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Notable & Quotable: Jonathan Haidt on Identity Politics

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Notable & Quotable: Jonathan Haidt on Identity Politics

The Wall Street Journal November 24, 2017
EducationHigher Ed
OtherCulture & Society

‘Every situation is analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education.’

Jonathan Haidt delivering the 2017 Wriston Lecture to the Manhattan Institute, Nov. 15:

Today’s identity politics . . . teaches the exact opposite of what we think a liberal arts education should be. When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a utilitarian or as a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or as a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any given question or problem.

But what do we do now? Many students are given just one lens—power. Here’s your lens, kid. Look at everything through this lens. Everything is about power. Every situation is analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult. It’s a fundamentalist religion. It’s a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety and intellectual impotence. . . .

Let’s return to Jefferson’s vision: “For here we are not afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error as long as reason is left free to combat it.” Well if Jefferson were to return today and tour our nation’s top universities, he would be shocked at the culture of fear, the tolerance of error, and the shackles placed on reason. . . .

I am actually pessimistic about America’s future, but let me state very clearly that I have very low confidence in my pessimism. Because until now, it has always been wrong to bet against America, and it’s probably wrong to do so now. My libertarian friends constantly remind me that people are resourceful—this is what many people forget. When problems get more severe, people get more inventive, and that is actually happening right now.

This piece originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal's Notable & Quotable

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Jonathan Haidt joined New York University Stern School of Business in July 2011. He is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership, based in the Business and Society Program.

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