Jonathan Haidt

Praxis Circle Contributor Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist and the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He is also a New York Times bestselling author and co-founder of Heterodox Academy. Praxis Circle interviewed Jonathan because of his contribution to Moral Foundations Theory and extensive research focusing on negative and positive morality, along with his advocacy for viewpoint diversity and freedom of inquiry on college campuses.

Jonathan Haidt – New Book “The Anxious Generation” and the End of Play-Based Childhood

Jonathan Haidt:

Okay. Well, thanks so much, Doug. It’s a pleasure to be here. This is a beautiful room and a beautiful house on a beautiful campus. And it’s a beautiful day here in Chapel Hill. I’m very happy to talk about the new book. It’s not closely related to my original research, which is on moral psychology. But as I began studying the moral meltdown on campus, the new morality that came in, and that was the topic of The Coddling of the American Mind, I discovered along with Jean Twenge and some other researchers, that America was in the midst of a gigantic epidemic of youth mental illness. And a lot of people denied this. As late as the start of COVID, just before COVID, a lot of people said, “Nah, it’s just self-report. It’s not a real thing.” But it was. It’s the biggest epidemic of mental illness we’ve ever seen.

And as I’ve been studying it, I thought the story would be simple. I thought it would be girls use social media, that seems to make them depressed, that’s the story. It turns out it’s a lot more complicated, a lot more interesting. And I can summarize it with a single, well, maybe it’ll be two sentences. Humans evolved childhood that was based on play. All mammals play, and so humans had a play-based childhood from time immemorial until around maybe 1990, plus or minus a few years. That’s when we started cracking down on childhood, cracking down on freedom, freaking out about child abduction, which almost never happens. So, we began restricting childhood freedom. And at the same time, the virtual world, the internet was coming in. And it was getting better and better. Video games, the early internet was slow, it gets faster, you get multiplayer games.

So we have this transition period about 1990 to 2010 where you get the gradual end of the play-based childhood. 2010’s a very important year because the iPhone came out in 2007, but no kids had one. In 2010, I think it was about 15% of kids had an iPhone. So, it’s just beginning. And that’s when Instagram is founded, that’s when the front-facing camera is brought out so you can do selfies.

So by 2015, everyone now, has an iPhone with a front-facing camera, an Instagram account. And now everything’s about you posting about you. This is an insane way to raise children. So, the anxious generation is about what happened when the phone-based childhood replaced the play-based childhood. And in the space of just five years, the floor fell out from under our young people.

Jonathan Haidt – How did a psychologist end up teaching at NYU’s business program? 

Jonathan Haidt:

Yeah. So, there are a lot of twists and turns in life and a lot of unexpected opportunities. And I was very happy in the UVA Department of Psychology. I had a lab, I had grad students. But when I was beginning to write The Righteous Mind, my wife and I had our second child. And it was clear, this is all-consuming and I’m not going to be able to travel up to New York to do interviews for this book when it comes out. And I don’t know how I’m going to write it in time for the presidential election of 2012 ’cause I had to get it out before then.

And so, I took one of the few real gambles in my life. I said to my chair, “How about if you don’t pay me and I don’t teach?” And this was the early days of the financial crisis. So he was like, “Okay. UVA is happy to do that.” And I just lived off the advance of the book and I got a lot written.

And then I had given a talk at NYU Stern at the business school a year or two earlier. So I called up the guy who ran the program, the Business and Society program, “How does business affect society?” I had a lot to say on that. And I said, “Can I come up and teach business ethics for a year?” He said, “Yes, we’d love to have you.” They found me a great apartment, which at NYU is a big deal. Nice housing is a big deal at NYU. So my wife and I came up with our two little kids, and we had a blast. We love New York City. And I thought I was going to hang out in the psych department. I thought, “I’ll learn a little about business, but that’s not so interesting.”, I thought.

But just before I went there, I listened to a series of lectures on capitalism by a brilliant intellectual historian, [inaudible 00:15:17] Jerry Mueller. It’s called Thinking About Capitalism. I urge everybody to get it from [inaudible 00:15:23] the Teaching Company. And it was like the intellectual history of how we came to have the modern world. And just as when I learned about the theory of evolution, suddenly I could see like, “Oh, now I see why all the plants and animals are here.” And when I learned about capitalism, business history, finance, contracts, all the things, the cultural inventions, it’s like, “Oh, now I understand how everything I can see got here.” At least I have a sense of how we live in such abundance now. So anyway, that’s a long, high-level story.

I end up fitting in very well because we have a mandatory ethics class. It’s called Professional Responsibility. So at first, that’s what I did. But then because I taught positive psychology at UVA and I’ve been in the positive psychology movement from the beginning, so I developed a course for the MBA students called [inaudible 00:16:18] Work, Wisdom, and Happiness. A few business schools have a course like that. Stanford has been called “touchy feely.” And this was about how to become stronger, smarter, and more sociable. These are skills that will make you more successful and happier.

So, I taught that for a number of years. And then the mental health crisis of Gen Z became so clear by 2019. We had a meeting, a faculty meeting about, what are we going to do about all these depressed and anxious students? And so I volunteered to say, “Well, let me take my little MBA course, this half-semester thing. Let me make it a full-semester course for the undergrads, more focused on mental health.” So, that’s what I do now. I teach a course called Flourishing, in which I work with the undergrads to change their habits, especially around their phones and their social lives, to make them happier.

Jonathan Haidt – Business School: Where Pragmatism Reigns over Politics!

Jonathan Haidt:

But one comment I do want to just add about the business school is that at a time when the nation is getting polarized, when ideology and politics are becoming more and more powerful, when, as we’ll talk about later, universities are being pulled very far left, it is a joy to be in a business school. Because even though most people are Democrats, most people I know, vote for Democrats, but business is pragmatic. Business people are about getting things done, not posturing, not yelling and screaming. So I’ve been very, I hate to use the word safe, but here I am criticizing certain things where if I’d been in a psych department or certainly if I was in an anthro or sociology department, it would’ve been really hard.

But I have tremendous support from my dean, my department chair. I have tremendous freedom to really explore whatever I want. And it turns out that the issue that I’ve settled on is, how is this business model developed by Facebook about advertising-supported, engagement maximizing, how is this business model devastating liberal democracy around the world and young people?

Jonathan Haidt – Founding & Mission of Heterodox Academy: Viewpoint Diversity

Jonathan Haidt:

So, I’m a social psychologist who studies morality and politics. And in 2011, I began to get concerned that everyone was on the same team. In my field in social psychology, everyone was a Democrat, everybody had the same views. And that meant that any conversation about immigration, race, gender, inequality, everyone started from the [inaudible 00:20:56]. They had the same presuppositions, they reached the same conclusions. And I could see errors being made.

And so, I was invited to give a talk at our annual convention by the president of the main organization. And I said, “Okay, but I’m going to talk about this problem. I’m going to talk about how we have no ideological diversity.” He said, “Great, great, bring that out.” So, I gave a talk on that. And I went through a variety of ways of searching for conservative social psychologists. And I found one, there was one. His name is Rick McCauley. And I’m so blessed that I actually met him and learned from him in graduate school. And that prepared me to do the work that I’ve done for the rest of my life. The one conservative showed me, well, actually there are other ways of looking at things.

So I gave this talk, I wasn’t canceled. A few people were upset, but a lot more said, “You made a good point,” because it wasn’t a moral talk, it was about, this is blocking our science. We need viewpoint diversity. And so about four or five other professors came to me after and said, “Wow, we think you’re right.” And we talked and we said, “We should work on this. We should make this a more formal case.” So we wrote this up into a paper for Brain and Behavioral Sciences, where really laid out in academic terms, here are the five different mechanisms by which viewpoint diversity would improve our science, confirmation bias, just all sort sorts of mechanisms. And then we wrote that in psychology. And then it turned out there was a sort of analogous paper in law and one in sociology. And we said like, “Wow, this is all over the place.” This is 2014 now, we’re talking.

So in 2015, a few of us got together, we decided to put up a website. We just made up the name Heterodox Academy, was made up by Nick Rosenkranz, who’s a conservative law professor at Georgetown. And we put up a site. We thought this was just a faculty project, it had nothing to do with students. We went live on September 12th, 2015, and about two months later, Yale blew up at Halloween. And after the Yale Halloween fiasco, then that spread nationally. That led to what in retrospect really is rather similar to the Cultural Revolution in China, a student-led movement to tear down everything old, everything that is not equal, everything that’s hierarchical.

So, Heterodox Academy is still a movement of professors who love the university. We are politically diverse and we’re mostly center-left, center-right, centrist, and libertarian. We don’t have a lot of far-left. There’s nobody from the far-right anywhere anyway in the academy. But we love universities, we’re not bashing them. We’re trying to fix them, we’re trying to improve them. And that’s one reason I’m happy to be here in Carolina, is that you have a very active chapter here with a nice name Heterodox Heels.

Jonathan Haidt – Growing Up Years & Journey to Becoming a Professor

Jonathan Haidt:

You know, I had a very conventional, suburban childhood. Born in 1963. My first memory is the moon landing. The 70s is really when I remember growing up. After school, my friends and I would hang out, do things, play sports, so it was a typical free-range childhood. It’s what almost everybody had. And that will feature later on in what’s gone wrong for Gen Z today, is that they were deprived of that.

The only thing I can say about my childhood that’d be relevant is, so there are personality types and the big five openness to experience. I’m very, very high in openness to experience. I love awe, I love traveling, I love learning new things. So when I was a kid, I was very hungry for new experiences and I was curious about a lot of things. It never occurred to me to be a professor. I thought I’d be a doctor—Jewish kid who likes the sciences. What else do you do? You become a doctor. I ran track, I’m not a good athlete, but for some reason I was actually good at pole-vaulting. And I still have the school record in part because-

Doug Monroe:

You look like a pole vaulter. You do.

Jonathan Haidt:

Yeah. In part because after I set it in 1981, the insurance crisis hit and they didn’t have pole vault for a decade or two. Anyway, I went to Yale undergrad. I thought I’d be pre-med, but quickly realized this is boring and nobody wants to be here. Majored in philosophy, took some computer science courses, started working in computers for the summers. Still didn’t know what to do with my life. Got a job when I graduated in 1985. I didn’t know what to do. I got… I graduated in 1985. I didn’t know what to do. I got a temporary job in Washington DC for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, writing computer programs. Got bored with that. Made a list of what I really wanted in my life and what I didn’t. I really want to be around smart, interesting people, learning new things, not working 50 weeks a year in the same place with some variety. So I looked at the list and it was, money would be nice, but wasn’t crucial. And I looked at the list, said, “Wow, I should be a college professor.” It had never occurred to me in college. It was only a year or two later.

And so I started applying in computer science programs originally because I thought I have psychology, philosophy, computers, that’s AI, and there was an AI boom lit in the 80s. But as I was exploring the programs, they felt wrong to me, too. And it wasn’t until I got to psychology and especially the psychology department at Penn, I just walked into the lobby and just felt right. I had a good conversation with a grad student. And just little things like that can change the course of your life. So I applied in psychology. I didn’t know what I was doing. Only one school took me, which was Penn. And that’s where I ended up picking my topic of morality and how it varies across cultures.

Jonathan Haidt – Is personality nature or nurture?

Doug Monroe:

You seem to be very fascinated by how research supports a human model and also tracing thoughts that would lead to conclusions prior to the research being done, which goes to 3000 years before or whatever recorded history is. I mean, you’ve carved yourself out of a fascinating place. One side question; creativity, new experiences, were you born with that or were your parents that way, or was there a mentor? How does that happen?

Jonathan Haidt:

No, this is innate personality. This is what we know now, the big discoveries in the 80s were if you take identical twins, separate them at birth, raise them in different families, they’re going to be very similar on personality. Whereas fraternal twins are not, because if you only share 50% of your genes, the brain that they make is not at all like a sibling. Not at all. Whereas if you’re identical twins, the same genes make a very similar brain. So anyway.

So in parents can see this in their kids. From the time your kid is two or three, there’s certain personality traits that are clearly traceable. And for me, my mother says, I would come to her and say, “I figured it out.” Like, I figured out how the water faucet works or whatever. I was just always just trying to… I love to take things apart with a little tool kit. That’s why I thought I was going to go into the natural sciences because what kid thinks about the social sciences, you don’t even know what they are.

But thank God I went into the social sciences because people are so much more interesting than anything else. And what I’ve been able to do is, I basically get paid to sit around and think about how do systems made of people, how do they go awry and how can we make them go better?

 

Jonathan Haidt – What’s your idea of a worldview, and do you have one? 

Jonathan Haidt:

Well, okay, from our preliminary talk about worldview, I suspect that you and I have a different way of thinking about this. It’s very common for young people to be told, what are your values? You have to find your values. Or what is your worldview? But to me, this is like, what is your language? You have to find your language. Each of us has to find our own language because it has to be yours, which is absurd. It’s like you don’t understand what a language is.

And I would say the same thing about a worldview. So my biggest intellectual influence are Emile Durkheim, the sociologist, Charles Darwin, and then through them, a lot of other people, but in particular, Richard Shweder, my postdoc advisor, who’s an anthropologist. So you take those three fields; sociology, biology, revolution, and anthropology.

Now, the amazing human ability that was crossing the Rubicon, the amazing human ability that separates us from chimpanzees and every other life form is called shared intentionality. I’m drawing on the work of Michael Tomasello here when he gave a talk at UVA, he said, “It is inconceivable that you would ever see two chimpanzees carrying a log together.” That chimpanzees are brilliant. They can lie, they figure out how things work. They’re really smart animals. But they lack our automatic ability to do something with another person.

So if you think about what happens when you travel in a foreign country where you don’t know the language, are you completely lost? No. Because if you’re trying to get somewhere, the other… they understand, oh, you’re trying to get around. Okay, here you go over… we can work it out. Where if something falls, we figure out, oh, who should pick it…

So humans automatically share intentionality. We can’t stop it. We see it everywhere around us. We think animals have it. We think the stars, the constellations have it, and of course, they don’t, but we see it everywhere. So I’m also a big fan of the metaphor from the movie, The Matrix from the novel Neuromancer, that The Matrix is a consensual hallucination. And as a social scientist, when I first encountered that, I was like, yep, wow, that’s it. Society is a consensual hallucination.

And that’s what a worldview is. It makes no sense to have your own worldview. I mean, yes, yours would be a little different, but a worldview because our brains are such that we’re going to soak it in from around us, the most important thing is what other people think. So you may believe that your worldview is your own, but it’s going to draw very heavily from, is it liberal democracy? Is it communism? Is it Catholicism? Is it Marx? So how’s that for starters?

Doug Monroe:

That’s fantastic. I get it. Totally. And I might put my own summary on it in that human beings have consciousness that’s developed beyond any other animal. There are other animals that have consciousness, but they can’t tell us anything about it. But so we can go outside ourselves and look at ourselves. And that seems to start happening somewhere, you could tell me, at a very early age. And once you start doing that, it creates shared intentionality and language is a direct reflection of that. So I’ll leave that.

