July 22, 2019


The High Priest of Heterodoxy: Jonathan Haidt's early work attempted to explain the origins of our political differences. His new Heterodox Academy is looking for ways to move past them. (David Mikics, 7/22/19, Tablet)

In his most recent book, The Coddling of the American Mind, Haidt soft pedals the evolutionary biology he relied on in his previous works, The Happiness Hypothesis and The Righteous Mind. The Coddling of the American Mind, was co-authored with Greg Lukianoff, the CEO and president of FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Building on earlier work by the two authors, the book argues that free speech is the means by which a society preserves its connection to reality and prevents myths and slogans--whether progressive or reactionary--from overpowering facts. The cost in America of abandoning the commitment to free speech is evident, Lukianoff and Haidt say, by the armies of the righteous on both left and right gathering power to force their extremism on everyone else. 

The current anti-free-speech plague, Haidt and Lukianoff write, began in 2017. That was the year, fresh off the election of Donald Trump, when the UC Berkeley administration refused to restrain the violent demonstrators, many affiliated with the left-wing group Antifa, protesting a planned speech by Milo Yiannopoulos. Berkeley did not discipline a single student for smashing windows and beating up people who had the bad luck to get in the way of their rage. "The clear sign of being afraid of your students is that you will say nothing, nothing, that suggests that they are wrong," Haidt said at the Heterodox conference. "I can only name one example from a university president" of standing up to students, he added: Oberlin's former President Marvin Krislov, who refused in 2016 to respond to student protesters' "nonnegotiable" demands. 

The Coddling of the American Mind targets the progressive taboos that stop us from addressing the issues that progressives, paradoxically, are most concerned about. Haidt and Lukianoff quote Jeannie Suk Gersen, a Harvard law professor who says that discussing rape law in the classroom "has become so difficult that teachers are starting to give up on the subject."  She adds that if law professors stop mentioning sexual assault, that "would be a tremendous loss--above all to victims of sexual assault." 

The current student progressives differ from their '60s forebears because they deem themselves fragile, liable to be harmed by, for instance, depictions of women being treated badly by men. (I've experienced a few such objections myself when teaching college students books that show violence against women.) And so professors become PR agents for the masculine gender, carefully avoiding books that describe male brutality. After all, students are easily triggered, and they will be healthy and safe--so the story goes--if they can avoid triggers altogether. Meanwhile, campus health services pander to students who think themselves too psychologically fragile to handle disturbing opinions in the classroom. Not surprisingly, given the incentives created in these institutions, on some elite campuses 1 in 4 students consider themselves disabled, a huge spike from a few years ago. Our current idea is that higher education exists to protect young adults from stress, which as Haidt and Lukianoff point out is not the way to promote their future success in life, much less their strength of soul and open-mindedness. 

The reason college students see themselves as fragile beings who need protection is that they are shellshocked from the social media shame culture that has taken over our high schools. A few years ago, Haidt and Lukianoff write, Gen Z arrived on campus: kids born around 1996 who grew up with social media. "That's when things started to get weird," Haidt said at the Heterodox conference. "Safe? What do you mean? You don't feel safe because a book was assigned?" Gen Z, Haidt says, was given free range on social media but had vastly overprotected childhoods in every other way. The result: a college age culture in which self-righteously deriding other people is a sign of virtue, and everyone fears being called out. "We've got to get the age of social media raised from 13," Haidt said at Heterodox. "Girls in the fourth grade are getting Instagram accounts--all you do is lie about your age." 

"The recent spike in students' anxiety and depression is like nothing else in history," Haidt added, because they grew up exposed to online bullying and know they could be the next victim. Their aggression comes from fear that they might be pilloried themselves if they don't think or say the right things. College administrations fuel this paranoia. At NYU, for instance, posters urge students to call a "bias response hotline." "It's like East Germany," Haidt said to Bari Weiss in a 2017 Wall Street Journal interview, with the woke students playing the role of the Stasi. 

Removing all obstacles in your kids' way leaves them unprepared for life.

A Peculiarly Dutch Summer Rite: Children Let Loose in the Night Woods: It may sound extreme, but it's normal in the Netherlands. (Ellen Barry, July 21, 2019, NY Times)

Shortly after 10 p.m. on a recent night, a car came to a stop at the edge of the woods. The door opened to release three children: towheaded boys of 12 and 15, and a 12-year-old girl with dark pigtails and an emoji-covered backpack. Then the driver threw the car into gear and sped away, gravel crunching under its tires.

They were tiny figures at the foot of the forest, miles from the summer camp they were attending, with only a primitive GPS to indicate the right direction. Darkness was falling. And they were alone.

They peered into the night: Was this the path?

"Could be," said Thomas, the 12-year-old team leader.

And then, because there was nothing else to do, they plunged into the woods.

This is the Dutch scouting tradition known as a "dropping," in which groups of children, generally pre-teenagers, are deposited in a forest and expected to find their way back to base. It is meant to be challenging, and they often stagger in at 2 or 3 in the morning.

Posted by at July 22, 2019 12:00 AM