Jonathan Haidt On The Social Justice Self-Destruction Of Our Universities

Jonathan Haidt discusses the madness which has taken hold of our colleges and universities

Social psychologist and author Jonathan Haidt has an excellent interview on The Rubin Report, talking about the takeover of universities in the English-speaking Western world by the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics.

The full 30 minute video is well worth a watch, but these selected observations in particular stand out.

On the cult-like nature of the new PC movement:

We love to identify something as a sacred object, like a rock or a tree. Traditional religions would make a person or a river, something as sacred. And then we circle around it, we worship it, we make sacrifices to it. And that’s the way religions have always worked.

Well, now that formal religions are fading out, we have these new moralistic religions. So – “fighting racism”. You know, very good cause. But when fighting racism becomes the centre of a religious cult, you get all these extreme policies. And this is what universities have been for several decades – they have been basically been cults devoted to fighting racism. Again, a good aim. But it has been warping research.

And as it applies to racism, so it applies to today’s transgender bathrooms furore in North Carolina and across the United States:

Everybody at university is totally in favour of gay rights, gay marriage, that’s been true for decades. And it’s the most amazing thing that American society just in that twenty years we go from like “no way, never!” to “wow, okay, I guess that’s the law of the land” and most people accept it. So twenty years, that’s amazing.

Okay, but now what’s weird is three years ago nobody knew a transgender person, nobody thought about it – it wasn’t on anybody’s radar. So to make it in three years from that to “You must do this!” – this, I think, is a bridge too far. And this, I think, Obama is going to be remembered for this, I think it’s gonna cause a lot of reaction, because the country was not ready for this and it’s not appropriate for the federal government – I can see why the supreme court would way in on marriage rights because marriage has to be coordinated among the states, I get that – bathrooms? The federal government, bathrooms? Did nobody read The Federalist Papers? Has nobody read the Constitution? This is nuts.

And once this battle has been won by the Social Justice Warriors, new demands will be made:

As certain elements of the social justice Left have been victorious on certain fronts, this is the newest battleground. And so this becomes an object of sort of sacredness and extreme devotion. So the way to understand all these moral movements is as a kind of a crusade that binds people together.

[..] A good moral and political movement needs a good clear enemy. So you must, you must believe that the other side is really strong and is adamant against you, and racism is everywhere, sexism is everywhere, transphobia is everywhere, homophobia is everywhere. So you need a good solid enemy. And even though universities are the most anti-racist, anti-sexist places in the country, but it’s an article of faith that they are institutionally racist, institutionally sexist.

So it’s an incoherent movement if you look at it from the outside, but psychologically it’s very standard sort of Manichean, Us versus Them religion.

And on victimhood culture, and the hierarchy of the oppressed:

What’s happening is kind of a moral movement on campus, where the sort of social justice Left – and you find this on every campus, you find a group, they’ll meet, they’ll often take gender studies courses and intersectionality stuff, all that stuff – so you’ll have a group which is very much in an Us versus Them mindset. And everybody on every side thinks they’re the victim, that’s what’s so interesting here.

[..] So there’s seven. So there’s the big three, which is where almost all the controversy, almost all the stuff on campus is about, so it’s African Americans, women and LGBTs. That’s what almost everything is on campus. Then there’s what you might call the little three – not that they’re small, just less prominent – and that is Latino, handicapped of any kind, and Native Americans. Those are the six that have been around for decades. Just in the last year it’s Muslims. So the Left – and this is very alarming to me, I’m Jewish, and suddenly to say, you know, Jews are oppressors, Jews are evil, so there’s a lot of sympathy on the Left.

Also fascinating is the breakdown by subject – the illiberal, regressive Left has utterly captured some sections of the university while others are holding out far better:

The illiberal Left is a small portion, and then the liberal left – because liberals traditionally believed in freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of thought – so the illiberal Left has everybody else scared. It’s the students overwhelmingly. Because the students – everyone is afraid of the students. Students are afraid of the students, professors are afraid of the students. So the illiberal Left make these demands, they march into the president’s office, they demand this and that, they accuse everybody of racism and sexism, and because everybody is on the Left and everybody is afraid of the students, nobody stands up.