That’s just totally, it wouldn’t conflict with any Western thinking that I know of that’s worth a damn. So not that I’m looking for putting value judgments on anybody, but that’s just fascinating. Thank you for that. Okay, I’m going to skip over this question.

Jonathan Haidt – How do you define happiness? 

Doug Monroe:

I’m going to go to my last one in the intro. In the question, I just cite the Declaration of Independence, Pursuit of Happiness. And you seem too happy, I almost don’t believe it. But how do you define happiness? Just Jonathan, “the happiness man,” how do you define it? As short as you can.

Jonathan Haidt:

As short as I can? I would say happiness comes from getting embedded in the right way. It doesn’t come from getting what you want. It doesn’t come from within entirely. Although internal processes are very important. It comes from getting the right relationship between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, or some sort of productivity, people need to be productive. And yourself in something larger than yourself. We have to feel embedded in something larger.

If you get those three conditions right, then you’re going to be at the upper range of what your genes would set you for in terms of happiness. Your genes give you a kind of a set range, but if you get the right kind of embeddedness, you’ll be way at the top of that range. And if you don’t, you’ll be way at the bottom of it.

Jonathan Haidt – “The Happiness Hypothesis”: The Elephant Rider & the Divided Human Mind

Jonathan Haidt:

So, The Happiness Hypothesis, originally the title was 12 Great Truths: Insights into Mind and Heart from Ancient Cultures and Modern Psychology. It wasn’t about happiness. I just read all the ancient wisdom literature, picked out all the psychological claims, put them in a gigantic Word Perfect document back then, sorted them, said, okay, the most common… there’s a couple that are most common, but one of the most common said, the mind is divided into parts that sometimes conflict. Every thoughtful society has noticed this.

The flesh lusted against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh that you cannot do the things you would. Why don’t you just do the things you want to? And many societies have used animal metaphors because ancient societies, everybody lived with animals. And so Plato gave us the metaphor of the reason is the charioteer trying to control two horses. One is the noble passions, one is the base or low passions. And there are variety of horse metaphors because horses are smart, but you have to control them.

And I, given what I was studying in psychology and my theory of moral judgment was about how it’s really overwhelmingly driven by gut feelings. I’m a full devotee of David Hume who said reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them. So I wanted an animal that was larger and smarter. So I said, I don’t want to use a horse, I’m going to use an elephant.

Now, it’s very possible, I just took this from Buddha because the Buddhist tradition does use that metaphor, but it just seemed like that’s the right animal to me. So the metaphor that I came up with, because I find… at least certainly from teaching Psych 101, from being a professor, I’ve learned you have to help people build an intellectual framework first and then you put stuff in it.

And so I use a lot of metaphor. And so the metaphor is we are like a small boy sitting on the back of a large elephant, and the small boy is conscious reasoning. That’s the tiny bit of mental process that we’re aware of. And the elephant is everything else that we’re not aware of. And if the boy wants the elephant to go to the left, he can tug on his ear or something and the elephant will go to the left. Unless the elephant doesn’t want to. If the elephant wants to go to the right, it’s going to go to the right.

So that was my metaphor, and it seems to be like, especially when I hear from psychotherapists, they almost all tell me, that’s the metaphor that helps me talk to my clients, my patients. That helps us out. Because everyone is in therapy for something like this, like a rider-elephant problem.

Doug Monroe:

Exactly. The elephant will go there as long as there’s not a female elephant nearby at a certain time of the year, whatever, like that. And so you bring up all these really cool metaphors in your writing, I think tail wagging the dog. There are a couple of charioteers. There’s one in Hindu writing as well.

Jonathan Haidt – Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) change your worldview?

Jonathan Haidt:

Yeah. So in writing The Happiness Hypothesis, I found that there are two zones of super-concentrated psychological wisdom, and they are the Buddhists and the Stoics. I mean, there’s wisdom in every culture, but which are the wisdom traditions that secular people… Christianity, Judaism, they have enormous bodies of very useful ideas and work, especially for those who are Jewish and Christian. But for secular people, it’s not a coincidence that they’re mostly drawn to Buddhism. That’s like where they all go. And I find Stoicism is even better, more applicable.

But what they both have in common is a lot of ideas about consciousness. They all notice we spend a lot of our time worrying about things that we can’t control. And Buddha says we are what we think, all that we are arises with our thoughts.

Epictetus the Stoic says it is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance. So they all realize something happens, we freak out, we make ourselves miserable, and then either we’re wrong about what happened or we’re right about it. We can’t do anything about it, so we just add to our suffering. Or we’re distorted about it so we can’t fix it.

So I think Stoicism has really survived the ages. It’s wonderful to read Marcus Aurelius’ meditations. He was writing it just for himself. It wasn’t a book that he thought would ever be seen. And he talks about how everyone, all these great people, they’re all gone and forgotten and he’ll be gone and forgotten, too. And it’s such joy to read this. No, you were wrong, Marcus. This writing is so good. We’re still reading it today.

Basically, CBT is just those key insights from Stoicism and Buddhism, that our minds do these things automatically. In CBT, they’re called cognitive distortions. Everybody does them to some degree. So the more famous ones are overgeneralization, black-and-white thinking, or dichotomous thinking, everything’s either good or evil. Mind reading, just like I know she’s thinking this. How do you know? Discounting the positive, I’m a failure. And someone says, no, look, you succeeded there. Oh, but that was a special…

So we all do these things occasionally. And what Aaron Beck and a few others found in the sixties was that people who are depressed do them a lot more. And it was thought that, well, depression must be from something deep. I mean, if you’re changing their thinking, that’s just you’re changing the symptoms. Like no, it turns out if you change their thinking, you actually end the depression. So that was the great discovery they made about cognitive behavioral therapy.

And I learned about it at Penn, which is the world center of cognitive therapy research, Aaron Beck was there. But it wasn’t until I wrote a book with Greg Lukianoff, a friend of mine who had suffered from suicidal depression when he was younger, and he credits CBT with saving his life. And that’s why CBT played such a big role in our book together, The Coddling of the American Mind.

Jonathan Haidt – What is the Happiness Hypothesis? (H + S + C + V)?

Jonathan Haidt:

So positive psychology was started in 1998 when Martin Seligman was president of the American Psychological Association. And each president picks a theme for their year. Usually, it’s violence or child abuse or drug addiction, or depression. It’s always something negative. And Seligman said, wait a second, why don’t we ever study the positive in life? Most people are doing reasonably well and they want to do a little better. But all of our work is for people doing badly who want to do less bad.

And so he brought together a group of young researchers at the time, I was one of them. We met in Acoma, Mexico, and I forget which subcommittee, which group it was that came up with that particular formulation. David Schkade and Ken Sheldon, I think, maybe Sonia Lyubomirsky, those were some of the people that were in the mix, and I think it was them who came up with this. It’s not exactly a formula. A formula would suggest some sort of mathematical precision. It’s more of a heuristic.

And the way I explain it to my students is H, your happiness at any time, like wow happy are you right now is a function of three things. One is your set point. And so if your genes gave you a brain that’s set to approach, explore curiosity, then you’re probably pretty happy right now. And if your genes gave you a brain that set you to more seeing threats everywhere, then you’re probably not that happy right now. Childhood has a lot to do with it too, but the genes are the biggest part. So that’s your set point.

But you’re not doomed to live at your set point. Nobody lives at their set point. It’s more of a set range. So the next term, so your set point plus conditions of your life, and people assume that, oh, if I was rich and famous and lived in a sunny place, then I’d be happy. And weather does have a little impact, actually, it does, but it’s not nearly as big as people think because we adapt to everything.

Fame, I don’t actually know being super famous, I don’t know how that affects people because then they can’t live their lives in public. But esteem of others, being esteemed does help. That is important. So there are some that matter, but in my review of the literature, what I found the best ones, the ones that really matter, are a sense of control. Control over your environment. If you have a job that has things coming in at you and you don’t have the resources to deal with it, that’s the recipe for unhappiness. Whereas if you’re challenged, but you have the resources and the capability, that’s actually a recipe for flow and engagement.

So it’s sort of control. And then also relatedness, the degree to which you have good bonds, good connections with others. So we’ve got H equals S plus C, or conditions plus V is voluntary activities. There are some things that you can do, and this is a big area of research in positive psychology, that small things that will make you happier. And so, one of the first exercises they found was just counting your blessings at night. List three good things that happened.

And I think why it’s effective is especially if you say, what are three good things that happen and why do they happen? It often draws you to who helped me, who did something for me. It draws your attention to just relationships and complexity in life. Meditation has beneficial effects, helping others sometimes. So there are a variety of things you can do to make yourself happier. And that basically is the formula, H equals S plus C plus V.

Jonathan Haidt – How important is freedom to human happiness? Do we need constraints/norms?

Jonathan Haidt:

I have a few thoughts about freedom and happiness. So big picture, I forget who puts together these reports, the World Happiness Report that comes out every year or two from some really great economists and psychologists. And what they find is that when you look at how happy they use various ways of measuring happiness around the world. The happiest countries, what’s the big predictor of being a happy country? Number one by far is GDP. Wealthy countries are happier for a lot of reasons.

I forget what order it goes in next, but one of them is freedom, even on top of GDP because you have some rich countries that are not that free. Although freedom and prosperity tend to go together. So the extent that it is judged a free society, people are happier. To have an authoritarian country, to have bullies, to have people constraining you, preventing you from flourishing, preventing you from doing what you want, that is not a recipe for happiness.

So freedom is a very important element of human happiness. In self-determination theory, really important theory in psychology from Ed Deese and Rich Ryan, it’s autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Those are the three things everybody needs. But autonomy is a basic human need. Now, the other side, there are some interesting things to say, which is Emile Durkheim noted in the 1890s that when you look at suicide rates, the people who are freest are the ones who kill themselves most. That is people who are married less so than single people. People who are married with kids, less so than people who are married without kids. The more you’re locked into a domestic society, the less you are to kill yourself.

Protestants had the highest suicide rate, religious Jews and religious Catholics, the lowest. Freedom, and I think here’s the way to resolve it, people need to live in a thick moral world. They need to live in a world with structure. They need to know what’s right and wrong. They need to have a sense of that we all share this reality. And when you have that, then you have a worldview that is shared. Humans need to believe that they live in a community, a society that shares a worldview. And it’s good if it puts on some constraints, but not be overly restrictive.

So for Durkheim, a really important word was anomie or normlessness. And when people suffer from anomie, they feel disconnected, life has no meaning, they have nothing to strive for, and that’s when you get suicide in the West from being not tightly bound. I bring this up because a very recent finding in my own work in writing The Anxious Generation was when you look at who got wiped out after 2012, once all the kids go on smartphones and social media, over and over again, we graph this a lot of different ways if you look at the levels of mental illness or anxiety, depression, self-harm for kids who are religious and conservative, it goes along in the 2000s. You hit 2012, which is where it all starts, and they go up a little bit.

But then you look at the line for kids who are secular and liberal, you hit 2012, and it’s a hockey stick. They go way, way up. So we’ve long known that conservatives are little happier than liberals. They’re more tightly bound. They have a thicker morally binding worldview. But the difference was small, and it’s been debated. So that’s for left-right. And then the same thing for religious, non-religious people who are part of religious community, we’ve long known are happier than people are not.

But you look at the gap in those lines along those two dimensions, it’s small until 2012, and then it gets huge. So I see this as, yes, we need freedom, but we also need norms. We need clear shared norms. And social media, life in the virtual world, shreds norms. It’s just a tornado. A tornado of memes and influencers. Minute by minute, nothing sticks, nothing matters that I think carried away, it’s like a tsunami that carried away all those unfortunate people in the great Asian Tsunami, the tsunami of social media and smartphones carried away kids who weren’t anchored into a community.

Jonathan Haidt – Is understanding your worldview essential for happiness? No, except for some

Jonathan Haidt:

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And I was a philosophy major and I thought, “Wow, yeah, I’m living the kind of life that’s worth it.” But as I got to learn more about psychology and humanity and human nature, I realized for some people the unexamined life isn’t worth living. For some people like me who love to take things apart, I really want to dig into this, but not everyone does want that. Not everyone needs to. And there are many people who think the unlived life is not worth examining. The point of life is not to examine it’s to do it. It’s to do things. It’s to be out in the world acting. No, I don’t think that knowing your worldview essential for happiness. For reflective people, it is. But I think people who achieve deep levels of engagement with other people and with something productive, they can be extremely happy without giving much thought to their worldview.

Jonathan Haidt – Are you open to the idea of objective truth and the existence of God? 

Doug Monroe:

This is a question in here. I can just read it to you, “Are you open to truth, God, morality, and even evil? You often refer to the latter as a myth perhaps being objectively real, as those terms could be defined within reality.” Do you see what I mean? Everything needs definition and language.

Jonathan Haidt:

I do.

Doug Monroe:

And you think of it one way, you think of those words one way. Are you open to it being different than what you believe now?

Jonathan Haidt:

So, there are different ways in which something can be real or true and the most common, there’s a very helpful distinction from the philosopher David Wiggins, between anthropocentric truths, which are true only because of the creatures we are and non-anthropocentric truths. If I say strawberries are sweet, is that a fact? Yeah, it is a fact, but it’s only a fact because of the taste receptors we have in our tongues. And if aliens come here from another planet and we say, “Hey, try these strawberries.” Try it with your dog, “Here dog, have a strawberry,” and no, they don’t want it. Strawberries are sweet is a true fact, but it’s an anthropocentric fact. Earth is the third planet from the sun. Is that only because we think it is? No. If aliens come here from another solar system, they’ll find earth is the third planet from the sun. That is a non-anthropocentric fact. The natural sciences are concerned almost entirely with non-anthropocentric facts.

The social sciences are concerned very largely with anthropocentric facts. Are anthropocentric facts real? Are they real? Is it true? And the way that I think about it, because thinking about morality, there are some things that you can say that are morally true. An example I use is women should have equal political rights. They should have the vote, they should be just like men. And that’s obviously true today. But does that mean that our ancestors were wrong for hundreds of thousands of years? There was a division of labor, the household was the unit, the man did the warfare and politics, the woman did you know, that’s the way it always was. The way I think about these things is that there’s a whole category of truths called emergent truths. They come out of the way we interact. If I say to you, “Gold is more valuable than silver,” that’s just a fact.

You just have to admit, Doug, gold is more valuable than silver. Now if aliens come here from another planet, are they going to agree? If they look at the price list, but that’s all based on supply and demand. As we interact in a market with supply and demand, prices emerge, those prices are real, but they’re emergent. They’re not facts of the universe like hydrogen has one proton. And I think that women should have equal political rights is one of those kinds of facts. It wasn’t a fact when humans had no material prosperity in a gender division of labor. But now that we have all these labor-saving devices, people can live the lives they want. Of course it’s a fact and be brutal and horrible and wrong and immoral to have a country now in which women didn’t have the vote. I’m very open to moral concepts like that.

