basic insight of intersectionality, as defined by Crenshaw, being endorsed and instead focusing on problems with certain *applications* of the concept. I’ve heard this before too! See! Being online isn’t a total waste of time. 🤗
End of the chapter tried to pull things together by talking about how (some interpretations of) intersectionality can inflate binary moralistic tribalism. This in turn promotes a ‘call out’ culture which has been enabled by growth of social media platforms.
It’s a neat framework but I don’t buy it entirely. For a start I think it understated the positive impact of online environments. Yes they enable public shaming but they also allow marginalised people to escape isolation. There are pros/cons. This is also being presented as a...
... distinctly modern circumstance but most of the elements discussed have been around, in one form or another, for a long time. There was a lot of radical left wing students in the 70s too but somehow that seems to be painted as a glory era of genuine activism.
I’m also not sure that common humanity identity politics doesn’t usually coexist with shared enemy identity politics. They are presented as incompatible worldviews here but it feels to me like they could be mutually reinforcing. Anyway that’s Part I done ✅.
Overall, I agree with a lot of the sentiment they express even if I have quibbles with specifics. Cases are cherry picked but that’s ok when you want to make an illustrative point. Bigger issue if you want to claim they are representative but that’s only been hinted at so far.
Part II

Chapter 4: Intimidation and violence

This chapter starts off with a discussion of the violent protests at Berkeley over Milo’s talk. There is a pretty nuanced treatment of this event despite clear condemnation of the attacks and the rhetoric surrounding them.
Next up is protests over Charles Murray (whose work is summarised rather sympathetically) and Heather Mac Donald they note the emergence of the ‘this speaker will deny my right to exist’ trope which they regard as catastrophising.
Charlottesville is also covered. They label this common enemy identity politics par excellence. They are also highly critical of Trump’s response but argue that the left squandered the opportunity to unify with those dissatisfied/disgusted on the right wing.
One aspect of this chapter that deserves credit is that they repeatedly acknowledge *the context* for protests of students reacting to Trump’s first year, including more expressions of racism, and emboldened white nationalists. This seems relevant even if not exculpatory.
They spend some time refuting the logic of ‘words are violence’, strongest point here is that you can use the same logic and replace ‘words’ with ‘breaking up with partners’. They also talk about record levels of protests in 2017, but Q surely is whether such trends will persist.
Chapter 5: Witchunts

Witch-hunts and similar phenomenon are a result of 1) perception of severe threat from outside and/or 2) loss of internal cohesion in a given society. There is a long interesting tangent about Durkheim and how his theories might apply to witchhunts.
Highlights that perceived violations in witchhunts are often minor and petty not serious infractions. They also talk about fear of bystanders that they too might be accused. This all rings true to me. I think there is a common psychology underpinning moral panics/witchhunts.
There is a discussion of ritual psychology & ‘collective effervescence’. Hey this is my field! Main focus is on role of synchrony and shared arousal & ability to create ‘social electricity’. Anyway, that’s a short section as we are now onto Tuvel’s article & Hypatia’s reaction.
This chapter also covers letters of denunciation signed by multiple academics and seems to be arguing this is a new phenomenon, at least in the current guise of calling for firing, etc. But I thought collectively signed letters was a pretty common form of activism for academics?
They lay out the argument for the importance of academic heterodoxy by highlighting how all scholars want to be correct, are guilty of confirmation bias, and demonstrate ingroup bias. Having diversity means that ideas are subjected to efforts to ‘disconfirm’. So far I agree.
Glad to hear them acknowledge that overrepresentation of left in academia is largely an issue of self selection. They argue it isn’t a problem as long as there is a suitable ratio of left to right leaning staff. 3:1 ratio seems preferred. Interesting, they trace the shift in...
...the 90s to the arrival of the baby boomers to the professorial level. So it seems the book isn’t just a lamentation of generation Z/iGen, the boomers are to blame too! This is clearest chapter yet on laying out case for important of some degree of political heterodoxy.
Events at Evergreen with Bret Weinstein are inevitably covered in some detail. They are a distillation of the book’s thesis, and the authors make full use of that but they do concede at the end that it is an extreme example, perhaps the most extreme, and isn’t representative.
Part III

