By Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, Penguin Books, September 4, 2018, 0735224919
The Coddling of the American Mind blames safetyism (safety as a sacred, societal value) as the root cause to many of the campus protests taht started a few years ago. Students disrupted campuses quite violently to stop conserative speakers (mostly) from giving talks on campus.
I agree with the premise of the book. It was my personal experience that kids were overscheduled and stressed as a result. They didn’t just go out and play, not like when I grew up. As a result, teenage girls are twice as likely to die by their own hand than they were 20 years ago. Anxiety and depression is quite common among teens.
College students are ill-prepared for being on their own, and facing challenges to their belief system. Identity politics has permeated campuses. Kids are to be protected from “triggering events” (like people who disagree with them).
It’s a big problem that leads to crazy stories that conservatives use to rile their base. Trump recently created the 1776 Commission to promote “patriotic education”. This is a direct response to all the BLM and LGBTQ protests going on at the moment.
What to do about all this? Back to basics: less screen time, more free play (expand recess), fewer rules, debate club, etc. The ideas are fine, and perhaps we’ll see some change. I am doubtful, but I am also encouraged that this book presents the problems and solutions so clearly.
[k263] This is a book about three Great Untruths that seem to have spread widely in recent years:
- The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
- The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.
- The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.
While many propositions are untrue, in order to be classified as a Great Untruth, an idea must meet three criteria:
- It contradicts ancient wisdom (ideas found widely in the wisdom literatures of many cultures).
- It contradicts modern psychological research on well-being.
- It harms the individuals and communities who embrace it.
[k297] In years past, administrators were motivated to create campus speech codes in order to curtail what they deemed to be racist or sexist speech. Increasingly, however, the rationale for speech codes and speaker disinvitations was becoming medicalized: Students claimed that certain kinds of speech–and even the content of some books and courses–interfered with their ability to function. They wanted protection from material that they believed could jeopardize their mental health by “triggering” them, or making them “feel unsafe.”
[k322] What is new today is the premise that students are fragile. Even those who are not fragile themselves often believe that others are in danger and therefore need protection. There is no expectation that students will grow stronger from their encounters with speech or texts they label “triggering.” (This is the Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.)
[k327] CBT teaches you to notice when you are engaging in various “cognitive distortions,” such as “catastrophizing” (If I fail this quiz, I’ll fail the class and be kicked out of school, and then I’ll never get a job…) and “negative filtering” (only paying attention to negative feedback instead of noticing praise as well).
[k329] These distorted and irrational thought patterns are hallmarks of depression and anxiety disorders. We are not saying that students are never in real physical danger, or that their claims about injustice are usually cognitive distortions. We are saying that even when students are reacting to real problems, they are more likely than previous generations to engage in thought patterns that make those problems seem more threatening, which makes them harder to solve. An important discovery by early CBT researchers was that if people learn to stop thinking this way, their depression and anxiety usually subside.
[k336] College students today are far more diverse. They arrive on campus having faced varying degrees of bigotry, poverty, trauma, and mental illness. Educators must account for those differences, reevaluate old assumptions, and strive to create an inclusive community. But what is the best way to do that? If we are especially concerned about the students who have faced the most serious obstacles, should our priority be protecting them from speakers, books, and ideas that might offend them?
[k375] At some schools, a culture of defensive self-censorship seemed to be emerging, partly in response to students who were quick to “call out” or shame others for small things that they deemed to be insensitive–either to the student doing the calling out or to members of a group that the student was standing up for. We called this pattern vindictive protectiveness and argued that such behavior made it more difficult for all students to have open discussions in which they could practice the essential skills of critical thinking and civil disagreement.
Our article was published on The Atlantic’s website on August 11, 2015, and the magazine issue that featured it hit newsstands about a week later.
[k429] We adapt to our new and improved circumstances and then lower the bar for what we count as intolerable levels of discomfort and risk. By the standards of our great-grandparents, nearly all of us are coddled.
