Jonathan Haidt

Professor of business ethics, NYU-Stern & Author of 'The Righteous Mind' about morality and politics

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON November 23, 2015

Discussion

Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
Hi Everyone. Jonathan here. I'm a professor of social psychology and business ethics at NYU-Stern School of Business. My book “The Righteous Mind” is about morality and politics — why America has become so divided between left and right. If you are frustrated by our nasty politics and want to be part of a movement to restore civil disagreement and healthy democracy, or if you just want to understand how moralism interferes with relationships and mutual understanding, please join us.
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@jonhaidt OK, I'll ask myself a question. Jonathan, what on earth is happening at our universities? Why now? Is there some interesting moral psychology behind it?
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@jonhaidt Great question, Jon! I wish everyone in the country could read this essay: http://righteousmind.com/where-m... it explains how the "culture of victimhood" arose gradually, and is now spreading like wildfire on college campuses.
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@jonhaidt Its my summary of a fantastic essay by two sociologists. In brief: We’re beginning a second transition of moral cultures. The first major transition happened in the 18th and 19th centuries when most Western societies moved away from cultures of honor (where people must earn honor and must therefore avenge insults on their own) to cultures of dignity in which people are assumed to have dignity and don’t need to earn it. They foreswear violence, turn to courts or administrative bodies to respond to major transgressions, and for minor transgressions they either ignore them or attempt to resolve them by social means. There’s no more dueling. Campbell and Manning describe how this culture of dignity is now giving way to a new culture of victimhood in which people are encouraged to respond to even the slightest unintentional offense, as in an honor culture. But they must not obtain redress on their own; they must appeal for help to powerful others or administrative bodies, to whom they must make the case that they have been victimized. It is the very presence of such administrative bodies, within a culture that is highly egalitarian and diverse (i.e., many college campuses) that gives rise to intense efforts to identify oneself as a fragile and aggrieved victim. This is why we have seen the recent explosion of concerns about microaggressions, combined with demands for trigger warnings and safe spaces, that Greg Lukianoff and I wrote about in The Coddling of the American Mind.
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@jonhaidt Separate from the victimization sub-topic... How do you differentiate between striving for "honor" versus striving for "status"? Agreed that people don't duel anymore. And it seems right that we assume people have dignity and don't need to earn it. But people still engage in all sorts of (modern) behavior to try to gain status. Nothing's changed there, right? If anything, status questing is arguably even more prevalent given the clarity and constancy of the status leaderboard around us.
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@bencasnocha @jonhaidt true, we will always strive for status, and i think it begins in earnest around age 9 or 10. And i fear that social media is pernicious here -- it allows you to check the scoreboard every minute. I do it too -- i'm embarrased to admit that when i send out a tweet, i check a few minutes later to see if i've changed the world yet. its stupid. My hope is that we will eventually adapt to all this, and that future generations will have better self regulation skills.
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
In the Happiness Hypothesis, you talk about how happiness comes from within and from without, and you are skeptical of elements of Buddhism that promote non-attachment. You write that the Western ideals of action and passionate striving play an important role in finding happiness in the modern world. Yet, so often our action and striving is never enough. We strive for something, we achieve it, and then we immediately want something more. It's insatiable. How do we avoid the hedonic treadmill? How do we strive, but also feel content with what we achieve in our striving?
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@bencasnocha yes, we strive and it is never enough. But can you imagine a life without striving? it is not a human life. Maybe for an old person who looks back with satisfaction. But i would be very unhappy if my children took up the life of monks before the age of 60. "Joys soul lies in the doing" said shakespeare. The key is to get the right conditions of engagement with life. Then the striving is joyous. How many of you reading this feel that you are working toward something.... and it is pleasurable to work at it?