Chapter 6: The Polarization Cycle

This third part signals a move from describing the nature of the problem to turning to (what they see) as the causes. There will be six ‘explanatory threads’ documented in Part III. They do a good job of caveating that these causes...
...need to be weighted differently according to individual cases or specific groups e.g. teen depression/suicide spike is disproportionately effecting girls. They also make the point that in almost all cases they are discussing they recognise there are good intentions involved.
They acknowledge that in most cases the motivation is to help the vulnerable and the marginalised, which is admirable. This is nice to hear and something I wish was more strongly emphasised in their interviews.
They explain that they are not seeking to blame but to understand and that they need to discuss the six contributing factors in full before they can move on to offer potential solutions in part IV. They list the six factors in advance too but I won’t spoil the surprise!
They acknowledge that most of their examples thus far have been the left attacking the right and/or the ‘progressive’ left (usually younger) attacking moderate left (usually older) and that this would be most of the story if they restricted themselves to campus controversies.
They actually do a fair job of summarizing the difference in views between progressive and moderate liberals here, without demonising either group. They highlight progressives accept some limitations on speech as necessary for inclusion (and to exclude hate speech).
But they point out that restricting their analysis to campus environment would be misleading as a lot of what is happening on campuses is a reaction to the wider political context, including Trump’s election and the longer term processes of polarization. This is all good to hear.
Meat of this chapter is discussing the impact of the growth of political polarization in the US. They talk about nice longitudinal Pew data which shows that the starkest growth in division over last few decades is by party alignment (though religious belief also gets a nod). 👇
There is discussion of how Republicans and Democrats have become defined not by love of their party but by hatred of their opposition. They reference data to support this that shows the major shift starting in the 90s and coming into full force in the Tea Party era.
Social media also gets a mention for allowing us to create ideological bubbles and partisan media for breaking down any shared sense of reality/facts. They are right to lay a lot of the blame at Newt Gingrich’s feet because of the reforms he introduced as speaker. He set...
... out to whip up partisanship and increase Republican loyalty and, by god, he succeeded. I think the summary here is good and pretty insightful but there is some hint of rose tinted glasses. The 50s are praised as an era of subdued partisanship. That may be so but...
...they weren’t exactly the glory days for immigrants or black people. Not to mention communists. The notion that the US status quo is mutual respect by Dems and Reps also seems undercut by history. I listened recently to Joanne Freeman’s masterful history of violence in...
...congress prior to the civil war (@jbf1755). Reading that helped me put the divisions of the modern era into context and recognise that only someone truly hyperbolic could regard the current era as the most polarised in American history. Tho this doesn’t mean everything is 🤗.
Getting back to the chapter they acknowledge the important point that if academia has fed left partisanship the outrage industry of talk radio, conspiracy websites, and cable news networks is vastly more developed on the right. MSM might be left but hyper partisan media is right.
There is a feedback mechanism between left wing controversies in academia and right wing coverage of such events and promotion of reactionary outrage. They emphasis that both sides feed on each but also that the right generally strips out context to make things look worse.
BRB, my co-listener is a-wiggling...
Ok, so in the right wing media issue, they go back to Evergreen go cover what happened after Bret appeared on Tucker Carlson. Glad to see this being covered because the initial summary felt like it was lacking some very pertinent context.
It seems important to mention, for instance, that actually neo-Nazis went and and filmed themselves walking around the campus at night sticking up racist posters, that activists were doxxed and threatened, and swastika graffiti was painted on a building.
There are a number of other examples provided of left wing academics saying something perceived to be provocative and a barrage of racist/misogynistic & violent vitriol flowing from right wing audiences in response.
The insults and threats that the academics receive are vile but the most striking case is the campaign of harassment and mockery aimed at Sarah Bond when she wrote about how the ancient sculptures of Greece/Rome were originally painted in bright colors.
The famous white marble statue was thus not some classical standard of perfection, as believed during the Renaissance, but rather the result of weathering. Bond talked about how this misunderstanding aided white supremacists in constructing their narratives of white-ness.
Haidt and Lukianoff regard this as an interesting and plausible idea. I do too. But Bond was subjected to a campaign of derision and received death threats. They use these cases to illustrate the polarization cycle and how outrage is amplified intentionally by rightwing media.
They also note that it is somewhat universal that responses to outrage campaigns on left or right from university leadership tend to be weak and pandering. The thesis is that this situation has led to an atmosphere promoting self-censorship.
The nice thing about this chapter is that it feels like it is offering some much needed balance after the first half of the book. Calling out Turning Point USA for their hypocritical academic watchlist might be an obvious thing but it is also important to avoid a Rubin-esque...
... both sides are guilty but here is a litany of examples only taken from the left.
They also talk about the potential rise in hate crimes since Trump took office & detail some horrific hate crimes. The violent threats, intimidation and actual attacks they detail, largely based on race, is chilling and serves as a potent reminder that there really are violent...
..racists in the US. It isn’t all the fevered imaginings of over privileged liberal college students. The chapter ends by talking about the US’ history with racial discrimination/intimidation & acknowledging that Trump’s presidency emboldened white supremacists & misogynists.
Final point is that the context of Trump’s presidency, political polarization and return of white nationalism, needs to be appreciated when trying to understand why students are reacting the way they are today. These are good points I wish Haidt recently acknowledged more often.
Chapter 7: Anxiety & Depression

