My conversation with Jonathan Haidt

This one is transcript and podcast only, no video, and we will be doing some more in that format.  Jonathan was in top form, here are a few bits:

COWEN: If we get to a very fundamental question — left‑wing individuals and right‑wing individuals, and let’s take, for now, only America. As people, in other ways, how different do you think they are?

Or, is it just there are these semi‑accidental triggers which have set off certain modules in the left‑wingers and different modules in the right‑wingers, but otherwise they’re going to dress the same, they’re going to treat their spouses the same way, or not? Are they fundamentally different?

HAIDT: Not fundamentally different, but different in predispositions. The most important finding in psychology in the last 50 to 100 years, I would say, is the finding that everything you can measure is heritable. The heritability coefficients vary between 0.3 and 0.6, or 30 to 60 percent of the variance, under some assumptions, can be explained by the genes. It’s the largest piece of variance we can explain.

If you and I were twins separated at birth and raised in different families, our families would pick which religions we were raised in and they would pick how often we go to church or synagogue, but once we’re out on our own, we’re going to both converge on our brain’s natural level of religiosity.

Same with politics, whether you’re on the right or left is not determined by your genes, but you’re predisposed.


COWEN: If you’re in a swing state in, say, proverbial southern Ohio and in a natural setting you meet a person. With what probability do you think you can guess or forecast if they’re left‑wing or right‑wing? Even-up would be 0.5.

HAIDT: Probably 0.58, 0.57. People are incredibly variable.


COWEN: Would it be a partial test of your theory if we looked at a lot of different cultures and asked, “Who are the people who dress neatly and who have a lot of calendars and stamps?” to measure whether those were typically the conservatives?

HAIDT: Yes, that would be a test.


COWEN: For gay individuals, maybe not all minorities, but many minorities this is very much a positive thing. If morality is fundamentally so nonrational or arational in some key ways, is it not the case we’re always either undershooting or overshooting the target, that we can never hit it just right?

Maybe for America to be more tolerant, you need the norms to be quite crude and blunt, and overstated, and we get this political correctness. Yes it’s bad, but maybe it’s less bad then when we used to undershoot the target?

Jonathan had a good answer but it is too long to excerpt.

COWEN: Let’s say you’re Brown or Yale, and students set up a lacrosse team, and they call it the Brown Redskins, and they do some rituals which offend some people. No matter what the intent would be, should Brown or Yale step in and say, “You can’t do that?”

HAIDT: There’s a big, big line between saying, “Brown or Yale should step in and tell people what they can’t — .” In general I think no, in general the idea — .

COWEN: No they shouldn’t step in?

HAIDT: They should not step in. We should be extremely limited when we say that authorities can step in and change things. The very fact of doing that encourages microaggression culture, encourages students to orient themselves towards appealing to these authorities. The point of the microaggression article is young people these days have become moral dependents.


COWEN: Let me try another analogy on you. You mentioned the army, but take private corporations, and Brown and Yale are in a sense private corporations. Harvard was originally. I wouldn’t call them restrictions on free speech, I think that’s the wrong phrase, but if one’s going to use the phrase that way, there are numerous restrictions on free speech within companies, at the work place.

If you went to the water cooler and said a number of offensive things, you would be asked to stop and eventually fired, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. So if we think of Brown, Yale, or Harvard as like a normal company, isn’t there still even with all the nonsense, a lot more free speech on campus than in actual companies?

HAIDT: Yes, and there should be. Again, a company is organized to be effective in the world. Just like the army where their priority is unit cohesion, in a company your goal isn’t to encourage everyone to express their values and criticize each other, your goal is to get them to work together.

There is much much more, including on LSD, Sigmund Freud (overrated or underrated), Cecil Rhodes, how Jonathan would change undergraduate admissions, whether behavioral economics is realizing its full potential, Adam Smith, antiparsimonialism, the replication crisis in psychology, and whether Jonathan enjoys eating insects.


COWEN: If you look at dentists, they’re pretty Republican. Doctors lean heavily Democratic. Superficially, they’re doing similar things. They’re taking care of bodies.

My understanding is that one strong predictor relates to whether the doctors and dentists are in private practice or employees of a large hospital. Dentists are mostly private practice or partners, and tend to be Republican like other small business owners. Doctors used to be considerably more Republican, but there's been a large move towards being hospital employees instead of private practice.

Maybe for America to be more tolerant, you need the norms to be quite crude and blunt, and overstated, and we get this political correctness. Yes it’s bad, but maybe it’s less bad then when we used to undershoot the target?

There's something to this, but if the norms are going to be crude and blunt and overstated, then they need to either be predictable (which is tricky when the standards of politeness shift) or make some allowance for people making honest mistakes. Everyone can try to be polite, but people with lower emotional and other intelligence who are worse at reading a room or detecting norms that are in place are not always going to succeed, despite honest effort. Like anything else (including with other forms of discrimination) if they feel like it's a game whose rules change all the time that they can't win, they're going to stop playing.

That suggests learning is involved, which it likely is. The hazard of genetic explanations is they become a substitute for other thinking and variability until free will itself has been banished.

Possibly true. As much as this:

"The hazard of cultural explanations is they become a substitute for other thinking and variability until free will itself has been banished."

Indeed. The problem is that it's difficult (or at least difficult for me) to think that people are much other than the sum of nature and nurture. Neither of which is at all within an individual's control- to the degree that an individual changes their environment they do so only insofar as the are able given their nature, and their previous nurture. If I look at things as objectively as I can the only conclusion I can come to is that in some ultimate sense no one is responsible for anything.

That's not a very practical way of looking at things, simply because the degree to which we hold people accountable for their actions forms part of their nurture, and we seem to be designed to do so mainly by attributing agency to them. I'm not fond of the term "free will," because I think it ill-defined. But again, practically, I think we are much better off acting as if we believe in "free will" even if we aren't able to even define it. Luckily we seem to be made in such a way that we have little choice in the matter- on a purely intellectual level I might think that if you do me "wrong" (whatever that might mean, or not mean) it is simply because that is how you are made, but I will in fact resent and blame you for it, not as a matter of calculation, but because that is how I am made.

