Three pervasive distortions are at the root of tremendous suffering for children AND adults.

Read Haidt & Lukianoff’s book The Coddling of the American Mind. Watch my related video on The Social Dilemma. Watch my interview on existential risk with Daniel Schmachtenberger.

Transcript Below

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– [Zubin] Hey, everyone. My kids just went back to school. One is starting middle school, and one is starting high school. I mean the time, just blam, blam, blam, but it got me thinking, ’cause I’ve been talking over the last couple years about this book, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” by George Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. It’s an amazing book because it kind of really puts into context and summarizes all the research and everything behind the crisis we’re in now, not just with our kids but with society in general. And so what I wanted to talk about today, because I was thinking about my kids and how are they gonna get through all this? That was challenging for us in our generation. It was real challenge, middle school, high school.

This was hard, especially I found it really challenging. I was the kid that was always kind of a little bit off. Still am. And then I’m thinking, okay, so times have changed. We have social media, we have all this other stuff, but in “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Lukianoff and Haidt point out this paradigm of the three great untruths that we’re kind of instilling, not just in our children, but in culture as a whole, that are leading us down a path that is anti-wise. It is against, it’s not just anti-wise. It actually could lead to the destruction of everything. And as we talk about it you’ll see why, and what we might do about it. And the first step is just recognizing what these are and seeing them in ourselves, and in our kids, and in how we’re talking to kids, how universities are talking to kids, and what can we do to actually improve everybody’s wellbeing? Our kids now are more anxious. They’re depressed. They’re attempting suicide more.

We’ve talked about this again, and again, and again, especially young girls. Social media is made everything worse. There’s fear of missing out. There’s tribalism. There’s the inability to avoid bullying because you can be bullied at any time, any hour, any place through social media. So, but all of that is kind of an epiphenomenon of these three great untruths. And the first untruth is the following. That which does not kill you makes you weaker. Wait, I thought the opposite. I thought that which does not kill you, makes you stronger. No, you’re wrong. Anything that harms you, anything that makes you feel bad, anything that challenges your current beliefs, anything that stresses you out is going to weaken you. That’s this great untruth. Why is it an untruth? Because it goes against all ancient wisdom, it goes against modern neuroscience and behavioral science, and it goes actually against common sense. Because when you think about humans, they are not fragile creatures, especially kids, and they’re not even resilient. It’s like you push ’em, and they bounce back. They’re anti-fragile, especially kids. What does that mean? It means that when you stress a kid, when you challenge them, when they get a skinned knee, when they go exercise, and they break down muscle, they come back stronger, more capable, more able to deal with stress. Overall growth comes from this idea of hormesis, the idea that it’s challenging and painful, and you actually get stronger as a result.

And lifting weights is like that, right? Or going through childhood, like going out on the playground, falling, skinning your elbow. That’s a kind of stress, but you learn from it. Next time, you’re stronger. You have better balance. You have better perspective. You know what the risks and benefit are of certain things. When you go out and you play around with other kids in an unstructured way, they may hurt your feelings. They may bully you a little. You may bully them. And from that, actually growth can occur within parameters, right? It can get to a point where it causes an adverse childhood experience, and then it’s too far. That can happen. And it does happen. And it’s a big deal. But you don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. That little bit of stress, especially the stress of having your feelings challenged or hurt, or your beliefs challenged, or your identity challenged. It’s like, ooh. Well, so what have we done now? We’ve taken away that stress. If your feelings are hurt, it means you’re actually hurt. So we’ve defined trauma downward. That even difficult situations are traumatic, right? It’s become a kind of a culture of safetyism where we just feel like we have to protect these children.

That’s why the book was called “The Coddling of the American Mind.” We’ve kind of, with good intention, tried to wrap a protective bubble around these kids. Right, like you know what? Just in case there’s someone here who’s somewhat neurodivergent, we wanna change everything so that they’re not in any way stressed or traumatized by something someone might say with good intention. And I’ll tell you what, that seems noble, but it is not how the actual world works. It’s not how humans actually grow and respond. And what it’s doing is it’s creating a fragility mindset in kids. It means that kids now feel like, well, if I’m actually stressed, I’m actually getting hurt. That which does not kill me actually harms me. And so I need to be protected from bad words, which means, guess what? That guy who I disagree with is actually harming me physically by saying words to me. Whereas those of us over 30 kind of generally know that in the absence of being able to talk with differing opinions using words, using our words, the only other option is either ignore them or physical violence. So words are crucially important, and words that challenge us are crucially important. Instead, what we’ve done is that which does not kill you makes you weak or means now we have safe spaces. We have trigger warnings. We have all this stuff that are done with good intent to prevent trauma, but we’ve defined trauma here. Whereas it used to be trauma was sexual abuse, physical assault, abandonment, terrible, terrible, terrible things.