Now, you asked about God and religion. God is a different question. Early on, because I was a science kid and I identified with science and I read the Bible, I read the Hebrew Bible in college, and I thought it had a lot of really bad stuff in it that I couldn’t endorse. I just rejected it. I was on track to be a new atheist. I would’ve been like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, very critical of religion. But because I began studying morality and where it came from, and it is deeply tied to our religiosity, our sacredness, our desire for community. I developed a much more positive view of religion, which makes me more open to all of it, all I’ll say, while I don’t believe there’s a God, but even Richard Dawkins says, “10 is certainty there’s a God, zero is certainty that there’s no God.”

He says that, “Nobody should be at either extreme,” and he himself is at a one or a two. He’s not a zero. I would be like that, although probably more open than Dawkins. What I would say, the thought I had recently, I saw a documentary about the new James Webb Telescope and what it can see, and you look into a patch of sky, like the patch of sky, like a 10th the size of the moon, you look into it and what do you see? Billions of galaxies, billions. Just the vastness of it is such that it can’t fit in our minds. And do we understand the world well enough to say there is no intelligence anywhere that had a… No, we don’t. Could there be multiple universes? Could there be an infinite number? These things so boggle the mind that I’m very willing to believe that reality could be not anything like what we think it is. I’m open to that.

Jonathan Haidt – Cross Talk about God

Doug Monroe:

Well, that’s a big, yes, I would say to the extent 1% can be yes out of a hundred and to the extent it may have shifted a little bit somewhere. And we’ll take a break now and you can have some water. We can not. But just interviewed the last big one, Stephen Meyer. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, but he’s leading the charge within science itself to look at intelligent design and that kind of thing. It’s fascinating stuff.

And you could argue that science is disproving. It’s not disproving science at all. It’s proving science, but it’s showing how evolutionary biology say may have been helped along in ways we can understand, which I would submit would be looking out from the Morehead Planetarium at the stars and saying, “Hey, maybe we don’t really know everything that’s gone out that way, and maybe we don’t know everything that got us here in evolution.”

Jonathan Haidt:

That’s right.

Doug Monroe:

Because evolution seems to be true. It’s there. What are we supposed to do? Throw it away. I don’t know. But the more we learn, the better we are. Do you want to stretch and take a break?

Jonathan Haidt – “The Righteous Mind”: How did you invent Moral Foundations Theory?

Jonathan Haidt:

So, in graduate school I originally was going to study the psychology of humor, but I switched and picked up morality. Once I began to focus on morality, then the big issue for me and for a lot of researchers was where does it come from? And you can either say, “It’s from evolution, and Charles Darwin wrote about the origin of morality.” Or you can say it’s from culture and look at the way all these cultures shaped their children and one side points to universalism. We all have the same evolved morality. The other points to diversity and difference, cross-cultural difference, and I love both those fields, evolution and anthropology. And I had just a strong intuition that both are right. There is a universal human nature, but it tunes up variably within cultures.

And it’s like a lot of other things like language is sort of like that. But the analogy that I ultimately settled on, a lot of people were working with language at the analogy like that there’s a moral language or moral grammar, but because I’m an intuitionist, it’s because I was already coming to see that our gut feelings drive our reasoning. And you can see this in everybody else. You can certainly see it in your political opponents. It’s hard to see in yourself, but you got to presume if everyone else is doing it, I’m probably doing it too. Post-hoc reasoning to justify whatever we already believe.

I wrote that up in my dissertation research. And then I wrote an article in Psychological Review really going into how morality could be both evolved and variable. And the evolution is about how we evolved to have certain intuitions. Then I had to say, “What are these intuitions?” That was my next project, and that became Moral Foundations Theory. I wanted to look at what are the elements of morality that you find around the world? It doesn’t have to be in every culture, but it should be in most cultures. What are the elements of morality you find that are around the world that have a clear evolutionary basis, but also have cultural variability in how they’re instantiated? And the way that my thinking worked, first I should say I was drawing on, because there were a few theories of pluralism, of moral pluralism out there.

Richard Shweder, my postdoc advisor, had a theory of three ethics, autonomy, community, divinity. Alan Fiske, one of my PhD advisors at Penn had a theory about four relational models, communal sharing, authority ranking, equality matching and market pricing. And these theories, they didn’t quite match up, and there were a few others. I looked at all these, I did this work with Craig Joseph and said, “Where’s there a clear story?” And for example, care, we care for others, especially vulnerable others, we care for our children. Obviously this is innate. How could you have mammals without care? Our females have breasts to give milk and brains to care. And in humans, the male brain has that too. And a lot of other animals, they don’t. But in humans, we fall in love with our children and we care.

Care was absolutely in. Boy, we’re solid on that. You can’t deny this is innate, but how do you care for your children? It’s really different between Germany and Italy to say nothing of the West versus the East. That’s care. And then fairness. You’ll never find a society that doesn’t value fairness. And there was a great theory from Robert Trivers of Reciprocal Altruism, and we keep track and who’s cheating us, that’s a really good candidate. Just going through this process, we came up with five that we thought were the best candidates. They are care, fairness, loyalty, authority and sanctity or purity. And then since then we’ve added on a couple, I don’t care about parsimony. The world is complicated. I don’t feel we need to reduce it to one or two, those five. We’ve added on liberty. And I think property or possession is also one because you find that in the animal species, they have evolved notions of territoriality. There are a lot of these, I think of them as being the taste buds of the moral mind.

Doug Monroe:

It is hard for me. Did you really just spring this on the world? It just seems so insightful and obvious, or did you bring it together from others?

Jonathan Haidt:

As I understand it, research on inventions shows that if Bell hadn’t invented the telephone, someone else would’ve gotten it two years later, if Gutenberg hadn’t invented the printing press, there were dozens who were working on similar things. And in the same way, just as I said, Rick Shweder had a theory of three. Alan Fiske had a theory of four. Franz de Waal had a theory of building blocks of morality and chimpanzees. People were playing with these ideas, and I just put them together. It may just be that I’m better at writing up my ideas and conveying them intuitively because all these are good theories.

They’re all really good for doing certain things. I was trying to come up with a theory that would help us really get inside other people’s minds and be able to understand if you go to a different culture, because originally this had nothing with politics. This was about culture. And I’ve done some work in India, and that’s where I came to understand notions of authority, respect, hierarchy, and notions of purity, sanctity, pollution. Once you understand this is all part of the human equipment, it’s just that some cultures develop bits of it, others develop other parts. You’re much more sympathetic.

Jonathan Haidt – How do groups of people see the key moral foundations differently?

Jonathan Haidt:

As I was doing this work with Craig Joseph, looking at how morality varies across nations and cultures, I was joined at UVA by a really brilliant young grad student named Jesse Graham. And this was around 2004, around the time of the presidential election.

Doug Monroe:

Wow. That early. Wow.

Jonathan Haidt:

And the culture war really began in the early nineties. I think Pat Buchanan used the phrase, “There’s a culture war,” or something like that. And it heated up in the nineties during the Clinton presidency.

Doug Monroe:

James Davison Hunter wrote a book on it from UVA.

Jonathan Haidt:

That’s right. Fantastic book. The phrase, “culture wars,” Hunter’s book really, really laid that out. It was very influential on me. And it became clear that America was becoming two different cultures. We have two different US constitutions. The Constitution on the left is not at all the constitution on the right. Two different history textbooks, two different economics textbooks, two different childbearing textbooks. We live in different worlds. And it became really clear at the time, remember, think back some of the issues. It was like flag burning. Should we amend the Constitution to ban flag burning? It was like there’s all kinds of… Now those things seem tame compared to what we’re dealing with today. But once you understand the flag is a symbol of its loyalty, it is your loyalty to your group. It’s respect for authority, you’re supposed to be reverential toward it, and it’s sanctity.

And we actually have research showing that people who score high on our moral foundations survey for sanctity in general, nothing about flags, just in general, they are more likely to want to protect the flag, regardless of their politics. Because these are people who don’t just see a flag as a piece of cloth. They see that there’s an invisible essence that inheres in something. And that’s what people in India do, and that’s what almost all humans do. Over and over, what we find is that there’s normal human culture, which is very thick and rich and full of, it builds on all the foundations. And there’s something about modernity where you get concentrations of people in cities that reduce morality to one or two foundations. And there’s a great book called The Weirdest People in the World by Joe Henrich. He and some colleagues developed the idea that many of us are weird, that is western educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. Those societies are really different from everybody else on earth. And liberals are more weird. And I have researched with Thomas Talhoun demonstrating that.

Jonathan Haidt –The Moral Differences of Liberals, Conservatives, and Libertarians

Jonathan Haidt:

Many have noticed that there’s a yin-yang between left and I wrote about this in The Happiness Hypothesis, that the right is trying to maintain structure and order. The left is trying to change it. And you don’t want a car with only a gas pedal. You don’t want a car with only a brake. And that’s what I went into The Righteous Mind thinking, “Left, right, left, right.” But by the time I was done with the book, I’d been reading and meeting some libertarians who at the time were seen to be on the right because that was part of the Reagan Coalition. But psychologically, they’re really different from conservatives. They’re not conservative at all. And I have a paper with Ravi Iyer, the biggest paper ever done on libertarian psychology. If you’re listening to this podcast or this recording, go to yourmorals.org. You can take our surveys. A million people or so have done.

Doug Monroe:

What is that again? I’m sorry.

Jonathan Haidt:

Yourmorals.org. And we published a lot of papers from this research. What we found is that libertarians really value liberty and they’re lower on care. They don’t care about their friends as much as liberals and conservatives. They are low on loyalty. They’re low on sanctity, they’re very rational. They’re the smartest people out there. They really are extremely intelligent, and there’s a lot of psychological terms for this. They’re high on systemizing, low on empathizing. And we found that people with Asperger’s or autism are much more libertarian and libertarians are a little bit more Asperger’s autism. They’re different psychologically. And I think they play an incredibly valuable role because left-right is locked in this stupid fight over all these basic things, and both end up creating systems that are subject to decay and inefficiency and a loss of dynamism. And the libertarians come along.

And I read Reason Magazine, I’m not a libertarian myself, but I love reading libertarians. I know a lot in New York. I like them a lot because they’re always like, “Look what happens,” especially if you let the left get control of something they’re going to regulate, do this, that, and before you know it, the thing is just dead. And that’s Europe. Europe is like there’s no dynamism. I think zero of the top a hundred companies are European or that can’t be true. But there’s some amazing stat like that.

I think if you have a creative tension between progressives, not the far left of today, which is identitarian, but between the traditional liberals pushing for rights and equality, and you have conservatives saying, “We need to preserve structure and order, and we don’t want chaos, we don’t want crime.” And then libertarians saying, “We need freedom and dynamism.” The libertarians are really great on dynamism. If you keep those three in mind, I think you get a good society.

Doug Monroe:

And I’m just seeing elements of all three coming together under the free speech alliance stuff, for some reason people can agree on the first amendment that we can have religious freedom and free speech and free association, and that’s foundational to truth seeking. That seems to bring some people together, and that’s really fun.

Jonathan Haidt – How to persuade or disagree constructively using Moral Foundations Theory?

Jonathan Haidt:

At a lower level, there’s a line of work by Rob Wheeler and Matt Feinberg showing that if you ask people to make an argument, let’s say on gay marriage, you have people in the left and right, ask them to make an argument, to try to persuade someone on the other side. They appeal only to their own foundations. They make an argument that would persuade their people. It’s amazing, but people don’t think to make it in terms of the other person’s argument. Then they give them a little training in Moral Foundations Theory, and they show them, “Here’s what conservatives believe, loyalty, authority,” things like that. Now try to make an argument for gay marriage that uses those and they can do it. And it’s persuasive. Once you know this, you understand the moral foundations, you can be more persuasive in any context. And I get emails from people, it seems especially about in-laws like, “Thank you. My father-in-law is MAGA,” or, “He’s far-right. And for the first time, I actually can understand him as a human being.” The human experience is diverse.

We all look at the world and see different things, and we can do the usual thing, which is just hate people for it and think they’re stupid and break off from them. And that was tolerable for a while. But now in the age of social media, we’re confronted with this all the time. We’re coming apart, we’re blowing apart. We’re full of anger. I’m hopeful that at least Moral Foundations Theory will help people see that the other side, they’re not inhuman. You can disagree with them all you want, but you’re better off understanding them, and it makes you a lot less angry. It makes you a lot better able to deal with the world.

Jonathan Haidt – What are the ideological blind spots for both the Right and Left?

Jonathan Haidt:

I think on the right, they tend to have a much greater belief that life is fair, or at least that people get what they deserve. And they have a hard time seeing the disadvantages that many people come to the table with, and they think that as long as you eliminate overt obstacles, it’s a fair starting line. I think the right, they tend to not see that as well as they should, and they believe in merit and meritocracy, and I do too. But if you believe that life is a meritocracy and therefore the people on the bottom deserve it, sometimes that’s true, but often it’s not. That’s the main blind spot I would say for the right. For the left, I think I say explicitly in The Righteous Mind that their blind spot is moral capital to have a functioning society.

Their blind spot is moral capital. To have a functioning society, you need order, traditions, norms, you need punishment. You must have punishment. When people are breaking the law, when people are hurting others, they must be punished, put in jail. You need stories even if they’re not true. And the left tends to be kind of a solvent. So if you think about all the things that bind a country together, traditionally, it’s common blood, common language, common enemy, common stories. That’s how humans create nations. And the left generally says, let’s not do any of that. All the stories are bad, all the founding fathers are bad. Let’s eliminate these holidays. We need more diversity and no assimilation. Assimilation is cultural genocide.

So let’s be sure that we have lots of people coming in and let’s not incorporate them in our common culture that would be like killing their culture. And I think this is extremely bad for society. There are times when a society needs to loosen up and the left is good at that, and the fifties and sixties I think was one of those times. But now is a time when we don’t need to loosen up and come apart. We’re coming apart. We are falling apart. We are on the road to self-destruction. We really need to find ways to come together to cohere more. So I think the left has a great deal of difficulty seeing that, and that’s why Donald Trump can win.

He didn’t get the majority vote, but someone like Donald Trump, who you would think could never get anywhere near the White House and has no virtues, as far as I can tell, a man like that, because most people are so sick of what the left is doing to their schools, to our common culture. So the right in every era, I learned this from Jerry Mueller. The right in every era is always a reaction to the excesses of the left. And since the left has had some real excesses around identity since the new left of the 1960 through nineties, the right is a reaction to that, and I think that’s why Donald Trump is likely to be our next president.

Jonathan Haidt – What kinds of criticism have you received on your work?