This is related to an idea I'm immodest enough to call "Tagore's wager" (I'm sure it must have been put forward many times by many people, because it is an obvious idea, but I haven't really ever seen anyone before me argue for it seriously- likely a gap in my education.) Tagore's wager is the proposition that we should believe in "free will" because it is the only correct choice we can make. If there is no free will our belief in free will is predetermined, and we cannot choose one way or another. If there is free will then we will have chosen incorrectly if we choose not to believe in it. This argument specious, but less so than Pascal's more famous wager, IMHO.

Good hypothesis. I also wonder if it's a function of demographics.

e.g. We import quite a few doctors who were educated abroad. I don't think a similar dynamic exists for Dental School.

Also, the changing composition of women and asians making up the rolls of MD graduates. Has dental school at any point in the last 30 years lagged medical school in bring women/asians into the fold?

My impression scanning the names of the doors of various offices, is that the field of dentistry is quite a bit more white and male then the medical fields as a whole.

Bringing up women raises the issue of marginal differences b/w masculine vs. feminine dispositions.

A couple dentists I know told me that the reason they chose dentistry was that it allowed them to work with their hands and with tools, and to immediately see the tangible results of their work...but get paid more than a mechanic, carpenter, etc. might. I wonder if this sentiment is fairly common (even if it's not as explicitly and consciously considered by others who hold it).

If so, then perhaps dentists, at the margin, are more like engineers or computer scientists, i.e., drawn to profession that are a bit of a magnet for those w/, for lack of a better term, masculine ways of thinking/feeling?

I wonder if something similar might exist among, say, orthopedic surgeons (perhaps after controlling for other influences mentioned in this thread, e.g., hospital vs. private practice).

That is absolutely true. Surgeons are much more likely to be Republicans, while psychiatrists lean heavily Democrat.

Everyone can try to be polite, but people with lower emotional and other intelligence who are worse at reading a room or detecting norms that are in place are not always going to succeed, despite honest effort. Like anything else (including with other forms of discrimination) if they feel like it’s a game whose rules change all the time that they can’t win, they’re going to stop playing.

Greta point. How does inclusion on the basis of race/gender/etc clash with inclusion of people with autism spectrum disorders?
It's likely that ASD people are going to frequently commit unintentional microaggressions.

I would bet there's also probably like 0.75 SD in IQ between dentists and doctors.

Come now. In my experience doctors are not that dumb.

It's probably not that large considering dentists typically earn more than engineers.

How many people show up at ERs with dental emergencies, who are then referred to dentists to have their dental health problems paid by charity or Medicaid?

I'd say 90% of dentists see only patients who can afford to pay at least the costs of care, ie, the dentist will work out a way for the patient to pay for the sterile pack plus hygienist labor costs, and he'll do his exam for free and not charge for the use of the chair. And he will give them the "treatment" for free, tooth brush and floss, maybe suggesting alternatives to toothpaste. He'll do an x-ray only if he needs to.

Oral surgeons will see the critical cases, but only once, and do the simple extraction and treatment with antibiotics in the office. Maybe a follow up visit.

Doctors, on the other hand, are faced with the office visit being only the beginning of an ongoing series of patient costs that for too many are a strain on their finances.

Cutting off toes of a diabetic and sending them home with a toothbrush and dental floss is not an option. Telling a patient who can't afford to pay you to spend twice as much on a better diet in the hopes that will cure diabetes that has led to amputations is not an option.

I worked with a Brit with bad teeth in the 90s and a tooth ache, and he explained that it was part of the Brit culture to have all your teeth extracted at young age, and never to brush of floss. The subject was also in the news as dentists were trying to improve UK dental health by getting NHS to cover it. On the other hand, for generally health care, he was happy to be a contractor with no benefits because he could just get on a plane and fly back to the UK for the free health care.

(Btw, I remember 60 years ago being taught about brushing teeth in public school, perhaps because I was told I was doing in wrong in front of classmates when asked to show the class how to brush the monster teeth with monster brush.)

In my experience, there is a political gap between the physicians who work in small groups in private practice and those employed in large academic medical centers. Private practice leans Republican, those who work in academic centers tend to be Democrats.

'The most important finding in psychology in the last 50 to 100 years, I would say, is the finding that everything you can measure is heritable.'

Language development is intrinsically social, not heritable. A person without exposure to language will not develop it beyond a seemingly minimal level and yet, language development can be empirically measured - such as in the case of Genie.

I think that is appeal to a false state of nature.

A sharper criticism IMO is that low coefficients are generalized to be the "one" explanation in many crowds.

"The heritability coefficients vary between 0.3 and 0.6, or 30 to 60 percent of the variance, under some assumptions, can be explained by the genes."

We will see some in these pages say "well then, forget other factors."

The case of Genie is quite well documented - 'There have been a number of cases of feral children raised in social isolation with little or no human contact. Few have captured public and scientific attention like that of young girl called Genie. She spent almost her entire childhood locked in a bedroom, isolated and abused for over a decade. Genie's case was one of the first to put the critical period theory to the test. Could a child reared in utter deprivation and isolation develop language? Could a nurturing environment make up for a horrifying past?'

If not precisely definitive - 'Genie's Language Progress

Despite scoring at the level of a one-year-old upon her initial assessment, Genie quickly began adding new words to her vocabulary. She started by learning single words and eventually began putting two words together much the way young children do. Curtiss began to feel that Genie would be fully capable of acquiring language.

After a year of treatment, she even started putting three words together occasionally. In children going through normal language development, this stage is followed by what is known as a language explosion. Children rapidly acquire new words and begin putting them together in novel ways. Unfortunately, this never happened for Genie. Her language abilities remained stuck at this stage and she appeared unable to apply grammatical rules and use language in a meaningful way. At this point, her progress leveled off and her acquisition of new language halted.

While Genie was able to learn some language after puberty, her inability to use grammar (which Chomsky suggests is what separates human language from animal communication) offers evidence for the critical period hypothesis.

Of course, Genie's case is not so simple. Not only did she miss the critical period for learning language, she was also horrifically abused. She was malnourished and deprived of cognitive stimulation for most of her childhood. Researchers were also never able to fully determine if Genie suffered from pre-existing cognitive deficits. As an infant, a pediatrician had identified her as having some type of mental delay. So researchers were left to wonder whether Genie had suffered from cognitive deficits caused by her years of abuse or if she had been born with some degree of mental retardation.'

