You Don't Have to be Crazy to be a Liberal Girl

Colleges Will Train You

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Jonathan Haidt has an important explanation: Why the Mental Health of Liberal Girls Sank First and Fastest.

In May 2014, Greg Lukianoff invited me to lunch to talk about something he was seeing on college campuses that disturbed him. Greg is the president of FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression), and he has worked tirelessly since 2001 to defend the free speech rights of college students. That almost always meant pushing back against administrators who didn’t want students to cause trouble, and who justified their suppression of speech with appeals to the emotional “safety” of students—appeals that the students themselves didn’t buy. But in late 2013, Greg began to encounter new cases in which students were pushing to ban speakers, punish people for ordinary speech, or implement policies that would chill free speech. These students arrived on campus in the fall of 2013 already accepting the idea that books, words, and ideas could hurt them. Why did so many students in 2013 believe this, when there was little sign of such beliefs in 2011?

Greg is prone to depression, and after hospitalization for a serious episode in 2007, Greg learned CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). In CBT you learn to recognize when your ruminations and automatic thinking patterns exemplify one or more of about a dozen “cognitive distortions,” such as catastrophizing, black-and-white thinking, fortune telling, or emotional reasoning. Thinking in these ways causes depression, as well as being a symptom of depression. Breaking out of these painful distortions is a cure for depression.

What Greg saw in 2013 were students justifying the suppression of speech and the punishment of dissent using the exact distortions that Greg had learned to free himself from. Students were saying that an unorthodox speaker on campus would cause severe harm to vulnerable students (catastrophizing); they were using their emotions as proof that a text should be removed from a syllabus (emotional reasoning). Greg hypothesized that if colleges supported the use of these cognitive distortions, rather than teaching students skills of critical thinking (which is basically what CBT is), then this could cause students to become depressed. Greg feared that colleges were performing reverse CBT.

The Haidt/Lukianoff collaboration produced a groundbreaking Atlantic article and a subsequent book.

My 2019 report on that book is here, and I reported that the authors were "cautiously optimistic." I'm not sure Haidt maintains that optimism today. Read his updated views.

What I am sure about is that the people responsible for key policies at educational institutions should check out Haidt's argument. (I'm much less sure that they will take that advice.)

And, as supplementary reading, they should also peruse Kat Rosenfield's article, The Illusion of a Frictionless Existence. Another side effect, amusingly illustrated:

And yet, we did lose something when we started replacing cashiers with contactless payment, indoor dining with curbside pickup, and group hangouts at the local bar with the so-called “Zoom happy hour” (which sounds great until you realize that it’s actually code for “drinking alone in front of your computer.”) One need not be anti-tech to see how our social skills, like any other, atrophy for lack of use in a world where human interaction is on the wane. As it turns out, there’s hidden value in those moments when you mistakenly pull on the door marked “PUSH” and share an awkward laugh with the one stranger who happened to witness it. Or when you struggle to make yourself understood by a customer service rep whose first language isn’t English. Or that thing when the waiter says, “Enjoy your meal,” and you say, loudly, “You too!” Embarrassing? Yes. A humbling and poignant reminder of your own fallible humanity? Also yes, and a good one to keep in mind the next time you find yourself cornered at a party by someone who stands too close, talks too loud, and has a big wad of spinach stuck at his upper gumline. We are all of us bumbling awkwardly through the world, and there but for the grace of god go I.

I said "amusingly", but only in the Mel Brooks sense: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die."

Briefly noted:

  • Democrats have performed a quick 180° turn on the First Amendment, as recounted by Robby Soave: Democrats Deride the Twitter Files Reporters As 'So-Called Journalists'.

    The House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government held a hearing Thursday on the Twitter Files, giving independent journalists Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger the opportunity to present their reporting to Congress.

    The Twitter Files, which show that multiple arms of the federal government—including the FBI, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the State Department, and the White House under both Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden—pressured social media companies to restrict speech, are of some concern to Republican lawmakers; it was Rep. Jim Jordan (R–Ohio) who invited Taibbi and Shellenberger to attend. Since government action is at the core of this insidious push for censorship—which is also present at Facebook, as Reason's investigation has shown—it is appropriate for Congress to probe, and hopefully, to limit, the federal bureaucracy's ability to shape the rules of online discourse.

