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The Coddling of the American Mind

by Gregg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

The authors begin by describing the book as "about wisdom and its opposite." The opposite is described as three bad ideas:

1) What doesn't kill you makes you weaker, "so avoid pain, avoid discomfort, avoid all potentially bad experiences". (In their chapter "The Untruth of Fragility" the authors suggest that diverse experiences might strengthen our mind and teach us overcoming, that progress might be served by challenges to rigidity and weakness. )

2) Always trust your feelings. (Their point is that gut thinking is emotional thinking, and the emotions can mislead or distort reason, causing focus on negatives, on the worst possible alternative outcomes, thinking in absolutes, an over-eagerness to pin blame or exaggerate regarding blame).

3) Life is a battle between good people and evil people. (A point of view that leads to extremist views to ignore the humanity or rights of those seen as perpetrating the injustice.

The authors describe people today as forming groups (tribal) against competing groups, and they claim that "morally homogeneous groups are prone to witch hunts" when they feel threatened. (My note: this is what the Bolsheviks did after taking power and feared losing power, and anti-Communists did it in the US to a lesser extent in the last 1940s and 1950s.)

The authors quote Nelson Mandela:

When we dehumanize and demonize our opponents, we abandon the possibility of peacfully resolving our differences, and seek to justify violence against them.

Part II of the book is titled "Bad Ideas in Action". The authors discuss the incident at UC Berkeley in February 2017. A skilled provocateur, Milo Yiannopolous (a British gay Trump supporter) was invited by conservative students to speak on campus. Anti-Trump students took the bait and demonstrated against the speech, fearing, apparently, that it would weaken the anti-Trump movement. There were about 150 who threw a tantrum, breaking things, trashing the campus to punish the university, and assaulting people who showed signs of supporting Yiannopolous having a right to speak.

Good politics would have been better served, some of us believe, if Yiannoplous had spoken to a gathering of the curious and just ignored by others — a point of view vociferously opposed by those emotionally fired-up against those to their right politically.

The Book discussed the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) alternative to Freudian psychotherapy that arose from the observation that patients

tended to get themselves caught in a feedback loop in which irrational negative beliefs caused powerful negative feelings, which in turn seemed to drive patients' reasoning, motivating them to find evidence to support their negative beliefs.

One reviewer on Amazon, George P Wood, writes:

For much of his life, Lukianoff had suffered clinical depression, even contemplating suicide in late 2007. In 2008, he underwent cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) ... and this helped him tremendously. As Lukianoff interacted with students, he noticed that the way they reasoned about controversial issues often mirrored the same cognitive distortions CBT teaches people to control.

The book's subtitle: "How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure."


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