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@jonhaidt What my Buddhist friends tell me is that you can strive while also being non-attached (or "clingy") to specific outcomes. This is hard to do, practically. I'd love to have a life where I am playing hard in the field -- striving toward something -- without checking the scoreboard every hour or even every year. When you're enmeshed in social systems where everyone else is checking the scoreboard all the time and killing themselves if they're not winning, it's hard to behave differently...
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@bencasnocha well put; i think Buddhism is a constant reminder to loosen our group, don't check the scoreboard so often, that makes us petty. and if our motives are extrinsic, that's not good either. But when your work is a "calling", and you really really want to achieve something, i think its appropriate to feel bad when there are setbacks, and to exult when you make progress.
Brian@erbbrian
@jonhaidt Do you think that we place too much emphasis on "sacred values" political correctness as being a leftish thing predominantly? I note how religious people in formulations like "War on Christmas/Christians" seem to use the same sort of victim/oppressor dynamic to carve out special rights and safety for a set of empirical beliefs - thought to be exempt from the normal way we treat beliefs.
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@erbbrian ! Both sides to it. Both sides claim the mantle of victimhood. Everybody wants to be David, not goliath. I am most upset about the political correctness of the left, because that is the world that I live in universities. But I am also horrified by what we are seeing in response to Donald Trump, and Ben Carson. Especially the notion of Muslim registries. That was just shocking
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
Hey! What are some of your favourite books?
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@bentossell Here are 2 that come to mind: Dancing in the STreets, by Barbara Ehrenreich. About collective joy, including raves and sporting events. Ambition, by O. Gilbert Brim. About how to handle the dynamic that Ben raised in his question.
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
Here are 2 that come to mind: Dancing in the STreets, by Barbara Ehrenreich. About collective joy, including raves and sporting events. Ambition, by O. Gilbert Brim. About how to handle the dynamic that Ben raised in his question.
Michael Doran@sempervigilius
Can we change the fundamental base of desired statuses? How can we best incentivize people more towards altruism, and not towards selfishness?
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@sempervigilius I personally think altruism is overrated. We don't need a world in which we all live for each other. I think things ARE already moving toward a world in which young poeple want a sense of purpose, rather than just to be rich (which was the top goal when i graduated from college in 1985). I think a world of striving, in which people are striving for goals and achievements that end up indirectly helping others, is the best we can do. All around me at NYU-STern, students are trying to think of something that other people need or want. That's great. Their goal isn't just to get rich -- its to DO something, create something, that others want. And many of them are interested in social enterprise. So in the long run, I"m actually optimistic.
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
Thanks everyone, these were fantastic questions. May you all flourish.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Community and Marketing, Product Hunt
@jonhaidt thanks for taking the time out to join us today Jonathan! Such great insight thank you.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Community and Marketing, Product Hunt
@jonhaidt thanks for being here today 🙌 During your career to date, what has been your a) most challenging moment and how did you overcome it? b) proudest moment and why? c) most surprising moment?
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@ems_hodge Hi Emily, I think the most challenging moment is what is happening right now, this week, as the universities are burning down around us. I am absolutely horrified, at the way rampant moralism has created of fear on college campuses, everyone is walking on eggshells. I don't recognize the University anymore. In response, me and some other researchers have created a new website: www.heterodoxacademy.org, please do check it out. Viewpoint diversity is the most urgently needed form of diversity -- and it is the one in shortest supply
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
Since joining the business school at NYU and thinking about business ethics, what has most surprised you about how ethical situations play out in the real world? Has anything changed in your thinking about how to get real world CEOs and execs to act more ethically in business?
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@bencasnocha These are all good questions, I don't know where to start. So I'll start with bands question. When I joined's Stern in 2011, it was entirely new culture to me. Business is much more pragmatic, and much less political then the rest of the University. My focus at stern has been on how to use behavioral science to improve behavior: see www.ethicalsystems.org
Rob@robsica
Do you still hold to the strong view (in your book) that group selection acted directly on genetic evolution to contribute to the shaping of our moral psychology? Or is your view in fact not at variance with prominent gene-culture co-evolutionary paradigms?
