Jonathan Haidt is a reasonable man. A moderate, a centrist. A social psychologist plugged into the mainstream. He publishes best selling pop psychology books and gives TED talks on happiness.
Lately he’s written essays on campus culture and extremism. It’s an easy, superficial topic that moderates and crank conservatives enjoy because they can make noise about a divided culture without diving into the deeper causes of social dislocation and hostility.
If only we could have reasonable debates in our universities, the benumbed centrist cries. If only we stuck to the constitution, the geriatric republican grumbles.
You can’t be reasonable with leftist radicals. They don’t want to listen, they don’t want to think. If you don’t rabidly repeat their dogma they’ll howl for your suppression.
You won’t persuade them with arguments. You won’t move them with facts and statistics.
They can’t be satisfied. They run on dissatisfaction and thrive on accusations. If there are no abuses, they’ll invent them. If there are no offenses, they’ll fantasize about them.
The past never gets a pass, and it comprises a vast territory of time that includes everything up to the present moment. A liberal sentiment of five years ago is a white supremacist rallying cry today. The egalitarian essay you wrote this morning will be a eugenicist screed by tonight.
They’ll spare you in the moment if you mouth their vaporous slogans, but you won’t be protected for long. If you don’t maintain a meth fueled hyper-vigilance, then you’ll commit an offense and find a delirious horde ranged against you.
Sometimes you’re guilty because of your identity. Other times it’s what you believe. It all comes down to the whim of the slavering mob. Spitting up progressive platitudes might make up for being a straight white man, but it might not. And having independent thoughts might get you in trouble even if you’re a crippled, gay negro.
Jonathan Haidt wants to believe there’s a center, a place where decent people can discuss race, gender, culture and politics. But there is no center, there are splintered sides. Haidt also thinks there’s an equivalence between the two political extremes, between left and right. There is no equivalence. Contemporary control of speech and belief is flowing from a single fringe movement.
Leftists retch and heave when they hear certain words or a certain sequence of words. They not only excuse violence, they encourage it. They stir up social media swarms and gloat about wrecking reputations. Show me the right wing extremists getting people fired for minor ideological missteps. Where are the republicans ardently anticipating the disempowerment of an enemy ethnic group?
When Haidt talks, I hear a man who’s trying to challenge leftist orthodoxy in a respectful manner while retaining his livelihood and limbs. He strains to qualify his timid criticism of diversity.
Let me be clear, I want to stress that I think diversity is great, it’s wonderful, don’t get me wrong. Economists all agree that immigration is good for the economy. But as a social scientist, I have to admit with extreme reluctance that research in my own field shows that diversity lowers trust and reduces social capital.
Haidt assures us of the economic benefits of immigration and then nervously glosses over the unsettling fact that diversity has destroyed American society. Our electronic trinkets and digital diversions are cheap and abundant, but our relationships are in ruins.
Haidt lumps all immigrants together so he can say they all contribute to American dominance. But immigration prior to 1965 was different from the policies of the last 50 years. Yes, America has a few more nobel prizes because we let in some eastern European jews in the late 19th century. And our irish, german and italian immigrants have assimilated, but the process was unpleasant. America became more economically dynamic, but less cohesive and genial.
In 1965, our immigration policies radically changed, initiating a demographic and social crisis. Since the Hart Cellar act, America has been deluged with mexicans, central americans, africans, indians and asians. The population is now bloated with indigestible foreign material. We’re held together by nothing more than nebulous opportunity, a weak promise of economic gain which translates into distrustful competition with alien countrymen.
Discounting the psychic and social stress of rapid demographic change, chaotic population movement and technological turmoil is a curious error for a social psychologist, but it’s sadly characteristic of our academics.
Allowing Europeans into America and then pausing for assimilation is different from permanently opening the floodgates of the third world. We’re not supposed to notice this and Haidt seems unwilling to mention it. It’s all just immigration. We have more prizes and gadgets but no trust in our fellows. Disconnected bugmen have no feeling for the roots of social stability and healthy identity even when they get paid to study them.
Haidt is a social psychologist. Shouldn’t he have more insight into the corrosive consequences of diversity and immigration? What has happened since Putnam’s Bowling Alone? Isn’t this a subject where sociology could shine a brighter light? Or is the money tied up in researching black self esteem?
I want an unapologetic sociology that analyzes the social prerequisites of healthy relationships and cultural cohesion. I want less goony philosophy, political science and economic theory and more history, psychology and sociology. Less fevered utopian posturing and more realism about our social and psychic needs.
Yes, we need a functional economy. We don’t need to sacrifice society to efficiency and innovation.
Sober centrists like Haidt will spend three seconds facing the truth about humanity before they’re back in la la land, releasing helium about fine tuned settings of a liberal democracy. Dispassionate academic moderates can’t stop themselves from lapsing into milky reveries about overcoming our tribal, animal nature.
They like to quote dead white men like Thomas Jefferson who espoused education and a balanced system of government. But they don’t want to admit that Jefferson wasn’t thinking about educating and integrating three hundred and fifty million people of different ethnicities, clashing cultural backgrounds and fractured attention spans.
There is no fine tuned system that could turn technology addled tribal animals into unified, republican citizens. Limited government and individualism worked for Anglos on a smaller scale in a society with strong bonds and religious traditions, but those conditions are gone and those people are watered down, scattered and spiritless.
Jonathan Haidt is a product of a society broken by immigration, low trust, distraction and the obsession with profit and growth. He, like the rest of us, approaches these problems already desensitized to their dispiriting effects. Fiddling with an overworked education system and quoting philosophers won’t fix the deep rot of society and it won’t appease the extremists.
But the slick centrist will continue to give ted talks on happiness and arthritic conservatives will rant from their recliners about those damn marxists in our universities.