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Adam Smith Meets Jonathan Haidt (on political polarization and the animosity of hostile factions)

Summary:
Jonathan Haidt wrote the book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. It is about how polarized and nasty our politics have become, how everyone loves to demonize and ridicule anyone from a different political party. But these are things that Adam Smith talked about in his book The Theory of Moral Sentiments. I will have an excerpt from that at the end of the post.Haidt is also concerned about how politically biased higher education has become, with the vast majority of professors being liberal, especially in the social sciences and humanities. So he and some other professors have founded the Heterodox Academy. Here is what they are about: "We are a politically diverse group of social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and other

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Jonathan Haidt wrote the book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. It is about how polarized and nasty our politics have become, how everyone loves to demonize and ridicule anyone from a different political party. But these are things that Adam Smith talked about in his book The Theory of Moral Sentiments. I will have an excerpt from that at the end of the post.

Haidt is also concerned about how politically biased higher education has become, with the vast majority of professors being liberal, especially in the social sciences and humanities. So he and some other professors have founded the Heterodox Academy. Here is what they are about:

"We are a politically diverse group of social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and other scholars who want to improve our academic disciplines and universities.

We share a concern about a growing problem: the loss or lack of “viewpoint diversity.” When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged.

To reverse this process, we have come together to advocate for a more intellectually diverse and heterodox academy."

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article in 2017 titled  Can Jonathan Haidt Calm the Culture Wars? You might have to be a subscriber to read it. Excerpts:
""The extremes, the far left and the far right, are being" — Haidt pauses a beat — "well, I’d say bizarre and crazy, but first, that would be a microaggression" — a roar of laughter from the audience — "and second, it would not be true. What’s happening isn’t crazy. It’s straight moral psychology.""

[Haidt] "explains what he calls "the new moral culture spreading on many college campuses." It is a culture, he says, that values victims, prioritizes emotional safety, silences dissent, and distorts scholarship. It is a culture that undermines the university’s traditional mission to pursue truth"veritas" is right there on the seals of Harvard and Yale — in favor of a new mission: the pursuit of social justice. It is a culture that Haidt believes is fueled by three factors: political polarization, the rise of social media, and a lack of ideological diversity in the professoriate."

"Today, however, precious few conservatives are in psychology departments. "If you say something pleasing to the left about race, gender, immigration, or any other issue, it’s likely to get waved through to publication," says Haidt. "People won’t ask hard questions. They like it. They want to believe it." This represents "a real research-legitimacy problem in the social sciences.""

"His critics, of whom there are many, see his efforts to shift the conversation about diversity away from race and gender and toward politics as at best obtuse and at worst hostile. They say his absolutist stance on free speech is at odds with the need for a diverse and inclusive university. They say he lends a social-scientific sheen to old conservative arguments. They say his penchant for skewering the left, coupled with his willingness to engage the right, is suspect and creates confusion about where his sympathies actually lie. They say he’s either a closet conservative or a useful idiot for the right.

Haidt acknowledges that, especially in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, he risks sounding like a guy in Berlin in 1933 insisting that wisdom is to be found on both sides of the political spectrum. "The election has ramped up emotions so strongly that any effort to say, ‘You really need to have more conservatives in the university, and you need to listen to them’ strikes some people as immoral." On the other hand, he says, the election has forced a reckoning. More academics are saying, "Wow, we really are in a bubble. We must get out of this bubble.""

"On the left in the early 2000s, he grew frustrated by what he saw as the failure of Al Gore and John Kerry to speak to voters’ moral concerns. Haidt shifted his research focus to political psychology and immersed himself in conservative media, subscribing to National Review and watching Fox News. "My reaction was constantly like, ‘Oh, I never thought of that. Oh, that’s a good critique,’ " he says. "The scales were falling from my eyes." He’s since carefully positioned himself as a centrist, a neutral broker who speaks with all sides."

"Some liberal professors fear giving even inadvertent comfort to the right, especially with Trump in the White House and a Republican majority in Congress. Others, he argues, are intimidated by the bullying tactics of the far left.

That diagnosis rings true to David Bromwich, a professor of English at Yale. His 1992 book about the campus culture wars, Politics by Other Means (Yale University Press), is a withering assault on both traditionalists of the right and thought-policers of the left. (As John Silber wrote in a review, the book might have been called A Plague on Both Your Houses.) Asked how the current mood on elite campuses compares with that time, Bromwich says it’s at least as bad. "There is a horror of being associated with anything or anyone conservative," he says, calling it "a mark of the timidity of the academic personality in our time. It leads to a great deal of conformity, small acts of cowardice, and the voluntary self-suppression of ideas.""

"It’s human nature to make things sacred — people, places, books, ideas, Haidt says. "So what’s sacred at a university?" he asks. "Victims are sacred," he answers. And a victimhood culture offers only two ways to get prestige: Be a victim, or, if you can’t manage that, stand up for victims. How? "By punishing the hell out of anyone who in any way, shape, or form, even inadvertently, marginalizes a member of a victim class.""

""I’m very alarmed by the decline of our democracy." He grabs a stack of four books from beside his keyboard. The spines read like a map of his anxious mind: The Authoritarian Dynamic, The Federalist Papers, Rude Democracy, Why Nations Fail. He is especially worried about how social media deepen our political divisions. "We are all immersed in a river of outrage, drowning in videos of the other side at its worst," he says"

Here is the passage from Adam Smith:
"The animosity of hostile factions, whether civil or ecclesiastical, is often still more furious than that of hostile nations; and their conduct towards one another is often still more atrocious. What may be called the laws of faction have often been laid down by grave authors with still less regard to the rules of justice than what are called the laws of nations. The most ferocious patriot never stated it as a serious question, Whether faith ought to be kept with public enemies?—Whether faith ought to be kept with rebels? Whether faith ought to be kept with heretics? are questions which have been often furiously agitated by celebrated doctors both civil and ecclesiastical. It is needless to observe, I presume, that both rebels and heretics are those unlucky persons, who, when things have come to a certain degree of violence, have the misfortune to be of the weaker party. In a nation distracted by faction, there are, no doubt, always a few, though commonly but a very few, who preserve their judgment untainted by the general contagion. They seldom amount to more than, here and there, a solitary individual, without any influence, excluded, by his own candour, from the confidence of either party, and who, though he may be one of the wisest, is necessarily, upon that very account, one of the most insignificant men in the society. All such people are held in contempt and derision, frequently in detestation, by the furious zealots of both parties. A true party-man hates and despises candour; and, in reality, there is no vice which could so effectually disqualify him for the trade of a party-man as that single virtue. The real, revered, and impartial spectator, therefore, is, upon no occasion, at a greater distance than amidst the violence and rage of contending parties. To them, it may be said, that such a spectator scarce exists any where in the universe. Even to the great Judge of the universe, they impute all their own prejudices, and often view that Divine Being as animated by all their own vindictive and implacable passions. Of all the corrupters of moral sentiments, therefore, faction and fanaticism have always been by far the greatest."

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