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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Safetyism

 

Coddling of the American Mind

 

In their book The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt discussed the concept of “safetyism,” a term coined by Pamela Paresky. Regarding this concept, one source states:

 

Safetyism is an ideology that places self-perceived safety, especially the feeling of being protected from disagreeable ideas and information, above all other concerns. It is based on the belief that it is harmful (including, but not limited to, being medically harmful) to experience uncomfortable emotions. Compared to prior generations, one of the main differences is the belief that the world should not be organized according to what is right or wrong, but according to what is safe or unsafe.

 

Defining terms

 

Before I go further, it may be of use to clarify my perspective regarding the points raised by the aforementioned source – in chronological order. An ideology may be defined as a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture.

 

As an example, socialism may refer to a political and economic system or an ideology in support of that system. Under this ideology, a socialist advocates the idea that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

 

Likewise, safety may be described as the condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury. For instance, a socialist may believe that safety from an unregulated free market economy (“capitalism”) is in the best interest of the people subject to this form of monetary function.

 

Additionally, the word “feeling” addressed by the source relates to colloquial use of a term that may better be described as that which concerns a thought, belief, or hunch. In actuality, a feeling is either an emotion (e.g., joy) or bodily sensation (e.g., tingling arms).

 

As well, “disagreeable ideas” in modernity are understood to involve claims of “harm.” As an example, a socialist may consider it harmful when encountering disagreeable ideas which support capitalism, because ideas which lead to actions arguably serve as a means to an end.

 

Also, “belief,” as referenced by the source, constitutes an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists. As an example, a socialist may believe in the merits of socialism – accepting that the political and economic theory comprising this ideology is accurate.

 

Furthermore, that which is “harmful” relates to something that is likely to cause harm. Here, harm is defined as that which perceivably damages or injures a person either physiologically or psychologically.

 

Also, per the source, “uncomfortable emotions” can pertain to primary feelings such as fear, anger, sorrow, or disgust, as well as secondary or tertiary emotions such as despair, hurt, shame, or jealousy. Several of these feelings are automatic, though most of them are influenced by beliefs.

 

Noteworthy, when the source uses the word “should,” it’s referencing what is known in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) as demandingness. Use of should, must, and ought-type statements represent this form of irrational belief.

 

Finally, when referencing “right or wrong,” the source alludes to morals—lessons, especially those concerning what is right or prudent, which can be derived from a story, a piece of information, or an experience, as well as addressing a person’s standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable for them to do.

 

Safetyism

 

Given the aforementioned points of clarification, I tend to agree with Lukianoff and Haidt in regards to safetyism. It appears to me that consideration of what is good, bad, right, wrong, or otherwise has been replaced by examination of dichotomous labeling in regards to what is safe or unsafe.

 

Unsurprisingly, I’ve observed this trend over the past couple decades. One may argue that this observation correlates with the experience of helicopter and bulldozer parenting styles. Nevertheless, not everyone agrees with the concept of safetyism. According to one source:

 

Safetyism was never real. Safetyism is a clever word a couple of smart guys coined to try to describe some behaviors by others that they didn’t like. It was couched in a need to preserve values like truth and free inquiry, but it has been used far more frequently to dismiss and silence the concerns of those without power who were trying to alert the rest of us to the kinds of systemic problems that have come to a head and are currently roiling the nation.

 

I disagree with this proposed critique of safetyism. While I perceive that the intent for calling attention to safetyism is to “preserve values like truth and free inquiry,” I reject the victimhood direction in which the latter portion of the analysis veers.

 

To illustrate what I mean, consider the following hypothetical syllogism:

 

Form –

If p, then q; if q, then r; therefore, if p, then r.

 

Example –

If the preservation of values related to truth and free inquiry are encapsulated by the concept of safetyism, then the dismissal and silencing of concerns for oppressed people will result in further oppression.

 

If the dismissal and silencing of concerns for oppressed people will result in further oppression, then suppression of voices calling out abuse supported by safetyism will inevitably lead to injustice.

 

Therefore, if the preservation of values related to truth and free inquiry are encapsulated by the concept of safetyism, then suppression of voices calling out abuse supported by safetyism will inevitably lead to injustice.

 

The flaw of this major premise occurs with the conflation of safetyism with oppression—unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power. These two terms aren’t synonymous. Consequently, I disagree with the proposed critique of safetyism on the grounds of its illogical and unreasonable comparison.

 

When considering what safetyism is, I appreciate how one source frames the concept:

 

There is a difference between throwing someone a life preserver when they are in danger of drowning and barring them from getting into the pool at all, or in only allowing the pool to be so shallow as to not enjoy the freedom and thrill that comes from entering the deep. Without sufficient depth, we never learn how to swim.

 

There is no reasonable guarantee for absolute safety regarding an imperfect existence. The more people, entities, or government authorities strive to perfect the imperfect experience of life – whether through subtle or extreme measures – the more unsafe this world may become.

 

A pragmatic example of safetyism

 

When defining terms herein, I’ve provided abstract examples relating to the ideology of socialism. Still, I find that not all people appreciate when I speak in abstraction. Therefore, I will provide a pragmatic example of safetyism which I think is worthy of consideration.