Jonathan Haidt:

I look for criticisms and I have a Google search for my name, and when there’s an article criticizing me, I read it. I want to know. I’m a big fan of John Stuart Mill. He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. And on The Righteous Mind, there was definitely an argument within, oh, I bet I know who it was. There’s been an argument within psychology, especially with a faculty member here at Carolina, Kurt Gray. So Kurt did important work on how part of our moral psychology is we see things in terms of an agent and a patient. We see someone doing something to someone else. And Kurt, in my view, was then trying to reduce morality to just there’s one foundation. It’s harm. Everything’s about harm and there’s different kinds of harm, like loyalty harm and hierarchy harm and things like that.

So it was a narrow psychological dispute between me and Kurt. But that’s the only real serious criticism I know of Moral Foundations Theory. The other one is some people on the left think Republicans are stupid and evil and Haidt is trying to make it look like they have a morality. So I do hear that, that loyalty, authority, and sanctity, these are not morality, this is just racism and fascism. Those are the two main ones on The Righteous Mind. But the book is still selling well. It’s widely referred to in political circles. I think people have found it a useful language. The rider and the elephant intuitions come first, the five taste buds of the moral sense. People find it useful for understanding the weirdness that we live in now.

Jonathan Haidt – “The Coddling of the American Mind”: 3 Untruths Harming Us and Universities

Jonathan Haidt:

Yeah. Well, The Coddling of the American Mind focuses, it’s structured around three great untruths, three ideas that are so terrible. They’re so contradictory to ancient wisdom. They’re so contradictory to modern psychology. They’re so bad for you that if anyone believes all three, they’re almost certain to live a miserable and unsuccessful life. And the three that Greg and I wrote about, which we saw circulating among young people, the first is what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. So avoid anything stressful, avoid somebody, if there’s somebody with bad attitudes, don’t listen to them because that’d be upsetting.

The second is always trust your feelings. Your feelings are always right. If you feel you’ve been offended, then someone offended you and somebody else has to punish that person because nobody should have the right to make you feel bad by what they said. And the third, which is the most serious and the most damaging, is life is a battle between good people and evil people. This is a very natural, normal human belief. It’s called Manicheism. To see everything out there is happening because there are good people who are blocked by the evil people and we have to all unite as the good people to expel or crush or kill the evil people. You always find that with genocides. You find it in all kinds of group conflicts. And so when we look at the strange things that happened on campus in the 2015 to 2016 academic year, that’s where suddenly we had all this policy about microaggressions, safe spaces, trigger warnings, bias response teams, all that stuff and that language.

They all came in then and were motivated by these three great untruths. And those are some of the things that I think made universities into laughing stocks. American universities had one of the best brands on the planet, much better than Coca-Cola. Google and Apple are up there, but American universities were so trusted. Our brand was intellectual excellence and honesty, and we dominate the lists of top universities in the world. They’re almost all American other than Oxford and Cambridge. Not anymore. We squandered it all between 2015 and 2023. That’s what I’ll be talking about in my talk here at Carolina. How did we do that? How do we manage to do that? And I think it was bringing in this new identitarian morality that pulled us away from our telos or purpose of truth-seeking and elevated instead a certain identitarian social justice.

Doug Monroe:

Yeah. And it could be the George Floyd incident for the universities, the testimony of the three Ivy League heads. That was eye-opening for just what you were talking about.

Jonathan Haidt:

I call it, it was the Waterloo moment.

Doug Monroe:

It was really shocking. It didn’t hit me as bad as it hit the country.

Jonathan Haidt:

No, that’s right. But the country was disgusting.

Doug Monroe:

Maybe I wasn’t surprised.

Jonathan Haidt:

No, I think it was December 5th, 2023. That’s going to be remembered, I believe, in the academic world the way Waterloo used to be.

Jonathan Haidt – Does biological sex matter in human social behavior and psychology?

Jonathan Haidt:

Oh, yeah. We all start off in utero as girls. The female body shape is the basic shape, and then if there’s a Y chromosome present, that kicks in a little bit of, well, by a sequence of events, testosterone, which then changes the body and the brain. And on average, I think where people get messed up is people get very upset if you say that men are better at something and women are better at something. And there are some places where that’s true, but there’s not a lot. Where you really see huge sex differences is desire, interest, motivation. If you get a bunch of boys together at any age, let’s just imagine eight, nine, ten-year-old boys. You take a group of boys, put them together, leave them alone. What are they going to do? You take a group of eight, nine, ten-year-old girls, put them together. Everything’s different. The way they talk, what they choose to do, what they choose to eat. Everything’s different.

That’s not sexism. That’s not social pressure. That’s the boys and girls. Their brains are a little bit different, especially around motivation. And so when we look, this is one of the big problems with the concept of equity. Equity, which used to mean fairness, equity in psychology used to mean proportionality, which is what people believe is fairness. You should get in proportion of what you put in, but it’s become equality of outcomes. And if the programmers at Apple, if the tech staff at Apple is 80% male, that’s a violation of equity. It has to be 50-50. Which is insane because women are just not, they don’t choose engineering.

They don’t choose programming. Some do, they’re very successful. But women’s brains are more interested in people, helping people, working with people. Men are a little more autistic, higher on systemizing. They find it more interesting to work with machines, with systems, with inanimate objects. So to understand the way the world is, if you ban biology or if you say sex is a social construct, or if you say there are many sexes, this is all just nonsense. This is just delusion. And it gets in the way of actually figuring out why society is how it is and how you would change it if you wanted to.

Jonathan Haidt –On “The Anxious Generation”:  How can parents help the anxious generation?

Jonathan Haidt:

Yeah. So if the fundamental problem is that kids need a play-based childhood but no longer have it, give your kid a play-based childhood. If the other part of the fundamental problem is they have a phone-based childhood, don’t give your kid a phone-based childhood. Now, that sounds easier said than done. And what I do in my book is I show that all of these things are collective action problems, that it’s hard to be the only one who doesn’t give your kid a phone if everyone else does. But what if half the parents in your kid’s sixth grade class didn’t give their kids a phone? Now your kid comes to you and all she can say is, “Mom, some kids have iPhones,” not “Everyone has one and I’m cut off.”

So what I’m doing in the book is after I lay out the disaster that’s happened, the evidence that it’s caused by the loss of play-based childhood, the arrival of phone-based childhood, I say here are four norms that if we do them, if we do them together, if a lot of us do them at the same time, we can solve this problem. We can break out of these collective action traps. The four norms are no smartphone before high school. Just give them a flip phone. The millennials had flip phones. They were fine. They used it to meet up with each other. They didn’t spend all day texting each other when you have to press S six, three times to get, whatever.

So no smartphone before high school, no social media till 16. That means especially Instagram, TikTok, Facebook. Those are the really destructive ones for kids. The third is phone-free schools. Every school, every K-12 school, you should turn the phone in in the morning. It’s useful to get to school. Turn it in into a locker or a Yondr pouch. You get it back at the end of the day. Having a phone in your pocket, it gives nothing good and everything bad. Kids are on their phone all day. They’re texting during class. Boys are watching porn during class. There’s nothing good that comes from this. And the fourth norm is give your kid a lot more childhood independence and free play. Let them out to play. But if you’re the only one, you’ll get arrested. But if a town does this where third-graders routinely meet at the park and play in the afternoons, that’s the kind of childhood we always had. That’s the kind of childhood kids still need.

Jonathan Haidt – Cross Talk about Safetyism and Free Speech

Doug Monroe:

That’s the kind of childhood you and I had. And I know that started being lost when I was a parent. It’s hard to say why. I think it had something to do with drunk driving or something, I don’t know. But it was a higher safety-ism component started really [inaudible 01:35:58] into it.

Jonathan Haidt:

Paranoia, rising paranoia. But we locked up all the drunk drivers, we locked up all the perverts. It’s much safer now.

Doug Monroe:

Yeah. But I also think, and this is a side comment, we’re at the conclusion here with two or three more questions, but a lot of the solutions you mentioned I think are also really good solutions for universities because our research here at this school shows that a lot of the problems, it’s not so much the professors, it’s the chimpanzee-like students that prey on other students and they try to abuse them on social media and get into their file. And everyone’s aware of that and they’re petrified of not being able to get a job or whatever it is or becoming a pariah to in a group that they don’t want to. So anyway, all that’s fabulous.

Jonathan Haidt – What does a free market economy need to be successful? Dynamism & Decency

Jonathan Haidt:

Yeah. So I was going to write a book called Three Stories about Capitalism: The Moral Psychology of Economic Life. I got a contract for it, I got an advance on it. I have a lot of notes. I did travel. And then I got overwhelmed by what’s happening in universities and to Gen Z. But the gist of it was going to be that any good society needs dynamism and decency, and the left is always a witness for decency and is willing to sacrifice dynamism. So economies dominated by progressives tend to be pretty sclerotic, not very dynamic. Conservatives, and here we mean more libertarian or economic conservatives, not social conservatives, are really focused on dynamism and they’re willing to sacrifice some decency that many will say, no minimum wage at all. If someone wants to work for $2 an hour, they should be allowed to. And they are able to deliver a lot more dynamism.

And we see that, for example, in Chile. When Chile embraced free market economics, it shot up to prosperity. So learning about business, learning about capitalism, has made me much more sympathetic to libertarian arguments, to free market arguments. And then the thing to look out for is market failures where companies can prey upon people. So I once heard a libertarian philosopher say something like an ideal capitalist society is one in which the only way you can get rich is by making other people better off. And he’s right. Now, in our society, you can get very rich creating Facebook, which is doing enormous damage to children, to democracy.

But because it’s a business model, it’s not quite a monopoly, but it’s dominant. It certainly has information asymmetry. They know everything. We don’t know what’s going on there. It certainly is exploitation of public goods, which is the limited attention of the entire human population. And it certainly has very heavy external costs that imposes on people, which Mark Zuckerberg denied in his Senate testimony. But the data is very clear about the harms, I believe. So we certainly want a free market society, but it does have to be one in which there are government agencies and journalism and other things that are able to find these exploitative market failures that cause harm and change things to rein them in.

Jonathan Haidt – Human Nature and Bettering the World: Utopianism vs. Ameliorism

Doug Monroe:

Well, I hope you do write that book at some point, and I don’t know when you’ll get to it given your current trajectory. But second to last question is how perfectible is human nature, human beings? Is that even a good question? I’m curious what you would think.

Jonathan Haidt:

No. I’d say no. They’re not perfectible. It’s not a good question.

Doug Monroe:

Okay, so the follow-on question is what are you doing here in trying to make it a better world? Is that a flotsam and jetsam type thing?

Jonathan Haidt:

No. No, no. I think about complex dynamical systems. If we live on a planet with a certain ecology, and if the CO₂ level is going to go up a hundred percent, that’s going to mess a lot of things up. We should stop that. We need to bring that CO₂ level down. In the same way, kids grow up and they have certain needs and they grow up a certain way. And if we suddenly put phones in their hand so that they no longer spend much time with each other, they don’t sleep as much, they don’t exercise as much, they don’t go out in nature, and they’re depressed and anxious, I’m going to say, you know what? We should probably take those phones out of their hands. Seven, eight, nine-year-old kids should not be spending most of their day on their phone.

So I think there are some simple changes. The way I think about is very much like lead. The amount of lead that Gen X consumed, lead in the atmosphere in the post-war world, it really skyrockets in America, in particularly. We have so much leaded gas. And so younger baby boomers like me, born in 1963, and then Gen X after me, they grew up in an incredibly leaded environment, and they were very violent. Boys, it interferes with frontal cortex development. It’s horrible what we did by lead poisoning an entire generation. We shouldn’t have done that and we’re doing it again with smartphones and social media, so I’m trying to stop that.

Doug Monroe:

So it sounds like your problem is with the idea of perfection in utopia. As a standard, it’s not trying to improve things over here.

Jonathan Haidt:

Oh, no. I’m a, I think the word is, there’s a word: ameliorist. An ameliorist is one who thinks we can make things better. But no, conservatives are right that liberals are utopians who strive for perfection and usually end up bringing about a nightmare, and that would be communism. But no, I’m an ameliorist, I think.

Jonathan Haidt – Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future U.S. universities?

Jonathan Haidt:

I’ll do universities because that’s much more tractable. I’ve been in this game since 2014, 2015, and it’s gotten worse every year without fail until early 2023. I’m the chair of the board at Heterodox Academy, so I wrote my beginning-of-the-year letter on how this is going to be the year of the turnaround, that we’re seeing signs. For the first time we began seeing some presidents and some deans actually saying no to student protesters who were shouting down speakers. At Stanford Law School where there was a humiliating, ridiculous shout-down of a judge, the dean wrote a firm letter saying, no, we don’t do this.

The New York Times had a similar thing. It’s beginning to creep out. These epistemic spaces, these knowledge industries that were completely overrun by identitarianism, they’re beginning to push back. So that was happening already in early 2023, and then the horror of October 7th and the horror of October 8th, where we began seeing students and faculty celebrating the Hamas slaughter, and then the debacle of the presidents who couldn’t condemn calls for genocide, and then the plagiarism of the president of Harvard, and then academics twisting themselves into pretzels to say, well, it wasn’t really plagiarism.

That was such a despicable, dishonest, hypocritical moment, all of those events in December, that I think the country has had it and we’re at a turning point. So I think what we’re going to see, now a lot of the identitarian is very deeply entrenched in DEI departments. So what I expect we’re going to see is a lot of schools, especially in the south and the southwest, and Arizona State University has already broken out, here at Carolina, you’ve already taken a lot of steps to improve your speech culture. It’s interesting that most of the really bad anti-Semitism events have been at Ivy League schools. So it’s the elite schools in the Northeast where there’s no viewpoint diversity. Those schools, I don’t know. Faculty are organizing. Alumni are organizing. So there’s hope, but I’m actually very optimistic about schools in the south and the southwest.

And there are a few in California actually as well. So I think we’re going to see finally divergence. That’s what I’ve wanted to see all along. Let some schools follow Brown and Yale embrace. Everything’s about race, everything’s about power. That always leads to eternal conflict and a feeling of lack of inclusion. Let them go that way, and that’s not going to work. And I always thought that a lot of schools were going to follow Chicago and say, no, we don’t do safe spaces here. Class is class. We’re here for ideas. So Chicago really carved out the other track, and very few followed them, but I think now a lot will, and we’re going to see more schools committing to institutional neutrality.

Heterodox Academy and a few other groups just came up with a big position statement on that. So actually, 2023 was so horrible for higher ed that it’s a blessing. We hit rock bottom. The rot has been exposed, public humiliation, our brand is in tatters. That really enables those presidents who want to stand up and have been standing up. That really empowers them, and faculty members, too. So I actually am optimistic. I wasn’t so optimistic a year, a year and a half ago, but I’m actually now optimistic that things are going to improve at most universities.

Doug Monroe:

Well, Jon, just at the end of the interview, I want to just thank you so much for being here, for taking all this on. You’re just proof that one person can really make a difference and to come to Carolina and UVA and W&L and do this. And it’s just been a pleasure meeting with you, and I look forward to shepherding you around a little bit.

