Would you rather your child went to a university which promotes rigorous debate and the search for truth, or a coddling daycare centre which seeks to shelter young adults from contradictory opinions and unpleasant facts while enthusiastically validating their every life choice?
In this short, entertaining lecture delivered to American high school seniors preparing for college, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt (and co-author of “The Coddling Of The American Mind“) switches between characters to portray two different university recruitment speakers, one representing Strengthen University and the other attempting to attract students to Coddle University.
Strengthen U. is described in these terms:
We are kind of a cult. We worship truth – this is our sacred value. We will throw anything overboard if it conflicts with this sacred value. In fact, the one act of sacrilege in our school is dishonesty.
Our motto actually comes more recently, from Thomas Jefferson: “For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”
[..] So at Strengthen University, we offer hard classes. Everybody doesn’t get an A. You might even get some Ds, you might even fail a course. At Strengthen, we will not do anything to bolster your self esteem. We will teach you skills, we will give you opportunities to succeed, and if you do, you will feel very proud of yourself, you will deserve your self esteem. But we will not build it for you.
We will give you no safe spaces. We do not buy Play Doh and put it in safe spaces for students who feel “threatened”. We will never give you a trigger warning. When you are in a course, if the professor assigns a book we expect that you will not be destroyed by reading the book. If it has ideas you don’t like, we hope you’ll object.
At Strengthen, our sacred value is truth. And what that means is that we are very vigilant – that we never allow a climate in which our students feel they are walking on eggshells. If everybody is afraid of saying something, afraid that if they open their mouth and say what they think they’ll get pulled over by PC Principal [..] that is just death for free inquiry. So we will not allow that to happen.
So here’s the most dangerous thing you need to know about Strengthen University. Adults will not get involved in your relationships. Now think about this: what are you gonna do if somebody insults you? What are you gonna do if somebody uses a racial slur? What are you going to do if someone uses the N-word?
Now, for thousands of years – up until the 1990s – students dealt with this on their own. They might fight back, they might shame the person, they might talk to the person. Since the 1990s there have been speech codes that give adults authority to punish people who commit hate crimes or who use hate speech. What I’m telling you is that we are currently fighting the Department of Education on this, and we expect to win [..] and we expect that we will be legally allowed to stay out of your relationships. We expect you to handle it yourself.
While Coddle U. is pitched to the students in this way:
It’s a wonderful school, a very safe school, supportive school, I urge you to come. We were founded in 1965 based on the ideas of Herbert Marcuse, who was a German sociologist and political philosopher. He came to America – fleed the Nazis, did much of his work at Brandeis and many other schools.
At Coddle, our sacred value is Inclusion. We create a safe, welcoming space for all students. Any colour, any gender, any gender identity, whatever it is, we want to include you. Our sacrilege – the worst thing you can do at Coddle – is blame victims. We will not allow this, that is a violation of our sacred value. We don’t want anyone to feel excluded.
We have very good justification for this policy because the works of our founder, Dr. Marcuse. He wrote this wonderful essay in 1965, it was published in a book “A Critique of Pure Tolerance”, in which Marcuse explained why it is that things should not be tolerated if they impede “the chances of creating an existence without fear and misery”. Of course that’s our goal – don’t we all want the world to be free of fear and misery? So if certain kinds of actions and speech impede the creation of that world, why should we tolerate them?
[..] He goes on to describe what he calls “liberating tolerance”, which would mean intolerance against movements from the Right – because they are intolerant – and toleration of movements from the Left. We will make space for any movement from the Left, but we will not allow movements from the Right at Coddle University.
[..] We are based on a very simple psychology which is that people are fragile. People are so easily hurt. Anything that upsets you could trigger trauma, repressed trauma, unrepressed trauma, trauma that you somehow put up there in the closet and forgot to take – there’s trauma all over your mind and your memory. And we don’t want to trigger your trauma. That could damage you.
And this is especially true for members of the six protected classes [women, African Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ, differently abled, and Native Americans]. If you are a member of one of the six marginalised and oppressed groups you are especially vulnerable. You’ve been traumatised and oppressed your whole lives. Microaggression theory teaches us that when people repeatedly cut these little nicks, these little insults, these little exclusions, they don’t develop calluses, they bleed to death. And so we will not let you be cut while you are at Coddle. We will protect you. Now don’t try to do it yourself, that’s very dangerous. WE will protect YOU from aggression.
At Coddle University we offer access to therapists 24/7. Just dial 811 from any phone, or we have this new feature – just raise three fingers, go like this [he gestures] and we have sensors all around campus, go like this and a therapist will be airlifted right into you. We are a campus-wide safe space, there is no risk of exposure to non-progressive ideas. You will not find it in our curriculum, that would be triggering.
As amusing as this short video is, it is remarkable how little Jonathan Haidt had to exaggerate his pastiche of a modern liberal university campus. Save for the drones buzzing around, ready to winch fully-trained therapists down to soothe your emotional crisis at a moment’s notice, everything which Haidt talks about is already the norm on many campuses.
The curriculum is mutilated in an attempt to replace the western canon with “marginalised voices” of dubious lasting value.
Those who do not go along with the progressive orthodoxy are subject to violence and intimidation.
However, there are just a few encouraging signs that we might finally be approaching Peak SJW, that the sheer intolerance of academic freedom and debate shown by the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is becoming untenable within an academic environment. At the University of Missouri, scene of campus protests, sit-ins and hunger strikes in sympathy with the Black Lives Matter movement, new student enrolment is significantly down and financial crisis beckons. Turns out, many parents have qualms about sending their kids off to shrill social justice indoctrination factories when they could be getting a rigorous education elsewhere.
Jonathan Haidt’s presentation distils the issue neatly, and asks a group of young school-leavers what kind of institution they think will best serve their future interests – the overbearing, 24/7 watchfulness of Coddle U or the resilience and antifragility-building environment of Strengthen U.
It is a question which needs to be put to more school leavers as they make their decisions over which universities to apply to. Though the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is hard at work subverting secondary/high schools, for now it remains the case that most school leavers will not yet have been indoctrinated into the cult. There is a narrow, precious window to reach these young people to emphasise the importance of academic freedom, and Jonathan Haidt’s lecture should be required watching for all school-leavers.
In fact, combining thought-provoking talks like this with better information as to the state of academic freedom at different institutions (as with Spiked‘s Free Speech University Rankings) could help many students make better, more informed choices about which institution they choose to spend the next three or four years of their lives.
And while a pervasive hostility to conservative ideas and contempt for free speech may matter less to most students than a lively social scene and the prospect of cheap beer, those students who value academic freedom and robust debate should be given the information to vote with their feet.
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