    Frustratingly, the Democrats who participated in the hearing on Thursday could not have cared less about the federal government's role in promoting social media censorship. Indeed, the Democratic representatives involved in the proceedings turned their fire on Taibbi and Shellenberger, not bothering to hold back their disdain for the pair.

    Let me just insert here that I agree with Eugene Volokh that the 1A "freedom of the press" should be understood as extending to everyone and anyone using mass communications, not "a freedom limited to those who belong to a favored industry."

    But Matt Taibbi is clearly covered by both understandings, and he's pretty cheesed off that The Democrats Have Lost the Plot. It's a paywalled substack article, but here's a bit that's free:

    Testifying with Michael Shellenberger before a House Subcommittee was one of the more surreal experiences of my life. I expected serious attacks and spent a nervous night before preparing for them. Then the hearing began, and an episode of Black Adder: Congress broke out. The attacks happened, but it was more farcical horror and a parade of self-owns that made me more sad than upset.

    The Democrats made it clear they were not interested in talking about free speech except as it pertains to Chrissy Teigen, seemed to suggest a journalist should not make a living, and finally made the incredible claim that Michael and I represented a “direct threat to people who oppose them.” Of all that transpired yesterday, this was the most ominous development — perhaps not for me but for reporters generally, given our government’s recent history of dealing with people deemed “threats.”

    Was it possible for me to view Congresscritters with any more contempt? They're trying!

  • Another instance of an honest lefty who has come to realize that the people she trusted have been (at best) misleading her: Naomi Wolf, who writes an open letter, starting with Dear Conservatives, I Apologize.

    There is no way to avoid this moment. The formal letter of apology. From me. To Conservatives and to those who “put America first” everywhere.

    It’s tempting to sweep this confrontation with my own gullibility under the rug — to “move on” without ever acknowledging that I was duped, and that as a result I made mistakes in judgement, and that these mistakes, multiplied by the tens of thousands and millions on the part of people just like me, hurt millions of other people like you all, in existential ways.

    Her confession was prompted by the January 6 footage as shown by Tucker Carlson. But (read to the end) she has a list of things she was misinformed about "by NPR, MSNBC and The New York Times": that Trump instigated the January 6 riot; the pee tape; the Steele dossier; Trump-Russia collusion.

    Wait until she finds out about the lab-leak hypothesis! Hunter's laptop!

  • Ready for some good news? Me too, and Elizabeth Nolan Brown has some: Wages Are Rising for Low-Skill Workers, Driving Down Poverty and Inequality.

    Income inequality and poverty are falling, thanks to rising wages for workers in low-skill jobs. A lot of low-wage work is, in fact, becoming middle-wage work.

    The shift stems—at least in part—from low unemployment, which means companies of all sorts must compete harder for workers. And they're doing that by offering things like higher wages, better benefits, and bonuses.

    The free market works, when it's allowed to. ENB goes on to note the relative ineffectiveness of the governmental anti-poverty programs. Her conclusion:

    Increasing spending during the pandemic temporarily pulled more people above the poverty line, on paper. But poverty rates went up again when stimulus payments and extra unemployment benefits were taken away. Simply giving people cash might help with short-term needs but it doesn't constitute sound help in the long run.

    This is why the data on rising wages for low-skill workers—and its attendant effect on inequality and poverty measures—are so encouraging. Leveraging free markets is a much better way to pull people out of poverty in the long term than making them ever more dependent on the government.

    A slight bone to pick there. ENB's unstated assumption is that the government intends to provide "sound help." Decades tell us that it doesn't work that way. And by sheer coincidence, Don Boudreaux's Quotation of the Day... from Thomas Sowell, speaks to that:

    One of the most dangerous trends of our times is that increasing numbers of people have a vested interest in the helplessness of other people.

    To quote Mel again:

    When your continued employment depends on not solving the problem you're meant to solve…

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:28 AM EDT