Starts with powerful personal anecdote by Greg about how he used CBT to overcome suicidal thoughts. Can certainlybsee why that would make you an enthusiastic advocate for the method.
I’m now about half way through this chapter and this is probably the chapter I personally find the most problematic or ‘controversial’ 😋. Summarising my problems I think they are overextrapolating from limited data points and potentially are guilty of the catastrophising...
... they chastise the iGen-ers for. Their thesis is basically that after social media sites (and iPhones) became ubiquitous there has been a dramatic shift in adolescent lifestyles and that this plus parenting changes has led to them becoming infantilised and incapable of...
...dealing with interpersonal conflict or being confronted with views they disagree with. A lot of their claims rely heavily on Jean Twenge. I don’t know her work well but it sounds very similar to the work of Baroness Greenfield in the UK. A few minutes of googling and I can...
...see some familiar red flags in terms of critics highlighting cherry picked data & hyperbolic, catastrophic predictions. I’d need to dig deeper to have a properly informed view but given how central her summary is to the coddling’s argument, the authors must have a lot of...
... confidence in her findings. My gut feeling is that might be misplaced. Especially given that their own summary of modern adolescents paints them as weak loners afraid to disobey authority and only interacting with screens. This account doesn’t ring true to me. It ignores...
... for a start that at the other side of that screen is usually a bunch of people. *Social* media sites typically involve interacting with other people; so does online gaming and online ‘communities’. I know there is a destructive isolating side to the online environment...
... but there is also a liberating side, where people find communities that they never could in their local area and where people make deep friendships that are just as ‘real’ as those based on physical proximity. Not everything online is superficial and anonymous.
Ok back to the chapter, there simply is no way to not read this chapter as an updated version of ‘these kids today!’ They make hand waving reference to things like reduced rates of smoking and drinking being positive but these are later cast as evidence that kids today just...
... aren’t rebellious enough. This seems a glaring contradiction to me, given that the first half of the book is all about how entitled students feel to take on traditional university authorities. I also can’t get worked up about stats showing this generation has the most...
... screen time. I mean of course they do who was going to have more kids in the 60s? Moreover, the dramatic change really only seems to be evident in some select stats from the US that aren’t reflected, for example, in the UK. The depression stats also show a worrying rise...
... but it still feels premature to regard this as a sustained trend and disregard the expanded diagnosis possibility because of slight rises in overall teen suicide rates. The graphs are showing a raise but we are talking about a difference of 5 per 100,000 vs 3 per 100,000...
... for girls. These differences matter but it’s important not to overstate how dramatic the shifts are. If this turns out to be a temporary rise and the rate falls in 5 years time would Haidt & Lukianoff revise their claims? I’d hope so 🧐.
They mention the rate for suicide dropping for boys in Canada and no such changing trend in either sex in the UK. Of course there are a bunch of contextual differences but these variable patterns at least suggest increased screen time isn’t a universal suicide booster.
Good to hear them acknowledge the issue of spurious correlations. But based on Twenge’s data (again) they try to tease out causal relationships between screens and mental illness. There is some indicative evidence but I feel they are relying too much on her interpretation & data.
They dwell on issues of ‘Fear of Missing Out’ and the unique vulnerabilities to social media pressure that afflict girls, including a preference for relational (/non-physical) aggression. At some points here it feels like they really dip into sensationalism, like when they ...
... mention teenage girls getting plastic surgery to look like their exaggerated online selfies. I mean I’m sure that has happened but is it really an important illustration or is it unrepresentative extreme cases? If SMS were as harmful as they suggest my question is why are...
... suicide and depression rates not higher? Maybe we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg and I’m in denial but I feel they aren’t persuading me with the material in this chapter.
That said I do agree with them that the emphasis placed on mental illness, anxiety, avoiding harm, etc. does represent a novel context that is likely to lead to inflated statistics in regards things like students visiting counsellors. I’m just less sure of the long term effects.
There is a bunch of super important caveats given at the end of the chapter about the preliminary nature of the data, the small amount of variance explained, the crudeness of the indicators in Twenge’s datasets and how the effects of screens will depend on activities.
It’s great these are included but why are they at the end of the chapter instead of at the start? It feels a little bit disingenuous because these admissions undercut the strength of a lot of the claims made in the chapter. I understand rhetorically though. Worst chapter so far.
Chapter 8: Paranoid Parenting

