An excellent article by Jonathan Haidt helps us understand why our girls in particular have felt so alienated from the world around them and most importantly their own bodies.
I was first alerted to this disturbing cultural trend after reading Abigail Shrier’s book “Irreversible Damage.” She painstakingly documented the sudden enormous increase in predominantly middle to upper middle-class white female adolescents who were identifying as other than their birth sex. This was occurring largely in liberal or progressive households.
The following post will give you the details:
Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt documents a similar pattern in his latest very detailed substack article.
Cancel Culture’s Cognitive Distortions
According to Haidt’s research, in 2013, students on college campuses began pushing to ban speakers, punish people for ordinary speech, or implement policies that would chill free speech.
Greg Lukianoff, the president of FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression) noticed that these students were using cognitive distortions that were similar to those associated with depression. As a person who battles depression himself, he knew something about these distortions.
Here’s how his friend Haidt put it:
Greg is prone to depression, and after hospitalization for a serious episode in 2007, Greg learned CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). In CBT you learn to recognize when your ruminations and automatic thinking patterns exemplify one or more of about a dozen “cognitive distortions,” such as catastrophizing, black-and-white thinking, fortune telling, or emotional reasoning. Thinking in these ways causes depression, as well as being a symptom of depression. Breaking out of these painful distortions is a cure for depression.
Because of what CBT taught Greg, he hypothesized that colleges supporting these distortions, rather than teaching critical thinking, could cause students to become depressed.
This idea was further developed in the book “The Coddling of the American Mind” which he co-wrote with Haidt.
In 2020, a study found that young liberal women reported higher rates of mental health conditions compared to other groups. Some explanations for this trend suggest that technology and social media, rather than politics, might be the main cause. Another theory is that depressed individuals tend to view reality negatively, and progressive institutional leaders may have inadvertently taught young progressives to catastrophize events to get what they want.
This focus on victimization and external locus of control (a belief that external factors control your life) could contribute to higher rates of depression and decreased sense of agency.
In his substack article Haidt discusses how a phone-based childhood may contribute to passivity and mental health issues, particularly among liberal girls.
He suggests two main reasons for this phenomenon.
First, liberal girls use social media more than other groups, which can lead to reduced face-to-face interaction and contribute to poor mental health.
Second, the messages consumed by liberal girls on social media might be more damaging to their mental health than those consumed by other groups.
The article also points out that Gen Z as a whole has developed a more external locus of control, which means they believe their lives are more influenced by external factors rather than their own actions.
Liberal Gen Z individuals (of both sexes) have become more self-derogating, as well.
Haidt also suggests that the loss of “play-based childhood” in the 1990s, when parents stopped letting their children play and explore unsupervised, might have contributed to this shift in locus of control.
And finally Haidt’s article explores the role of the social media platform Tumblr in shaping disempowering beliefs, particularly around identity, fragility, and victimhood. The podcast series “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling” highlights how Tumblr’s culture war between young progressive women and right-leaning young men contributed to today’s cancel culture and may have influenced the development of distorted ways of thinking.
So, What Should We Do?
In his conclusion, Haidt argues that around 2013, many young people, particularly liberal women, embraced three Great Untruths, which caused an increase in anxiety and depression.
The Great Untruths are:
1. What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker
2. Always trust your feelings
3. Life is a battle between good people and evil people.
They came to believe that they were fragile and would be harmed by books, speakers, and words, which they learned were forms of violence (Great Untruth #1).
They came to believe that their emotions—especially their anxieties—were reliable guides to reality (Great Untruth #2).
They came to see society as comprised of victims and oppressors—good people and bad people (Great Untruth #3).
Haidt suggests that universities and progressive institutions have adopted these Untruths, leading to reverse Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that exacerbates mental health issues.
And he proposes two policy changes to address this issue:
1). Universities and schools should stop performing reverse CBT through programs based on the Great Untruths. Instead, they should focus on evidence-based practices that promote mental health and well-being.
2). The US Congress should raise the age of “internet adulthood” from 13 to 16 or 18, treating social media and other addictive apps like alcohol, tobacco, and gambling. This would require parental consent for minors to sign contracts or open accounts, helping protect them from harmful content and potential mental health consequences.
Those are just the highlights. As usual. You should read the whole thing! And its Social Science details.