Morals, Coddling, Mental Illness, and Wokeness

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Jonathan Haidt

by James A. Bacon

Jonathan Haidt is one of the most important public intellectuals in America today. If you’re not familiar with his work, you need to be. You’ll get a chance to hear him when he comes to the University of Virginia February 8 as a guest of The Jefferson Council.

The social psychologist (and former UVA professor) gained national attention in 2012 with the publication of his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, which asks the question, why can’t we all get along? In America, liberals and conservatives hew to different sides of six fundamental moral realms such as Fairness/Cheating and Liberty/Oppression, he argues. Differing moral sentiments translate into different worldviews, which inform different political positions. Moral intuitions are the primary driver, and reason follows mainly as a means to justify those intuitions. Though an old-fashioned liberal who has confessed to having never voted for a Republican for president, Haidt eschewed demonizing those who think differently. Liberals and conservatives alike, he said, are prone to group thinking, rationalizing their intuitions, and confirmation bias (seeking data that confirms their worldviews while ignoring data that doesn’t). 

Jonathan Haidt
February 8, 2024, 6:30 p.m.
Nau Hall Auditorium
Register here

His next book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, had an even greater impact. Co-writing with Greg Lukianoff in 2018, he investigated the rise of what he politely terms “safety culture” — others might call it the snowflake phenomenon — on college campuses. He attributes the fragility of college kids today to hovering parents, the sheltering of kids from risk and adversity, and above all the harmful effects of social media. College culture magnifies students’ sense of vulnerability by creating safe spaces and disciplining people for microaggressions. These cultural trends combine to create an unprecedented level of anxiety and depression among our youth.

Building off his work in The Coddling of the American Mind, Haidt has written a new book, The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness, which is scheduled for release in late March. The nature of childhood has changed in modern society, he argues. In generations past, children enjoyed more independent play. He identifies how the new “phone-based childhood” interferes with social and neurological development and engenders sleep deprivation, attention fragmentation, addiction, loneliness, social contagion, and social comparison. While the incidence of mental illness has increased across the board, the rise has been most marked among girls. Boys, though far less inclined to anxiety and depression, are retreating into the virtual world with worrisome consequences.

Amid his teaching and writing, Haidt found time in 2015 to co-found the Heterodox Academy, a nonprofit group dedicated to correcting the decline of intellectual diversity in higher education and promoting the principles of open inquiry and constructive disagreement. The lack of such diversity, the co-founders contended, affected the quality of academic research. The organization claims “thousands” of faculty, staff and students nationally. The Heterodox chapter at UVA has more than 40 faculty and staff as members.

As a co-founder of the Heterodox Academy, Haidt was an early and incisive critic of higher education’s drift toward wokeness. A year-and-a-half ago he wrote an essay, “When Truth and Social Justice Collide, Choose Truth.” Universities, he said, have only one “telos,” or fundamental purpose: the pursuit of knowledge and truth. The movement to elevate social justice to a second telos has put truth and social justice into conflict. As a result, universities are becoming ungovernable, and Americans’ public trust in them has plummeted. The country, he wrote, is “far down the road to political and institutional collapse.”

In that essay, Haidt described how the imposition of social-justice ideology compromised his own search for the truth. Scheduled to attend the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP), he was informed of a new rule: in order to present research at the conference, all social psychologists were required to submit a statement explaining how their submission advanced “the equity, inclusion, and anti-racism goals of SPSP.”

“Most academic work has nothing to do with diversity,” he wrote, “so these mandatory statements force many academics to betray their quasi-fiduciary duty to the truth by spinning, twisting, or otherwise inventing some tenuous connection to diversity…. Every psychologist who wants to present at the most important convention in our field must now say how their work advances anti-racism” — anti-racism as defined by Ibram X. Kendi, that is.

Rather than comply, Haidt resigned from the Society. “I am especially dubious of the wisdom of making an academic organization more overtly political in its mission, especially in the midst of a raging culture war, when trust in universities is plummeting,” he said.

The Jefferson Council invites students, faculty, staff and friends of the university to hear Haidt’s latest thinking. Space is limited. Register soon.

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53 responses to “Morals, Coddling, Mental Illness, and Wokeness”

  1. Lefty665 Avatar

    Anti-racism as described by Thurgood Marshall and John Roberts is something we can all get behind, although it seems a funny requirement to have to state it before presenting at a conference. They both observed that the way to stop racial discrimination is to stop discriminating on the basis of race. Rather anti Kendi’s racist prescriptions, but marvelous common sense.

    Perhaps Haidt could cite his advocacy for Marshall’s and Robert’s formula for ending racial discrimination as his contribution to the SPSP’s goals. Or perhaps he is better off having kicked SPSP to the curb.

