Greg Lukianoff was preoccupied with political polarization—not just the divisiveness he observed, but the fallout—and specifically the effects of tribalism on college campuses. The year was 2015.
“It is a very serious problem for any democracy,” he and his co-author Jonathan Haidt wrote in a cover story for The Atlantic that year. “As each side increasingly demonizes the other, compromise becomes more difficult … So it’s not hard to imagine why students arriving on campus today might be more desirous of protection and more hostile toward ideological opponents than in generations past.”
In that story, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Lukianoff, a First Amendment lawyer and the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University, observed that “in the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like,” and argued that capitulating to requests to banish certain ideas from classrooms and campus events would likely increase student anxiety and depression, rather than ameliorate it.
Three years later, political polarization has only increased, as has anxiety among young people. And unrest on college campuses continues. “Everything’s speeding up,” Lukianoff says. Haidt and Lukianoff recently published a book, also titled The Coddling of the American Mind, where they go into more detail about the three “Great Untruths” they believe are behind free-speech controversies at America’s universities:
- “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker,” or the idea that exposure to offensive or difficult ideas is traumatic
- “Always trust your feelings,” or the notion that feeling upset by an idea is a reason to discount it
- “Us versus them,” or homogenous tribal thinking that leads people to shame those whose views fall outside that of their group