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 discussion began, and it was the most unremittingly hostile questioning I’ve ever had. I don’t mind when people ask hard or critical questions, but I was surprised that I had misread the audience so thoroughly. My talk had little to do with gender, but the second question was “So you think rape is OK?”
Like most of the questions, it was backed up by a sea of finger snaps — the sort you can hear in the infamous Yale video, where a student screams at Prof. Christakis to “be quiet” and tells him that he is “disgusting.” I had never heard the snapping before. When it happens in a large auditorium it is disconcerting. It makes you feel that you are facing an angry and unified mob — a feeling I have never had in 25 years of teaching and public speaking.
After the first dozen questions I noticed that not a single questioner was male. I began to search the sea of hands asking to be called on and I did find one boy, who asked a question that indicated that he too was critical of my talk. But other than him, the 200 or so boys in the audience sat silently.
After the Q&A, I got a half-standing ovation: almost all of the boys in the room stood up to cheer. And after the crowd broke up, a line of boys came up to me to thank me and shake my hand. Not a single girl came up to me afterward.
This is extremely bad news for America because it is very hard to have an effective democracy without compromise. But rising cross-partisan hostility means that Americans increasingly see the other side not just as wrong but as evil, as a threat to the very existence of the nation, according to Pew Research. Americans can expect rising polarization, nastiness, paralysis, and governmental dysfunction for a long time to come.
This is a warning for the rest of the world because some of the trends that have driven America to this point are occurring in many other countries, including: rising education and individualism (which make people more ideological), rising immigration and ethnic diversity (which reduces social capital and trust), and stagnant economic growth (which puts people into a zero-sum mindset).
This is extremely bad news for science and universities because universities are usually associated with the left. In the United States, universities have moved rapidly left since 1990, when the left-right ratio of professors across all departments was less than two to one. By 2004, the left-right ratio was roughly five to one, and it is still climbing. In the social sciences and humanities it is far higher. Because this political purification is happening at a time of rising cross-partisan hostility, we can expect increasing hostility from Republican legislators toward universities and the things they desire, including research funding and freedom from federal and state control.
Had progressives wanted to stem the tide of cultural libertarianism, the time to do it was a year ago. They could have edged back, been reasonable and won us all over. But instead they doubled down. Fine: now they get to lose. Let’s defend culture and free expression and push these odious halfwits back into their dreary studio apartments filled with cat-piss and alt rock records and let them know that we’ve decided to opt out of the soft bigotry of San Francisco-style nonsense. We possess a working sense of humour and we’re going to use it whether they like it or not.
Let’s hope. He’s a good general to lead the charge.