Overview

Jonathan Haidt

Praxis Circle Contributor Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist and the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He is also a New York Times bestselling author and co-founder of Heterodox Academy. Praxis Circle interviewed Jonathan because of his contribution to Moral Foundations Theory and extensive research focusing on negative and positive morality, along with his advocacy for viewpoint diversity and freedom of inquiry on college campuses.
Transcript

Jonathan Haidt – New Book “The Anxious Generation” and the End of Play-Based Childhood

Jonathan Haidt:

Okay. Well, thanks so much, Doug. It’s a pleasure to be here. This is a beautiful room and a beautiful house on a beautiful campus. And it’s a beautiful day here in Chapel Hill. I’m very happy to talk about the new book. It’s not closely related to my original research, which is on moral psychology. But as I began studying the moral meltdown on campus, the new morality that came in, and that was the topic of The Coddling of the American Mind, I discovered along with Jean Twenge and some other researchers, that America was in the midst of a gigantic epidemic of youth mental illness. And a lot of people denied this. As late as the start of COVID, just before COVID, a lot of people said, “Nah, it’s just self-report. It’s not a real thing.” But it was. It’s the biggest epidemic of mental illness we’ve ever seen.

And as I’ve been studying it, I thought the story would be simple. I thought it would be girls use social media, that seems to make them depressed, that’s the story. It turns out it’s a lot more complicated, a lot more interesting. And I can summarize it with a single, well, maybe it’ll be two sentences. Humans evolved childhood that was based on play. All mammals play, and so humans had a play-based childhood from time immemorial until around maybe 1990, plus or minus a few years. That’s when we started cracking down on childhood, cracking down on freedom, freaking out about child abduction, which almost never happens. So, we began restricting childhood freedom. And at the same time, the virtual world, the internet was coming in. And it was getting better and better. Video games, the early internet was slow, it gets faster, you get multiplayer games.

So we have this transition period about 1990 to 2010 where you get the gradual end of the play-based childhood. 2010’s a very important year because the iPhone came out in 2007, but no kids had one. In 2010, I think it was about 15% of kids had an iPhone. So, it’s just beginning. And that’s when Instagram is founded, that’s when the front-facing camera is brought out so you can do selfies.

So by 2015, everyone now, has an iPhone with a front-facing camera, an Instagram account. And now everything’s about you posting about you. This is an insane way to raise children. So, the anxious generation is about what happened when the phone-based childhood replaced the play-based childhood. And in the space of just five years, the floor fell out from under our young people.

Jonathan Haidt – How did a psychologist end up teaching at NYU’s business program? 

Jonathan Haidt:

Yeah. So, there are a lot of twists and turns in life and a lot of unexpected opportunities. And I was very happy in the UVA Department of Psychology. I had a lab, I had grad students. But when I was beginning to write The Righteous Mind, my wife and I had our second child. And it was clear, this is all-consuming and I’m not going to be able to travel up to New York to do interviews for this book when it comes out. And I don’t know how I’m going to write it in time for the presidential election of 2012 ’cause I had to get it out before then.

And so, I took one of the few real gambles in my life. I said to my chair, “How about if you don’t pay me and I don’t teach?” And this was the early days of the financial crisis. So he was like, “Okay. UVA is happy to do that.” And I just lived off the advance of the book and I got a lot written.

And then I had given a talk at NYU Stern at the business school a year or two earlier. So I called up the guy who ran the program, the Business and Society program, “How does business affect society?” I had a lot to say on that. And I said, “Can I come up and teach business ethics for a year?” He said, “Yes, we’d love to have you.” They found me a great apartment, which at NYU is a big deal. Nice housing is a big deal at NYU. So my wife and I came up with our two little kids, and we had a blast. We love New York City. And I thought I was going to hang out in the psych department. I thought, “I’ll learn a little about business, but that’s not so interesting.”, I thought.

But just before I went there, I listened to a series of lectures on capitalism by a brilliant intellectual historian, [inaudible 00:15:17] Jerry Mueller. It’s called Thinking About Capitalism. I urge everybody to get it from [inaudible 00:15:23] the Teaching Company. And it was like the intellectual history of how we came to have the modern world. And just as when I learned about the theory of evolution, suddenly I could see like, “Oh, now I see why all the plants and animals are here.” And when I learned about capitalism, business history, finance, contracts, all the things, the cultural inventions, it’s like, “Oh, now I understand how everything I can see got here.” At least I have a sense of how we live in such abundance now. So anyway, that’s a long, high-level story.

I end up fitting in very well because we have a mandatory ethics class. It’s called Professional Responsibility. So at first, that’s what I did. But then because I taught positive psychology at UVA and I’ve been in the positive psychology movement from the beginning, so I developed a course for the MBA students called [inaudible 00:16:18] Work, Wisdom, and Happiness. A few business schools have a course like that. Stanford has been called “touchy feely.” And this was about how to become stronger, smarter, and more sociable. These are skills that will make you more successful and happier.

So, I taught that for a number of years. And then the mental health crisis of Gen Z became so clear by 2019. We had a meeting, a faculty meeting about, what are we going to do about all these depressed and anxious students? And so I volunteered to say, “Well, let me take my little MBA course, this half-semester thing. Let me make it a full-semester course for the undergrads, more focused on mental health.” So, that’s what I do now. I teach a course called Flourishing, in which I work with the undergrads to change their habits, especially around their phones and their social lives, to make them happier.

Jonathan Haidt – Business School: Where Pragmatism Reigns over Politics!

Jonathan Haidt:

But one comment I do want to just add about the business school is that at a time when the nation is getting polarized, when ideology and politics are becoming more and more powerful, when, as we’ll talk about later, universities are being pulled very far left, it is a joy to be in a business school. Because even though most people are Democrats, most people I know, vote for Democrats, but business is pragmatic. Business people are about getting things done, not posturing, not yelling and screaming. So I’ve been very, I hate to use the word safe, but here I am criticizing certain things where if I’d been in a psych department or certainly if I was in an anthro or sociology department, it would’ve been really hard.

But I have tremendous support from my dean, my department chair. I have tremendous freedom to really explore whatever I want. And it turns out that the issue that I’ve settled on is, how is this business model developed by Facebook about advertising-supported, engagement maximizing, how is this business model devastating liberal democracy around the world and young people?

Jonathan Haidt – Founding & Mission of Heterodox Academy: Viewpoint Diversity

Jonathan Haidt:

So, I’m a social psychologist who studies morality and politics. And in 2011, I began to get concerned that everyone was on the same team. In my field in social psychology, everyone was a Democrat, everybody had the same views. And that meant that any conversation about immigration, race, gender, inequality, everyone started from the [inaudible 00:20:56]. They had the same presuppositions, they reached the same conclusions. And I could see errors being made.

And so, I was invited to give a talk at our annual convention by the president of the main organization. And I said, “Okay, but I’m going to talk about this problem. I’m going to talk about how we have no ideological diversity.” He said, “Great, great, bring that out.” So, I gave a talk on that. And I went through a variety of ways of searching for conservative social psychologists. And I found one, there was one. His name is Rick McCauley. And I’m so blessed that I actually met him and learned from him in graduate school. And that prepared me to do the work that I’ve done for the rest of my life. The one conservative showed me, well, actually there are other ways of looking at things.

So I gave this talk, I wasn’t canceled. A few people were upset, but a lot more said, “You made a good point,” because it wasn’t a moral talk, it was about, this is blocking our science. We need viewpoint diversity. And so about four or five other professors came to me after and said, “Wow, we think you’re right.” And we talked and we said, “We should work on this. We should make this a more formal case.” So we wrote this up into a paper for Brain and Behavioral Sciences, where really laid out in academic terms, here are the five different mechanisms by which viewpoint diversity would improve our science, confirmation bias, just all sort sorts of mechanisms. And then we wrote that in psychology. And then it turned out there was a sort of analogous paper in law and one in sociology. And we said like, “Wow, this is all over the place.” This is 2014 now, we’re talking.

So in 2015, a few of us got together, we decided to put up a website. We just made up the name Heterodox Academy, was made up by Nick Rosenkranz, who’s a conservative law professor at Georgetown. And we put up a site. We thought this was just a faculty project, it had nothing to do with students. We went live on September 12th, 2015, and about two months later, Yale blew up at Halloween. And after the Yale Halloween fiasco, then that spread nationally. That led to what in retrospect really is rather similar to the Cultural Revolution in China, a student-led movement to tear down everything old, everything that is not equal, everything that’s hierarchical.

So, Heterodox Academy is still a movement of professors who love the university. We are politically diverse and we’re mostly center-left, center-right, centrist, and libertarian. We don’t have a lot of far-left. There’s nobody from the far-right anywhere anyway in the academy. But we love universities, we’re not bashing them. We’re trying to fix them, we’re trying to improve them. And that’s one reason I’m happy to be here in Carolina, is that you have a very active chapter here with a nice name Heterodox Heels.

Jonathan Haidt – Growing Up Years & Journey to Becoming a Professor

Jonathan Haidt:

You know, I had a very conventional, suburban childhood. Born in 1963. My first memory is the moon landing. The 70s is really when I remember growing up. After school, my friends and I would hang out, do things, play sports, so it was a typical free-range childhood. It’s what almost everybody had. And that will feature later on in what’s gone wrong for Gen Z today, is that they were deprived of that.

The only thing I can say about my childhood that’d be relevant is, so there are personality types and the big five openness to experience. I’m very, very high in openness to experience. I love awe, I love traveling, I love learning new things. So when I was a kid, I was very hungry for new experiences and I was curious about a lot of things. It never occurred to me to be a professor. I thought I’d be a doctor—Jewish kid who likes the sciences. What else do you do? You become a doctor. I ran track, I’m not a good athlete, but for some reason I was actually good at pole-vaulting. And I still have the school record in part because-

Doug Monroe:

You look like a pole vaulter. You do.

Jonathan Haidt:

Yeah. In part because after I set it in 1981, the insurance crisis hit and they didn’t have pole vault for a decade or two. Anyway, I went to Yale undergrad. I thought I’d be pre-med, but quickly realized this is boring and nobody wants to be here. Majored in philosophy, took some computer science courses, started working in computers for the summers. Still didn’t know what to do with my life. Got a job when I graduated in 1985. I didn’t know what to do. I got… I graduated in 1985. I didn’t know what to do. I got a temporary job in Washington DC for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, writing computer programs. Got bored with that. Made a list of what I really wanted in my life and what I didn’t. I really want to be around smart, interesting people, learning new things, not working 50 weeks a year in the same place with some variety. So I looked at the list and it was, money would be nice, but wasn’t crucial. And I looked at the list, said, “Wow, I should be a college professor.” It had never occurred to me in college. It was only a year or two later.

And so I started applying in computer science programs originally because I thought I have psychology, philosophy, computers, that’s AI, and there was an AI boom lit in the 80s. But as I was exploring the programs, they felt wrong to me, too. And it wasn’t until I got to psychology and especially the psychology department at Penn, I just walked into the lobby and just felt right. I had a good conversation with a grad student. And just little things like that can change the course of your life. So I applied in psychology. I didn’t know what I was doing. Only one school took me, which was Penn. And that’s where I ended up picking my topic of morality and how it varies across cultures.

Jonathan Haidt – Is personality nature or nurture?

Doug Monroe:

You seem to be very fascinated by how research supports a human model and also tracing thoughts that would lead to conclusions prior to the research being done, which goes to 3000 years before or whatever recorded history is. I mean, you’ve carved yourself out of a fascinating place. One side question; creativity, new experiences, were you born with that or were your parents that way, or was there a mentor? How does that happen?

Jonathan Haidt:

No, this is innate personality. This is what we know now, the big discoveries in the 80s were if you take identical twins, separate them at birth, raise them in different families, they’re going to be very similar on personality. Whereas fraternal twins are not, because if you only share 50% of your genes, the brain that they make is not at all like a sibling. Not at all. Whereas if you’re identical twins, the same genes make a very similar brain. So anyway.

So in parents can see this in their kids. From the time your kid is two or three, there’s certain personality traits that are clearly traceable. And for me, my mother says, I would come to her and say, “I figured it out.” Like, I figured out how the water faucet works or whatever. I was just always just trying to… I love to take things apart with a little tool kit. That’s why I thought I was going to go into the natural sciences because what kid thinks about the social sciences, you don’t even know what they are.

But thank God I went into the social sciences because people are so much more interesting than anything else. And what I’ve been able to do is, I basically get paid to sit around and think about how do systems made of people, how do they go awry and how can we make them go better?

 

Jonathan Haidt – What’s your idea of a worldview, and do you have one? 

Jonathan Haidt:

Well, okay, from our preliminary talk about worldview, I suspect that you and I have a different way of thinking about this. It’s very common for young people to be told, what are your values? You have to find your values. Or what is your worldview? But to me, this is like, what is your language? You have to find your language. Each of us has to find our own language because it has to be yours, which is absurd. It’s like you don’t understand what a language is.

And I would say the same thing about a worldview. So my biggest intellectual influence are Emile Durkheim, the sociologist, Charles Darwin, and then through them, a lot of other people, but in particular, Richard Shweder, my postdoc advisor, who’s an anthropologist. So you take those three fields; sociology, biology, revolution, and anthropology.

Now, the amazing human ability that was crossing the Rubicon, the amazing human ability that separates us from chimpanzees and every other life form is called shared intentionality. I’m drawing on the work of Michael Tomasello here when he gave a talk at UVA, he said, “It is inconceivable that you would ever see two chimpanzees carrying a log together.” That chimpanzees are brilliant. They can lie, they figure out how things work. They’re really smart animals. But they lack our automatic ability to do something with another person.

So if you think about what happens when you travel in a foreign country where you don’t know the language, are you completely lost? No. Because if you’re trying to get somewhere, the other… they understand, oh, you’re trying to get around. Okay, here you go over… we can work it out. Where if something falls, we figure out, oh, who should pick it…

So humans automatically share intentionality. We can’t stop it. We see it everywhere around us. We think animals have it. We think the stars, the constellations have it, and of course, they don’t, but we see it everywhere. So I’m also a big fan of the metaphor from the movie, The Matrix from the novel Neuromancer, that The Matrix is a consensual hallucination. And as a social scientist, when I first encountered that, I was like, yep, wow, that’s it. Society is a consensual hallucination.

And that’s what a worldview is. It makes no sense to have your own worldview. I mean, yes, yours would be a little different, but a worldview because our brains are such that we’re going to soak it in from around us, the most important thing is what other people think. So you may believe that your worldview is your own, but it’s going to draw very heavily from, is it liberal democracy? Is it communism? Is it Catholicism? Is it Marx? So how’s that for starters?

Doug Monroe:

That’s fantastic. I get it. Totally. And I might put my own summary on it in that human beings have consciousness that’s developed beyond any other animal. There are other animals that have consciousness, but they can’t tell us anything about it. But so we can go outside ourselves and look at ourselves. And that seems to start happening somewhere, you could tell me, at a very early age. And once you start doing that, it creates shared intentionality and language is a direct reflection of that. So I’ll leave that.

