This reader just wonders at Mr. Evan R. Goldstein’s essay on Jonathan Haidt with the headline: ‘Can Jonathan Haidt Calm the Culture Wars?’ The wonder can be defined by the question: does Mr. Goldstein think that that some of the readership of The Chronicle of Higher Education has a memory no longer that the Golden Age of Reagan? Because we’ve seen Mr. Haidt before, in the political guise of Ronald Reagan, who won the governorship of California in 1966 using anti-student hysterics: the Free Speech Movement of 1964 led by the Mario Savio. Mr. Haidt is a politician posing as a ‘Social Scientist‘!
BERKELEY – Ronald Reagan launched his political career in 1966 by targeting UC Berkeley’s student peace activists, professors, and, to a great extent, the University of California itself. In his successful campaign for governor of California, his first elective office, he attacked the Berkeley campus, cementing what would remain a turbulent relationship between Reagan and California’s leading institution for public higher education.
“This was not a happy relationship between the governor and the university — you have to acknowledge it,” recalled Neil Smelser, who was a Berkeley professor of sociology during the Reagan years. “As a matter of Reagan’s honest convictions but also as a matter of politics, Reagan launched an assault on the university.”
As the Vietnam War expanded and the death toll climbed, students at Berkeley launched a determined and, at times, confrontational attempt to stop the war with demonstrations and protests that eventually spread to college campuses across the country. Years later, much of the public came to agree with the students but in 1966, those opposed to the war were a distinct minority in America. Candidate Reagan capitalized on this.
Can a history of attacking students leave out the career of S. I. Hayakawa?
Student strike at San Francisco State College
In 1968–69, there was a bitter student and Black Panthers strike at San Francisco State University in order to establish an ethnic studies program. It was a major news event at the time and chapter in the radical history of the United States and the Bay Area. The strike was led by the Third World Liberation Front supported by Students for a Democratic Society, the Black Panthers and the countercultural community.
It proposed fifteen “non-negotiable demands”, including a Black Studies department chaired by sociologist Nathan Hare independent of the university administration and open admission to all black students to “put an end to racism”, and the unconditional, immediate end to the War in Vietnam and the university’s involvement. It was threatened that if these demands were not immediately and completely satisfied the entire campus was to be forcibly shut down. Hayakawa became popular with conservative voters in this period after he pulled the wires out from the loud speakers on a protesters’ van at an outdoor rally. Hayakawa relented on December 6, 1968, and created the first-in-the-nation College of Ethnic Studies
The reader should not forget the careers and the propaganda interventions of Allen Bloom of ‘The Closing of the American Mind’ the 1987 bestseller? (Haidt even appropriates the Bloom rhetorical frame for his 2015 “The Coddling of the American Mind.”), the 1990 ‘Tenured Radicals’ by Roger Kimball? the 1991 book by Dinesh D’Souza Illiberal Education? The fomenting of political hysteria about the danger of Radical Students is a cottage industry for Right Wing! Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt is just a more sophisticated/educated version of this reactionary type.
His academic specialization is the psychology of morality and the moral emotions.
Note also that Mr. Haidt studies the ‘psychology of morality’. It is not an investigation of morality, but of its psychology, which places it outside the exercise of moral evaluation proper, and into the realm of the Social Science, and renders it into a quantifiable thing. A business school might just choose such a highfalutin title as the ‘Psychology of Morality’ as cover for research into more effective advertising techniques, read manipulative propaganda whose bible is Edward L. Bernays who published his book called ‘Propaganda’ in 1928.
Mr. Haidt simply politicizes those techniques in his ‘research’. Look upon the ‘expert’, in sum a technocrat, the Social Psychologist to demonize the Radical Students, his credential are quite impressive. He appears to appeal to a political spectrum, yet that spectrum has been utterly distorted by the toxicity of the Neo-Liberal Mythology! What do his critics say?
Neuroscientist Sam Harris criticized Haidt by arguing that Haidt’s defense of religion ends up justifying human sacrifice and superstition. In chapter 9 of The Happiness Hypothesis, Haidt extends a comprehensive inquiry on the role of religion in society, concluding, merely, that the scientific community should recognize the evolutionary origins of religiosity, and accept its potential cognitive implications (p. 211).
Journalist Chris Hedges wrote a review of The Righteous Mind in which he accused Haidt of supporting “social Darwinism”. In his response, Haidt disagreed with Hedges’s reading of the book, most notably that Hedges took quotations from conservatives and inappropriately attributed them to Haidt.
How would a social scientist quantify that ‘psychology of morality’ except by interviews, and questionnaires that are both in need of a hermeneutics: a rational scientific interpretive matrix. Mr. Haidt’s ‘research’ provides the necessary cover for his attack on students: the project of that hysteria mongering is not left merely to curmudgeonly Straussians or various Reactionary Ideologues, although that will continue, what this Social Psychologist offers is a ‘science based’ critique of the politically wayward malcontents, that is too mild a description of these political nihilists, at least in the view of Mr. Haidt!
Look to the notorious ‘Bell Curve’ as ‘Conservative Social Science’ in service to ideological ends. The search for bourgeois political respectability of Modern American Conservatism can also be seen in the careers of judges like John Roberts and Niel Gorsuch: whose careers are in vivid contrast to the starkest examples of the person and the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. Bork enjoys the status of Saint in the Conservative Pantheon of Martyrs. The fact that Bork resembled a character out of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, made the imperative to be clean cut and respectable in appearance for both Roberts and Gorsuch. Bork taught the Neo-Confederate/Originalists a valuable lesson, at the least, present yourselves as within the respectable bourgeois political/judicial mainstream, and dress as if your are that. Deny all else, and chatter about the importance of stare decisis and other such articles of American Jurisprudential Faith.
What of Mr. Haidt’s backers?
Haidt has a team of three staffers with him at NYU and three part-timers who work on a more ad hoc basis. Initial support for Heterodox Academy came from two small donors, the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, best known for its support of the sciences, and the Achelis and Bodman Foundation, a tradition-minded backer of the arts and charter schools in New York City. This year the group received substantial support from Paul Singer, a hedge-fund billionaire active in Republican politics, which has allowed it to work with a Washington-area branding and public-relations firm. Haidt is cultivating a center-left donor and hopes to use those funds to rent office space and hire an executive director.
The reader can only marvel at the supporters of Mr. Haidt’s Heterodox Academy! The Achelis and Bodman Foundation, supporters of Charter Schools and Vulture Capitalist Paul Singer. If Mr. Haidt is not a Neo-Liberal, his supporters are true believers, even practitioners of the political black art! Yet Mr. Haidt is a true Capitalist: ‘He’s in such demand that he charges $30,000 per speech.’
Here an enlightening example of the Haidt intellectual process:
When he taught at Virginia, the psychology department hosted a weekly lunch presentation. One day the topic was women and math. The talk focused on how cultural messages girls receive dissuade them from pursuing math. Haidt proposed an alternative explanation: “We know that prenatal hormones influence the brain, changing all kinds of interests. Is it possible that girls are just less interested in math?” There was dead silence. “Wait,” he pressed. “Do you think hormones influence behavior?” More silence. “Nobody agreed, nobody disagreed, nobody would touch it,” he recalls. “That’s when I realized our science is suffering. Social science is really hard; it’s always multiple causal threads. If several threads are banned, then you cannot solve any problem.”