So when the Christakis at Yale [see here for more on the Yale Halloween Costume Drama of 2015]  so within three days there was a giant petition, five hundred Yale professors backing the students. Well, I had one of my research assistants find out what departments they’re all in, it was gender studies, film studies, English, it was that stuff. So the humanities, they’re totally onboard with this. The humanities are full of illiberal leftists.

Four weeks later, a small petition, forty names, mostly STEM – mostly scientists. So the natural scientists are still liberals, they believe in openness, they believe in debate. So that’s what you have to keep in mind. The problem comes out of the humanities, the social sciences are in the middle, and the question is where does the illiberal Left have such dominance that the professors are afraid to speak?

And finally, on the nascent fightback:

The methods that the students have demanded – more social justice training, more bias reporting systems, anonymous reporting systems, diversity training – these are going to make things so much worse.

And what I’m really encouraged by is this: outside the university, everyone thinks they’re crazy. And so the first university presidents who just caved in – so Peter Salovey at Yale, Christina Paxson at Brown, the first university presidents who were faced with a mob of angry students just said “woah, you’re right! We’re so racist! Brown is racist, Brown is racist, oh my god! Here’s fifty million dollars!”, Peter Salovey said. A hundred million dollars for diversity! So the first presidents did that.

What happens? The alumni are like, “what are you doing?! What are you doing to our – no. We’re not giving to you any more”. And Missouri, things are way down in Missouri, they’re in big trouble. The first presidents all caved in. But then they started hearing from alumni, they were laughing stocks, everyone was making fun of them, and so now we’re seeing some presidents willing to stand up because they know that if they cave in they are going to be made fun of forever and they care about their legacy.

The same situation has been observed in Britain, with leaders of Oriel College at Oxford University scrambling to backtrack on lavish concessions granted to angry “Rhodes Must Fall” students after being contacted by furious alumni and finding major pledged donations suddenly in calamitous jeopardy.

Haidt’s conclusion:

So I think we have turned a corner. Presidents aren’t just going to lie down and give in any more, that’s one. Alumni are mad as hell, they’re saying “we’re not giving if you do this because we believe in free speech and we don’t want to turn it into a left wing propaganda factory”. And I think we’re gonna see more students rising up, we’re not that yet. I mean, there are conservative groups on each campus but even they are often afraid to speak up. But I think next year we are going to see a lot more students standing up, alumni standing up, so I think the tide is turning.

I hope and pray that this is the case. But as Britain lags a couple of years behind the United States in the progression of the disease, it could well be that remission is similarly further away.


So I think things are going to change when the younger – when the high school kids now, kids who are in high school now, when they join in laughing at these silly campus snowflakes, at students who are afraid to see a photograph or hear a word – so I think mockery and humour is actually the way that honour revolutions happen. So keep up the mockery and humour, I say, good work.

That certainly chimes with the message of this blog – see here and here.

Haidt himself admits to having been pushed from being first left-wing to centrist, and then again to a sometimes libertarian stance by these developments. And one suspects that Haidt is far from alone in this – that many people with absolutely no racist or homophobic tendencies are nonetheless being alienated by a social justice movement which preaches collective guilt and brings shrill charges of heresy against anybody who does not instantly conform 100% to the latest Newspeak.

This relates to the remarkable lack of magnanimity shown by the victors of the culture wars towards those whose only crime was not to be in the vanguard of change, loudly cheering from the front – something picked up on by Andrew Sullivan, among others.

But then Jonathan Haidt and Andrew Sullivan are just middle-aged white males, so what would they know about anything?


Jonathan Haidt - Social Justice

Bottom Image: The American Conservative

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