"Given certain assumptions" is the key. Obviously if you kill someone they will stop growing, so in a sense height is intrinsically social, if you think that is a useful way of looking at it.

'so in a sense height is intrinsically social, if you think that is a useful way of looking at it.'

Why would anyone look at it that way is the question, particularly as the quote was in reference to measurements in psychology.

Admittedly, some might consider language and its acquisition to have nothing to do with psychology, or at least otherwise try to dismiss the reality that language is neither inherited, nor does it exist apart from a shared social context. (Do note that language and communication are not the same thing - one important distinction is the ability of language to extend its scope through the use of already existing elements. A shout of alarm communicates alarm, whereas language can be used to explain the cause of that alarm.)

It's fine if you find wild children interesting, but I think the sample size is too small for broad conclusion about human nature. For human nature I'd go for the big population, maybe 10 billion currently living and in the historical context, who were raised in language and culture.

and yes, per Cliff, many of those were killed and stopped growing.

'It’s fine if you find wild children interesting, but I think the sample size is too small for broad conclusion about human nature'

The sample size of those who have acquired language demonstrates that language is only possible in a social setting. The 'wild children' only demonstrate, with a few faint caveats (in Genie's case, maltreatment and an early opinion of delayed development, for example), that there is no inherited capacity for language that exists independently of a shared social context, particularly at certain stages of normal human development (often considered to be a window that closes around 7 or so, based on the limited sample of feral children).

This is truly neither revolutionary nor disputed. Nor is it a conclusion about human nature. It is, however, an empirical refutation of the idea expressed in the original quote - 'The most important finding in psychology in the last 50 to 100 years, I would say, is the finding that everything you can measure is heritable.’

Language acquisition measurement is considerably more empirical than most psychological measurements, of course, being based on actual quantifiable data, which can be collected and compared over longer time scales and large populations.

This only matters to me because I think one of the worst things you can do to yourself is to become rooted to a "imagine a man alone in the wilderness" origin story. You know, then develop theories about barter and exchange, a libertarian village formed. I think highly cognitive but socially limited people fall victim to that all the time.

Fact is humans lived in tribes before they were humans. Whatever proto-economics we developed came from a social setting. Hence discussions about whether debt or money came first and the rest. (I think evidence that borrowing and favor-tracking came first is pretty clear.)

And of course heritability coefficients have played in a social setting, since before we were human.

My understanding is that brains are more plastic at a younger age and that young children are more able to rapidly learn language.

You can absolutely learn second, third or tenth languages in your adult life, but you will never have the fluency of a native language learner. You will have to learn all the rules by rote (eventually many will feel natural, and as you get a more intuitive sense for the language, can guess many correctly), and many idioms, expressions and other odditities in language/culture will remain somewhat impermeable compareed to the level of understanding of someone who learned the language in its cultural context at a young age.

I know a Canadian Chinese girl who moved to Canada at a fairly young age and has a degree in English literature and impeccable grammar and spelling, but her parents still mostly speak Cantonese, and many figures of speech and other linguistic odditities still go completely over her head, and she can only learn them one by one as a matter of fact, not in any sort of intuitive way. I think this is rather norma.

Yep. Perhaps the proper test of heritability here is to compare plastic children. Once plasticity diminishes, you've lost your test window.

Speaking of language, I was a bit surprised that Pinker wasn't mentioned (i.e., facility for language is nature, the specific language you speak is nurture).

Any time someone is quoting a percentage of variance explained, they must always be talking about a reference population, because different populations have different fractions of their variance explained by different factors. Likewise, "everything you can measurable" clearly means "the large majority of everything normal researchers might want to and can actually measure in practice". In this case, the population is either all humans (or those in the Western world, or the US), and the point is that the number that have been raised without language socialization is vanishingly small, so the answer to "Were you raised by parents speaking a language?" explains very little of the observed differences in language.

Likewise, the statement than 80% of height is explained by genetics only applies to a population where most people get adequate nutrition. In a hunter-gather society, or specially a population hit by famine, your nutrition during childhood will explain much more of the variance than it normally does.

The quote referenced heritability and psychological measurements. Language acquisition can be empirically measured, and yet acquiring language is only possible in a social setting. There is essentially no nature/nurture debate when it comes to language acquisition - language is something that is only acquired through association with other people.

This is what I meant by a false state of nature. Homo Sapiens have only ever survived in a social setting, the unfortunate outliers quickly died.

'This is what I meant by a false state of nature.'

Ah, here I was thinking that it was in reference to feral children.

'Homo Sapiens have only ever survived in a social setting, the unfortunate outliers quickly died.'

Well, then one would assume you also find that Haidt quote to be utterly ridiculous, and trivially easy to disprove with something that everyone here is familiar with.

I am not a genetic determinist, but I have no problem with predispositions or that they play in human culture.

anon - I think the "predisposition" bit is critical in understanding how this might be overstated.

You might find that heritability of, say, math skills is 30%. But perhaps this reflects something more like 5% heritability, but, then, those children observing that they are somewhat better, end up specializing their time into developing maths skills. Similarly, for behaviour stuff, perhaps you're just 5% more "naturall" shy, but then the way that people treat you reinforces this, leading to a relatively minor genetic difference having outsized effects in observed differences.

For a more obvious example, consider someone who is, say, 1% naturally better at basketball. He observes that he's the best basketball player around, and so spends 5 hours a day developing these skills, which, anyways, make him feel good because he's better at it. The observed result is, say, 30% heritability, but this ignores how effects can compound in society, and most especially in a capitalist society where extraordinary earning potential may accompany being just slightly better than the next option.

For another example which is less obviously connected to behaviour, but illustrates the effect of small differences in a capitalist system, consider models. Perhaps one model is 0.01% naturally more beautiful than the other. But, 0.01% naturally beautiful can be the difference between being the most famous and wealthy model on the planet and being a highly tipped waitress at the local bar.

I really fail to understand your point other than the trivial. Certainly, language development among those not raised by wolves is significantly genetically determined

Yes. The fact that certain genetic capacities require an environmental stimulus to develop normally does not mean those capacities are not genetically determined.

Maybe he means that *which* language you speak isn't genetically determined. A Western European baby raised in China will grow up speaking Chinese.

