A Little Hate for Jonathan Haidt

December 01, 2019

  • Jonathan Haidt argues that helicopter parenting destroyed a generation of college students, and they might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy
  • He also pushes for more free speech and Socratic reasoning on campus
  • Heather MacDonald says these solutions aren’t enough, and her ideas might surprise you
  • Question of the day: are woke students driven by mental illness, or by ideology?

The Diversity Delusion Book Cover

Rhetoric on college campuses was already white hot in 2015, when mainstream America took increasing notice, and scorn mounted for students whose public meltdowns resembled bath salts intoxication.

“Trigger warnings and “microaggressions” were entering the lexicon, as careers were lost and reputations ruined for questioning woke precepts like: Mozart was a racist. Virginia Woolf will traumatize you with rape. If you believe in job qualifications, you are violent.

It was time for a diagnosis.

Jonathan Haidt, who is the Mr. Rogers of academia, teamed up with Greg Lukianoff to write The Coddling of the American Mind. In the article, the two identified the origin of millenials’ brittle neuroticism: overprotective parenting that began in the 1980’s, when pictures of missing children started showing up on milk cartons.

Failure to expose young folk to the elements impaired their psychology, and years later would lead to scenarios like this:

In April, at Brandeis University, the Asian American student association sought to raise awareness of microaggressions against Asians through an installation on the steps of an academic hall. The installation gave examples of microaggressions such as “Aren’t you supposed to be good at math?” and “I’m colorblind! I don’t see race.” But a backlash arose among other Asian American students, who felt that the display itself was a microaggression. The association removed the installation, and its president wrote an e-mail to the entire student body apologizing to anyone who was “triggered or hurt by the content of the microaggressions.”

That these students looked ridiculous was the least of their problems. Haidt and Lukianoff warned that after a childhood of coddling, four more years of safe spaces would pose a serious hazard to their mental health.

To thwart the pathology that incoming freshmen brought with them, Haidt and Lukianoff suggested that universities introduce new students to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Thus equipped, students would have the psychological stamina to embrace free speech and critical thinking, cornerstones of the college experience. In turn they would spend their time in school growing skins thick enough to graduate and enter the real world.

But it’s almost 2020. If it was just a medical problem, then why haven’t universities, in the past five years, taken up Haidt and Lakioff’s suggestion on any grand scale? School administrators broadcast endlessly their concern for students psychological safety, so why not implement CBT? It’s been proven to work and would be cheap to implement.

It’s the Ideology, Stupid

In her 2018 book The Diversity Delusion, Heather MacDonald points to many reasons this may be. Most obviously, universities don’t want to solve the problem. The diversity-industrial complex, which pulls in untold millions of dollars every year, relies on students’ grievances and narcissism.

She also suggests that a purely medical approach wouldn’t address the actual problem. Thus doing, she broadsides the central premise of The Coddling of the American Mind. MacDonald wonders:

if risk-averse child-rearing is the source of the problem, why aren’t heterosexual white male students demanding “safe spaces”? They had the same kind of parents as the outraged young women who claim to be under lethal assault from the patriarchy.

She goes on to point out that on campus, straight white men are stigmatized far more than any group, as racist perpetrators of rape culture. If any group needed a safe space, it would be them.

I would also note here that minority children raised in single parent households in high crime neighborhoods might be less likely to have experienced the suburban, helicopter parenting style that leads to outrage culture. Why would a street smart kid from the hood suddenly require a safe space upon entering a comfortable university campus?

MacDonald writes:

Campus intolerance is at root not a psychological phenomenon but an ideological one. At its center is a worldview that sees Western culture as endemically racist and sexist. The overriding goal of the educational establishment is to teach young people within the ever-growing list of official victim classifications to view themselves as existentially oppressed. One outcome of that teaching is the forceful silencing of contrarian speech.

In 2018, the dean of University of Pennsylvania’s law school forced Amy Wax to go on a year-long sabbatical, and stop teaching her first-year civil-procedure class. Her offense? Co-writing an op-ed for The Philadelphia Inquirer that suggested Americans might get more out of life if they delay gratification and build two parent families. To reject what she calls “bourgeois culture” is to suffer, and afflicted groups include poor whites as much as they do inner city blacks, and immigrants who refuse to assimilate.

“All cultures are not equal,” she and Larry Alexander wrote. Wax’s partner in crime, who teaches as University of San Diego law school, was also condemned by his dean. Both were smeared as racists, despite all evidence to the contrary. Wax’s colleagues wrote an open letter which was a call to arms, asking students to spy on her in class and report any verbal missteps Wax might make while lecturing.

Here we meet Haidt again, who at the time took to his Website Heterodox Academy to defend Wax and Alexander:

“Every open letter you sign to condemn a colleague for his or her words brings us closer to a world in which academic disagreements are resolved by social force and political power, not by argumentation and persuasion”

The Real Purpose of the University

On his site and in The Coddling of the American Mind Haidt emphasizes that viewpoint diversity is essential to a thriving life of the mind on campus. From the article:

There’s a saying common in education circles: Don’t teach students what to think; teach them how to think. The idea goes back at least as far as Socrates. Today, what we call the Socratic method is a way of teaching that fosters critical thinking, in part by encouraging students to question their own unexamined beliefs, as well as the received wisdom of those around them. Such questioning sometimes leads to discomfort, and even to anger, on the way to understanding.

MacDonald again pushes back, a little. The intense focus on critical thinking and debate, she argues, has overshadowed the real purpose of the university, which is to transmit knowledge. Every generation, including those of Shakespeare and the renaissance philosophers, must humble itself to the millennia of human geology, contoured and challenging even to fathom, that it stands upon.

B.R. Myers, author of A Reader’s Manifesto, once wrote the dismal truism of our times: “it would be foolish to demand another Tolstoy.”

The cause seems clear: post-modern deconstructionism that gutted universities and publishing houses of humble respect for the greats, and replaced it with garrulous self-referentialism. It’s why nobody read novels anymore.

On campus, the leftist approach to the cultural canon is to dissect and expose “false narratives” in Milton and Plato, and pollute the course catalogue with titles like The Regendering of Medieval Europe.

MacDonald warns, however, that corrosion is not only coming from the left:

Conservatives have, of late, stressed a process-oriented notion of education that shares certain similarities with the “false narratives” approach. This emphasis reflects their understandable revulsion at the silencing on campus of politically incorrect views… The ideal of the Socratic academy is so reasonable that it may seem foolish to quibble with it. [However] the free-speech model of education tends toward a focus on the present.

When rage filled spats about Donald Trump hog the discourse, instructive wisdom of the ages gets lost.

I would also point out that after the Internet, people dismiss core knowledge as something they can just look up later. But the wealth of information that we’ve built our civilization upon requires context, and years of devoted study to consume. The Internet can’t replace that.

Of course, MacDonald doesn’t actually appear to hate Haidt. He is, I believe, more politically liberal than MacDonald but when faced with the threat of tyrannical diversitocracy, both fall squarely in the same camp. Outside the radical left, common cause does not require conformity of thought.

Go to the bookstore or go online and buy The Diversity Delusion. It’s an exciting, eye-opening read and she exposes incredible abuses of power and warns how the noose is tightening around our necks.

Question of the day:

Are woke students driven by mental illness, or by ideology?

Answer in the comment section below:

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Posted by Will Sherman