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Powerpoint Overview of The Coddling of the American Mind

Outline Handout


A. Fragility: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Weaker
i. “Human beings need physical and mental challenges and stressors or we deteriorate.”22 We are antifragile (Nassim Taleb – Antifragile).
ii. “Wind extinguishes a candle but energizes a fire.”23
iii. Concept Creep: concept scope expansion to less severe situations and new, conceptually related phenomena25
iv. Safetyism: “culture or belief system in which safety has become a sacred value”30 Or, “the conflation of safety and feelings”24 via concept creep that leads to overprotective beliefs, such as college students “need safe spaces and trigger warnings lest words and ideas put them in danger.”32
B. Emotional Reasoning: Always Trust Your Feelings
i. Schemas: “patterns of thoughts and behaviors, built up over time, that people use to process information quickly and effortlessly as they interact with the world.”36
ii. Cognitive Distortions: “irrational thought patterns,”8 i.e. emotional reasoning, dichotomous thinking, blaming others as source of your negative feelings38
iii. Microaggressions – “aggression is not unintentional or accidental.”40 When defined as slights “entirely in terms of the listener’s interpretation,”40 microaggressions demonstrate “a crucial moral change on campus: the shift from ‘intent’ to ‘impact.’”43
iv. Hanna Gray, University of Chicago President (1978-1993): “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think.”50
C. Us Versus Them: Life is a Battle Between Good People and Evil People
i. Principle of Charity: Philosophical/rhetorical concept that “says that one should interpret other people’s statements in their best, most reasonable form, not in the worst or most offensive way possible.”55
ii. Tribalism: “evolutionary endowment for banding together to prepare for intergroup conflict”58 “In tribal mode, we seem to go blind to arguments and information that challenge our team’s narrative.”58
iii. Identity Politics: “Identity can be mobilized in ways that emphasize an overarching common humanity while making the case that some fellow human beings are denied dignity and rights because they belong to a particular group, or… in ways that amplify our ancient tribalism and bind people together in shared hatred of a group that serves as the unifying common enemy.”60
iv. Herbert Marcuse – German philosopher, sociologist, and professor in America after fleeing Nazis. Wrote “Repressive Tolerance” in 1965, arguing that “‘liberating tolerance’ … favors the weak and restrains the strong,”65 and “true freedom of thought might require professors to indoctrinate their students.”66

A. Intimidation and Violence
i. Words are Violence; Violence is Safety84 – “Now that some students, professors, and activists are labeling their opponents’ words as violence, they give themselves permission to engage in ideologically motivated physical violence.”86
ii. “Interpreting a campus lecture as violence is a choice, and it is a choice that increases your pain with respect to the lecture while reducing your options for how to respond.”95 “Choose not to be harmed – and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed – and you haven’t been.” Marcus Aurelius95
iii. Progressive Activist Van Jones to University of Chicago’s Institute for politics: “I don’t want you to be safe ideologically. I don’t want you to be safe emotionally. I want you to be strong. That’s different.”97
B. Witch Hunts
i. Witch hunt: when “a community becomes obsessed with religious or ideological purity and believes it needs to find and punish enemies within its own ranks”99
ii. Professors’ open letters have been used as tools to “condemn” and “categorically reject” fellow scholars rather than rebut their ideas and arguments.106
iii. Confirmation bias should lessen via institutionalized disconfirmation (i.e. peer review), but fails when political biases (and other forms of viewpoint diversity) are homogenous. “The ratios in other core fields in the humanities and social sciences are nearly all above ten to one” in terms of political left-to-right.111
iv. Viewpoint homogeneity “leaves a community vulnerable to groupthink and orthodoxy,” which creates space for witch hunts to thrive.113

A. Polarization Cycle
i. Americans show increasing affective polarization for people of the opposing political party since the 1980s.
B. Anxiety and Depression
i. The 2011 national rise in adolescent anxiety and depression reveals important consequences for iGen (Gen Z – 1995-2012) and its impact on college safetyism.
C. Paranoid Parenting
i. Overprotecting kids harms them by preventing them from having important life experiences, making them less resilient adolescents ready to accept safetyism.
D. The Decline of Play
i. Children need unsupervised free play for full neural development and physical/social competence, particularly the art of association.
E. The Bureaucracy of Safetyism
i. Victimhood Culture: 3 components – Individuals and groups are highly sensitive to slight, they resolve conflict via complaint to third parties, and cultivate an image of being victims worthy of assistance.210
ii. Dignity Culture: “People are assumed to have dignity and worth regardless of what others think of them, so they are not expected to react too strongly to minor slights.”209 Perspective is a key element… [there aren’t] threats to their dignity that must always be met with a response.”210
iii. Honor Culture: “men were so obsessed with guarding their reputations that they were expected to react violently to minor insults”209
iv. The corporatization of universities has led to overregulation, viewing students as customers, and fostering moral dependence.
F. The Quest for Justice
i. Distributive Justice: all receive outputs in equal proportion to their inputs217
ii. Procedural Justice: how relevant decisions are made and how someone is treated along the way219
iii. Equality of Outcomes vs Equality of Proportions

A. Wiser Kids
B. Wiser Universities
i. What is the telos (purpose, end, goal) of the university?
C. Wiser Societies
i. “I’m Tibetan, I’m Buddhist and I’m the Dalai Lama, but if I emphasize these differences it sets me apart and raises barriers with other people. What we need to do is to pay more attention to the ways in which we are the same as other people.” – May 2018 Tweet from the Dalai Lama268

Lukianoff, Greg, and Jonathan Haidt. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure. Penguin Books, 2019, Print.