    Haidt sounds like an interesting fellow. Hope you have a good turnout and report here on what he has to say. Nice work by the Jefferson Council. More good things tend to happen when organizations make the leap to professional staff. Two thumbs up.

  2. LesGabriel Avatar

    Glad to see UVA is allowing a diverse viewpoint on campus.

  3. DJRippert Avatar

    Does Mr, Haidt have any opinion as to why America has become so much more polarized in recent years?

    1. Same thing professional sports leagues learned over a century ago: there’s good money in tribalism.

    2. Not Today Avatar

      Est ce que? Parce ce que? Republicans are just, plain, obnoxious? A full third of the adult, voting population is in a personality cult.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar


      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        An authoritarian ethno-nationalist cult of personality.

  4. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Morals, Coddling, Mental Illness, and Wokeness

    One of these things is not the others.
    One of these things just doesn’t belong.

    Oooh, ooooh, I know!
    What is Mental Illness, Alex? The rest are imaginary Right Wing boogeymen used for punching down on the poor and people of color.

    It is important not to coddle children. Let them find out early they are losers so they won’t seek social solutions and will join the Republican Party.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      “The rest are imaginary Right Wing boogeymen used for punching down on the poor and people of color.”

      Morals is an imaginary Right Wing boogeyman?

      Always interesting to see how those on the left view the world.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Yes, imaginary. Morals, assuming derivation involving a deity, yes. If used interchangeably with secular ethics, then use secular ethics.

        1. walter smith Avatar
          walter smith

          So how do you decide right and wrong? I guess that explains why you apparently are a big proponent of baby-killing.
          My truth!
          Stealing OK?
          How about killing people I think are evil if it is “my truth?”
          I’ll go with God anytime over you crazed Lefties…

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            I don’t kill not because of eternal damnation, but because others lives are not mine to take and even the death of the worst of us diminishes society.

            Morals, ethics, and the law share overlaps. To you pornography is immoral because of whatever pact your god has foisted on you. I don’t care about your god and his rules so I’m amoral. Pornography thus has both an ethical and unethical aspect depending only on coercive forces. Eyes wide open, well,…

            The law should impose the minimum of ethical standard, i.e., coercive forces, and no moral ones, e.g., underaged, use of drugs, etc.

            You cannot legislate morality.

          2. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            Then all laws are futile and there should be no restrictions?
            You can legislate morality. It doesn’t mean people will obey. Nor does it mean the “morality” legislated is necessarily moral. All laws are moral judgments that a behavior should not be legal. But you still need some defining principle for morality.
            You don’t know my position on pornography and “your god” foisted nothing on me. I think pornography is degrading to the men and women engaged in it. It is mostly exploitive, and I believe that most engaged in it have other issues. Would you draw the line at snuff films? Why? Shouldn’t it be bon ton roulet between consenting adults?

          3. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Laws don’t restrict. They define and prescribe. You are not prevented by the law; you’re punished by it.

          4. You’re arguing the morals found in your preferred translation of a sufficiently aged book.

            I dunno man, that seems even more arbitrary if anything.

          5. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            So stealing and lying and murder are wrong because they are in the Bible? What is your reference point? Based on all the lies from the Left and lawfare, I guess you’re good with bearing false witness. And the most important thing in the world to VaDems – the right to kill babies. I’m gonna stick with “a translation of a sufficiently aged book.” Western Civ (which the Commies hate and are doing their best to destroy) exists because of it.

        2. Lefty665 Avatar

          You mean like Fanny Willis talking to god and claiming that racism is the only reason anyone would object to her appointing her adulterous squeeze to persecute Trump and the squeeze kicking back some of the $2/3M public money she paid him to go on cruises and luxury vacations with her? That’s got imaginary, morals or lack thereof, deity and (lack of) ethics, secular or otherwise.

          The Repubs certainly have a full load of hippocracy, but they’ve not got a corner on the market. The Dems vie for the lead.

          1. Not Today Avatar

            How do you figure when your party’s standard bearer (READ: LEADER) is a thrice-married, serial adulterer who peeps at teen beauty contestants and has been proven liable for forcible sexual assault? Trump, literally, penetrated a woman against her will.

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            I await evidence and an indictment. I did not witness, nor have any information from a trust worthy source on that. On the other hand, I have heard “C’mon fellas. All I need is 11,000 votes. Tell ‘em you did a recount. Happens all the time,” and “Go a fight. Fight like Hell.”

          3. Not Today Avatar

            How do you figure when your party’s standard bearer (READ: LEADER) is a thrice-married, serial adulterer who peeps at teen beauty contestants and has been proven liable for forcible sexual assault? Trump, literally, penetrated a woman against her will with his bony unwashed fingers and you’re concerned about the morality of consensual adult sex? Also, her name is Fani, pronounced like fawn, not like Republican asses. SMH. This is why republicans will lose. Bigly. As TI said, “Seems as though you lost sight of what’s important when depositin’ them checks into your bank account and you up and out of poverty. Your values is in disarray; you’re prioritizin’ horribly,
            unhappy with the riches cause you’re piss poor morally. Ignorin’ all prior advice and forewarnin’ and we mighty full of ourselves all of a sudden, aren’t we?”