[k433] To repeat, we are not saying that the problems facing students, and young people more generally, are minor or “all in their heads.” We are saying that what people choose to do in their heads will determine how those real problems affect them.
[k436] That means seeking out challenges (rather than eliminating or avoiding everything that “feels unsafe”), freeing yourself from cognitive distortions (rather than always trusting your initial feelings), and taking a generous view of other people, and looking for nuance (rather than assuming the worst about people within a simplistic us-versus-them morality).
[k502] Among the children who had been “protected” from peanuts, 17% had developed a peanut allergy. In the group that had been deliberately exposed to peanut products, only 3% had developed an allergy.
[k550] The foolishness of overprotection is apparent as soon as you understand the concept of antifragility.
[k636] One student who sought out the safe space put it this way: “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs.”
[k645] But young adults are not flickering candle flames. They are antifragile, and that is true even of victims of violence and those who suffer from PTSD. Research on “post-traumatic growth” shows that most people report becoming stronger, or better in some way, after suffering through a traumatic experience.
[k651] Avoiding triggers is a symptom of PTSD, not a treatment for it.
[k665] Safety is good, of course, and keeping others safe from harm is virtuous, but virtues can become vices when carried to extremes. “Safetyism” refers to a culture or belief system in which safety has become a sacred value, which means that people become unwilling to make trade-offs demanded by other practical and moral concerns.
[k676] She calls those born in and after 1995 “iGen,” short for “internet Generation.” (Others use the term “Generation Z.”) Twenge shows that iGen suffers from far higher rates of anxiety and depression than did Millennials at the same age–and higher rates of suicide.
[k680] By 2011 or so, most teens could check in on their social media status every few minutes, and many did.
[k691] Rather, we are proposing that today’s college students were raised by parents and teachers who had children’s best interests at heart but who often did not give them the freedom to develop their antifragility.
[k721] We opened this chapter with a quotation from the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus, but we could just as easily have quoted Buddha (“Our life is the creation of our mind”) or Shakespeare (“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”) or Milton (“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven”).
[k736] Happiness, maturity, and even enlightenment require rejecting the Untruth of Emotional Reasoning and learning instead to question our feelings.
[k765] Beck noticed a common pattern of beliefs, which he called the “cognitive triad” of depression: “I’m no good,” “My world is bleak,” and “My future is hopeless.”
Many people experience one or two of these thoughts fleetingly, but depressed people tend to hold all three beliefs in a stable and enduring psychological structure. Psychologists call such structures schemas.
[k769] Depressed people have schemas about themselves and their paths through life that are thoroughly disempowering.
Beck’s great discovery was that it is possible to break the disempowering feedback cycle between negative beliefs and negative emotions. If you can get people to examine these beliefs and consider counterevidence, it gives them at least some moments of relief from negative emotions, and if you release them from negative emotions, they become more open to questioning their negative beliefs. It takes some skill to do this–depressed people are very good at finding evidence for the beliefs in the triad.
[k843] Unfortunately, when Sue included “unintentional” slights, and when he defined the slights entirely in terms of the listener’s interpretation, he encouraged people to make such misperceptions. He encouraged them to engage in emotional reasoning–to start with their feelings and then justify those feelings by drawing the conclusion that someone has committed an act of aggression against them.
[k907] However, some activists say that bigotry is only about impact (as they define impact); intent is not even necessary. If a member of an identity group feels offended or oppressed by the action of another person, then according to the impact-versus-intent paradigm, that other person is guilty of an act of bigotry.
[k988] The notion that a university should protect all of its students from ideas that some of them find offensive is a repudiation of the legacy of Socrates, who described himself as the “gadfly” of the Athenian people. He thought it was his job to sting, to disturb, to question, and thereby to provoke his fellow Athenians to think through their current beliefs, and change the ones they could not defend.
