“Being a snowflake is bad for your mental health,” says Dennis Relojo-Howell in The Critic. Psychologists like me are troubled by the “overzealous focus on protecting people from all trauma, whatever the cost”. Take universities, where “speech” and “discourse” are now scrupulously screened for offense. The social justice movement has turned university campuses into places where students can go to avoid hearing things that they do not like, “instead of places where they can learn about different perspectives and how to think critically”.
As noble as this is, it’s not helpful. What you get is safetyism, an environment in which emotional discomfort is equated with physical danger, and no danger is acceptable. In theory this leads to what essayist Nassim Taleb calls antifragility, “which refers to the fact that many systems – including our immune system and psychological system – need to experience stressors to grow strong”. Instead of helping young people, we are “empowering their anxiety”. This can stunt the natural coping responses individuals need to develop. In practice, the results are clear. The number of Americans who reported feeling symptoms of “serious psychological distress” trebled between 2018 and 2020. It’s a similar story in Britain. Enlightened causes such as critical race theory make people become hostile to “oppressors” and hate themselves. “When you overprotect people from risks, you’re not doing them any favours.”