Intro to this chapter discusses benign sounding case of a women letting her 9 year old son ride the subway alone to get home and how she was dubbed America’s worst mother. I’ve heard Haidt wax lyrical about free range parenting before and it ...
... sounds, in principle, pretty reasonable to me. We are very bad at estimating risks and I suspect people in the US, and most highly developed countries, are too protective over children. Including me! Though Japans standards are different than the UK/US.
This chapter is a significant improvement and more convincing than the previous one. The claims made here feel less reactive and judgmental and to be based on more solid data about relative risks and long term crime rates. It feels like there is some hyperbole in regards to...
... describing how common crime, like muggings was, but then again that might just be my lack of knowledge. There were crime waves and US movies from my childhood certainly seemed to regard muggings as an everyday reality. So 🤷🏻‍♂️maybe Robocop was a reasonable extrapolation.
There is an interesting discussion about class differences and how they impact parenting practices. Basic point made is the difference between permissive and (overly) protective parenting styles of working and middle classes respectively. Though they do talk about negative...
... effects from both over and under parenting. But focus is overall still primarily on the harms of over parenting and the associated culture of safetism. Lacking unsupervised play time is a big problem.
Chapter 9: The decline of play

Starts by discussing the importance of play to mammal development. Discusses some animal studies that while fascinating are also pretty depressing as they involve emotionally/physically tormenting social animals. 😩
They do a good job of outlining modern models of development that describe the interaction of gene and environment/culture. Also sounds like the main focus of the chapter is on the importance of ‘free play’ with risks over managed/structured play.
They are making legitimate points about the lack of outdoor/physical play and the devaluing of play that is non goal orientated but still a lot of reference to Jean Twenge’s work. I can’t help wonder why she wasn’t a third co-author. Sounds like they agree on most things!
Oh ok I get it, so the link is iGen don’t do enough free play, so they don’t develop tolerance to fear, so they react very badly to challenging or ‘fear’ inducing situations at university.
Chapter 10: The Bureaucracy of Safetism

