6. The Coddling of the American Mind (My favorite books in 2020)

The Coddling of the American Mind: How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure, by Greg Luklanoff and Jonathan Haidt (2018)

Books 6 and 7 of my list of  “favorite books in 2020” have something in common: They explore the relationship between Psychology and Ethics, the latter term simply understood as the framework to separate right from wrong behaviour. Both books also explore the counterintuitive Nature of some actions that, in principle, are fueled by noble intentions but have adverse effects in practice. The “Coddling of the American Mind” deals with such contradiction at the societal level, while “You are not so smart” does it at a personal level.

I support most of the social reforms that have been vigorously pushed by progressive movements over the last decade. Inclusion is a message that resonates strongly in many of us, and it is thrilling to be living in a world where there is so much effort to make this purpose a reality. But every once in a while, I feel confused about specific ways in which we are doing it, or suspicious that we are going down the wrong route to accomplish these lofty goals.

Are microaggressions really something we should all be concerned about? Or, should I really boycott events where the invited speaker is someone well known for having the exact opposite view that I have? Luklanoff and Haidt think they are examples of bad ideas that conflict with the primary objective of inclusion.

The bad ideas that are dissected in “The Coddling of the American Mind” are three:

  1. Assuming an inescapable fragility in everyone, and particularly on teenagers and young adults, that requires an active effort by society to remove every single possible stressor.
  2. Encouraging people to trust their feelings above anything else, even against factual evidence. By enshrining this “emotional reasoning” and other forms of cognitive dissonances, intention does not matter anymore, and only the perceived effect counts.
  3. The world is split between good and evil people, and since intention does not matter (from the previous point), anything that makes you feel bad is inherently wrong. What follows is a culture that incentivizes witch-hunts, and that goes against fact-based argumentation and intellectual honesty.

Although the material in “The Coddling of the American Mind” is potentially flammable, the authors do an excellent job keeping the discussion well-grounded, respectful and informative. I’m sure that factions critical of the progressive agenda will shout, “I told you so!” when reading this book. But for the rest of us, interested in moving forward the principles of inclusion, this book is an urgent appeal to keep an eye on potential blind spots.

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Go back to the list My favorite 10 books in 2020.

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