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@robsica I do still believe that human nature was sheet by evolution working at multiple levels. I think this is perfectly compatible with the leading gene culture co-evolution views, such as by Joe Henrich. and i think it even fits with Dawkins; i just think that GROUPS can be vehicles for genes, as well as individuals. All of us on this earth are descended from the successful groups not just the successful individuals
James Glueck@risiko_as · SVP, MPS MountainView
@jonhaidt what antidotes ('moral reinforcements") to domestic (potential) extremist political movements (e.g., "Trump2016") and international/global (actual) extremist political movements (e.g., ISIL/IS/ISIS) would you suggest based on the insights presented in your book "Righteous Mind?"
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@risiko_as This is the urgent question of our day. I think international situation is very different from the American situation. In the United States, the growing problem is what is called affect his partisan polarization. It refers to the growing negative emotion that we feel towards people on the other side. This means there is ever less trust, and angry more quickly. I think we need to make political diversity and political understanding and urgent national priority as early as high school. It should be part of civics class. For this is what is tearing apart our country
James Glueck@risiko_as · SVP, MPS MountainView
@jonhaidt @risiko_as Excellent suggestion - in addition to ensuring that political diversity and political understanding are taught within a civics curriculum beginning at the high school level here in the US, I would suggest that historical examples (e.g., Weimar Germany) when the political realm collapsed entirely with devastating consequences be freely taught and studied as well. Thanks very much for your response as well as all your research and significant (and original) contributions to the study of morals, moral psychology, ethics - Righteous Mind has had a profoundly clarifying impact to my own thinking and understanding of the moral dimension of life.
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@risiko_as Great idea! We need to see examples of where we are headed.
Marty Miller@martea11
@jonhaidt Hi Jonathan, any plans for a 3rd book?
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@martea11 Yes! When i moved to a business school in 2011, i started learning about capitalism, and suddenly, occupy wall street broke out, and everyone was talking about capitalism. The left generally distrusts it, libertarians love it. I heard 2 stories over and over. And that pointed me to the need for using moral psychology to strip away the moralism and help people think clearly about capitalism. Here's the outline of the book: http://storiesaboutcapitalism.com/
Tamrat@tamrrat · Designer, Software Dev, Indie hacker
@jonhaidt What do you think about Bernie Sander's position as a "Democratic Socialist" within a Capitalist system? Is it indicative in any way that he identifies as a socialist and he still seems to do fine?
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · PMM @Twitter // Previously @ProductHunt
What are the core concepts of "business ethics" and how have you seen those evolve in recent years?
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@andrewmettinger As i see it, business is fundamentally a good thing because it is about creating value -- it is about doing something because you think someone else might want it. As David Schmidtz, a philosopher recently put it: a free-market society is a game that you can only win by making other people better off. If you look at it that way ,then the fundamental sin is making money by value extraction. Getting rich by making other people WORSE off. That usually means taking vantage of a market in perfection, such as asymmetric information (the common technique on wall street), or exploiting public goods (what companies do when they pollute, or prey upon public trust). This is why we DO need regulation -- to prevent these forms of exploitation. These Business ethics can be seen in Roman ratings. They are eternal.
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · PMM @Twitter // Previously @ProductHunt
@jonhaidt @andrewmettinger Can I follow this up by asking which 2016 POTUS candidate you support?
James Clear@james_clear · JamesClear.com
@jonhaidt When it comes to improving behavior through design, what are the two or three most compelling / surprising insights from your research?
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@james_clear Our biggest idea at EthicalSystems.org is that you must strive for alignment between 3 levels: 1) individual behavior (see the book Nudge) 2) The group (this is what corporate culture is all about. This is essential in the long run; nudges are not enough) 3) The larger legal and national ecosystem. Right now American law emphasizes COMPLIANCE, not ethics. So companies spend a lot on compliance training, which puts into a legalistic mindset, when he think about how to get around the rules. We are just beginning to work with regulators to figure out how the government can reward ethics not just compliance. Businesses that get alignment at all 3 levels are great businesses, great to work for. (That's easier to do in unregulated industries, like tech, than in heavily regulated ones, like finance).