That’s just totally, it wouldn’t conflict with any Western thinking that I know of that’s worth a damn. So not that I’m looking for putting value judgments on anybody, but that’s just fascinating. Thank you for that. Okay, I’m going to skip over this question.

Jonathan Haidt – How do you define happiness? 

Doug Monroe:

I’m going to go to my last one in the intro. In the question, I just cite the Declaration of Independence, Pursuit of Happiness. And you seem too happy, I almost don’t believe it. But how do you define happiness? Just Jonathan, “the happiness man,” how do you define it? As short as you can.

Jonathan Haidt:

As short as I can? I would say happiness comes from getting embedded in the right way. It doesn’t come from getting what you want. It doesn’t come from within entirely. Although internal processes are very important. It comes from getting the right relationship between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, or some sort of productivity, people need to be productive. And yourself in something larger than yourself. We have to feel embedded in something larger.

If you get those three conditions right, then you’re going to be at the upper range of what your genes would set you for in terms of happiness. Your genes give you a kind of a set range, but if you get the right kind of embeddedness, you’ll be way at the top of that range. And if you don’t, you’ll be way at the bottom of it.

Jonathan Haidt – “The Happiness Hypothesis”: The Elephant Rider & the Divided Human Mind

Jonathan Haidt:

So, The Happiness Hypothesis, originally the title was 12 Great Truths: Insights into Mind and Heart from Ancient Cultures and Modern Psychology. It wasn’t about happiness. I just read all the ancient wisdom literature, picked out all the psychological claims, put them in a gigantic Word Perfect document back then, sorted them, said, okay, the most common… there’s a couple that are most common, but one of the most common said, the mind is divided into parts that sometimes conflict. Every thoughtful society has noticed this.

The flesh lusted against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh that you cannot do the things you would. Why don’t you just do the things you want to? And many societies have used animal metaphors because ancient societies, everybody lived with animals. And so Plato gave us the metaphor of the reason is the charioteer trying to control two horses. One is the noble passions, one is the base or low passions. And there are variety of horse metaphors because horses are smart, but you have to control them.

And I, given what I was studying in psychology and my theory of moral judgment was about how it’s really overwhelmingly driven by gut feelings. I’m a full devotee of David Hume who said reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them. So I wanted an animal that was larger and smarter. So I said, I don’t want to use a horse, I’m going to use an elephant.

Now, it’s very possible, I just took this from Buddha because the Buddhist tradition does use that metaphor, but it just seemed like that’s the right animal to me. So the metaphor that I came up with, because I find… at least certainly from teaching Psych 101, from being a professor, I’ve learned you have to help people build an intellectual framework first and then you put stuff in it.

And so I use a lot of metaphor. And so the metaphor is we are like a small boy sitting on the back of a large elephant, and the small boy is conscious reasoning. That’s the tiny bit of mental process that we’re aware of. And the elephant is everything else that we’re not aware of. And if the boy wants the elephant to go to the left, he can tug on his ear or something and the elephant will go to the left. Unless the elephant doesn’t want to. If the elephant wants to go to the right, it’s going to go to the right.

So that was my metaphor, and it seems to be like, especially when I hear from psychotherapists, they almost all tell me, that’s the metaphor that helps me talk to my clients, my patients. That helps us out. Because everyone is in therapy for something like this, like a rider-elephant problem.

Doug Monroe:

Exactly. The elephant will go there as long as there’s not a female elephant nearby at a certain time of the year, whatever, like that. And so you bring up all these really cool metaphors in your writing, I think tail wagging the dog. There are a couple of charioteers. There’s one in Hindu writing as well.

Jonathan Haidt – Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) change your worldview?

Jonathan Haidt:

Yeah. So in writing The Happiness Hypothesis, I found that there are two zones of super-concentrated psychological wisdom, and they are the Buddhists and the Stoics. I mean, there’s wisdom in every culture, but which are the wisdom traditions that secular people… Christianity, Judaism, they have enormous bodies of very useful ideas and work, especially for those who are Jewish and Christian. But for secular people, it’s not a coincidence that they’re mostly drawn to Buddhism. That’s like where they all go. And I find Stoicism is even better, more applicable.

But what they both have in common is a lot of ideas about consciousness. They all notice we spend a lot of our time worrying about things that we can’t control. And Buddha says we are what we think, all that we are arises with our thoughts.

Epictetus the Stoic says it is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance. So they all realize something happens, we freak out, we make ourselves miserable, and then either we’re wrong about what happened or we’re right about it. We can’t do anything about it, so we just add to our suffering. Or we’re distorted about it so we can’t fix it.

So I think Stoicism has really survived the ages. It’s wonderful to read Marcus Aurelius’ meditations. He was writing it just for himself. It wasn’t a book that he thought would ever be seen. And he talks about how everyone, all these great people, they’re all gone and forgotten and he’ll be gone and forgotten, too. And it’s such joy to read this. No, you were wrong, Marcus. This writing is so good. We’re still reading it today.

Basically, CBT is just those key insights from Stoicism and Buddhism, that our minds do these things automatically. In CBT, they’re called cognitive distortions. Everybody does them to some degree. So the more famous ones are overgeneralization, black-and-white thinking, or dichotomous thinking, everything’s either good or evil. Mind reading, just like I know she’s thinking this. How do you know? Discounting the positive, I’m a failure. And someone says, no, look, you succeeded there. Oh, but that was a special…

So we all do these things occasionally. And what Aaron Beck and a few others found in the sixties was that people who are depressed do them a lot more. And it was thought that, well, depression must be from something deep. I mean, if you’re changing their thinking, that’s just you’re changing the symptoms. Like no, it turns out if you change their thinking, you actually end the depression. So that was the great discovery they made about cognitive behavioral therapy.

And I learned about it at Penn, which is the world center of cognitive therapy research, Aaron Beck was there. But it wasn’t until I wrote a book with Greg Lukianoff, a friend of mine who had suffered from suicidal depression when he was younger, and he credits CBT with saving his life. And that’s why CBT played such a big role in our book together, The Coddling of the American Mind.

Jonathan Haidt – What is the Happiness Hypothesis? (H + S + C + V)?

Jonathan Haidt:

So positive psychology was started in 1998 when Martin Seligman was president of the American Psychological Association. And each president picks a theme for their year. Usually, it’s violence or child abuse or drug addiction, or depression. It’s always something negative. And Seligman said, wait a second, why don’t we ever study the positive in life? Most people are doing reasonably well and they want to do a little better. But all of our work is for people doing badly who want to do less bad.

And so he brought together a group of young researchers at the time, I was one of them. We met in Acoma, Mexico, and I forget which subcommittee, which group it was that came up with that particular formulation. David Schkade and Ken Sheldon, I think, maybe Sonia Lyubomirsky, those were some of the people that were in the mix, and I think it was them who came up with this. It’s not exactly a formula. A formula would suggest some sort of mathematical precision. It’s more of a heuristic.

And the way I explain it to my students is H, your happiness at any time, like wow happy are you right now is a function of three things. One is your set point. And so if your genes gave you a brain that’s set to approach, explore curiosity, then you’re probably pretty happy right now. And if your genes gave you a brain that set you to more seeing threats everywhere, then you’re probably not that happy right now. Childhood has a lot to do with it too, but the genes are the biggest part. So that’s your set point.

But you’re not doomed to live at your set point. Nobody lives at their set point. It’s more of a set range. So the next term, so your set point plus conditions of your life, and people assume that, oh, if I was rich and famous and lived in a sunny place, then I’d be happy. And weather does have a little impact, actually, it does, but it’s not nearly as big as people think because we adapt to everything.

Fame, I don’t actually know being super famous, I don’t know how that affects people because then they can’t live their lives in public. But esteem of others, being esteemed does help. That is important. So there are some that matter, but in my review of the literature, what I found the best ones, the ones that really matter, are a sense of control. Control over your environment. If you have a job that has things coming in at you and you don’t have the resources to deal with it, that’s the recipe for unhappiness. Whereas if you’re challenged, but you have the resources and the capability, that’s actually a recipe for flow and engagement.

So it’s sort of control. And then also relatedness, the degree to which you have good bonds, good connections with others. So we’ve got H equals S plus C, or conditions plus V is voluntary activities. There are some things that you can do, and this is a big area of research in positive psychology, that small things that will make you happier. And so, one of the first exercises they found was just counting your blessings at night. List three good things that happened.

And I think why it’s effective is especially if you say, what are three good things that happen and why do they happen? It often draws you to who helped me, who did something for me. It draws your attention to just relationships and complexity in life. Meditation has beneficial effects, helping others sometimes. So there are a variety of things you can do to make yourself happier. And that basically is the formula, H equals S plus C plus V.

Jonathan Haidt – How important is freedom to human happiness? Do we need constraints/norms?

Jonathan Haidt:

I have a few thoughts about freedom and happiness. So big picture, I forget who puts together these reports, the World Happiness Report that comes out every year or two from some really great economists and psychologists. And what they find is that when you look at how happy they use various ways of measuring happiness around the world. The happiest countries, what’s the big predictor of being a happy country? Number one by far is GDP. Wealthy countries are happier for a lot of reasons.

I forget what order it goes in next, but one of them is freedom, even on top of GDP because you have some rich countries that are not that free. Although freedom and prosperity tend to go together. So the extent that it is judged a free society, people are happier. To have an authoritarian country, to have bullies, to have people constraining you, preventing you from flourishing, preventing you from doing what you want, that is not a recipe for happiness.

So freedom is a very important element of human happiness. In self-determination theory, really important theory in psychology from Ed Deese and Rich Ryan, it’s autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Those are the three things everybody needs. But autonomy is a basic human need. Now, the other side, there are some interesting things to say, which is Emile Durkheim noted in the 1890s that when you look at suicide rates, the people who are freest are the ones who kill themselves most. That is people who are married less so than single people. People who are married with kids, less so than people who are married without kids. The more you’re locked into a domestic society, the less you are to kill yourself.

Protestants had the highest suicide rate, religious Jews and religious Catholics, the lowest. Freedom, and I think here’s the way to resolve it, people need to live in a thick moral world. They need to live in a world with structure. They need to know what’s right and wrong. They need to have a sense of that we all share this reality. And when you have that, then you have a worldview that is shared. Humans need to believe that they live in a community, a society that shares a worldview. And it’s good if it puts on some constraints, but not be overly restrictive.

So for Durkheim, a really important word was anomie or normlessness. And when people suffer from anomie, they feel disconnected, life has no meaning, they have nothing to strive for, and that’s when you get suicide in the West from being not tightly bound. I bring this up because a very recent finding in my own work in writing The Anxious Generation was when you look at who got wiped out after 2012, once all the kids go on smartphones and social media, over and over again, we graph this a lot of different ways if you look at the levels of mental illness or anxiety, depression, self-harm for kids who are religious and conservative, it goes along in the 2000s. You hit 2012, which is where it all starts, and they go up a little bit.

But then you look at the line for kids who are secular and liberal, you hit 2012, and it’s a hockey stick. They go way, way up. So we’ve long known that conservatives are little happier than liberals. They’re more tightly bound. They have a thicker morally binding worldview. But the difference was small, and it’s been debated. So that’s for left-right. And then the same thing for religious, non-religious people who are part of religious community, we’ve long known are happier than people are not.

But you look at the gap in those lines along those two dimensions, it’s small until 2012, and then it gets huge. So I see this as, yes, we need freedom, but we also need norms. We need clear shared norms. And social media, life in the virtual world, shreds norms. It’s just a tornado. A tornado of memes and influencers. Minute by minute, nothing sticks, nothing matters that I think carried away, it’s like a tsunami that carried away all those unfortunate people in the great Asian Tsunami, the tsunami of social media and smartphones carried away kids who weren’t anchored into a community.

Jonathan Haidt – Is understanding your worldview essential for happiness? No, except for some

Jonathan Haidt:

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And I was a philosophy major and I thought, “Wow, yeah, I’m living the kind of life that’s worth it.” But as I got to learn more about psychology and humanity and human nature, I realized for some people the unexamined life isn’t worth living. For some people like me who love to take things apart, I really want to dig into this, but not everyone does want that. Not everyone needs to. And there are many people who think the unlived life is not worth examining. The point of life is not to examine it’s to do it. It’s to do things. It’s to be out in the world acting. No, I don’t think that knowing your worldview essential for happiness. For reflective people, it is. But I think people who achieve deep levels of engagement with other people and with something productive, they can be extremely happy without giving much thought to their worldview.

Jonathan Haidt – Are you open to the idea of objective truth and the existence of God? 

Doug Monroe:

This is a question in here. I can just read it to you, “Are you open to truth, God, morality, and even evil? You often refer to the latter as a myth perhaps being objectively real, as those terms could be defined within reality.” Do you see what I mean? Everything needs definition and language.

Jonathan Haidt:

I do.

Doug Monroe:

And you think of it one way, you think of those words one way. Are you open to it being different than what you believe now?

Jonathan Haidt:

So, there are different ways in which something can be real or true and the most common, there’s a very helpful distinction from the philosopher David Wiggins, between anthropocentric truths, which are true only because of the creatures we are and non-anthropocentric truths. If I say strawberries are sweet, is that a fact? Yeah, it is a fact, but it’s only a fact because of the taste receptors we have in our tongues. And if aliens come here from another planet and we say, “Hey, try these strawberries.” Try it with your dog, “Here dog, have a strawberry,” and no, they don’t want it. Strawberries are sweet is a true fact, but it’s an anthropocentric fact. Earth is the third planet from the sun. Is that only because we think it is? No. If aliens come here from another solar system, they’ll find earth is the third planet from the sun. That is a non-anthropocentric fact. The natural sciences are concerned almost entirely with non-anthropocentric facts.

The social sciences are concerned very largely with anthropocentric facts. Are anthropocentric facts real? Are they real? Is it true? And the way that I think about it, because thinking about morality, there are some things that you can say that are morally true. An example I use is women should have equal political rights. They should have the vote, they should be just like men. And that’s obviously true today. But does that mean that our ancestors were wrong for hundreds of thousands of years? There was a division of labor, the household was the unit, the man did the warfare and politics, the woman did you know, that’s the way it always was. The way I think about these things is that there’s a whole category of truths called emergent truths. They come out of the way we interact. If I say to you, “Gold is more valuable than silver,” that’s just a fact.

You just have to admit, Doug, gold is more valuable than silver. Now if aliens come here from another planet, are they going to agree? If they look at the price list, but that’s all based on supply and demand. As we interact in a market with supply and demand, prices emerge, those prices are real, but they’re emergent. They’re not facts of the universe like hydrogen has one proton. And I think that women should have equal political rights is one of those kinds of facts. It wasn’t a fact when humans had no material prosperity in a gender division of labor. But now that we have all these labor-saving devices, people can live the lives they want. Of course it’s a fact and be brutal and horrible and wrong and immoral to have a country now in which women didn’t have the vote. I’m very open to moral concepts like that.

