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I’ve gotten very into Michael Hobbes’ latest podcast endeavor, If Books Could Kill.
Hobbes was the longtime host of another favorite podcast, You’re Wrong About, and is the co-host of yet another favorite, Maintenance Phase.
In If Books Could Kill, Hobbes and his co-host Peter Shamshiri explore “the airport bestsellers that captured our hearts and ruined our minds.” Think Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations, and Rhonda Byrnes’ The Secret.
I highly recommend the podcast if you like reading books and thinking critically. So far all the books they’ve covered are either ones I’ve read myself or ones I haven’t read but that I know based on their cultural sway.
Their latest episode revisited the book The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. Given the current debates over critical race theory, censorship, book banning, and the backlash toward the LGBTQ+ community, it’s a timely episode. I might also be a bit biased to enjoy it as I’ve worked in higher education for the last 5 years and was in grad school for 6 years before that; I’m fairly familiar with the current state of the American college campus.
Haidt and Lukianoff’s book was prompted by concerns about safe spaces, trigger warnings, and college students’ inability to deal with ideas or rhetoric that challenged their beliefs. It is part of a broader trend of concern over liberal/leftist campus culture and political correctness, driven largely, though certainly not exclusively, by the right.
Hobbes and Shamshiri dismantle the book’s main points chapter by chapter, noting how the book’s main premises are not based in any reality, how statistics are misrepresented (the numbers of speakers disinvited from college campus events rose only marginally, dwarfed by the numbers of speaking events that went off without a hitch), and how anecdotes are twisted to support the right’s point-of-view (they share a particularly enlightening story about an event at Evergreen College that was totally twisted by conservative media).
The episode was entertaining and concerning to me given I have spent the better part of the last 15 years on college campuses and don’t see anything remotely resembling the stories told in Haidt and Lukianoff’s book.
I see students carefully and thoughtfully engage with a range of diverse ideas all the time. It’s kind of the whole point of a liberal arts curriculum – learning to think critically, engage with ideas across a broad spectrum of disciplines and perspectives, and craft and articulate your own point of view.
But Hobbes and Shamshiri don’t just boil it down to the free speech debate or to the contentious politics in the United States. Rather, they so thoroughly debunk the book’s main premise that they note that it’s just the same line that’s been used for thousands of years — kids these days don’t know how good they have it, they’re spoiled, they have no respect for their elders, and they’re ruining society.
In the end, you can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all.
I think there is such a thing as intellectual coddling in higher education, although it’s more marginal than its critics assume, and it is certainly not confined to those on the left. In fact, we’re seeing an explosion of snowflakery on the right these days. It’s comforting to assume that anyone who disagrees with me must be either stupid or wicked, and hence not to be tolerated; a dose of Calvinist humility is in order.
Of course, every community will set some rational and moral limits to the ideas that may be entertained (at least publicly) by its members. The problem today is that legislators (in Florida, Iowa, and elsewhere) are attempting to set those limits for educators. That’s gonna end badly.
Let’s here it for the Kuyperian separation of school and state.
Why modify humility?
Granted, Calvinists don’t have a monopoly on humility. As a group and in practice, we’re not even that good at it. But at least in theory, we have a solid basis for it, don’t we?