[k999] The response from Williams students was so ferocious that ultimately Wood and Hennessy decided they had to cancel the event. One student wrote on a Facebook page:
When you bring a misogynistic, white supremacist men’s rights activist to campus in the name of “dialogue” and “the other side,” you are not only causing actual mental, social, psychological, and physical harm to students, but you are also–paying–for the continued dispersal of violent ideologies that kill our black and brown (trans) femme sisters…. Know, you are dipping your hands in their blood, Zach Wood.
This response clearly illustrates the cognitive distortions of catastrophizing, labeling, overgeneralizing, and dichotomous thinking.
[k1180] Part of Dr. King’s genius was that he appealed to the shared morals and identities of Americans by using the unifying languages of religion and patriotism.
[k1182] He spoke often of the need for love and forgiveness, hearkening back to the words of Jesus and echoing ancient wisdom from many cultures: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend” and “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
[k1397] Conor Friedersdorf, who writes about higher education at The Atlantic, looked into the matter in response to our original “Coddling” article in 2015. Students told him things like this: “Students get worked up over the smallest of issues … which has led to the disintegration of school spirit and the fracture of campus.”
[k1406] In this comment, we can begin to see the way that social media amplifies the cruelty and “virtue signaling” that are recurrent features of call-out culture.
[k1494] He had been banned from Twitter the summer before when Twitter concluded that he had violated its policy regarding “inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.” Yiannopoulos was a skilled provocateur–a master of the art of triggering outrage and then using that outrage to embarrass his opponents and advance his goals.
[k1536] But it’s important to take a close look at the February 1 riots at UC Berkeley, because they marked a turning point–an escalation of conflicts over campus speakers.
[k1547] The failure of UC Berkeley to openly discipline any of the students who engaged in violence or vandalism during the mayhem–even those who publicly admitted participating–and the fact that the police arrested just one person that night (for failure to disperse) seems to have taught the protesters an important lesson: Violence works.
[k1586] But if asking for peaceful dialogue is violent, then it seems that the word “violence” is taking on new meanings for some students. This is another example of concept creep.
[k1589] Outside of cultures of safetyism, the word “violence” refers to physical violence.
[k1594] The rationale, as an essay in the Berkeley op-ed series argued, is that physically violent actions, if used to shut down speech that is deemed hateful, are “not acts of violence” but, rather, “acts of self defense.”
[k1604] The Columbia University linguist John McWhorter describes how the term “white supremacist” is now used in an “utterly athletic, recreational” way, as a “battering ram” to attack anyone who departs from the party line. McWhorter himself (who is African American) has been called a white supremacist for questioning received wisdom on matters related to race. But if some students now think it’s OK to punch a fascist or white supremacist, and if anyone who disagrees with them can be labeled a fascist or white supremacist, well, you can see how this rhetorical move might make people hesitant to voice dissenting views on campus.
[k1661] The students continued: “If engaged, Heather Mac Donald would not be debating on mere difference of opinion, but the right of Black people to exist.” This sentence includes fortune-telling, as the students predict what Mac Donald would say. It also includes a rhetorical flourish that became common in 2017: the assertion that a speaker will “deny” people from certain identity groups “the right to exist.” This thinking is a form of catastrophizing, in that it inflates the horrors of a speaker’s words far beyond what the speaker might actually say. The students also called Mac Donald “a fascist, a white supremacist, a warhawk, a transphobe, a queerphobe, [and] a classist.” This is labeling running wild–a list of serious accusations made without supporting evidence.
[k1675] As we saw in chapter 3, this kind of identity politics amplifies the human proclivity for us-versus-them thinking. It prepares students for battle, not for learning.
[k1777] 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.
[k1946] She asserted that Tuvel “enacts violence and perpetuates harm in numerous ways throughout her essay,” because she “deadnames a trans woman” (that is, Tuvel mentioned that Jenner’s former male, or “dead,” name, was Bruce),24 she “uses the term ‘transgenderism,’” she “talks about ‘biological sex,’” and she “uses phrases like ‘male genitalia.’” It is striking how many of the critics’ complaints refer not to Tuvel’s arguments but to her word choices. In fact, one of the arguments for retraction given in the open letter was that Tuvel used “vocabulary and frameworks not recognized, accepted, or adopted by the conventions of the relevant subfields.”