Now, you asked about God and religion. God is a different question. Early on, because I was a science kid and I identified with science and I read the Bible, I read the Hebrew Bible in college, and I thought it had a lot of really bad stuff in it that I couldn’t endorse. I just rejected it. I was on track to be a new atheist. I would’ve been like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, very critical of religion. But because I began studying morality and where it came from, and it is deeply tied to our religiosity, our sacredness, our desire for community. I developed a much more positive view of religion, which makes me more open to all of it, all I’ll say, while I don’t believe there’s a God, but even Richard Dawkins says, “10 is certainty there’s a God, zero is certainty that there’s no God.”

He says that, “Nobody should be at either extreme,” and he himself is at a one or a two. He’s not a zero. I would be like that, although probably more open than Dawkins. What I would say, the thought I had recently, I saw a documentary about the new James Webb Telescope and what it can see, and you look into a patch of sky, like the patch of sky, like a 10th the size of the moon, you look into it and what do you see? Billions of galaxies, billions. Just the vastness of it is such that it can’t fit in our minds. And do we understand the world well enough to say there is no intelligence anywhere that had a… No, we don’t. Could there be multiple universes? Could there be an infinite number? These things so boggle the mind that I’m very willing to believe that reality could be not anything like what we think it is. I’m open to that.

Jonathan Haidt – Cross Talk about God

Doug Monroe:

Well, that’s a big, yes, I would say to the extent 1% can be yes out of a hundred and to the extent it may have shifted a little bit somewhere. And we’ll take a break now and you can have some water. We can not. But just interviewed the last big one, Stephen Meyer. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, but he’s leading the charge within science itself to look at intelligent design and that kind of thing. It’s fascinating stuff.

And you could argue that science is disproving. It’s not disproving science at all. It’s proving science, but it’s showing how evolutionary biology say may have been helped along in ways we can understand, which I would submit would be looking out from the Morehead Planetarium at the stars and saying, “Hey, maybe we don’t really know everything that’s gone out that way, and maybe we don’t know everything that got us here in evolution.”

Jonathan Haidt:

That’s right.

Doug Monroe:

Because evolution seems to be true. It’s there. What are we supposed to do? Throw it away. I don’t know. But the more we learn, the better we are. Do you want to stretch and take a break?

Jonathan Haidt – “The Righteous Mind”: How did you invent Moral Foundations Theory?

Jonathan Haidt:

So, in graduate school I originally was going to study the psychology of humor, but I switched and picked up morality. Once I began to focus on morality, then the big issue for me and for a lot of researchers was where does it come from? And you can either say, “It’s from evolution, and Charles Darwin wrote about the origin of morality.” Or you can say it’s from culture and look at the way all these cultures shaped their children and one side points to universalism. We all have the same evolved morality. The other points to diversity and difference, cross-cultural difference, and I love both those fields, evolution and anthropology. And I had just a strong intuition that both are right. There is a universal human nature, but it tunes up variably within cultures.

And it’s like a lot of other things like language is sort of like that. But the analogy that I ultimately settled on, a lot of people were working with language at the analogy like that there’s a moral language or moral grammar, but because I’m an intuitionist, it’s because I was already coming to see that our gut feelings drive our reasoning. And you can see this in everybody else. You can certainly see it in your political opponents. It’s hard to see in yourself, but you got to presume if everyone else is doing it, I’m probably doing it too. Post-hoc reasoning to justify whatever we already believe.

I wrote that up in my dissertation research. And then I wrote an article in Psychological Review really going into how morality could be both evolved and variable. And the evolution is about how we evolved to have certain intuitions. Then I had to say, “What are these intuitions?” That was my next project, and that became Moral Foundations Theory. I wanted to look at what are the elements of morality that you find around the world? It doesn’t have to be in every culture, but it should be in most cultures. What are the elements of morality you find that are around the world that have a clear evolutionary basis, but also have cultural variability in how they’re instantiated? And the way that my thinking worked, first I should say I was drawing on, because there were a few theories of pluralism, of moral pluralism out there.

Richard Shweder, my postdoc advisor, had a theory of three ethics, autonomy, community, divinity. Alan Fiske, one of my PhD advisors at Penn had a theory about four relational models, communal sharing, authority ranking, equality matching and market pricing. And these theories, they didn’t quite match up, and there were a few others. I looked at all these, I did this work with Craig Joseph and said, “Where’s there a clear story?” And for example, care, we care for others, especially vulnerable others, we care for our children. Obviously this is innate. How could you have mammals without care? Our females have breasts to give milk and brains to care. And in humans, the male brain has that too. And a lot of other animals, they don’t. But in humans, we fall in love with our children and we care.

Care was absolutely in. Boy, we’re solid on that. You can’t deny this is innate, but how do you care for your children? It’s really different between Germany and Italy to say nothing of the West versus the East. That’s care. And then fairness. You’ll never find a society that doesn’t value fairness. And there was a great theory from Robert Trivers of Reciprocal Altruism, and we keep track and who’s cheating us, that’s a really good candidate. Just going through this process, we came up with five that we thought were the best candidates. They are care, fairness, loyalty, authority and sanctity or purity. And then since then we’ve added on a couple, I don’t care about parsimony. The world is complicated. I don’t feel we need to reduce it to one or two, those five. We’ve added on liberty. And I think property or possession is also one because you find that in the animal species, they have evolved notions of territoriality. There are a lot of these, I think of them as being the taste buds of the moral mind.

Doug Monroe:

It is hard for me. Did you really just spring this on the world? It just seems so insightful and obvious, or did you bring it together from others?

Jonathan Haidt:

As I understand it, research on inventions shows that if Bell hadn’t invented the telephone, someone else would’ve gotten it two years later, if Gutenberg hadn’t invented the printing press, there were dozens who were working on similar things. And in the same way, just as I said, Rick Shweder had a theory of three. Alan Fiske had a theory of four. Franz de Waal had a theory of building blocks of morality and chimpanzees. People were playing with these ideas, and I just put them together. It may just be that I’m better at writing up my ideas and conveying them intuitively because all these are good theories.

They’re all really good for doing certain things. I was trying to come up with a theory that would help us really get inside other people’s minds and be able to understand if you go to a different culture, because originally this had nothing with politics. This was about culture. And I’ve done some work in India, and that’s where I came to understand notions of authority, respect, hierarchy, and notions of purity, sanctity, pollution. Once you understand this is all part of the human equipment, it’s just that some cultures develop bits of it, others develop other parts. You’re much more sympathetic.

Jonathan Haidt – How do groups of people see the key moral foundations differently?

Jonathan Haidt:

As I was doing this work with Craig Joseph, looking at how morality varies across nations and cultures, I was joined at UVA by a really brilliant young grad student named Jesse Graham. And this was around 2004, around the time of the presidential election.

Doug Monroe:

Wow. That early. Wow.

Jonathan Haidt:

And the culture war really began in the early nineties. I think Pat Buchanan used the phrase, “There’s a culture war,” or something like that. And it heated up in the nineties during the Clinton presidency.

Doug Monroe:

James Davison Hunter wrote a book on it from UVA.

Jonathan Haidt:

That’s right. Fantastic book. The phrase, “culture wars,” Hunter’s book really, really laid that out. It was very influential on me. And it became clear that America was becoming two different cultures. We have two different US constitutions. The Constitution on the left is not at all the constitution on the right. Two different history textbooks, two different economics textbooks, two different childbearing textbooks. We live in different worlds. And it became really clear at the time, remember, think back some of the issues. It was like flag burning. Should we amend the Constitution to ban flag burning? It was like there’s all kinds of… Now those things seem tame compared to what we’re dealing with today. But once you understand the flag is a symbol of its loyalty, it is your loyalty to your group. It’s respect for authority, you’re supposed to be reverential toward it, and it’s sanctity.

And we actually have research showing that people who score high on our moral foundations survey for sanctity in general, nothing about flags, just in general, they are more likely to want to protect the flag, regardless of their politics. Because these are people who don’t just see a flag as a piece of cloth. They see that there’s an invisible essence that inheres in something. And that’s what people in India do, and that’s what almost all humans do. Over and over, what we find is that there’s normal human culture, which is very thick and rich and full of, it builds on all the foundations. And there’s something about modernity where you get concentrations of people in cities that reduce morality to one or two foundations. And there’s a great book called The Weirdest People in the World by Joe Henrich. He and some colleagues developed the idea that many of us are weird, that is western educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. Those societies are really different from everybody else on earth. And liberals are more weird. And I have researched with Thomas Talhoun demonstrating that.

Jonathan Haidt –The Moral Differences of Liberals, Conservatives, and Libertarians

Jonathan Haidt:

Many have noticed that there’s a yin-yang between left and I wrote about this in The Happiness Hypothesis, that the right is trying to maintain structure and order. The left is trying to change it. And you don’t want a car with only a gas pedal. You don’t want a car with only a brake. And that’s what I went into The Righteous Mind thinking, “Left, right, left, right.” But by the time I was done with the book, I’d been reading and meeting some libertarians who at the time were seen to be on the right because that was part of the Reagan Coalition. But psychologically, they’re really different from conservatives. They’re not conservative at all. And I have a paper with Ravi Iyer, the biggest paper ever done on libertarian psychology. If you’re listening to this podcast or this recording, go to yourmorals.org. You can take our surveys. A million people or so have done.

Doug Monroe:

What is that again? I’m sorry.

Jonathan Haidt:

Yourmorals.org. And we published a lot of papers from this research. What we found is that libertarians really value liberty and they’re lower on care. They don’t care about their friends as much as liberals and conservatives. They are low on loyalty. They’re low on sanctity, they’re very rational. They’re the smartest people out there. They really are extremely intelligent, and there’s a lot of psychological terms for this. They’re high on systemizing, low on empathizing. And we found that people with Asperger’s or autism are much more libertarian and libertarians are a little bit more Asperger’s autism. They’re different psychologically. And I think they play an incredibly valuable role because left-right is locked in this stupid fight over all these basic things, and both end up creating systems that are subject to decay and inefficiency and a loss of dynamism. And the libertarians come along.

And I read Reason Magazine, I’m not a libertarian myself, but I love reading libertarians. I know a lot in New York. I like them a lot because they’re always like, “Look what happens,” especially if you let the left get control of something they’re going to regulate, do this, that, and before you know it, the thing is just dead. And that’s Europe. Europe is like there’s no dynamism. I think zero of the top a hundred companies are European or that can’t be true. But there’s some amazing stat like that.

I think if you have a creative tension between progressives, not the far left of today, which is identitarian, but between the traditional liberals pushing for rights and equality, and you have conservatives saying, “We need to preserve structure and order, and we don’t want chaos, we don’t want crime.” And then libertarians saying, “We need freedom and dynamism.” The libertarians are really great on dynamism. If you keep those three in mind, I think you get a good society.

Doug Monroe:

And I’m just seeing elements of all three coming together under the free speech alliance stuff, for some reason people can agree on the first amendment that we can have religious freedom and free speech and free association, and that’s foundational to truth seeking. That seems to bring some people together, and that’s really fun.

Jonathan Haidt – How to persuade or disagree constructively using Moral Foundations Theory?

Jonathan Haidt:

At a lower level, there’s a line of work by Rob Wheeler and Matt Feinberg showing that if you ask people to make an argument, let’s say on gay marriage, you have people in the left and right, ask them to make an argument, to try to persuade someone on the other side. They appeal only to their own foundations. They make an argument that would persuade their people. It’s amazing, but people don’t think to make it in terms of the other person’s argument. Then they give them a little training in Moral Foundations Theory, and they show them, “Here’s what conservatives believe, loyalty, authority,” things like that. Now try to make an argument for gay marriage that uses those and they can do it. And it’s persuasive. Once you know this, you understand the moral foundations, you can be more persuasive in any context. And I get emails from people, it seems especially about in-laws like, “Thank you. My father-in-law is MAGA,” or, “He’s far-right. And for the first time, I actually can understand him as a human being.” The human experience is diverse.

We all look at the world and see different things, and we can do the usual thing, which is just hate people for it and think they’re stupid and break off from them. And that was tolerable for a while. But now in the age of social media, we’re confronted with this all the time. We’re coming apart, we’re blowing apart. We’re full of anger. I’m hopeful that at least Moral Foundations Theory will help people see that the other side, they’re not inhuman. You can disagree with them all you want, but you’re better off understanding them, and it makes you a lot less angry. It makes you a lot better able to deal with the world.

Jonathan Haidt – What are the ideological blind spots for both the Right and Left?

Jonathan Haidt:

I think on the right, they tend to have a much greater belief that life is fair, or at least that people get what they deserve. And they have a hard time seeing the disadvantages that many people come to the table with, and they think that as long as you eliminate overt obstacles, it’s a fair starting line. I think the right, they tend to not see that as well as they should, and they believe in merit and meritocracy, and I do too. But if you believe that life is a meritocracy and therefore the people on the bottom deserve it, sometimes that’s true, but often it’s not. That’s the main blind spot I would say for the right. For the left, I think I say explicitly in The Righteous Mind that their blind spot is moral capital to have a functioning society.

Their blind spot is moral capital. To have a functioning society, you need order, traditions, norms, you need punishment. You must have punishment. When people are breaking the law, when people are hurting others, they must be punished, put in jail. You need stories even if they’re not true. And the left tends to be kind of a solvent. So if you think about all the things that bind a country together, traditionally, it’s common blood, common language, common enemy, common stories. That’s how humans create nations. And the left generally says, let’s not do any of that. All the stories are bad, all the founding fathers are bad. Let’s eliminate these holidays. We need more diversity and no assimilation. Assimilation is cultural genocide.

So let’s be sure that we have lots of people coming in and let’s not incorporate them in our common culture that would be like killing their culture. And I think this is extremely bad for society. There are times when a society needs to loosen up and the left is good at that, and the fifties and sixties I think was one of those times. But now is a time when we don’t need to loosen up and come apart. We’re coming apart. We are falling apart. We are on the road to self-destruction. We really need to find ways to come together to cohere more. So I think the left has a great deal of difficulty seeing that, and that’s why Donald Trump can win.

He didn’t get the majority vote, but someone like Donald Trump, who you would think could never get anywhere near the White House and has no virtues, as far as I can tell, a man like that, because most people are so sick of what the left is doing to their schools, to our common culture. So the right in every era, I learned this from Jerry Mueller. The right in every era is always a reaction to the excesses of the left. And since the left has had some real excesses around identity since the new left of the 1960 through nineties, the right is a reaction to that, and I think that’s why Donald Trump is likely to be our next president.

Jonathan Haidt – What kinds of criticism have you received on your work?