Chapter starts with a return to the less than convincing hypothetical university counsellor visit from Ch 2. Here they link it to a real case where students were warned of possible penalties for sharing suicidal thoughts with other...
... students, regardless of whether or not they reported any. This seems idiotic but as they describe it appears to have been roundly condemned. They are using it as an illustration of the overreach and negative effects of bureaucratic safetyism.
Ok back to the book after a holiday... another part of this chapter I like is the suggestion that maybe the problem isn’t a growth in extreme leftism amongst students but rather the rise of academic bureaucracy & shift to treating students like customers who are ‘always right’.
As an academic, complaining about over bureaucratization is a familiar gripe and one I have much sympathy with. So this feels comfortable! And I think there is a point about bureaucratization and a focus on profit conflicting with certain academic ideals.
Next up are another couple of examples of ridiculous overreach by univeristy administration. I’m totally on board with the criticisms here; and I think most people would be. But I’m less convinced by the broader criticism of codes of conduct, etc. If you don’t have rules that...
... explicitly prohibit things like online abuse then it feels like the university and associated institutions would be hamstrung when trying to discipline people for breaches. Over broad application and language is worthy of criticism but basic principle seems sound.
Quibbles about ‘see it, report it’ wording on public transit feel nit picky. But their criticisms about concept creep in regards to concepts of biases and harassment are more compelling. There is a balance to be struck here between offering student’s protection and due process.
Victimhood culture finally makes its full appearance. They discuss differences between dignity and honor cultures & posit victimhood culture as a new socioecological environment. Shares focus on perceived sleights from honor cultures but seeks restitution through authorities.
Each chapter ends with a numbered list of points that summarise their argument. I feel like if you wanted the cliff notes version of the book just collating these would give you a handy reference. I like it when books have these ‘quality of life’ elements.
Chapter 11: The Quest for Justice

Chapter opens with discussion of voting habits and age range. They posit that the current ‘social justice’ era might be a new version of the dramatic politics of 1968-1972. The listing of recent political/notable events is troubling but also...
... feels selective, if I listed events between 2000-2005 would I not have been able to show that we were living through truly tumultuous times? I think I could make a pretty strong case. The prevalence of social media and its influence is more persuasive as a novel influence.
Haidt and Lukianoff identify their political positions and sounds like an accurate summary to me. Again I think this would be better to state way back at the start but meh. They are going to outline their alternative suggestions for how to make social justice work. Interesting.
I find their breakdown of different concepts related to justice to be insightful. They discuss intuitive justice and its components ‘distributive justice’ (belief in fair rewards) and ‘procedural justice’ (perception that process is fair).
Discussion of the importance of perceptions of procedural justice in relation to how the police are perceived hit home. I grew up in Catholic community in Belfast where police force during my childhood was over 90% Protestant and perceived as deeply sectarian and bigoted.
They distinguish two types of ‘social’ justice one that accords with intuitive justice and one that dies not. Their argument seems to map onto the oft stated position that the goal should be equality of opportunity not equality of outcome. JP has tainted this for me but it’s...
...better articulated here. I say this because they accept that minority groups can face obstacles that need to be addressed via methods beyond majority rule. Peterson, alternatively, has a habit of positing false equivalences: ‘almost everyone is descended from serfs’.
They also discuss sex differences in interest in team sports. And use this as a kind of case study forbhowndifferent philosophies about justice/equality play out in practice and the reception they receive. These are messy issues but I don’t find their discussion hyperbolic.
Chapter ends with another thorny topic: hiring processes, gender gaps, and relationship or rather potential lack of relationship with discrimination. There isn’t that much new here but to a certain extent the argument echoes Damore’s google memo. This isn’t surprising given...
...Damore explicitly cited Haidt as a major influence on his views, albeit he was mostly talking about his work on partisanship. In any case I think the direction of influence is clear. Now onto Part IV and the final two chapters. (I didn’t intend to tweet this much...)
Chapter 12: Wiser kids