[k2039] Things began to change rapidly, however, in the late 1990s. That’s when the professors from the Greatest Generation began to retire, to be replaced by members of the Baby Boom generation. By 2011, the ratio had reached five to one. The Greatest Generation professors were predominantly white men who had fought in World War II, and then got a boost into higher education from legislation designed to help them in the postwar period.
[k2051] In Jon’s field, academic psychology, the left-to-right ratio was between two to one and four to one from the 1930s through the mid-1990s, but then it began to shoot upward, reaching seventeen to one by 2016.44 The ratios in other core fields in the humanities and social sciences are nearly all above ten to one.
[k2058] The loss of political diversity among professors, particularly in fields that deal with politicized content, can undermine the quality and rigor of scholarly research.
[k2295] But if we step back and look at American universities as complex institutions nested within a larger society that has been growing steadily more divided, angry, and polarized, we begin to see the left and the right locked into a game of mutual provocation and reciprocal outrage that is an essential piece of the puzzle we are trying to solve in this book.
[k2306] Things are indeed at a “boiling point” in the United States.
[k2336] Why is this happening? There are many reasons, but in order to make sense of America’s current predicament, you have to start by recognizing that the mid-twentieth century was a historical anomaly–a period of unusually low political polarization and cross-party animosity7 combined with generally high levels of social trust and trust in government.
[k2342] Given the psychology of tribalism that we described in chapter 3, the loss of a common enemy after the collapse of the Soviet Union can be expected to lead to more intratribal conflict.
A second major reason is that, since the 1970s, Americans have been increasingly self-segregating into politically homogeneous communities, as Bill Bishop showed in his influential 2008 book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart.
[k2351] A third major reason is the media environment, which has changed in ways that foster division.
[k2358] Both the physical and the electronic isolation from people we disagree with allow the forces of confirmation bias, groupthink, and tribalism to push us still further apart.
A fourth reason is the increasingly bitter hostility in Congress. The Democrats controlled the House of Representatives for about sixty years, with only brief interruptions in the mid- to late twentieth century, but their dominance ended in 1994, when the Republicans swept to victory under Newt Gingrich, who became Speaker of the House. Gingrich then imposed a set of reforms intended to discourage his many new members from forging the sort of personal relationships across party lines that had been normal in previous decades.
[k2379] This is an essential part of our story. Americans now bear such animosity toward one another that it’s almost as if many are holding up signs saying, “Please tell me something horrible about the other side, I’ll believe anything!” Americans are now easily exploitable, and a large network of profit-driven media sites, political entrepreneurs, and foreign intelligence agencies are taking advantage of this vulnerability.
[k2387] But as campus activism increased in 2015 and offered up an unending stream of dramatic cell phone videos (including students cursing at professors and shouting down speakers), right-wing media outlets began to devote far more attention to campus events, which they portrayed gleefully, usually stripped of any explanatory context.
[k2569] The second of our six explanatory threads is the rise in rates of depression and anxiety among American adolescents in the 2010s. These mood disorders have many close relationships with the three Great Untruths.
[k2644] In short, iGen is the first generation that spent (and is now spending) its formative teen years immersed in the giant social and commercial experiment of social media.
[k2654] The first is that kids now grow up much more slowly. Activities that are commonly thought to mark the transition from childhood to adulthood are happening later–for example, having a job, driving a car, drinking alcohol, going out on a date, and having sex. Members of iGen wait longer to do these things– and then do less of them–than did members of previous generations.
[k2661] As Twenge puts it, “-year-olds now act like 15-year-olds used to, and 13-year-olds like 10-year-olds. Teens are physically safer than ever, yet they are more mentally vulnerable.”
[k2666] The second major generational change is a rapid rise in rates of anxiety and depression.