Now it’s like, well, someone said something that kind of upset me because my belief is I define myself this way, and they challenged that belief. It’s like, come on, dude. That’s the great untruth of fragility. And so what does social media do? It actually kind of really codifies this because you can actually live in a bubble on social media where nobody challenges you because you have a group think already, where you’re not gonna be hurt because no one’s gonna challenge you. I mean, how many of us have been in those bubbles? And the AI of social media knows how to trigger to create those bubbles because it knows it’s gonna keep your attention, ’cause it knows you like that. Now you’re conditioned to avoid any kind of stressor like that. It’s very, very harmful. Now apply it to COVID. People are saying there’s these studies now that are poorly done that are saying, oh, any time you get a COVID infection, it weakens you. It makes you more fragile. It actually damages you. You may get long COVID. Instead of the fact that, well, wow, we get seasonal infections all the time, and our immune system is actually anti-fragile. It actually learns from each thing. It gets a little bit more robust. It manages what are threats and what are not threats. And if we go in the wrong direction, we get allergies and autoimmunity. And if we go in the over weakened direction, we get disease and sickness. Turns out, the immune system generally is pretty good at working this out because it’s an anti-fragile system.

But instead, we’ve even said, even COVID. Like put on three masks as a kid, get three boosters, whatever it is. We keep creeping out the safety because of this great untruth that that which does not kill you makes you weaker. What if a kid gets COVID? Most of the time they’re gonna do fine. Some of them will get sick. So you do have to look at a big picture, and there is gray area, but we have been painting it as black and white. No, you cannot get this disease, period. Which means we’re gonna sacrifice your ability to learn. We’re gonna put a mask on you. We’re gonna close schools. We’re gonna compel you to get these vaccinations, even though they’re gonna make you, they might make you feel like shit for a couple days. In rare, rare cases, you may get myocarditis. But you know what? Safety. So this is a big problem, this first great untruth, that which does not kill you makes you weaker. Now, the second grade untruth is actually feeds right into this.

And that is that, always trust your feelings. Intuitively that feels right. Like we’re humans, or emotional, intuitive creatures. We’re largely emotional reasoning creatures with little logic thrown on top. Jonathan Haidt himself have said this. We’re mostly elephant sort of emotional reasoning, and rider on top of the elephant who’s supposed to be logic but really is kind of a slave to the elephant. So why wouldn’t we trust our emotions? Seems right. If I feel some way about something, it’s probably true. Is that really true? Just because we’re kind of hardwired for emotion doesn’t mean our emotions reflect the truth of the world. They can give us insight, and emotions arise. Emotions should not be repressed. Emotions should be felt purely. Whatever you feel heals. Whatever you resist persists. Instead we’re sort of conditioned to avoid emotion, to repress emotion, to tell stories about emotion, and to somehow project emotion as reality in the world. This is a fundamental distortion. Because what if the emotion is a feeling of worthlessness? Oh, I trust my feelings. My feelings must be accurate. I’m worthless. Even though external logic is telling me that’s not true, because I’m paid to do a job that people tell me provides benefit to them. There are a lot of doctors who feel worthless. All the external validation is there from a logical standpoint. You’re paid to do a job, you’re helping people, they’re thanking you, this and that, all the stuff, but I feel worthless, therefore I am worthless, therefore I’m gonna look in the environment for confirmation of my worthlessness, and then have a negativity bias where I’m pulling out worthlessness. And that’s emotional reasoning. And it’s absolutely the source of so much suffering. Now look at how it applies to sort of the world now. So you have this negative feedback loop. I feel bad, therefore something is bad, therefore I am bad, therefore depression. That’s cognitive distortion. Now your emotions are affecting your thinking and distorting it. Over generalization, negativity, bias, black and white thinking. All the kind of cognitive distortions you talk about in cognitive behavioral therapy are now manifesting because of emotional reasoning, which is another distortion. So I feel this way about a person, therefore, they must be bad.

Or this person said something offhand that offended me. It’s a microaggression. They said something racially insensitive to me. And I’m gonna assume, because I felt bad, that they are now intended it that way. That they are bad, and that that was an actual trauma that was intended. We’re implying intent. This may have just been somebody who just doesn’t know, or they said something offhand, they weren’t thinking about it. There was no intent, but because you feel that it was intended, it was intended. Now how’s that gonna affect your relationship? And since the first great untruth is still in play, that which does not kill me makes me weaker, now that person harmed me, therefore I need to go to an authority figure and actually prevent them from speaking. That’s where you get deplatforming. That’s where you get cancel culture. That’s where you get call out culture. All of that emerges from this great untruth. The two first great untruths already are causing so much havoc in the world, and you can’t critically think when you’re emotionally reasoning all the time. Now what’s the third great untruth. This is my favorite because this is the heart of what could kill us all as a species. And this great untruth is the following.