James Clear@james_clear · JamesClear.com
Thanks for answering.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Hey Jonathan! Thanks for joining. a few q's What's something you used to fervently believe that you now see as fundamentally misguided?
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@eriktorenberg From the year after my bar mitzvah until about eight years ago, I thought religion was uniformly stupid and evil. As I was writing the righteous mind, I came to see religion is fundamentally about binding groups together to create trusting communities. Those trusting communities sometimes do stupid and evil things, certainly. But at least in the United States the social science seem to show that religion contributes a lot to social capital. So i'm much more nuanced about religion (while still being an atheist).
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
@jonhaidt @eriktorenberg do you sympathize with Tyler Cowen's "Pro Religious Non Believer"?
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@eriktorenberg i don't know that work. I like Cowen a lot -- i think he's an honest academic, not a partisan. I don't know that I'm pro religious. But I am anti-anti-religious.
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · Words @ProductHunt & @AngelList
@jonhaidt @eriktorenberg very interesting answer
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
When you think of the term "successful" who comes to mind and why?
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@eriktorenberg I'm trying to come up with a deep or insightful answer. But my mind keeps getting flooded with famous people, like Bill Clinton and Richard Branson. Perhaps the reason is that they seem to be having a lot of fun at the top of the world. So I think that's at least one useful criterion -- someone who has certain skills or excellences, gets to use them, and then enjoys the success that that good fit brings. That doesn't mean that they are famous -- it refers to anyone who works really hard and gets to enjoy the earned success of that work.
Jean Lucas@aleattorium · A Brazilian chef that likes to code.
@jonhaidt Do you think populism is bad? Latin America experienced it, also Europe pre-WWII and didn't work, then why would it be rising in USA right now?
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@aleattorium Populism is always disastrous for economic policy. Populism can serve a necessary political function, when the rich, powerful, and well-connected get too much power. And that is indeed happening today. So it has its place in political life. But when leaders begin to make economic policy to please populist tastes, it almost always leads to massive inefficiencies, lost opportunities, and economic slowdown in later years..... which leads to more populism. This is why Argentina is such a perennial failure.
Jean Lucas@aleattorium · A Brazilian chef that likes to code.
@jonhaidt Right on point about Argentina, same in Brazil right now (I'm in Brazilian). But... Why is this happening in the USA? Is it because the population don't trust the "normal" politicians for a change? Is it a collateral effect of a ethics crisis?
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@aleattorium There are at least TEN trends that are leading to more political polarization and anger, see here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/n... But a big part of the problem has been slow wage growth for all but the top quarter or so -- the highly educated. Wages are in fact growing since 1980 (despite what you hear). But the growth is slow, and it is related to globalization. Asia is getting much wealthier from globalization and that's great. But our working class is paying the cost, and they are increasingly angry, resentful, and defensive.
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
Jon, what's a recent provocative essay you've written?
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@jonhaidt I'd suggest this one: http://www.humansandnature.org/c... its about the paradox that capitalism causes massive changes in society, which lead to massive ecological destruction, but after a few generations capitalism changes values on issues by shifting to the left. So all over the world, people to get to care a lot more about the environment.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
What's next for you? What's in the pipeline? What have you not done yet?
Jonathan Haidt@jonhaidt · Professor, New York University
@eriktorenberg my big project is the next book, www.storiesaboutcapitalism.com but along the way i'm getting sidetracked by the crisis at our universities, which led me to found this site: www.HeterodoxAcademy.org. Moral psychology is the operating system of human social life. So i keep seeing problems where I think moral psych can be helpful.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
@jonhaidt @eriktorenberg Interesting. what are the biggest barriers to solving the crisis you bring up?