[k2702] Compared to the early 2000s, nearly twice as many teenage girls now end their own lives. In Canada, too, the suicide rate for teen girls is rising, though not as sharply, while the rate for teen boys has fallen. (In the United Kingdom, there is no apparent trend for either gender in recent years.)
[k2767] And as Twenge reports, “Girls use social media more often, giving them additional opportunities to feel excluded and lonely when they see their friends or classmates getting together without them.”
[k2770] From 2010 to 2015, the percentage of teen boys who said they often felt left out increased from 21 to 27. For girls, the percentage jumped from 27 to 40.
[k2782] When you add it all up, there’s no overall sex difference in total aggression, but there’s a large and consistent sex difference in the preferred ways of harming others.
[k2784] Plus, if boys’ aggression is generally delivered in person, then the targets of boys’ aggression can escape from it when they go home. On social media, girls can never escape. On social media, girls can never escape.
[k2843] Furthermore, when people are depressed, or when their anxiety sets their threat-response system on high alert, they can succumb to a “hostile attribution bias,” which means that they are more likely to see hostility in benign or even benevolent people, communications, and situations.
[k2902] Soon, Skenazy was decried as “America’s Worst Mom.”
Most mothers would probably be mortified by that nickname, but Skenazy embraced the title. She had given her son the kind of independence that she (and most of today’s parents) had enjoyed back in the 1970s, when the crime rate was much higher.
[k2906] She called it Free-Range Kids. Since then, Free-Range Kids has grown into a full-fledged movement, including a book of the same name, the reality TV show World’s Worst Mom, and a nonprofit called Let Grow (see LetGrow.org).
[k2917] We suggest that modern parenting practices may unwittingly teach children the Great Untruths, and we examine how parents and elementary schools may unknowingly work together to induct children into the culture of safetyism.
[k2939] Adam’s father, John Walsh, has devoted his life to trying to save other children from suffering a similar fate. He created the Adam Walsh Child Resource Center, which advocated for legislative reform and succeeded in prodding the U.S. government to create the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in 1984. He worked with producers to create the made-for-TV movie Adam, which was seen by 38 million viewers when it first aired. In 1988, Walsh launched a true-crime TV show, America’s Most Wanted, which presented cases of unsolved crimes, including child abductions, and asked the public for help. Walsh was instrumental in a novel method of disseminating photographs of missing children: printing them on milk cartons, under the big all-caps word MISSING.
[k2948] The abduction and murder of a child by a stranger is among the most horrific crimes one can imagine. It is also, thankfully, among the rarest.
[k2953] the number abducted by a stranger is a tiny fraction of 1% of children reported missing–roughly one hundred children per year in a nation with more than 70 million minors. And since the 1990s, the rates of all crimes against children have gone down, while the chances of a kidnapped child surviving the ordeal have gone up.
[k2966] In 2013, for example, the murder rate dropped to the same level it had been at sixty years earlier.
[k2968] American parenting is now wildly out of sync with the actual risk that strangers pose to children.
[k2975] Lythcott-Haims and Skenazy both shared stories with us about parents who are afraid to let their teenagers ride their bikes to neighbors’ houses.
[k2979] While referencing her own nine-year-old son, the psychologist offered these tips:
- Never send a child into a public restroom alone.
- Instruct your child to use a private bathroom stall rather than a urinal.
- Avoid restrooms with more than one entrance.
- Stand in the door and talk to your child throughout their time in the bathroom.
[k2996] Putting it all together, from 1960 to 1990, there was a 48% reduction in deaths from unintended injuries and accidents among kids between five and fourteen years of age, and a 57% drop in deaths of younger kids (ages one to four).
[k3000] A problem with this kind of thinking is that when we attempt to produce perfectly safe systems, we almost inevitably create new and unforeseen problems.
[k3031] In fact, even though mothers today have fewer children and spend far more time working outside the home than they did in 1965, they are spending more total time taking care of their children. Fathers’ time with kids has increased even more.