Ok so now we are getting to their solutions. I’m anxious about what they are going to argue for here given their less than convincing and chapters about the unflattering defining characteristics of iGen. But willing to 👂and potentially be surprised!
Ok, they are limiting their recommendations primarily to the US context and a specific style of middle class parenting. That’s a good start. Though they think their suggestions will have broader relevance (but which author doesn’t say that?).
More caveats that their suggestions should be taken with requisite salt and subject to re-evaluation according to evidence. This is all good. I wish there was a bit more of this at the start of some of the other earlier chapters. Generally I’m a fan of acknowledging limitations.
Kids should be taught to be resilient, not taught world will accommodate them, and allowed time for unstructured play. ✅

Give them responsibility and let them take some risks ✅

Let kids travel by themselves small distances and male friends with nearby kids ✅
Teach kids how to argue properly ✅

Teach kids CBT techniques 🤔 (not sure this is necessary beyond some very basic principles)

Teach children mindfulness 🤔 (not convinced by claims made here, feel overstated)
Teach kids to give people benefit of doubt 🤔 (I generally agree but not sure this is good advice for kids in all circumstances in the internet era)

Stress common humanity and respect ✅
A lot of the rest of the chapter is about their recommendations for educational authorities. I feel mostly ambivalent about the suggestions because I’m not enmeshed in the US system and don’t know enough about the specific programs they promote. Most seem reasonable.
One part I agree on is importance of learning how to debate and see others’ perspectives. But I’m less swayed by the continued vilification of screentime. Yes you need to be vigilant and not let kids avoid all outdoor activity and face to face interaction but the world is...
... different now. Learning how to deal with technology and manage its addictive qualities is a part of growing up. We can’t go back to pre-internet era and there are positive aspects to the new online world. I think it’s better to teach kids how to manage rather than vilify.
Final point is bizarrely advocating for gap years. I had one of these, spent 6 months travelling on my own in US and Canada when 18, but was also working from when I was 16 so had saved up funds. Was fun. I took greyhound from Toronto to Vancouver at one point (70+ hours?).
Final Chapter: Wiser universities

Fundamental purpose of univeristy is promote knowledge and truth. Universities that fail to promote truth in service of ideology or profit seeking then they are not good universities. Same goes for professors.
They disagree with position that we should value activism/agenda above what is true. What is true should be the first principle as any agenda has to deal with facts/evidence. They propose four principles to make universities thrive:
1. Entwine identity with free inquiry: universities should be committed to free speech & academic freedom. Critical debate > prohibition. Don’t bow to outrage campaigns.
2. Pick best mix of people: better to have more diverse student body, esp. older students/political views.
3. Orientate and educate for productive disagreement: reject fragility, collision of views and challenge important. Don’t trust feelings above all else. Evidence and critical thinking is important. Reject binary partisanship.
4. Draw larger circle around community: Stress...
... common identity, including staff and students. Protect physical safety- extremists are targeting minorities important to give support and make them feel welcome. Don’t invite partisan ideologues to campus.
They offer some recommendations about questions students should ask about their universities and then move on to offer general conclusions. My journey is almost over.
Conclusion: Wiser Societies

They summarise their thesis as being based on three contrasts.

1. Young people are not fragile vs. What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker
2. We are all prone to emotional reasoning and confirmation bias vs. Trust your emotions they are always correct
3. We are all prone to dichotomous thinking & tribalism vs. Life is a battle between good & evil people.

They think the embrace of the three ‘untruths’ is causing current problems and restate their summary with a final hat tip to Pinker’s ‘Enlightenment Now’. Optimism warranted.
Their final section is presenting, what they regard as, some causes for optimistism that should discourage their own catastrophising (slightly too late for that 🤗):

1. Social media & tech reforms 👍
2. Potential harms of overprotection of kids now more widely acknowledged 👌
3. Recognition of identitarian extremists & their mutual reliance & reinforcement acknowledged 🤔
4. Universities committing to free speech and pushing back against safetyism 🤔

Odd closing argument about market forces likely resolving everything. Maybe an attempt to end on a 🤗
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