Coddling of the American Mind
In my September 2015 cover article for The Atlantic with Greg Lukianoff, we argued that a new form of “vindictive protectiveness” is sweeping across American universities, with dire consequences not just for free inquiry but for the students’ own mental health.
Overview, via FIRE:
My Media Appearances:
- >KCRW: The Point (a radio show with some heated exchanges, e.g., Harvard’s Paula Caplan says that microaggressions are in the eye of the beholder, and Wendy Kaminer points out that this is precisely why the concept is so dangerous)
- >Diane Rehm (this is the most detailed discussion so far)
Critical Responses: So far there has been hardly any pushback. The only criticisms published in major media are:
- >The New Republic: The trigger warning myth, by Aaron Hanlon. This is a thoughtful essay about the sensitivities needed to lead a seminar class through difficult material. His main point is that TWs are not a form of censorship. I agree. He argues that sometimes guidance is needed beforehand. I agree with that too. I just think its very bad for students to call it a “trigger warning,” or to do anything to convey to students the expectation that they will be warned about… everything. We had a good discussion in a HuffPost Live joint appearance.
- >The Guardian: Trigger Warnings don’t hinder freedom of expression: they expand it. Lindy West argues that Lukianoff and I are motivated by the need to defend the status quo — our male privilege. This is the most common response to our essay in the blogosphere.
- >At Reason.com, Anthony Fisher rounds up critiques from smaller blogs, as of 8/26/15.
- >Have Microaggression Complaints Really Launched a Whole New Sort of ‘Victimhood Culture’? by Jesse Singal, at New York Magazine. (I agree that the article in question did not prove that a change has occurred, but it is a theoretical article that got a lot of people thinking, and some will do the empirical work. Also: earlier grievances did not include claims of one’s own fragility. That part is new, and justifies the term “victimhood culture”.)
- >A New York Times op-ed by Kate Manne, an assistant professor of philosophy at Cornell University on why she uses trigger warnings to prepare students for potentially difficult subject matter. (9/20/15) Here is my response to her, including our Twitter exchange afterward.
Other responses and extensions of the Ideas:
- >President Obama speaks out forcefully against trigger warnings, safe spaces, and “coddling” campuses
- >BloombergView: Sheltered Students Go to College, Avoid Education by Megan McArdle
- >Washington Post: Everyone thinks the current state of higher education is awful. Who is to blame? by Daniel Drezner
Miscellaneous Points I’d like to make about vindictive protectiveness and the new PC:
- >It is happening in the UK too, beginning as the “no platforming” movement (which tries to prevent anyone with disliked views from speaking in public). See this interview with Mick Hume of Spiked; see this essay by Brendan O’Neill on the Stepford Students; See Mary Wakefield, The Contagious Madness of the New PC, …
- >There is a brilliant sociological explanation for why the new vindictive protectiveness has emerged so suddenly, and why its likely to spread: America is transitioning from a culture of “dignity” to a culture of “victimhood,” as Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning explain here.
>Video: Parody of a freshman lit class loaded with trigger warnings, aided by a huggable trauma pillow
>South Park, on Safe Spaces:
>Sahill Gupta, a Yale Undergraduate, in a comedy sketch about the Coddling article, and how some students today want to go into “airplane mode” to cut themselves off from frightening things.