[k3042] Good parents are expected to believe that their children are in danger every moment they are unsupervised.
[k3043] In 2015, two Florida parents were charged with felony child neglect when they were delayed getting home. Unable to get into his house, their eleven-year-old son played with a basketball in their yard for ninety minutes. A neighbor called the police. After being handcuffed, strip-searched, fingerprinted, and held overnight in jail, the parents were arrested for negligence, and the boy and his four-year-old brother (who had not been left alone) were put in foster care for a month.
[k3056] When the police endorse safetyism, it forces parents to overprotect. The police chief of New Albany, Ohio, advises that children should not be allowed outside without supervision until the age of 16.
[k3104] To the extent that iGen college students are behaving differently from previous generations of college students, a contributing factor may be that, compared with previous generations, middle-class iGen (and late Millennial) students were overscheduled and overparented as children.
[k3115] In the 1990s, a group of researchers developed a survey to standardize the assessment of “Adverse Childhood Experiences” (ACE).
[k3119] As the number of yes responses increases beyond two, measures of health and success in adulthood tend to decline, and this introduces an important complication to our story about antifragility: Severe adversity that hits kids early, especially in the absence of secure and loving attachment relationships with adults, does not make them stronger; it makes them weaker. Chronic, severe adversity creates “toxic stress.”
[k3128] Kids raised in families below the middle class score much higher, on average, on the ACE survey.
[k3264] In contrast to the decreased time spent in play between 1981 and 1997, that same time-use study found that time spent in school went up 18%, and time spent doing homework went up 145%.
[k3322] Christakis laments that social time and play have been sacrificed in preschool to keep up with academic expectations for kindergarten readiness.
[k3355] psychology professor Angela Duckworth, author of the book Grit, told us. “Perseverance without passion is mere drudgery.”
[k3358] The college admissions process nowadays makes it harder for high school students to enjoy school and pursue intrinsic fulfillment.
[k3364] In a 2015 survey, 95% of students at Lexington High School in Massachusetts reported “a lot of stress” or “extreme stress” about their classes, and in a 2016 study, the Centers for Disease Control reported that the teen suicide rate in Palo Alto, California, was more than four times the national average.
[k3406] Here is an excerpt from his speech:
From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.
[k3450] In 2015, a student at Northern Michigan University (NMU) visited the campus counseling center to get help in the aftermath of being sexually assaulted the year before.
[k3453] And she was not alone; 25–30 NMU students per semester received a version of that letter–whether or not they had expressed thoughts about suicide or self-harm. It was NMU’s policy that students could be disciplined (and even expelled) for revealing these kinds of thoughts to other students.
[k3456] Nevertheless, in an interview with a local newspaper, the dean defended the practice, claiming that “relying on your friends can be very disruptive to them.”
[k3498] Few schools imposed any kind of penalty on students for shouting down speakers or disrupting classes, even though these actions usually violated their own codes of conduct.
[k3502] Eric Adler, a classics professor at the University of Maryland, distilled the argument in a 2018 Washington Post article. “The fundamental cause [of campus intolerance],” he suggests, “isn’t students’ extreme leftism or any other political ideology” but “a market-driven decision by universities, made decades ago, to treat students as consumers–who pay up to $60,000 per year for courses, excellent cuisine, comfortable accommodations and a lively campus life.”
[k3590] It’s a video sign at a New Jersey train station. New Jersey Transit urges its passengers to embrace the Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings. “If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t,” says the sign. But that can’t really be true. In all likelihood, there are millions of moments each year when some American somewhere thinks that something “doesn’t feel right” and worries about an attack. However, there are only a few terrorist attacks of any kind each year in the United States, so in almost every case, the feeling is wrong.
[k3603] NYU is not an outlier; a 2017 report by FIRE found that, of the 471 institutions cataloged in FIRE’s Spotlight on Speech Codes database, 38.4% (181) maintain some form of bias reporting system.
