Jonathan Haidt has a new book out, the hugely anticipated The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, with co-author Greg Lukianoff. On Reddit and related communities, a lot people are talking about this book. I plan to read it, and I think Scott will probably do a review of it soon. The book is inspired by an August 2015 Atlantic article by the same authors, The Coddling of the American Mind.
It’s hard to overstate just how important this article was. It went viral pretty much everywhere it was shared, from Facebook, to Reddit, and Twitter. It was shared on over 80 individual Reddit subs, which is the most I have ever seen any single article shared, and each share got anywhere from hundreds to even thousands of up-votes. It sparked a huge national conversation/debate about American college students being too overprotected, and as the title suggests, coddled from potentially ‘offensive’ ideas at the cost of intellectual freedom and the ‘pursuit of knowledge’. It was even featured on the popular NBC News show Morning Joe. Millions of people, of all political stripes, could relate, which is why it went so viral. Liberals found themselves nodding in agreement, that, yes, universities are not about sheltering students from ideas but rather opening them up to them. Conservatives also could agree that young people are possibly too easily offended, too overprotected, and that feeling offended is not tantamount to assault. Universities are not supposed to be daycare centers; rather, thy are supposed to give young people the tools and knowledge they need to be effective, educated adults. This article laid the bedrock for the rise of Jordan Peterson just a year later with his now-famous C-16 hearing, which also took the internet by storm, and Dr. Peterson’s ascent continues uninterrupted to this day. Haidt and Peterson, whose fans share a large ideological and demographic overlap, are in agreement that ‘the Academy’ and the state of the ‘liberal arts’ is in deep trouble. And then there is the rise of Quillette.com, an online magazine founded by Australian graduate student Claire Lehmann, which also shares similar themes as those explored by Peterson and Haidt, and has also seen immense growth in popularity over the past year as part of the overall rise of what is now called the ‘IDW’. But it’s not so much about ideological agreement, but about a shared style of discourse that favors nuance and rationality, in contrast to the shrill hyper-partisanship and emotiveness of social media and the mainstream media.
But what about the_Donald…isn’t that an example of hyper-partisan discourse? How can one reconcile Haidt and Peterson, who repudiate identity politics and partisanship, with the_Donald? The answer is external vs. internal value systems. On the_Donald, the partisan headlines sorta serve as a deterrent to keep ‘the left’ out. It sends a message “if you are a leftist, you won’t enjoy it here! You don’t belong here,” but also it is used to signal in-group/tribal identity among like-minded members, that Trump is ‘good’ and Hillary and such are ‘bad’. This is the external value system, which is more overt. The internal one, however, is more aligned with Jordan Peterson, who is held in high regard by Trump supporters despite the latter’s repudiation of identity politics; in the comments, empiricism, fact-based reasoning, and nuanced discourse is valued, and also there is the tacit understanding by the_Donald members that hyper-partisanship is not a goal or an end, but rather a response to the left’s own hyper-partisanship. And of course, both Jordan Peterson and the_Donald supporters agree with the premise of Haidt’s writing regarding university students being coddled and intolerant of opposing views. Both Haidt and members the_Donald share the same internal value system that appreciates intellectual freedom and curiosity.