The world is a struggle between good people and evil people. Huh, this one feels right, doesn’t it? It feels right. Well, of course, there’s good people who do the right thing, America, and there’s bad people that do terrible things, Russia. Where there’s good people like liberals, and there’s bad people, conservatives, or the other way around. Or you fill in blank with tribal affiliation A and everybody else who’s bad. And it feels right. Why? Because humans are hard wired to compete on in group-out group sensibility. We’re tribal creatures. And the way we, we’re born with a degree of moral reasoning, according to Jonathan Haidt. We have a moral set of taste buds, and we see the world through that lens. Good, care versus harm, fairness versus cheating, authority versus subversion, liberty versus oppression, sanctity versus degradation, these moral palates. And how we see the world then determines how we feel that we’re good. And if we see people behaving in a way that violates that, they’re bad. Well, is this really true? What if everybody had a set of moral taste buds, and they’re all seeing the world through those lenses and trying to be good. And because we can’t understand, we are in our own moral matrix, and we can’t see the other moral matrix clearly because we’re in this group think, we think they’re evil. Well, what does social media do? It weaponizes that. People will talk about AI and like, oh, AI is gonna kill us. It’s gonna be robots from the future. No, it’s here now.

The AI that’s gonna kill us potentially is the AI that reifies, that makes real this idea that the world is divided into good and bad people. How does it do that? The AI is programmed to say, hey, get as many eyeballs as long as you can on Facebook. Whatever it takes to do that, AI, you learn from people’s behavior and what they want, and you make that happen so that they’re in there all the time. Clicking likes, and dislikes, and shares, and angry emojis, and all that. What does the AI learn? It learns that humans are tribal creatures, that they are very wont to believe that the world is divided into good and bad people, and then they’re fed a diet of what they wanna hear, and just enough of a diet of outrage from the other side that they think they know is evil. And now they’re just on social media, angry. And then they go into the real world. They step outside of the bubble, and this spills into the real world. And then you have all the crazy crap that you see. People losing their shit on planes, January 6th, all the sides of that, everything going on. Two Americas, right? There’s probably more like 200 Americas ’cause each of these is a little silo. The world is divided into good and bad people.

Well, if you believe that good and evil, well, what’s to stop you from engaging in call out culture. I am calling that person out because they are an evil person because they said something that hurt my feelings, my feelings I trust. That hurt me, because of the first great untruth of fragility. And now you see this dynamic interplay between the three great untruths that create a call out culture, a deplatforming on college campuses, a group think, and it all feels perfectly natural, and we don’t even see it’s happening until we’re launching nukes at each other, and we’re all gone. And even then we won’t see it. Do you see? It really, it requires us to be mindful. It requires us to be centered. What’s the difference between the great untruth, if there are good and bad people, and the great truth of everybody’s mostly trying to be good? They just have different perceptions of what that is through their own moral palate. Well, that’s the difference between common enemy politics. Common enemy says, hey, we’re the good guys. Those guys are the enemies. Let’s go get them. Social media weaponizes that, right? Versus what did Martin Luther King do? Hmm, common identity, common humanity politics, where it’s more a, hey guys, we’re all humans here.

We’re all trying to be good. Would you do this to a fellow human that’s like you? You wouldn’t. And widening the circles of compassion, being mindful to what our own mind is doing, watching our cognitive distortions, feeling our emotions as pure energy instead of something to be acted on, or something to be repressed, or something to tell a story about, seeing a fellow human as a fellow human who’s trying their best to be good and expanding our compassion. So how do you dissolve the great untruths ’cause this is dangerous what we’re in? Our kids are more anxious, more depressed, all the things I talked about. We’re more divided than ever. We can’t, democracy is in danger. We have existential threat from things like AI that use this against us. And then we have nation state threat like nuclear war, ’cause we’re siloed off into group think, and call out culture, and cancel culture, and speech suppression. And slave being slaves to orthodoxy.

So what do we do? Wake up, wake up. That witch does not kill you makes you stronger. We are anti-fragile creatures. Let’s act like it. Stress is okay within parameters. We need to learn to handle it. We need to teach our kids. Our kids need to teach themselves. We need to let them play. We need to structure them less. We need to helicopter them less. We need to take them off the social media when they’re young and their brains are forming. We need to teach them about emotion. What is that? Teach them to be mindful and to introspect. And then we need to do it ourselves. We need to understand that there is an ability to be response-able. We can feel emotion, and then we can take a space. We can be mindful as the awareness that emotion is rising in, and then act in a responsible way. Grow our rider instead of being pure elephant. And then realizing that the world is actually just people, not good and evil. There are better ideas and worse ideas.

So debate for common growth instead of debating to win. Break down the silos, fix our social media problem, and maybe we get through what scientists call the great filter. Why don’t we see a lot of aliens everywhere even though the universe is billions of years old and the James Web shows us trillions, and billions, and dillions of dillions of galaxies? That’s a thing. Why don’t we see aliens? It could be because they all filtered themselves out when they got to this part, and they destroyed themselves ’cause they couldn’t see. So let’s not go out like suckers. Guys, I love you. I hope you got something outta this. Get the book, read the book. “Coddling of the American Mind,” by Haidt and Lukianoff. If you like what we do, join our supporter tribe,, or you can support our show with a onetime donation at Leave a comment, and I will respond directly to it if you do that. And share this video. And let’s remember these three great untruths. Half the battle is recognizing the problem, and then waking up. We gotta wake up. All right, guys, I love you. We are out.