Of course, there should be an easy way to report cases of true harassment and employment discrimination; such actions are immoral and unlawful. But bias alone is not harassment or discrimination.
[k3710] In 2013, Campbell and Manning began noticing the same changes on campus that Greg had been noticing–the interlocking set of new ideas about microaggressions, trigger warnings, and safe spaces. They noted that the emerging morality of victimhood culture was radically different from dignity culture. They defined a victimhood culture as having three distinct attributes: First, “individuals and groups display high sensitivity to slight”; second, they “have a tendency to handle conflicts through complaints to third parties”; and third, they “seek to cultivate an image of being victims who deserve assistance.”
[k3812] Important, terrifying, thrilling, and shocking events happen every year, but the years from 2012 through 2018 seem like the closest we’ve come to the intensity of the stretch from 1968 to 1972. And if you are not convinced that the last few years are extraordinary by objective zz> measures, then just add in the amplifying power of social media. Not since the Vietnam War and the civil rights struggles of the 1960s have so many Americans been exposed to a seemingly endless stream of videos showing innocent people–mostly people of color–being beaten, killed, or deported by armed representatives of the state. Today’s college students have lived through extraordinary times, and, as a result, many of them have developed an extraordinary passion for social justice. That passion, which drives some of the changes we are seeing on college campuses in recent years, is our sixth explanatory thread.
[k3842] Even toddlers seem to recognize the importance of proportionality.
[k3845] At young ages, kids have trouble following this intuition when it means that they themselves get less reward, but by adolescence, they are much better at applying proportionality to themselves. Developmental psychologists Christina Starmans, Mark Sheskin, and Paul Bloom reviewed the research on fairness in children and concluded that “humans naturally favour fair distributions, not equal ones,” and “when fairness and equality clash, people prefer fair inequality over unfair equality.”
[k3852] And sometimes distributive justice calls for inequality; for example, when attending to need, particularly within a family or group that has some communal feeling and that thinks it fair and proper to route resources to whoever needs them most.
[k3855] Proportionality is the heart of “equity theory,” the major theory of distributive justice in social psychology.
[k3870] An early study testing equity theory found that when people were led to believe that they were being overpaid for a job, they worked harder in order to deserve the pay–to get their ratio back into line.
[k3874] The social psychologist Tom Tyler is one of the pioneers of research on “procedural justice.” His central finding is that people are much more willing to accept a decision or action, even one that goes against themselves, when they perceive that the process that led to the decision was fair.
[k3891] If you want to motivate people to support a new policy or join a movement in the name of justice, you need to activate in them a clear perception, or intuition, that someone didn’t get what he or she deserved (distributive injustice) or that someone was a victim of an unfair process (procedural injustice).
[k3907] Using that definition of social justice, we’ll define proportional-procedural social justice as the effort to find and fix cases where distributive or procedural justice is denied to people because they were born into poverty or belong to a socially disadvantaged category.
[k3912] The civil rights campaign was a long struggle for proportional-procedural social justice.
[k3932] She pointed out that seemingly fair processes can sometimes lead to a group that is in the minority getting entirely shut out at the end of the process.
[k4121] The suggestions we make here are tailored for American parents who use the “concerted cultivation” style of parenting that we described in chapter 8.
[k4124] This time-intensive, labor-intensive strategy involves overprotecting, overscheduling, and overparenting children in hopes of giving them an edge in a competitive society that has forgotten the importance of play and the value of unsupervised experience.
[k4130] Just as we were finishing this book, the head teacher of an elementary school in East London issued a rule that children must not even touch recently fallen snow, because touching could lead to snowballs.
[k4133] That is the epitome of safetyism: If we can prevent one child from getting hurt, we should deprive all children of slightly risky play.
[k4141] The first of the three epigraphs that we used at the beginning of this book summarizes the book’s most important single piece of advice: Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.
[k4146] You cannot teach antifragility directly, but you can give your children the gift of experience–the thousands of experiences they need to become resilient, autonomous adults.