Hazel - it would be rather interesting if we could identify whether the specific ability to learn one language rather than others might have a degree of genetic determination. For example, many Asian languages include a lot of tonality which is critical to correctly using the language.

Of course, as an adult learner of an Asian language, it is very easy for me to forget the correct tones (I previously learned most of them correctly, but even though I remember much of the phonetics for mandarin, just a couple years of non-use and I forget basically all the tones, and would have to painstakingly relearn them one by one for each word (character) in order to be understood).

I would be very surprised if that were the case.

But I think the argument here seems to be that linguistic ability is totally social. Not which language you learn, but how good you are at writing and speaking and learning languages. But that's totally not bourne out by the evidence. Sure, you can stunt someone's linguistic development by raising them in complete isolation, but two kids raised in identical normal human (i.e. social) environments, some of them are going to be better at writing than others. Some are going to be better at learning foreign languages than others, and those things are genetically determined (notwithstanding your reinforcing effects).

That's what anon is talking about. Using feral children as evidence is a bit like studying children born without arms and then saying that using tools has to be socially learned because those kids who have to pick up utensils with their toes require such intense training.

Yes, I think you're basically right.

I divert somewhat, to draw the link between learning to write and language development in general. In Chinese, visual memory and good motor skills are incredibly more important in good advancement of writing skills than in phonetic languages (this is quite obvious if you learn more than just a handful of characters - indeed, I used to think I was bad at learning languages, until I learned a bunch of Chinese and realized that I was underutilizing the visual aspects of learning to write in other languages, and have learn several other languages since).

Some of this visual memory and motor skills is prone to have a genetic component. However, I would be surprised if much of any noticable different could have evolved in the short time since all these writing systems were developed. Consider that historically people who could write usually had more access to power ... but it's not clear that they were necessarily making more babies (also ignoring that a family's access to resources is certainly a far more important factor in becoming literature than differences in natural abilities).

If you read any of the genetics, or Blank Slate, its always heritable within some broad limits. the r=.5 applies to backgrounds without incredible abuse or deprivations. Where to draw that line is the tricky part that everybody evades, but the Genie case is clearly the other side of that line.

I'm a liberal, so naturally I can't imagine why somebody would have more than one calendar, let alone "lots". Who are these right-wing timekeepers?

So am I but I don't want to go to the opposite end of the house to find out what day it is.

Does a male conservative in a traditional gender role need a calendar?

Why not check your phone?

I believe what is meant is that the frequency of calendars in conservative dorm rooms is higher than in liberal dorm rooms. Not that there is more than one calendar per dorm room on average.

The Alpha plus pluses discuss soma incentives for the betas to reduce error in running Bokanovsky's process.

The sign of someone with more education that sense is the desire to put people into tidy little boxes. Now the boxes have decimal points.

How about before imposing by force a way of thinking you see how it works out over a couple generations?

If you read up on Moral Foundation Theory you'll see it doesn't put people into tidy little boxes at all, in fact there are six cardinal dimensions instead of two or three most political theories have, and most surprisingly they aren't exclusive . Conservatives tend to rate highly on all six dimensions, liberals on three and libertarians on just two. Theoretically though you could have infinite political identities with Haidt's model.

I think Haidt misses the point badly in Tyler's analogy between places of business and universities. As universities increasingly become places where customers go for specific training/qualifications, it should be unsurprising that they act more and more like corporations. Haidt's vision of these institutions as places where students go to increase their ability to think and reason is pretty out-dated, at least when it comes to large undergraduate institutions, particularly state schools.

Traditional Liberal Arts colleges are the places where I would tend to agree with his critique, as this style of education tends to be more explicitly about teaching young people how to think and reason and less about giving them specific skills employers are looking for. In these cases (along with graduate schools), diversity of opinion and free discourse is vital.

I think that's a fair way criticism, really, but keep in mind a lot of those state schools are legally obligated and also explicitly promise to respect their students' 1st Amendment rights, so it's a nasty little bait and switch to say "just kidding!" after someone says something unpopular about, say, immigration, for example, and then try to muzzle or discipline that student. Dated ideas or not, these institutions have a responsibility to deliver on the promises they've made.

Is it muzzling if a politically incorrect position is not defended by facts, logic, and a well reasoned argument?

I find a lot of "politically incorrect" positions as justified as 1+1=3.

Ie, "My marriage is destroyed if a man marries a man, or woman marries a woman."


"God defined marriage as between one man and one woman."

Try telling that to Mitt Romney's grandfather, or to Hebrews who wrote the biblical law and history, both of which involved one man and multiple women in a marriage.

As a liberal, and not a leftist or right-winger, I find the claims of political correctness and censorship to be just different flavors of conservative dogma, dogma that is rooted in the past clung to blindly.

After all, the EPA obviously kills jobs by forcing far more workers be hired to eliminate monopoly profits and then force prices even higher, which destroys wealth that leads to poor people spending far more than the earn due to the wealth effect. That runs counter to the one handed economists arguing only one side of a trade needs to be considered in understanding the economy, and thus I'm making a politically incorrect claim.

Instead I need to believe workers burn the money they are paid because they never spend it, and consumers have infinite money to spend that they spend based on how fast the 1% and 10% are getting richer. Or that if the 1% are forced to sell their wealth, the shares they own, to pay wealth taxes, the price of shares will keep increasing, because one handed economists explain that share prices always go up because they have always gone up in the long run, and it is never driven by more people buying shares of stock thanks to government intervention in the economy to drive more people to buy stocks by saving more money to dodge paying taxes.

Blatant strawmanning, ridiculous.

If the politically incorrect position is suffering from a lack of facts, logic and well-reasoned arguments, then indeed this is a very good reason to have it openly debated. Otherwise, they will persist in their "wrong" ways, never having had the chance to openly discuss the issues and encounter potential fallacies in their thinking.

Many politically correct positions are also not supported by "facts, logic, and a well reasoned argument." As Haidt points out, they are appeals to sacred values: "once people have taken a position on something, especially if it relates to sacred values — something that has become sacred to them — they’re pretty much impervious to arguments at that point." And he later identifies the sacred value of the left as "social justice."

Say, in studying computer programming or mechanical engineering, I do not believe there is any sort of need in the classroom to enter into divisive topics.

But, in post-colonial studies, philosophy, social studies, political science, history, etc. ... absolutely vital to be encouraging a diversity of perspectives to not be attacked emotionally if presented.