 

According to a press release from the United States (U.S.) Department of Justice (DOJ) on March 23, 2024:

 

The Justice Department launched the National Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) Resource Center (the Center) which will provide training and technical assistance to law enforcement officials, prosecutors, attorneys, judges, clinicians, victim service and social service providers, community organizations, and behavioral health professionals responsible for implementing laws designed to keep guns out of the hands of people who pose a threat to themselves or others.

 

Concerning this pronouncement, I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (“clinician” and “behavioral health professional”) and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (“social service provider”). As such, the ERPO safetyism measure directly relates to my profession.

 

As a matter of context regarding the DOJ’s press release, the Second Amendment states that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” is the standard by which this nation shall function.

 

Differentiating between demandingness (irrational belief using a should statement) and a legal demand (use of a shall statement under legal authority), it isn’t logical or reasonable to demand that the Second Amendment should be infringed when inalienable rights shall be protected.

 

In this pragmatic example of safetyism, members of the mental, emotional, and behavioral health care field are being trained by the government to help violate the rights of U.S. citizens. Nowhere in the Second Amendment is there a stipulation for such action.

 

Shall not be infringed” doesn’t mean that when a neighbor, friend, family member, scorned ex, or person who maintains a vendetta against another individual can simply contact government agents to revoke a natural right of the individual in question. Therefore, the ERPO safetyism measure is unconstitutional, as well as irrational.

 

On June 29, 2022, I posted a blog entry entitled Nationwide Mental Health Crisis? in which I criticized the Biden administration’s apparent attempt to violate the Second Amendment under the guise of “mental health.” After multiple states seemingly rejected to adopt unconstitutional red flag laws, the ERPO has emerged almost two years later.

 

Effectively, the ERPO Resource Center revs up the federal government’s attempt at implementing national red flag programs which could remove firearms from people allegedly deemed at risk to themselves and others. To whom may this standard apply?

 

Did you vote for Donald Trump? Do you support the Make America Great Again (MAGA) ideology? According to a speech by President Biden, “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.”

 

Should, must, or ought you to lose your inalienable rights merely because a family member reports you for being a “MAGA extremist”? Play this scenario through to its logical conclusion:

 

Form –

If p, then q; p; therefore, q.

 

Example –

If you voted for Trump, then you’re extremely dangerous. You voted for Trump. Therefore, you’re extremely dangerous.

 

I suspect many people will experience true oppression referenced in the critique of safetyism – all in the name of valuing safetyism. Although there is no reasonable guarantee for absolute safety in this imperfect life, this world becomes more unsafe when government agents with guns show up to one’s door to enforce “mental health” safety measures while striving for perfection.

 

Conclusion

 

Safetyism relates to the irrational belief – sometimes misrepresented by feelings-based narratives – regarding protection from the disagreeable perception of harm. When generalized across a population, safetyism serves as an ideological position that values safety over morality.

 

Although I understand how those who value victimhood narratives may promulgate the illogical and unreasonable notion that safetyism serves to oppress marginalized clusters within the U.S., I emphatically disagree with this absurd idea. In fact, quite the contrary appears to result when safetyism is put into effect by institutions of power.

 

Herein, I’ve provided a pragmatic example of safetyism, as it relates to the ERPO Resource Center. While ostensibly serving to protect U.S. citizens from the potential of harm – and not as a result of due process or an actual dangerous event having occurred – people within the health care field will apparently be used as an arm of the State.

 

When playing through the irrationality of such a measure, one may conclude that any individual who is unjustifiably perceived as “harmful” may lose rights protected under the Constitution. Think about how this plays out.

 

Person X posts something on social media to which person Y objects, finds offensive, or considers harmful. As an example, person X hypothetically posts, “There’s an invasion occurring at the U.S. southern border and citizens need to arm ourselves to defend this country.”

 

Person Y then notifies the authorities, as law enforcement officials accompanied by social workers respond. Refusing to submit to a mental health assessment, person X is then deemed “harmful” and weapons are temporarily removed from the home.

 

Person X is then given the opportunity to comply with unjust state-sanctioned oppression or suffer the consequence of advocating protections offered under the Second Amendment. Then, the result of safetyism-driven action is that person X will need to prove innocence, as guilt was established with the confiscation of firearms.

 

Temporary tyranny, no matter how brief, is tyrannical nonetheless. The standard under which this nation professes to operate is “innocent until proven guilty,” not the other way around. Therefore, I oppose tyrannical measures such as red flag programs, and the development and function of the ERPO Resource Center.

 

If an individual irrationally chooses to lead a life in pursuit of absolute safety, I support the person’s self-determined and autonomous decision. Don a helmet and mask, don’t own a firearm, or bubble wrap yourself within a padded room, if you please.

 

However, for the rest of us who understand that there is no perfecting an imperfect – and even dangerous – existence, I advocate a standard by which the absurdity of safetyism doesn’t infringe upon enumerated rights. Live free.

 

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

 

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

 

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

 

 

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


 

References:

 

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