Monday, November 9, 2015

Encouraging Mental Illness

Last week, I noted that our society has destroyed a formerly rich notion of love and compassion and has replaced it with an anodyne demand for "niceness" whose only goal is to avoid pain or offense. I also suggested in passing that this new set of social mores fits neither our common sense nor our current scientific understanding of the human mind -- and that it is destroying young folks' ability to reason appropriately or show genuine empathy for people unlike themselves.

This weekend, I ran across some strong anecdotal evidence that the aforementioned observations are grounded in fact:

“Be quiet,” the girl screams to the Master of her college.  “As your position as master, it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students that live in Silliman.” But wait: Is it? Is that the job of the administrative head of a college dormitory at Yale?  Is Yale an institution for the emotionally broken? Well, this girl appears to think so. When Christakis ventured to disagree with her, the student exploded: “Then why the fuck did you accept the position?” she screamed.  “Who the fuck hired you?” She then demanded that he “step down” because being a master is “not about creating an intellectual space” but rather “creating a home.” In loco parentis? “You should not sleep at night,” she sobbed. “You’re disgusting.” She then turns and stomps off. End of tirade. Curtain.
This temper tantrum, by the way, was prompted by a dispute over Halloween costumes: not actual, existing costumes, mind, but just the theoretical possibility that someone might wear something offensive.

I get that certain costume choices are freighted with racist baggage; for example, I think it's dumb as hell to walk around in black face or don a war bonnet you didn't actually earn. Adults, however, handle such insults in private; in personal confrontations, they make their feelings known. They don't call down the hammer of the authorities because they realize those authorities are utterly incompetent when it comes to dealing with the smaller frictions of daily life. Institutions, you see, over-correct and over-react. See also: boys who get suspended for drawing - or pretending to have - weapons.

And as for this whole idea that college should be "a place of comfort and home"? No, my dear. You are, presumably, at least eighteen years old. Every state considers that the age of majority. And call me crazy, but when I went to college lo these mumble-mumble years ago, I left with the understanding that I was to get busy adulting and handling my own crap. Was I perfect in this endeavor? No, but the expectation was still there. I didn't look to my professors as surrogate parents; I looked to them as intellectual mentors. That is the actual purpose of college - not to enjoy an extended cushy adolescence, but to strengthen and enrich your mind in preparation for a responsible citizenship.   

But wherever did this pampered princess get the idea that college was supposed to affirm her in her ignorance instead of forcing her to think critically? Well, that would be the fault of her elders, I'm afraid. In the face of an extended internal assault, college administrators are buckling and giving some very disturbed individuals the keys to the bus -- and in the process, they are endangering the mental health of the students on their campuses.

If you haven't yet read Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt's cover story for the September edition of The Atlantic, please do, as it is a very approachable summary of the psychological realities to which I alluded in my last post:

Today, therapists usually treat depression and anxiety disorders using a combination of prescription drugs and cognitive behavioral therapy. The latter involves challenging the automatic catastrophic, overgeneralizing thoughts that often drive such ailments and retraining the brain to perceive things more benignly. So, for instance, if a patient is pathologically afraid of spiders, his therapist might, over the course of weeks, gradually work him up to actually touching a tarantula, helping him talk through his fear during each exposure and questioning conclusions that don't actually make sense.

What therapists do not do is counsel avoidance.

Campus activists, however, are turning this whole approach upside down. They are insisting on an absolute right to be shielded from what troubles them. Further, they positively revel in emotional reasoning, over-generalization, magnification, fortune telling, filtering, mind-reading -- the very cognitive distortions that make people unhappy and ill-adjusted. 

Is it any wonder that some Yale students can no longer control themselves or function as grown-ups?

Edited to add a chaser: The New Intolerance of Student Activism


  1. Luckily, this stuff only seems to surface in liberal-arts-heavy campuses.

    Which makes one realize the value of sticking to the STEM departments. . .

  2. did we let it get this way?

  3. (Edit: sorry for the double post) I really hate to say it, but we are raising a generation of very expensive (college-bred) nincompoops. People so fragile and unable to withstand even the slightest push-back, they fly into hysterics at the drop of a hat. And if no hats are dropping, they invent an excuse to fly into hysterics anyway. If I were the parent of the girl in the Yale video, I would be mortified. That is not a grown adult. That is an overgrown toddler having a tantrum. But then, our higher education system has been actively encouraging young adults to act like tantrum-throwing toddlers for decades now. I hope they're happy. Parents too. It's a mutual "fail" on the part of both the home and the education institution. And we're being treated to the after-effects. Not very pretty. I despair for our society if this is the future: whining, crying, schizophrenic basket-cases.

  4. When did feminisim start supporting incompetence? Frail, but not timid. An interesting combination that pretty well guarantees a series of shocks until this "Empowered woman" either grows up or gives up in a whimpering pool of emotional trauma.

  5. Terrific article. Coddling is definitely a big factor,and the school admins will come to regret giving in to these unbalanced kids. I linked to this post in my blog today.