In these cases (along with graduate schools), diversity of opinion and free discourse is vital.

It is, of course, in precisely such areas where there is no diversity of opinion or free discourse and if there were, it would be promptly banned. You get more freedom and intellectual diversity on a building site than in a liberal arts faculty. Everyone else is pretty much strung out along that spectrum. So Engineers probably have more freedom of speech than English Lit majors but less than construction workers.

No one made people do this. The conservative pre-Baby Boom generation believed in freedom. They did not punish the Sixties radicals for being Communists. But now those Baby Boomers are in charge, they are not as tolerant. They will not make the same mistake.

But now those Baby Boomers are in charge, they are not as tolerant. They will not make the same mistake.

They first made up the majority of the tenured ranks more than 25 years ago and have been shuffling off into retirement for the last dozen or so. In less than a decade, they'll be gone bar some stragglers who want to work until they're 75 or 80. The trouble is, the succeeding cohorts in academe are hardly any better. Blow the whole thing up.

It's funny that Haidt hasn't read Strauss, because his political project is actually quite Straussian.

By identifying as a 'liberal' or 'moderate,' he gets to demand ideological diversity from other liberals, even though his politics have a strong conservative subtext. At the same time, his ridiculous and unsupported claims ("in the academy, where even though libertarians actually have the highest IQ, they’re the best at systemic thinking, they should be overrepresented") get a pass because they are couched in a defense of diversity for its own sake.

It's no surprise that Haidt has been so successful - he constantly reaffirms the idea that those who maintain and defend privilege are doing it for morally correct reasons. But I would be shocked if his cumulative influence on social and moral psychology amounts to much more than a TED talk.

At the same time, his ridiculous and unsupported claims (“in the academy, where even though libertarians actually have the highest IQ, they’re the best at systemic thinking, they should be overrepresented”) get a pass because they are couched in a defense of diversity for its own sake.

Actually, if I'm not mistaken, he discusses this topic at length in his book "The Righteous Mind." He also co-authored a paper about the psychology of libertarians:

The fact that social scientists aren't dismissing him as a closet Straussian conservative en masse might suggest to you that there are more closet Straussian conservatives (and libertarians) in the Acdaemy than you think.

Of course you would be.

antiparsimonialism? Huh? I thought economics was the study of scarce resources--are we talking antihomoeconomus?

"If you’re the US military, or any military, yes in the ’70s the Army in particular embraced ethnic diversity, and they did a great job of it."

The military has entrance exams that screen out the worst of the underclass. That's why it works. Without that screen (google: AFQT misnorming fiasco), you get a disaster.

See Sailer:

American society as a whole doesn't have that option.

Victory in WWII was a disaster because the army was selective in taking all the men who weren't critical to manufacturing and other parts of production and logistics, ...?

I read history as the non-selective WWII draft demonstrating race and ethnicity had nothing to do with performance, and that everyone in the military needed to be treated equally instead of segregated by race and ethnicity based on some being inferior to others.

It was the non-selectivity of the military and the needs on the home front that forced breaking the exclusivity, that led to the success of the US forces, and the British forces where class selectivity was suppressed, that led to WWIIs success. And people on both sides of the exclusivity divide carried those lessons into the post war economy. Thus the civil rights including woman's movement in the 50s and 60s.

It was as the exclusivity of military service and the supply chain grew and increased the population without the non-exclusive WWII personal experience, that race, ethnicity, gender became valid justification for discrimination again.

I think Haidt dramatically underestimates how easy it is to guess political orientation. Gross demographic factors like age, race, and sex have a huge amount of explanatory power. I also think being dressed neatly is probably only a good dress within genders (women dress more neatly than men and are more liberal, by neat you probably actually mean more formally) and stamps and calendars is probably ultimately a proxy for age rather than being organized.

I disagree. In my experience, there is definitely a correlation between neatness and conservatism. Conservatives tend to value discipline more highly than liberals, and are more likely to enlist in the military, which itself enforces tidiness and uniform dressing.
Basically, neatness is part of a matrix of lifestyle behaviors that are enforced by conservative moral values.
Liberals CAN be neat, but it just isn't enforced by the liberal moral code the way it is for conservatives.

Gay men tend to dress neatly, though with more flair (and are bitchy about violating style codes), but they are generally not conservative.

Maybe they would be conservative if conservatives were not more likely, on average, to be mean to them.

Recently, in Canada, there has been pressure from some number of uppers to forget about all these "losses" about gay marriage, and to try to recruit the support of gays. Definitely there is resistance, and I've read a fair few people being very skeptical. But the point is that gays may be no more/less likely to be conservative excluding identity politics stuff.

Maybe they would be conservative if conservatives were not more likely, on average, to be mean to them.

No, Nathan, that's not the reason.

But some blacks (and to a lesser extent other minorities) are quite conservative if asked about the issues but always vote Democrat.

I like Haidt's thinking about morality but I am not sure that there is really anything to his conservative- leftist framework. Of course there are going to be biases in terms of certain psychological traits towards one or the other politics, like traditional minded people should be more drawn to conservative politics. But this seems like a highly path dependent whether we describe traditional as right or left. For instance the most conservative institute I know is the UK Labour Party with its 1945 nostalgia and hatred of the Thatcherite reforms. But we think of them as highly leftist while the radical reforming Thatcher government was right wing.

But you know, it is really Thatcher who was the backwards reactionary, and the Labour Party is still marching forwards into the Glorious Socialist Future. Right?

Speaking of which, next year is going to be the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Fun times ahead.

If you're 1% predisposed to more deference to authority, etc., you will start to identify more with that side of the spectrum and take on all the rest. Of course, many with such a 1% predisposition will be in an environment where the other side of the spectrum is more socially enforced/defended, so there is a lot of noise. But, in society, you can easily get a 1% predisposition to something leading to an observation of a 30% heritablity.

That's because it isn't very helpful to define the conservative or right-wing inclination purely in terms of resisting change or hearkening back to an earlier golden era. The differences between left and right become much clearer if you look at different attitudes toward traditional authority, competition, whether an individual's circumstances are more the product of luck or deliberate choices, and which groups you think deserve status and respect.

Tl;dr Universities should discriminate in admissions and recruitment in favour of conservatives, but victim narratives are bad!