Jonathan Haidt:

I look for criticisms and I have a Google search for my name, and when there’s an article criticizing me, I read it. I want to know. I’m a big fan of John Stuart Mill. He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. And on The Righteous Mind, there was definitely an argument within, oh, I bet I know who it was. There’s been an argument within psychology, especially with a faculty member here at Carolina, Kurt Gray. So Kurt did important work on how part of our moral psychology is we see things in terms of an agent and a patient. We see someone doing something to someone else. And Kurt, in my view, was then trying to reduce morality to just there’s one foundation. It’s harm. Everything’s about harm and there’s different kinds of harm, like loyalty harm and hierarchy harm and things like that.

So it was a narrow psychological dispute between me and Kurt. But that’s the only real serious criticism I know of Moral Foundations Theory. The other one is some people on the left think Republicans are stupid and evil and Haidt is trying to make it look like they have a morality. So I do hear that, that loyalty, authority, and sanctity, these are not morality, this is just racism and fascism. Those are the two main ones on The Righteous Mind. But the book is still selling well. It’s widely referred to in political circles. I think people have found it a useful language. The rider and the elephant intuitions come first, the five taste buds of the moral sense. People find it useful for understanding the weirdness that we live in now.

Jonathan Haidt – “The Coddling of the American Mind”: 3 Untruths Harming Us and Universities

Jonathan Haidt:

Yeah. Well, The Coddling of the American Mind focuses, it’s structured around three great untruths, three ideas that are so terrible. They’re so contradictory to ancient wisdom. They’re so contradictory to modern psychology. They’re so bad for you that if anyone believes all three, they’re almost certain to live a miserable and unsuccessful life. And the three that Greg and I wrote about, which we saw circulating among young people, the first is what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. So avoid anything stressful, avoid somebody, if there’s somebody with bad attitudes, don’t listen to them because that’d be upsetting.

The second is always trust your feelings. Your feelings are always right. If you feel you’ve been offended, then someone offended you and somebody else has to punish that person because nobody should have the right to make you feel bad by what they said. And the third, which is the most serious and the most damaging, is life is a battle between good people and evil people. This is a very natural, normal human belief. It’s called Manicheism. To see everything out there is happening because there are good people who are blocked by the evil people and we have to all unite as the good people to expel or crush or kill the evil people. You always find that with genocides. You find it in all kinds of group conflicts. And so when we look at the strange things that happened on campus in the 2015 to 2016 academic year, that’s where suddenly we had all this policy about microaggressions, safe spaces, trigger warnings, bias response teams, all that stuff and that language.

They all came in then and were motivated by these three great untruths. And those are some of the things that I think made universities into laughing stocks. American universities had one of the best brands on the planet, much better than Coca-Cola. Google and Apple are up there, but American universities were so trusted. Our brand was intellectual excellence and honesty, and we dominate the lists of top universities in the world. They’re almost all American other than Oxford and Cambridge. Not anymore. We squandered it all between 2015 and 2023. That’s what I’ll be talking about in my talk here at Carolina. How did we do that? How do we manage to do that? And I think it was bringing in this new identitarian morality that pulled us away from our telos or purpose of truth-seeking and elevated instead a certain identitarian social justice.

Doug Monroe:

Yeah. And it could be the George Floyd incident for the universities, the testimony of the three Ivy League heads. That was eye-opening for just what you were talking about.

Jonathan Haidt:

I call it, it was the Waterloo moment.

Doug Monroe:

It was really shocking. It didn’t hit me as bad as it hit the country.

Jonathan Haidt:

No, that’s right. But the country was disgusting.

Doug Monroe:

Maybe I wasn’t surprised.

Jonathan Haidt:

No, I think it was December 5th, 2023. That’s going to be remembered, I believe, in the academic world the way Waterloo used to be.

Jonathan Haidt – Does biological sex matter in human social behavior and psychology?

Jonathan Haidt:

Oh, yeah. We all start off in utero as girls. The female body shape is the basic shape, and then if there’s a Y chromosome present, that kicks in a little bit of, well, by a sequence of events, testosterone, which then changes the body and the brain. And on average, I think where people get messed up is people get very upset if you say that men are better at something and women are better at something. And there are some places where that’s true, but there’s not a lot. Where you really see huge sex differences is desire, interest, motivation. If you get a bunch of boys together at any age, let’s just imagine eight, nine, ten-year-old boys. You take a group of boys, put them together, leave them alone. What are they going to do? You take a group of eight, nine, ten-year-old girls, put them together. Everything’s different. The way they talk, what they choose to do, what they choose to eat. Everything’s different.

That’s not sexism. That’s not social pressure. That’s the boys and girls. Their brains are a little bit different, especially around motivation. And so when we look, this is one of the big problems with the concept of equity. Equity, which used to mean fairness, equity in psychology used to mean proportionality, which is what people believe is fairness. You should get in proportion of what you put in, but it’s become equality of outcomes. And if the programmers at Apple, if the tech staff at Apple is 80% male, that’s a violation of equity. It has to be 50-50. Which is insane because women are just not, they don’t choose engineering.

They don’t choose programming. Some do, they’re very successful. But women’s brains are more interested in people, helping people, working with people. Men are a little more autistic, higher on systemizing. They find it more interesting to work with machines, with systems, with inanimate objects. So to understand the way the world is, if you ban biology or if you say sex is a social construct, or if you say there are many sexes, this is all just nonsense. This is just delusion. And it gets in the way of actually figuring out why society is how it is and how you would change it if you wanted to.

Jonathan Haidt –On “The Anxious Generation”:  How can parents help the anxious generation?

Jonathan Haidt:

Yeah. So if the fundamental problem is that kids need a play-based childhood but no longer have it, give your kid a play-based childhood. If the other part of the fundamental problem is they have a phone-based childhood, don’t give your kid a phone-based childhood. Now, that sounds easier said than done. And what I do in my book is I show that all of these things are collective action problems, that it’s hard to be the only one who doesn’t give your kid a phone if everyone else does. But what if half the parents in your kid’s sixth grade class didn’t give their kids a phone? Now your kid comes to you and all she can say is, “Mom, some kids have iPhones,” not “Everyone has one and I’m cut off.”

So what I’m doing in the book is after I lay out the disaster that’s happened, the evidence that it’s caused by the loss of play-based childhood, the arrival of phone-based childhood, I say here are four norms that if we do them, if we do them together, if a lot of us do them at the same time, we can solve this problem. We can break out of these collective action traps. The four norms are no smartphone before high school. Just give them a flip phone. The millennials had flip phones. They were fine. They used it to meet up with each other. They didn’t spend all day texting each other when you have to press S six, three times to get, whatever.

So no smartphone before high school, no social media till 16. That means especially Instagram, TikTok, Facebook. Those are the really destructive ones for kids. The third is phone-free schools. Every school, every K-12 school, you should turn the phone in in the morning. It’s useful to get to school. Turn it in into a locker or a Yondr pouch. You get it back at the end of the day. Having a phone in your pocket, it gives nothing good and everything bad. Kids are on their phone all day. They’re texting during class. Boys are watching porn during class. There’s nothing good that comes from this. And the fourth norm is give your kid a lot more childhood independence and free play. Let them out to play. But if you’re the only one, you’ll get arrested. But if a town does this where third-graders routinely meet at the park and play in the afternoons, that’s the kind of childhood we always had. That’s the kind of childhood kids still need.

Jonathan Haidt – Cross Talk about Safetyism and Free Speech

Doug Monroe:

That’s the kind of childhood you and I had. And I know that started being lost when I was a parent. It’s hard to say why. I think it had something to do with drunk driving or something, I don’t know. But it was a higher safety-ism component started really [inaudible 01:35:58] into it.

Jonathan Haidt:

Paranoia, rising paranoia. But we locked up all the drunk drivers, we locked up all the perverts. It’s much safer now.

Doug Monroe:

Yeah. But I also think, and this is a side comment, we’re at the conclusion here with two or three more questions, but a lot of the solutions you mentioned I think are also really good solutions for universities because our research here at this school shows that a lot of the problems, it’s not so much the professors, it’s the chimpanzee-like students that prey on other students and they try to abuse them on social media and get into their file. And everyone’s aware of that and they’re petrified of not being able to get a job or whatever it is or becoming a pariah to in a group that they don’t want to. So anyway, all that’s fabulous.

Jonathan Haidt – What does a free market economy need to be successful? Dynamism & Decency

Jonathan Haidt:

Yeah. So I was going to write a book called Three Stories about Capitalism: The Moral Psychology of Economic Life. I got a contract for it, I got an advance on it. I have a lot of notes. I did travel. And then I got overwhelmed by what’s happening in universities and to Gen Z. But the gist of it was going to be that any good society needs dynamism and decency, and the left is always a witness for decency and is willing to sacrifice dynamism. So economies dominated by progressives tend to be pretty sclerotic, not very dynamic. Conservatives, and here we mean more libertarian or economic conservatives, not social conservatives, are really focused on dynamism and they’re willing to sacrifice some decency that many will say, no minimum wage at all. If someone wants to work for $2 an hour, they should be allowed to. And they are able to deliver a lot more dynamism.

And we see that, for example, in Chile. When Chile embraced free market economics, it shot up to prosperity. So learning about business, learning about capitalism, has made me much more sympathetic to libertarian arguments, to free market arguments. And then the thing to look out for is market failures where companies can prey upon people. So I once heard a libertarian philosopher say something like an ideal capitalist society is one in which the only way you can get rich is by making other people better off. And he’s right. Now, in our society, you can get very rich creating Facebook, which is doing enormous damage to children, to democracy.

But because it’s a business model, it’s not quite a monopoly, but it’s dominant. It certainly has information asymmetry. They know everything. We don’t know what’s going on there. It certainly is exploitation of public goods, which is the limited attention of the entire human population. And it certainly has very heavy external costs that imposes on people, which Mark Zuckerberg denied in his Senate testimony. But the data is very clear about the harms, I believe. So we certainly want a free market society, but it does have to be one in which there are government agencies and journalism and other things that are able to find these exploitative market failures that cause harm and change things to rein them in.

Jonathan Haidt – Human Nature and Bettering the World: Utopianism vs. Ameliorism

Doug Monroe:

Well, I hope you do write that book at some point, and I don’t know when you’ll get to it given your current trajectory. But second to last question is how perfectible is human nature, human beings? Is that even a good question? I’m curious what you would think.

Jonathan Haidt:

No. I’d say no. They’re not perfectible. It’s not a good question.

Doug Monroe:

Okay, so the follow-on question is what are you doing here in trying to make it a better world? Is that a flotsam and jetsam type thing?

Jonathan Haidt:

No. No, no. I think about complex dynamical systems. If we live on a planet with a certain ecology, and if the CO₂ level is going to go up a hundred percent, that’s going to mess a lot of things up. We should stop that. We need to bring that CO₂ level down. In the same way, kids grow up and they have certain needs and they grow up a certain way. And if we suddenly put phones in their hand so that they no longer spend much time with each other, they don’t sleep as much, they don’t exercise as much, they don’t go out in nature, and they’re depressed and anxious, I’m going to say, you know what? We should probably take those phones out of their hands. Seven, eight, nine-year-old kids should not be spending most of their day on their phone.

So I think there are some simple changes. The way I think about is very much like lead. The amount of lead that Gen X consumed, lead in the atmosphere in the post-war world, it really skyrockets in America, in particularly. We have so much leaded gas. And so younger baby boomers like me, born in 1963, and then Gen X after me, they grew up in an incredibly leaded environment, and they were very violent. Boys, it interferes with frontal cortex development. It’s horrible what we did by lead poisoning an entire generation. We shouldn’t have done that and we’re doing it again with smartphones and social media, so I’m trying to stop that.

Doug Monroe:

So it sounds like your problem is with the idea of perfection in utopia. As a standard, it’s not trying to improve things over here.

Jonathan Haidt:

Oh, no. I’m a, I think the word is, there’s a word: ameliorist. An ameliorist is one who thinks we can make things better. But no, conservatives are right that liberals are utopians who strive for perfection and usually end up bringing about a nightmare, and that would be communism. But no, I’m an ameliorist, I think.

Jonathan Haidt – Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future U.S. universities?

Jonathan Haidt:

I’ll do universities because that’s much more tractable. I’ve been in this game since 2014, 2015, and it’s gotten worse every year without fail until early 2023. I’m the chair of the board at Heterodox Academy, so I wrote my beginning-of-the-year letter on how this is going to be the year of the turnaround, that we’re seeing signs. For the first time we began seeing some presidents and some deans actually saying no to student protesters who were shouting down speakers. At Stanford Law School where there was a humiliating, ridiculous shout-down of a judge, the dean wrote a firm letter saying, no, we don’t do this.

The New York Times had a similar thing. It’s beginning to creep out. These epistemic spaces, these knowledge industries that were completely overrun by identitarianism, they’re beginning to push back. So that was happening already in early 2023, and then the horror of October 7th and the horror of October 8th, where we began seeing students and faculty celebrating the Hamas slaughter, and then the debacle of the presidents who couldn’t condemn calls for genocide, and then the plagiarism of the president of Harvard, and then academics twisting themselves into pretzels to say, well, it wasn’t really plagiarism.

That was such a despicable, dishonest, hypocritical moment, all of those events in December, that I think the country has had it and we’re at a turning point. So I think what we’re going to see, now a lot of the identitarian is very deeply entrenched in DEI departments. So what I expect we’re going to see is a lot of schools, especially in the south and the southwest, and Arizona State University has already broken out, here at Carolina, you’ve already taken a lot of steps to improve your speech culture. It’s interesting that most of the really bad anti-Semitism events have been at Ivy League schools. So it’s the elite schools in the Northeast where there’s no viewpoint diversity. Those schools, I don’t know. Faculty are organizing. Alumni are organizing. So there’s hope, but I’m actually very optimistic about schools in the south and the southwest.

And there are a few in California actually as well. So I think we’re going to see finally divergence. That’s what I’ve wanted to see all along. Let some schools follow Brown and Yale embrace. Everything’s about race, everything’s about power. That always leads to eternal conflict and a feeling of lack of inclusion. Let them go that way, and that’s not going to work. And I always thought that a lot of schools were going to follow Chicago and say, no, we don’t do safe spaces here. Class is class. We’re here for ideas. So Chicago really carved out the other track, and very few followed them, but I think now a lot will, and we’re going to see more schools committing to institutional neutrality.

Heterodox Academy and a few other groups just came up with a big position statement on that. So actually, 2023 was so horrible for higher ed that it’s a blessing. We hit rock bottom. The rot has been exposed, public humiliation, our brand is in tatters. That really enables those presidents who want to stand up and have been standing up. That really empowers them, and faculty members, too. So I actually am optimistic. I wasn’t so optimistic a year, a year and a half ago, but I’m actually now optimistic that things are going to improve at most universities.

Doug Monroe:

Well, Jon, just at the end of the interview, I want to just thank you so much for being here, for taking all this on. You’re just proof that one person can really make a difference and to come to Carolina and UVA and W&L and do this. And it’s just been a pleasure meeting with you, and I look forward to shepherding you around a little bit.

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