The Coddling of the American Mind - Greg Lukianoff, Jonathan Haidt

Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines Coddling as "to treat with extreme or excessive care or kindness." (yes, I had to look this up)

I decided to read this book after watching Mark Manson's video - 14 Amazing Books Summarized in One Minute (Or Less).

This book is an in-depth study of a 2015 Atlantic Weekly article that attempted to explore why US College Campuses had started un-inviting scheduled speakers having alternative or controversial views. (paywall)

I believe the authors earnestly attempted to expand their original Atlantic Weekly Article by listing each factor and developing each one in depth. The book concludes with many suggestions for reversing the trends. I don't necessarily agree with all of the suggestions as some of them might be too late. The book's notes and references section comprises 40 percent of the book, indicating the amount of research involved.

I am giving this book four and a half stars.

The Three Untruths

The authors start by establishing a framework - which they call - "The Three Untruths". These Untruths started becoming popular in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s and are used to frame discussions throughout the book.

  • What doesn't kill you makes you weak
  • Always trust your feelings
  • Us versus Them

The following are some of my takeaways from the section on the three untruths and I was previously unaware of these concepts -

Antifragility - a concept initially developed by Nasim Nicholas Taleb, according to which a system can improve its capability to thrive when exposed to Stressors.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) requires patients to confront their fears or trauma in a controlled setting and work through them using various coping tools.

Safety was once limited to Physical Safety but expanded to include Mental and Emotional Safety starting in the late Eighties and Nineties. (The evolution of the word "Trauma" illustrates this point). Because safety is rooted in prevention, it has become the norm to avoid situations that result in Mental or Emotional stress.

Intent Vs. Impact - There is a growing trend to trust one's initial feelings. Actions are increasingly being judged based on Impact rather than Intent, i.e., decreasing reliance on the benefit of the doubt.

Marcuseanism - The essay written by Herbert Marcuse introduced repressive tolerance. It stated that in normal circumstances when all things are equal, free speech is good and beneficial for society. However, when things are not equal, it only benefits the powerful. The essay concludes that in unequal situations, the only recourse is to pursue undemocratic means.

Intersectionality - was initially introduced in essays by Kimberlé Crenshaw and was a way of explaining the impact of several socio-political factors on discrimination. When plotted on a graph, these factors became a popular measure of a person's privilege. However, this methodology could unfairly classify people as inherently biased.

Bad Ideas In Action

Part 2 covered many incidents on College Campuses in the mid-2010s that were the basis of the original Atlantic Weekly article. 

It also introduced me to the concept of Institutional Disconfirmation, described in the following quote from the book -

One of the most brilliant features of universities is that, when they are working properly, they are communities of scholars who cancel out one another's confirmation biases. Even if professors often cannot see the flaws in their own arguments, other professors and students do them the favor of finding such flaws. The community of scholars then judges which ideas survive the debate. We can call this process institutionalized disconfirmation.

How Did We Get Here?

Section Three of the book explores the factors in the 80s,90s, and 2000s that shaped the generation entering college in the mid-2010s.

Polarization Cycle

The fall of the Soviet Union left a vacuum in the "us vs. them" untruth. 

Divisions along party lines filled this vacuum, and these divisions grew more fractured and intense with each political cycle throughout the 90s and 2000s.

Anxiety and Depression

Social media caused disproportionate Anxiety and Depression rates between boys and girls during the late 2000s and early 2010s. Interpersonal conflicts were once limited to school hours but could now progress unfettered 24 hours a day, thanks to the smartphone. 

The rising Depression rates and the trend of Safteyism made it natural to want more protections when that generation arrived at college, thus beginning a movement of viewing words as violence.

Paranoid Parenting

Two aspects contributed to this factor.


High-profile child abduction cases in the Eighties in the United States caused public opinion to believe there was a genuine and widespread threat to children. This fear continued growing in the later two decades. The resulting outcome was that parents increasingly sheltered a significant portion of an entire generation until they turned 18.


The rising importance of college as a pathway to a good job started gaining ground in the 80s and 90s. Admissions to colleges can be competitive and put undue pressure on parents to prepare their kids for this process at a very young age.

The Decline of Play

Children in the 90s and 2010s had decreasing access to spontaneous play where kids could hang out with other kids in the neighborhood. There was an increasing amount of supervised playdates and structured activities like sports or music lessons. There were some consequences of this supervised life -

  • An authority figure could permanently settle arguments, so kids would not need to learn how to resolve differences or disputes. 
  • In the supervised play, kids did not need to learn how to compromise to continue playing. 
  • There was very little risk-taking or exploration on one's own. Experience is important -

Experience is so essential for wiring a large brain that the "first draft" of the brain includes a strong motivation to practice behaviors that will give the brain the right kind of feedback to optimize itself for success in the environment that happens to surround it. That's why young mammals are so keen to play, despite the risks.

As a result of being overly protected, kids eventually entering college in the 2010s were ill-equipped in conflict resolution and risk-taking.

Bureaucracy of Safetyism

Most colleges and universities are lucrative businesses that must ensure their customers are satisfied; these students usually pay thousands of dollars to attend college. College Administration has evolved into a sprawling secondary department separate from the Dean and education.

If the customers can determine the curriculum and select all their desired amenities, it stands to reason that they should also determine which speakers ought to be invited to campus.

The paradigm has flipped where now the college is answerable to the students. Therefore colleges have become

  • over-regulated
  • over-reactive

The chapter on the bureaucracy of safety-ism also explored how Victimhood Culture has overtaken Dignity Culture. Rather than try to explain these two cultures, I will list two excerpts from the book. 

In a dignity culture, however, dueling seems ridiculous. People are expected to have enough self-control to shrug off irritations, slights, and minor conflicts as they pursue their own projects. ...Perspective is a key element of a dignity culture; people don't view disagreements, unintentional slights, or even direct insults as threats to their dignity that must always be met with a response.
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."

The Quest for Justice

The list of social injustices leading up to the writing of this book is the final contributing factor -

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 measures, then just add in the amplifying power of social media.