"Universities should discriminate in admissions and recruitment in favour of conservatives, ..."

There's no need for some kind of affirmative action. Just not discriminating against conservatives would work out fine in the long run.

There is an opportunity with current tech which I'm not sure is being exploited. Just use Deep Learning to recognize incoming student profiles which match for degree completion. Then the weighting is Deeply hidden, and the outcomes are successful.

The only objectors would be those who want their weighting over success.

Agreed. There is no need to "stop admitting social justice warriors" (Haidt). Let them win a battle of ideas instead.

They don't discriminate against conservatives, obviously.

Sure they do, you are just refusing to entertain evidence that goes against your cognitive bias.

"Psychologists Yoel Inbar and Joris Lammers, based at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, surveyed a roughly representative sample of academics and scholars in social psychology and found that “In decisions ranging from paper reviews to hiring, many social and personality psychologists admit that they would discriminate against openly conservative colleagues.
More than a third of the respondents said they would discriminate against the conservative candidate. One respondent wrote in that if department members “could figure out who was a conservative, they would be sure not to hire them.”"

Also, this part is particularly relevant:

"Generally speaking, the more liberal the respondent, the more willingness to discriminate and, paradoxically, the higher the assumption that conservatives do not face a hostile climate in the academy."

There are three portholes: admission to graduate study, retention in graduate study, and faculty hiring committees. Some recent qualitative research into graduate admissions indicated that not only are dissidents screened out, it's quite shameless. The state legislature can repair this problem, but they will do nothing.

Response in the form of red herrings noted.

How did Haidt explain Trump voters? A Vulcan mind meld? A neurological disorder? If Haidt said it's heredity, then the gene pool is far worse than anyone could have suspected. Clinton voters and Sanders voters are much easier to explain. For Clinton voters, just think "trailer park". For Sanders voters, Goldwater warned us about the communists brainwashing our youth.

Trump supporters are moderates who lean conservative on things like patriotism. They all would have voted for FDR. People lose their minds over Trump supporters because they don't like Trump as a human being and they practice massive confirmation bias regarding the dumb things he says that are no more dumb than what lying politicians have always said. The idea that any POTUS since Nixon expressed a coherent foreign policy that they then carried out is pretty much nonsense.

Some Trump quotes:

"Back in the good old days, we would carry them out on stretchers." (re: protesters)

"They'd be carried out on a stretcher, folks." (re: protesters)

"maybe he should have been roughed up." (re: a protester who got roughed up)

"I'd like to punch him..." (re: a protester)

"We're not allowed to punch back any more ... "

"I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose voters... "

No more dumb than what other politicians have always said? I'm not sure that "dumb" is quite the right word. "Scary" is more like it.

He'd have to execute them by drone strike to live up to his most recent Presidential examples.

Yeah, because peaceful protesters who aren't even saying a word are a whole lot like kingpins of violent radical religious movements which murder civilians.

The analogy is stunningly obvious.

And meanwhile, Trump wants to kill innocent family members of terrorists to deter them. As though that won't draw blowback and promote terrorist recruitment ... Or, what does it mean to say "The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families." What, he wants to take them out for pizza? Or intentionally murder innocent civilians. Which, by the way, top military brass have already indicated in no uncertain terms that they are not obligated to follow an illegal order, and following through on such a policy would indeed be illegal.

What's scary about that? That people might start following through on such things.

Is Donald Trump America’s Boaty McBoatface?

Tyler's last question was about Haidt's best critic on campus life. Haidt responds that he hasn't really encountered much criticism. The obvious follow-up question would be why, then, is it so difficult to foster viewpoint diversity on campus? Or, in his view, are we already starting to see progress in this area?

Re: the connection between political orientation and innate personal characteristics. I don't notice as much connection between personality and political orientation among women, especially well educated women. My impression is that well educated women are overwhelmingly left leaning, whether they are messy-but-open-to-experience types or neat-orderly-make-deadlines types. I would be interested in hearing Haidt's views on (1) whether these connections between personal traits and political leanings can be weaker when identity politics is involved or whether the personal traits actually can help explain the identity politics and (2) whether there is a type of PC that actually makes it more difficult for educated women to express right-leaning views than for others to do so, i.e., whether there is some sort of subtle or not so subtle pressure on educated women to adopt left-leaning views.

On this second point, for example, it seems to me that Margaret Thatcher is underrated among those that claim to want polical equality for women. She was a (the first?) female leader of a western, democratic global power. Yet, I don't get the impression that feminists celebrate her rise in the same way that we celebrate Obama as the first Black president, for example. As another example, here is a list of most admired women [] that excludes Thatcher even as it includes other political leaders.

"Boys" more put off by the Mommy State than "Moms?"

Conservatives as arrested teens ;-)

"Conservatives as arrested teens"

Shouldn't Progressives be considered as arrested teens? Don't teens in general believe that their parents should provide for all their wants. They're generally the ones agitating for a Mommy state. A state that redistributes income. A state that provides, free healthcare, free college, free daycare, free school lunches, free cell phones, free internet etc.

Aren't the rebellious years the ones disconnected from the broader arc of human experience? For the rest we are cared for or caring for.

I mention a false idea of isolated man in nature above. Teenage boys are very susceptible to that ideal, cowboys and Ayn Rand.

It is harder, but part of maturity, to connect again to a place in society.

Connecting to the podcast, "you should really have health insurance" was answered with "you are technically correct but you're not the boss of me!

Very teen.

“but you’re not the boss of me! .... Very teen."

Sure, just like the US Founding Fathers. All were "very teen". /sarcasm

On your third paragraph, I'm sure they would say that while Margaret Thatcher was good for a woman, she wasn't good for women overall, which is what feminists care about. The place of women in Britain didn't improve much while she was in power; it improved more in the 90s. The example challenges the idea of visible role models being necessary or effective in producing social change (see also: Obama and the position of African-Americans in America).

Or on the other hand she showed that their whining about the system being biased against women was incorrect, since she actually encountered no barriers to becoming the prime minister, and thus their whole political philosophy was bankrupt.

It sort of like peopl complaining that 19C Britain was highly anti Semitic while electing Benjamin D'Isreali. Something doesn't add up.

