This is an excerpt from Helen Joyce’s essay published in The Critic. It poses some answers to questions as to why our society is going the way it is, and what happened to the notion of people debating topics like adults and having adult sensibilities.

“More generally, this is a culture that encourages young people to regard themselves as traumatised. According to Jonathan Haidt, co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind, US schools and universities have started to promote three pernicious falsehoods: that what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; that feelings are a good guide to reality and action; and that life is a battle between good people and evil ones.

These dysfunctional beliefs, which Haidt dubs “anti-cognitive behavioural therapy”, promote mental fragility. They encourage people to feel fearful of ordinary words and to regard censorship as virtuous. The logic goes like this: being dis-agreed with makes you a victim; victims are good; people saying things you disagree with therefore deserve to be silenced and punished. This is the culture of “crybullying”: using claims of victimhood to harass others.

Haidt thinks social media, with its polarising and conflict-inducing algorithms, is largely to blame. Another culprit is the “post-modern turn” that was underway before the internet era, in which academics, activists and political theorists stopped thinking of reality as something that could be described objectively and studied empirically, embracing a radical subjectivity instead.”

The fragility of the next generation will be the doom of us all.