          4. Matt Adams Avatar
            Matt Adams

            If you expect the application of a singular standard, you’re barking up the wrong tree. The definition of immoral acts will wax and wain depending upon the political affiliations the person you’re discussing have. In a word, a hypocrite of the highest order.

        3. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

          Secular ethics are no different from, but are a substitute for, ethics based on some form of religious belief. Anyone is free to choose his or her ethical beliefs but neither should be given societal preference over the other. From this perspective, there is no difference between God and No God.

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Don’t store your meat with your cheese.

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            What’s the punishments for “coveting thy neighbor’s wife”?
            Morally — five Hail Marys and an Our Father.
            Ethically — anything from a cold shoulder to a divorce if you’re dumb enough to tell your wife.
            Legally — a night in jail for contempt of court for showing up drunk.

          3. The voice of experience? 😉

          4. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            You betcha!
            Seems such a long time ago that “I have lusted in my heart” was a political career killer. Nowadays you can get those hands involved too and the Evangelical community will treat you as the 2nd coming.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    “Have we been a racist nation?”

    “Heck no, and we IMPROVING all the time”

  6. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “Boys, though far less inclined to anxiety and depression, are retreating into the virtual world with worrisome consequences”

    Females are about twice as like to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression. That does not equate to susceptibility and such a distinguished scholar really should know that.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      What do they say about suicide rates between the sexes?

      “ United States. Since the 1950s, typically males die from suicide three to five times more often than females.”

      Kinda belies that “far less” eh? Susceptible?

      1. how_it_works Avatar

        Males also typically don’t threaten to commit suicide the way females will.

        1. Not Today Avatar

          And yet they are ever so much more successful in their attempts because they use more lethal means, usually guns.

        2. Not Today Avatar

          And yet they are ever so much more successful in their attempts because they use more lethal means, usually guns.

          1. how_it_works Avatar

            They won’t talk about it, they won’t threaten to do it, they’ll just get it done.

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Rah boys! Git ‘er done!

          3. Not Today Avatar

            Not true. They do talk about it. They do threaten it, and people excuse it as so much hemming and hawing. Sometimes people even give them guns as an outlet. Then they shoot and kill, occasionally taking others with them. This is the profile of almost all school shooters.

          4. how_it_works Avatar

            Not all situations are the same, and most male suicides do NOT involve school shootings or taking others with them.

          5. LarrytheG Avatar

            stats say older men

          6. how_it_works Avatar

            Yes. If an older man lives alone, that increases the chances of suicide.

          7. LarrytheG Avatar

            Who are the majority of residents in nursing homes?
            Women accounted for 72 percent of nursing home residents,

          8. LarrytheG Avatar

            terminal diseases ..

          9. Lefty665 Avatar

            But most school shootings are essentially male suicides with collateral damage.

            We could lower the death toll by helping boys go quietly into that good night.

          10. how_it_works Avatar

            I wonder how many of them think they’ll somehow get away with it..and the suicide was a last-minute decision when they realized that they won’t.

            You may ask, what kind of idiot thinks they’ll get away with that?

            Same kind of idiot who thinks they can outrun the cops. No shortage of police chase videos that end up with a wrecked vehicle and the driver in handcuffs.

          11. Lefty665 Avatar

            There’s a long term study of public mass shootings that goes all the way back to the 1960s. It shows that almost all of them were suicides.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    “social justice” is apparently a morally bad thing….

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Has to please God. Like, oh say, selling lightbulbs on Sunday is okay, but not fuses.

  8. Not Today Avatar

    Good luck on a big turnout!

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      More than 10 will constitute such. Then, they can use the Iowa caucuses ratio to claim there are 70.

  9. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    If the raison d’être for universities is the pursuit of “truth” then Haidt provides irrefutable reason for eliminating his entire department.

  10. Nelson Fegley Avatar
    Nelson Fegley

    I commend the Jefferson Council on bringing Jonathan Haidt to
    Charlottesville. Rufo, Hanania and many others have revealed the many external influences that have lead to the Wokeness that has infected academia and government agencies. Haidt has thoroughly explored internal differences among people that have produced the political polarity that is in evidence today.

    Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind” is the most insightful book I have read on this subject. Haidt notes that “people tend to bind themselves into political teams that share moral narratives. They then become blind to alternative moral worlds”. He contends that 1/3 to 1/2 of political attitudes are based on genetic make-up.

    Should be a very enlightening evening!

  11. Stanwood Avatar

    Wish I lived closer to Charlottesville.

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