Big fan of that Atlantic article, but then I'm surprised to that Haidt isn't considering a social context for social justice warriors on campus: yes they're consolidating an in-group, but they are doing this as minorities in the larger culture. Thus, (1) tribalism is what humans do, and the choice is either left wing tribalism or conservative tribalism (see elite universities pre-1960's), not left wing tribalism vs. a neutral institution. (2) When the university is put in context of a larger society that is, at best, still recovering from institutional and interpersonal racism and sexism, strong left wing tribes are the best means to promote a liberal, diverse culture in the larger society that already contains strong right wing tribes.

So a criticism might be that Haidt is too narrow in his focus on universities as islands completely separate from the larger culture and that, once seen in the larger context, we can acknowledge without aversion and even justify left wing tribalism.

I don't buy your premises. But taking them for granted: your theory is that if there is a tribe currently in place, the best thing to do to promote peace, justice, and the American way is to create a new, contrary tribe, and let them have at each other?

Can you provide examples of such inter-tribal warfare resulting in your desired end state? I would counter that the surest way to prevent an old, formerly dominant tribe from changing is to present it with an external threat from a new tribe. Suddenly all the schisms that were tearing the old tribe apart are forgotten, as there is a new enemy to unite against.

Unless you think the new tribe can crush the old tribe, killing its men and taking its women. Then perhaps your vision works.

How about the plebes vs. the senate in republican Rome? Although that may be a complex example. The Romans achieved great things while simultaneously being violently divided politically.

Well, "let them have at each other" is not okay where norms around nonviolence and the rule of law don't exist. But it may be that our society's legitimate arguments about "what is justice?", "what is equality?", "what is the common good?" can't take place without both sides having an institutional foundation to make them.

When arguments take place between two groups that both have sufficient resources and status (FBI vs. Apple, finance vs. heavy industry, inter-disciplinary academic tribes) then you get vigorous debate and evidence and reason have a chance to give status to one group over another.

Politically correct speech, dismissing and avoiding opposing viewpoints: this happens aplenty in majority-perspective institutions. It's all well and good to strive for a higher, broader level of discourse among American institutions, but perhaps it's blinkered to ask social justice warriors to rhetorically "disarm" unilaterally and not, say, foxnews-redstate-breibart-etc..

Secondly, I also think that a lot of us tend toward being "authoritarian followers": we will join any winning team, so to speak. This is easiest to see when gay marriage went from "then-I-can-marry-a-donkey" absurdism to "yeah, to each her own" in a decade. Obviously, a great many reactionaries just switched teams when they perceived their tribe as losers in the gay marriage debate. So one model says that one tribe has to crush another for the resolution of conflict, but another model says that people will simply switch tribes as they gain or lose status.

Change is easier from within. Traditionalists within the tribe will always resist, of course.

I agree that oppositional approaches are more likely to achieve backlash than progress.

Universities are not supposed to be that sort of tribe, and the more they are regarded as such the more their case for independence from outside political meddling weakens.

I am surprised that Tyler is still impressed by the datum that insurance harms the average policyholder. We all insure for long tail events, and actually hope for them still to never occur.

It is not a question of ex ante vs. ex post, rather ex ante most are worse off, using the standard of their own preferences including preferences across risk.

Perhaps they are insuring against the possibility of their risk preferences shifting over time?

"If you went to the water cooler and said a number of offensive things, you would be asked to stop and eventually fired, and I don’t see anything wrong with that."

You might when your beliefs come to be considered offensive, and you face the genuine threat of being terminated from your job for expressing them.

If a safety net is sufficiently robust that the fired person and her family are protected from absolute poverty and her children do not suffer inequal opportunities as a result of the loss of income, then speech codes at work are worth the organizational cohesion that they produce. Organizers are free to organize, and members are free to leave or pursue change. Unnecessary coercion enters into it once a subject is reliant on the organization for livelihood and her children's equality.

But this just argues that effective individual liberty is de-coupled from so-called "economic liberty".

This would be fine if there was equal protection, but there is not equal protection. Businesses and employees aren't deciding what is acceptable, the government and courts are imposing what is acceptable because they only protect certain groups.

"Same with politics, whether you’re on the right or left is not determined by your genes, but you’re predisposed."

This is why it is interesting to discuss politics with your family. You may find that even though a variety of surface beliefs vary, many of the traits underlying those beliefs (in my case, suspicion or outright hostility towards any external, human power that threatens my freedom of thought or action) are shared, and variation is the result of differential life experiences that have led those traits to react with their environments in different ways.

Or, alternatively, you may have a sibling with a very different personality from you, and see that even with very similar life experiences, you each have profoundly different core political views.

Just don't be an ass and family political discussions aren't that difficult. I'm an ass generally and I manage it.

Here's what I don't get about the "coddled mind" argument:

Companies generally enforce speech codes that are far more restrictive than anything seen on a campus outside of the most buttoned-down private Christian conservative institutions. I think that Haidt is right to draw a distinction between the requirements of a corporate culture that is focused on a productivity versus an academic culture that is focused on research and free inquiry.

But most undergraduates aren't researchers, and they are at their university to learn skills that will help them succeed in their careers, which for a very large majority will be in the private, non-academic sector. It strikes me that if "coddling" is taking place, it's in the maintenance of a bubble where students are taught that they are such precious snowflakes that their opinions may be expressed as freely and offensively as they like, with no chance of consequences. I think robust speech protections on campus are great, for the record. But they are not a bulwark against coddling!

& I further agree that one can learn to reason from evidence and consider diverse viewpoints to do well in their undergrad work while at the same time not being challenged on their core ideological commitments.

What I found persuasive was the cognitive behavioral therapy perspective: the negative emotions that one suffers from investing in "I am a victim", "I am this identity of race-gender-culture", "I am being oppressed", "They need to change" is not psychically compensated for by a sense of belonging to this group. Furthermore (unrelated to the article), progress on social justice may not depend on such investments.

Are you arguing, in a sense, that strong free speech protections on campus are themselves a form of coddling?

I agree with this. The coddling argument makes little sense.

"With what probability do you think you can guess or forecast if they’re left‑wing or right‑wing?"

I just tell people we never lock the door to our home. Can pretty much tell someone's politics every time by their response. Seriously, give it a try.

I would just assume that you live in a rural area. And you probably own a gun and a dog. (and if I had to pick, I'd assume you leaned conservative.)