[k4152] Assume that your kids are more capable this month than they were last month.
[k4156] Let your kids take more small risks, and let them learn from getting some bumps and bruises.
[k4162] Learn about Lenore Skenazy’s Free-Range Kids movement, and incorporate her lessons into your family’s life.
[k4184] Encourage your children to walk or ride bicycles to and from school at the earliest ages possible, consistent with local circumstances of distance, traffic, and crime.
[k4187] Help your kids find a community of kids in the neighborhood who come from families that share your commitment to avoid overprotection.
[k4191] Send your children to an overnight summer camp in the woods for a few weeks–without devices.
[k4197] Encourage your children to engage in a lot of “productive disagreement.”
[k4210] The second epigraph at the start of this book came from Buddha: “Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts, unguarded. But once mastered, no one can help you as much, not even your father or your mother.”
[k4212] Teach children the basics of CBT.
[k4232] Teach children mindfulness.
[k4243] The third epigraph at the start of this book came from The Gulag Archipelago, the memoir of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Russian dissident of the Soviet era.
[k4250] He then warns his readers to beware of the Untruth of Us Versus Them:
If only it were so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.
[k4255] Give people the benefit of the doubt.
[k4259] Practice the virtue of “intellectual humility.”
[k4263] Until that moment, the feeling of being wrong is indistinguishable from the feeling of being right. We are all wrong about many things at every moment, but until we know it, we are often quite certain that we are right. Having people around us who are willing to disagree with us is a gift.
[k4267] Look very carefully at how your school handles identity politics.
[k4275] Efforts made by parents have a greater chance of success if schools share parents’ concerns about defeating the Great Untruths, and these efforts will be undercut if schools adhere to the Great Untruths.
[k4278] Homework in the early grades should be minimal.
[k4286] Give more recess with less supervision.
[k4295] (In fact, the principal of the New Zealand school reports that bullying has gone down since instituting no-rules recess.)
[k4299] Discourage the use of the word “safe” or “safety” for anything other than physical safety.
[k4308] Have a “no devices” policy.
[k4312] Protect or expand middle school recess.
[k4316] Cultivate the intellectual virtues. The intellectual virtues are the qualities necessary to be a critical thinker and an effective learner. They include curiosity, open-mindedness, and intellectual humility.
[k4326] Teach debate and offer debate club.
[k4333] Assign readings and coursework that promote reasoned discussion.
[k4346] Left to their own devices, as it were, many children would spend most of their free time staring into a screen.
[k4370] Electronic device use should be discontinued thirty to sixty minutes before bedtime, at which point all devices should be placed in a box or drawer in the kitchen (or somewhere away from the child’s bedroom).
[k4379] We propose that Americans consider adopting a new national norm: taking a year off after high school–a “gap year”–as Malia Obama did in
- It’s an idea that has been gaining support among high school counselors, experts in adolescent development, and college admissions officers.
[k4384] Retired General Stanley McChrystal is the chair of Service Year Alliance, an organization that supports recent high school or college graduates in finding full-time, paid opportunities to spend a year working on projects to benefit American communities.
[k4469] The more reactive universities are to public outrage or illiberal demands for censorship and punishment, the more outrage and illiberal demands they will receive.
[k4603] Pinker and Ridley both base their optimism in part on a simple observation: The more serious a problem gets, the more inducements there are for people, companies, and governments to find innovative solutions, whether driven by personal commitment, market forces, or political pressures.
[k4624] In March 2018, Utah became the first state to pass into law a “free-range parenting” bill–and with unanimous bipartisan support.
[k4631] It has become increasingly clear that identitarian extremists on both sides rely on the most outrageous acts of the other side to unite their group around its common enemy.
[k4657] Universities committing to truth as a process. The University of Chicago has long been an outlier in the intensity of its academic culture. (It proudly embraces the unofficial motto “Where fun goes to die.”)
[k4661] Many universities are adopting the Chicago Statement and are beginning to push back against the creep of safetyism.