Jonathan Haidt discusses free speech and victimhood culture on college campuses

Here’s your evening’s entertainment: visiting the State University of New York at New Paltz, psychologist Jon Haidt talks about free speech, the lack of “thought diversity” in academia, “social justice,” racial issues, the campus victimhood culture and its inevitable infighting, sex differences in interest and their sequelae, and a variety of other topics that we discuss on this site. It’s worth listening to, and I’m surprised that people didn’t try to disrupt this meaty but non-strident talk.

The talk proper starts at 11:35 after two introductions. The talk ends at 1 hour and 21 minutes and the rest is Q&A.

screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-12-46-50-pmh/t: Cindy


  1. George
    Posted October 4, 2016 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Very good talk. At 1:14, Haidt says, “Let Brown and Chicago lead the schism.” He argues that universities need to decide whether they are interested in social justice or truth. Brown and Chicago have clearly marked their territory.

    • George
      Posted October 4, 2016 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      Haidt points out that there was a schism in the American academy in the late 19th century between the truth and christ. I believe the University of Chicago was created to lead that schism on behalf of the truth side. I posted this comment to one of Jerry’s posts on the Ellison letter:

      UofC does have at its very core the sense that it is special. This dates back to its founding in 1892. They say 1890 now – but the first classes were in 1892. The founding president, William Rainey Harper, was operating on behalf of a segment of American academia which wanted higher education in the US to follow the model of the German research university. At that time, higher ed in the US was the finishing school for the WASP upper class (men only) and training for mainline Protestant clergy. Johns Hopkins was focusing on biomedical research. The big publicly funded land grant universities were just getting started. But nothing like what you saw in Germany.

      The initial Chicago faculty included ten men who had been university presidents. They and many more were part of this project that Harper led. So why locate this project in Chicago – a city which had burned down in 1871? It was America’s great boom town. And it was far away from the prying eyes of the East coast. They could get things done there. And of course there was money.

      Harper had a great source of funds – John Rockefeller. UofC was founded as a Baptist school. There had previously been a University of Chicago from 1857-66. It was Baptist school.

  2. Carl
    Posted October 4, 2016 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for directing this our way. Jonathan Haidt is a treasure. Every time I read, see, or hear him my estimation goes up.

    Check out his book, “The Righteous Mind.”

  3. alexandra Moffat
    Posted October 4, 2016 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    That talk was marvelous! Thank you so much.
    He is such a very good speaker – organized yet also spontaneous….. knowledgeable. Excellent. And I am so proud to be a U of C alum (’48) on the side of Truth!!
    Made my day-

  4. Martin Knowles
    Posted October 4, 2016 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    I was at the event in New Paltz. Full house, standing room only. I have found Haidt’s work on righteousness very helpful and thought his articulation of the problem on campuses was very clear. But I just don’t see how promoting a “schism” is going to help the situation. The talk sets up “truth” in opposition to “social justice” but surely, we need to work toward the mutual satisfaction of both of these essential values.

    • somer
      Posted October 4, 2016 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

      Social justice activism – or right wing activism – is not the job of a learning institution – knowledge gained can inform social reform but the point of the knowledge institution should be finding out what is actually going on and why

    • Carl
      Posted October 5, 2016 at 1:19 am | Permalink

      Surely we do not need to work for the “essential value” of “social justice” as Haidt defined it in his talk. Justice yes, but social justice is a cesspool of bad ideas that deserve to be opposed and beaten down – which I thought was made crystal clear by the talk.

      • Martin Knowles
        Posted October 5, 2016 at 6:29 am | Permalink

        What I heard Haidt saying was that there is a tendency for social activist ideology to distort or ignore truth. So why not advocate to correct the ideology in the service of truth AND justice?

        • somer
          Posted October 5, 2016 at 6:54 am | Permalink

          He explained quite clearly why and how it is necessary to stick to either truth or social justice. Activist groups are separate organisations from universities although they might adhere to a particular philosophy -or fashion their own – with or without some initial influence from a scholar/s. The founders of political parties have not normally been scholars, but they have agreed on a world view.

          Also the type of justice needs to be spelled out otherwise Justice also is in the eye of the beholder like liberty is. justice for the powerful means an enforced order in which they can continue as they are – for others it means fairness for all within the society and peace combined with freedom from want as far as this is possible – for yet others who are disenfranchised it means equality within their group

          • somer
            Posted October 5, 2016 at 7:01 am | Permalink

            sorry last sentence meant to say
            – for yet others who are disenfranchised it means more resources/freedoms for their group and stable dominance over another disenfranchised group (usually conveniently deemed inferior).