Nope - we live in NY suburbs, and I am relatively liberal. No gun or dog either.

I see your point however - context is important.

I grew up and have returned to a rural area, and I would have initially guessed that you were trying to use the question as a proxy for how rural of an area people lived in. I don't think most people out here lock their doors regularly, and conservatives certainly outnumber liberals. I lock my doors now after getting into the habit during a decade in more built-up areas. I don't think my political orientation changed a lot during that time.

Heritability from 0.3-0.6.

I think it is insufficently emphasized that we are focused on the range of observed outcomes among humans. For example, we are not considering the continuum from a rock to an all-powerful omnipresent being. We are considering a continuum which, relative to much of nature, may of be described as ranging between, say, 0.985-0.99, with, say, an average of 0.9875.

We reframe the range from 0.985-0.99 as 0-100, with an average of 50 (or, 70-130 with an average of 100, say). And then may observe that the heritability of average differences in a population is, say, 30%. On the one hand, heritability is incredibly much higher, because it explains virtually the entire different between us and a rock. But is also overstates the difference, because we are so pinpoint focused on that very narrow range which applies to the range of observations relevant to humans.

You say this like there's no difference in heritability between a person and a rock.

Bah, "heritability" should be "heritage."

:) I'm not sure whether to say that rocks have 100% heritability or 0% heritability. Well, they don't make babies ... perhaps roses or trees would be a better example. What's the heritability of shyness of a tree? 100%. They are all 100% shy. Or, perhaps you could consider it as 100% willing to express their very nature regardless of any efforts at persuasion.

Well, we're primarily interested in what makes people different from other people, not in what makes us different from rocks. Also, in the long run, we're all rocks anyway, so eventually our heritability of rock attributes approaches 100%.

Does anyone think the the HR policies at their company increase productivity?

Does anyone go to the mandated diversity seminar and walk away being more productive?

I've always assumed that these things were a mixture of elite narcissism (see Zuckerberg launching a gestapo search for whoever dared to propose that "all lives matter"), lawsuit protection (like paying protection money to mobsters), and a way to create a divided workforce with little ability to organize or exercise bargaining power (when we hire your H1-B replacement and make you train them before we fire you, don't dare criticize this move or your RACIST).

Our most famously effective companies eschew the most important aspects of diversity as well, how many black people work in Silicon Valley again?

This goes beyond the company level. Robert Putnam amongst others proved that diversity decreases social trust and cultural capital. Politically, "diverse" societies seem to be basket cases, LKY famously pointed out that in any diverse country politics quickly descends into antagonist racial interest groups.

I reject the idea that HR policies and PC make companies or societies more efficient, especially once we consider the entire society and not just what profits elites can capture out of the workforce if you import an army of slaves.

"Does anyone think the the HR policies at their company increase productivity?"

Absolutely. They have employment contracts for most office support and a handful of upper managers (who also perform some professional services), and contract out virtually all professional services and a few aspects of office support which have more variable workflow (other office support can be repurposed to marketing-related stuff during slower times).

It allows them to take on a lot of big projects at a highly competitive price by minimizing on overhead in between high workflow periods.

Public sector, at that. The quoted cost for entire studies from project scoping to the final output is less than what the government estimates as the cost of compiling a few-page report on some basic activities (well, the problem with the government is that the information systems are poorly designed, so it takes a lot of work to amass and report on information relating to a specific request).

And the notion that Zuckelberg is engaging in "gestapo searches" is absurd. Any private company has the right to control the information that is being diffused using their systems. For example, no media company has the obligation to publish or diffuse perspectives that they want to dissociate themselves with. If you want to start your very own social media company called AllLivesMatterBook, no one is stopping you. You do not have the RIGHT to hijack private companies towards your own ends if they do not wish to participate in the dissemination of perspectives that they deem offensive.

"(see Zuckerberg launching a gestapo search for whoever dared to propose that “all lives matter”),"

I first read that as "black lives matter" and wondered how I could have missed the fire storm. And if there were calls for his resignation and what was the effect on the stock. Then I re-read it correctly.

I don't see how you could consider foreign professionals as "an army of slaves". Consider that the US has more red tape to go through than just about anywhere for this kind of stuff, and the potential employees both willingly submit to all of this and accept the contractual terms, going half way across the world on their own volition. Does that sound like a "slave" to you?

Also, on the matter of trust and diversity - has it ever crossed your mind that the problem could be racism? Maybe trust declines because racist people don't trust different people, not because diversity has some inborn genetic way of causing low trust.

They need to put nets outside their factories to keep people from flinging themselves to their own deaths because one more day of life in such a manner is worse then death. Whatever we want to call that, its not something I ever want in my society. You're trying to bring that lifestyle here, heck your trying to bring worse since most of your immigrants aren't even as good as Chinese. I oppose your efforts.

I was taught the cause was racism, I watched Glory during black history month same as you. I grew up being taught all the proper educated attitudes on race. I believed that when I was young. Then I examined the question, and the evidence suggested the problem wasn't caused by racism, at least in the main. I did the social science homework, which you are of course free to do yourself, though I know you won't. I lived a life in a variety of environments, careers, countries, social groups, academic settings, etc where I got to accumulate experiential data and viewpoints on the question, and they matched what the social science data said.

I didn't adopt this view because I liked it, but because I didn't feel I had a choice. The evidence spoke, and I've never been great at tuning that out. That same talent makes me good at my job, but makes it hard to believe pleasant lies.

My going assumption is that you ignore the evidence because doing so makes you comfortable and is personally advantageous. I.E. you are a selfish and immoral. If it's any consolation, human nature is selfish and immoral. Those same social science statistics and life experiences that taught me that it was genes rather then racism also taught me that beliefs are driven by genetics and game theory. So I can't convince you otherwise, there is no evidence I can show you that would do so.

Mostly, I hope that some of the people whose lives you are trying to destroy rebel and take power from you an your kind. They we can build a brighter future, one of hope and human fulfillment. The odds of this outcome are very low, but its the only hopeful outcome. The only one that doesn't end in the repugnant conclusion.


Same here. Thanks a lot for writing this one.

"I don’t see how you could consider foreign professionals as “an army of slaves”"

They are not slaves, but they are reasonably similar to indentured servants.

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