A DYNAMIC APPEARS TO BE BREWING, especially on elite university campuses, where people of differing viewpoints are increasingly shouted down and de-plat-formed by frenetic activists with no interest in articulating counterpoints; the sinful, evil nature of those with whom they disagree is to them self-evident. In many cases these individuals are bombarded with threats to their livelihood, and in some cases, physically attacked, all because they expressed views that progressive activists do not like. For example, when Jordan Peterson resisted being compelled to use specific progressive activist jargon, he was compared to Hitler by activist colleagues and students, and fliers were posted around his neighborhood calling him a "Nazi philosopher." (1) This example illustrates a growing tendency wherein people deemed "privileged" (based on the color of their skin, genitalia, or class status) are reflexivefy painted as obvious abusers, fascists, racists, sexists, and so on. (2)
For Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt the attempts to stifle dissenting views on college campuses mark a cultural turning point--a "boiling point"-wrought with a novel level of tribalism, anti-intellectualism, mental fragility, and intolerance of diverse viewpoints. Students, professors, and university administrators are quick to justify attempts to silence and/or punish those with dissenting views because such views are considered imminent threats to the safety of "marginalized" people. How and when did alternative viewpoints and offensive statements become equated with physical harm? How did we arrive at this social climate and where do we go from here? These questions constitute the core of Lukianoff and Haidt's new book, The Coddling of the American Mind.
The Great Untruths
To make their case that American culture in general, and university culture in particular, has reached this "boiling point," Lukianoff and Haidt outline three interrelated ideas, or what they refer to as the "Three Great Untruths." These corrosive beliefs are proliferating on colleges campuses and threaten to undermine civil society. They are:
(1.) The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn't kill you makes you weaker.
(2.) The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.
(3.) The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.
The Untruth of Fragility is the notion that controversy, disagreement, and engagement with challenging issues harms people. This idea leads individuals to avoid differing viewpoints, at the cost of not becoming resilient in the face of them. Just as a muscle requires use to prevent atrophy, human minds require social, emotional, and intellectual challenges to develop analytical thinking, along with social and emotional coping skills. Lukianoff and Haidt argue that young people are being deprived of exposure to unfamiliar ideas and experiences that would help them build these skills.
The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning is the idea that people should always trust their feelings. The logic is thus: if Kavanaugh's testimony, or Ben Shapiro's campus talks, or Jordan Peterson's views make a person feel uncomfortable, those negative feelings are "their truth," and indicate that the person causing those feelings must therefore be fascist, racist, sexist, and so on. However, as Lukianoff...
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