Issue #303, featuring "Candide" and "The Coddling of the American Mind"
“Making people think” seems so last century these days. My dad always used to say - when I was growing up in the 70s - that TV should have been the greatest invention ever, giving us all the knowledge of the world on tap. Instead, they used it to sell dog food.
The internet has amplified that to the nth degree. We no longer think, we consume and then fall asleep in our grieving stupidity.
I see it in some of my work here in the UK - editing articles etc. Some come from writers in their 20s, bright kids, but it is so obvious they’ve never read a proper book in their lives. Their sentence construction is either banal to the point at which they disappear as you read them, or so overblown with fancy vocabulary they think they should be using, that they make no sense, and do it tortuously.
I shall be seeking out ‘The Coddling of the American Mind’, because as goes America, so goes the world, pretty much. Though I do wonder for how much longer...
Coddling is a great book. Like you, I felt the conclusions were coercive (that feels like the right word for me, but maybe not for you). That struck me as out of sync with the deep and obvious compassion the authors have for young people. That said, it is a fantastic book to think critically about.
Haidt’s substack - After Babel - is great as well.
You made me want to read Candid. Good job...
For those reading Coddling, (and in the context of making you think / and think critically of what you're reading), it's worth also understanding the criticism of this latest instalment of 'the kids aren't alright' discourse. This pod (from a self-admitted left-wing perspective) is probably the best, condensed, perspective on the history of this kind of take, and some fairly eye-opening context of the data and anecdotes they authors use to build the narrative in Coddling ...
(Edit: just a heads up, there is strong language throughout)
Jonathan Haidt also has a free Substack called After Babel. It details - and provides tons of evidence for - how the smartphone has caused the mental health pandemic in Western kids, teens, and young adults.
I think "Coddling" is one of the best books I've read in the last 10 years. If you find its conclusions too "tidy," I would recommend a close reading of two of Jonathan Rauch's best works as a companion to this: "Kindy Inquisitors," which dates to 1993, and "The Constitution of Knowledge" from 2021. He explores in much greater detail why free thought and free inquiry are so essential to literally discovering what is true and false, and might open up new avenues for understanding the potency of Haidt and Lukianoff's conclusions. Of course, they'd be the first to welcome disagreement with their ideas; I'd just be very curious to know what specifically you found to disagree with.
I'd like to reread Candide. It's been a while. Voltaire is a fascinating figure. Someone who really walked the walk.
I've read the article on the Coddling Mind but I got to read the book! A big shoutout for Haidt's book, The Happiness Hypothesis. It was one of the greatest books I've ever read. period. I kid you not. I learned SO much from that book.
Coddling of the American Mind is one of my top non-fiction reads of probably the last decade. So much food for thought, especially if you're a parent.