            • Martin Knowles
              Posted October 5, 2016 at 8:50 am | Permalink

              Yes I hear that and understand that justice can be construed in any number of ways. But we could also agree that the ideology and values that drive the pursuit of truth is also in the eye of the researcher/sponsor unless you believe that it is strictly truth for truth’s sake. What areas of study will be privileged and what will they do with the truth?. So I’m still not convinced that we need to keep truth and activism separate.

              I’m in favor of educational institutions that offer both and support the free speech required to argue about what domains of inquiry and activism should be privileged.

              • somer
                Posted October 6, 2016 at 2:57 am | Permalink

                “I’m in favor of educational institutions that offer both and support the free speech required to argue about what domains of inquiry and activism should be privileged.”

                I see most of your point but this sounds like censorship or at least the road to censorship and filtering out any science finding that contradicts a desired social goal, where assumptions about the way to reach that are equated with “truth” without listening to less rosy findings.

                I don’t have a problem with a tone set by university freshman speeches that encourage community concern/responsibility for fairness and some role for social justice but the main role must be arguments based on their merits (i.e. are they likely to be true on balance from evidence and consistency with well attested knowledge especially science, archaeology, good historical accounts etc). A learning institution is not an activism organisation of its nature. Truth Must come first – moreover if injecting the desired world into the real world means delivering faulty programs that helps no one.

                Also you need to be able to persuade the rest of society why a certain course is right. Just adopting one course without questioning it only produces resentment and disdain in conservatives and doesnt actually spread caring attitudes. It is also likely to produces impractical “solutions” that do not produce more fairness in the longer term

        • Carl
          Posted October 5, 2016 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

          Please watch the lecture again; you totally missed the point. Let me take the veil off for you. The schism Haidt advocates is between these two factions:

          Heterodox: Those who want to discover truth by airing even disagreeable ideas.

          Orthodox: Those who think they already know the truth, and want to suppress, silence, and punish anyone who even hints at a contrary view.

          • Martin Knowles
            Posted October 6, 2016 at 9:18 am | Permalink

            Carl, I did get those points first time around and I am (and have been) totally in favor of free speech that supports argumentation toward a reasonable truth. I have also been against “political correctness” that prioritizes what we WANT to be true over what actually is (or suggests) truth.

            somer,with all due respect, I certainly don’t think I was supporting censorship(even unwittingly). No, I am in favor of challenging the ideological bullies on the “regressive left” so that a more empirical view of the social condition of society will lead to better, more objectively informed policies to address values such as social justice.

            My problem with the idea of a schism is that it implies letting the censorship perpetrated by the desire to be politically correct go unchallenged.

  5. Charles Sullivan
    Posted October 5, 2016 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    I can’t get to play, for some reason.

    • Charles Sullivan
      Posted October 5, 2016 at 12:37 am | Permalink

      Get IT to play

  6. somer
    Posted October 5, 2016 at 4:57 am | Permalink

    Loved the talk. the only thing I wondered about is the categorisation of victimhood/sacred status in America only to (in order of priority)
    other non european
    Middle genders/trans people
    with Cis gender White Males playing Darth Vader.
    My feeling is that another factor in the mix is espousal of Critique of the Capitalist West. Oppression of any Sacred groups is OK if is practised by groups seen as hostile to the modern west (which is essentialised to the spirit of Capitalism). Even white males can gain kudos (if not victim status) by being severely critical of the West, and especially the most capitalist part of the West, The United States.
    That said, I think of the western countries, identity politics is much the strongest in the US (though its tentacles are spreading)

  7. Patrick
    Posted October 5, 2016 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Excellent talk. Of possible related interest: the BBC Radio 4 program “A Point of View” recently aired a brief commentary on this topic by philosopher John Gray.

  8. GBJames
    Posted October 5, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Good talk. And sub.

  9. vince
    Posted October 5, 2016 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    I find it ironic that he gave a talk about the truth and then included the false claim that Hofstra put up a trigger warning for the debate.

    That sign was there from a previous event that dealt specifically with the subject of sexual assault.

    So Haidt wants a schism between truth and social justice but it appears he would belong in neither. He clearly hates social justice but also didn’t take the few seconds it would have taken to find out that his claim was wrong, so he’s not very good at truth.

  10. somer
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Good intentions are important but if you refuse to look into the nature of the real world – how can you know the best way to improve it? Universities are great for some degree of activism but their first commitment should always be truth otherwise the good intentions are likely to wind up having the opposite effect from that intended – certainly in the longer term if not the short term

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