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It Is Only Going to Get Worse — Jonathan Haidt on the Crisis on Campus

Over at the invaluable Minding the Campus, John Leo has a fascinating interview with NYU’s Jonathan Haidt, founder of Heterodox Academy, a site advocating for increased diversity in higher education. The entire thing is worth a read, but I wanted to pull three segments that demonstrate the depth of the conservative challenge on campus. 

First, most Americans simply don’t understand the extent of the ideological monoculture. Take this example, from Haidt:

I was invited by the president of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology to give a talk on the future of Social Psychology. As I was finishing writing The Righteous Mind, I was getting more and more concerned about how moral communities bind themselves together in ways that block open-minded thinking. I began to see the social sciences as tribal moral communities, becoming ever more committed to social justice, and ever less hospitable to dissenting views. I wanted to know if there was any political diversity in social psychology. So I asked for a show of hands. I knew it would be very lopsided. But I had no idea how much so. Roughly 80% of the thousand or so in the room self-identified as “liberal or left of center,” 2% (I counted exactly 20 hands) identified as “centrist or moderate,” 1% (12 hands) identified as libertarian, and, rounding to the nearest integer, zero percent (3 hands) identified as “conservative.”

As Haidt notes, much of the ”intellectual diversity” comes not from traditional conservatives but instead from libertarians. Thus, even the dissenters from progressive orthodoxy are often outright dismissive of social conservatism. 

Second, segments of the academy are so committed to “social justice” that it can’t even begin to do real academic work. In the context of discussing whether certain disciplines are “lost” to the Left, Haidt outlines the dominance of victim groups:

JONATHAN HAIDT: Anthro[pology] is completely lost. I mean, it’s really militant activists. They’ve taken the first step towards censoring Israel. They’re not going to have anything to do with Israeli scholars any more. So it’s now – it’s the seventh victim group. For many years now, there have been six sacred groups. You know, the big three are African-Americans, women and LGBT. That’s where most of the action is. Then there are three other groups: Latinos, Native Americans….

JOHN LEO: You have to say Latinx now.

JONATHAN HAIDT: I do not intend to say that. Latinos, Native Americans, and people with disabilities. So those are the six that have been there for a while. But now we have a seventh–Muslims. Something like 70 or 75 percent of America is now in a protected group. This is a disaster for social science because social science is really hard to begin with. And now you have to try to explain social problems without saying anything that casts any blame on any member of a protected group. And not just moral blame, but causal blame. None of these groups can have done anything that led to their victimization or marginalization.

So not only is the truth lost, even the pursuit of truth becomes problematic. And finally, Haidt says that it will only get worse. Why? Because we’re raising our children to be weak:

JONATHAN HAIDT: The big thing that really worries me – the reason why I think things are going to get much, much worse – is that one of the causal factors here is the change in child-rearing that happened in America in the 1980s. With the rise in crime, amplified by the rise of cable TV, we saw much more protective, fearful parenting. Children since the 1980s have been raised very differently–protected as fragile. The key psychological idea, which should be mentioned in everything written about this, is Nassim Taleb’s concept of anti-fragility.

JOHN LEO: What’s the theory?

JONATHAN HAIDT: That children are anti-fragile. Bone is anti-fragile. If you treat it gently, it will get brittle and break. Bone actually needs to get banged around to toughen up. And so do children. I’m not saying they need to be spanked or beaten, but they need to have a lot of unsupervised time, to get in over their heads and get themselves out. And that greatly decreased in the 1980s. Anxiety, fragility and psychological weakness have skyrocketed in the last 15-20 years. So, I think millennials come to college with much thinner skins. And therefore, until that changes, I think we’re going to keep seeing these demands to never hear anything offensive.

The last point is crucial. As a parent of teenagers, I’ve noticed the incredible extent to which even some of my conservative Christian peers will go to protect their kids from any kind of harm — not just from physical dangers but from the natural disappointments and heartbreaks of growing up. There is an almost desperate desire to make life perfect, to help children fulfill their every dream. If we don’t stop, we won’t just kill our universities, we’ll kill our culture.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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