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#137- Safe Space A Conversation with Jonathan Haidt

 
Nhoj Morley
 
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Nhoj Morley
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09 September 2018 20:34
 

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Jonathan Haidt about his new book “The Coddling of the American Mind.” They discuss the hostility to free speech that has grown more common among young adults, recent moral panics on campus, the role of intentions in ethical life, the economy of prestige in “call out” culture, how we should define bigotry, systemic racism, the paradox of progress, and other topics.

#137- Safe Space A Conversation with Jonathan Haidt 


This thread is for listeners’ comments.

 
 
Russco79
 
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10 September 2018 09:12
 

Haidt is brilliant but it seems that him and Sam were dancing around the causes of this new culture which I suspect is because they know that Jordan Peterson has already correctly diagnosed the problem and they don’t want to sound like clones of his schtick, namely, that the new post-modernist “studies” subjects which have marxist professors are directly out there to create activist agitators and are pumping the digital airwaves full of this toxic stuff.

This advent of identity politics was entirely predictable.  Leftists need an outlet for their resentment for “the system”.  Since only a fool would advocate for socialism now Russia, China and India have all had to free up their economies and seen the rewards that come with doing that, they need a new way of attacking capitalism and identity politics provides the perfect platform. 

Both Sam and Jon are talking under the premise that all players want things to work out.  This seems naive, I think the hardcore actually revel in the mayhem.

 
Erik KoSo
 
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Erik KoSo
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10 September 2018 09:18
 

Sam,

I have listened to your podcasts for the past few months and while I have enjoyed many of the guests you’ve brought on and the topics you’ve covered, this discussion with Jonathan Haidt was one I particularly appreciated.

My son is enrolled at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, a school that has been mentioned in The Economist due to the claims of “structural racism” by a small group of students. My son, who is biracial and bicultural and who grew up in a very liberal intellectual environment, is sensitive to issues of cultural differences; even so, he has been disgusted by the vicious attacks by the small group of vociferous students on professors, administrators, and fellow students.

The class that was at the center of the controversy—Humanities 110—a systematic study of the philosophical traditions of the Western cannon was one that he loved and from which he grew intellectually. He was bemused that neither the students attacking the course for being racist nor the students defending the course as providing the pillars of modern civilization had made an honest attempt to engage with the actual material presented in the course. The course ended up being a Rorschach Test that simply divided students into mutually antagonistic groups, neither of which knew the material about which they were arguing… Administration took the path of least resistance and changed the syllabus significantly for this school year so as to mollify the students that had become increasingly confrontational as time went on.

Anyway, because of my conversations with him about the Reed experience - which has fundamentally changed him and not necessarily for the better - I listened to your conversation with Haidt great interest.

One comment I had related to a claim made by Haidt regarding the cohort that seems to display the observed tendencies (I don’t even know what to call them…). I went to school in the mid- to late-1980s and remember at that time being involved in the campus “Multi-Cultural Club” and other organizations that spoke about systemic racism, micro-aggressions (though it may not have been called that at the time), and the idea that if a person of color perceived a situation as oppressive, it must be so. This was actually at a state school - not an elite liberal arts college - and those espousing the views were a very small, almost negligable minority.

In occurs to me that the generation about which Haidt is speaking represents the children of the cohort with whom I was going to school in the 80s. My experience is anecdotal, but I wonder the extent to which the roots of the present phenomena lie deeper than just the recent trend toward helicopter parenting. Helicopter parenting is not, in my opinion, a good strategy for raising children in general, and it is easy to make the connection between it and the present love of safe spaces. I wonder, though, if there are not some other issues at work. Certainly, the Civil Rights movement of the mid-60s—which were implemented around the time of the birth of the cohort going to school in the 80s and having college age children now—has forced a great deal of societal progress. However, there are still enormous structural imbalances in educational and career opportunity based partially on race and partially on social class. I wonder if the present movement might be a misdirected attempt to keep rolling the potato of cultural attitudes toward race forward, implemented by humans that have been trained to react to stimuli and authority in a sub-optimal way.

I was laid off in 2012 and have been struggling to stitch together a living since then, but really enjoy the work you are doing and decided to subscribe to financially support your podcast. Thanks much.

All the best,
Erik

[ Edited: 11 September 2018 08:09 by Erik KoSo]
 
 
atheist
 
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10 September 2018 19:32
 

I enjoyed the podcast in general, and agreed with most of what was said.

However, Haidt’s views on free-range parenting - which by the way seems totally off topic from the bulk of the podcast - make me want to pull my hair out.  You can raise independent, confident children who are NOT coddled and still provide proper adult supervision.  There is a HUGE difference between thinking for your kids and sheltering them, and cutting them lose without supervision at all.  I think Haidt is pushing dangerous views on parental supervision.  Letting a 9 year old ride the subway alone IS neglectful IMO.  I don’t care if the child can do it 95% of the time.  It’s when the 5% situation comes up and a child that age doesn’t have the maturity to handle it where things get dangerous really quickly.  It is totally unnecessary to leave children unsupervised.  You can supervise from a distance and accomplish the same degree of independence without the risk.

 
atheist
 
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10 September 2018 20:06
 

Sam,

You talked about your conversation with Noam Chomsky in this episode, and I didn’t know what you were talking about.  So, I googled it, and found and read a good part of the email exchange that I guess you were referring to.

Sam, I’m sad to say, you came out swinging.  It doesn’t sound like you see it that way, but as a third party who likes you both, my read is that you came out swinging.  Given what you wrote about him in your book, how could he not start out on the defensive?  And your emails start out pretty aggressive too. Dude, that was your bad.  That is not a demonstration on the limits of discourse.  That is a demonstration of what happens when you open up with a punch to the gut.

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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12 September 2018 11:39
 
atheist - 10 September 2018 08:06 PM

Sam,

You talked about your conversation with Noam Chomsky in this episode, and I didn’t know what you were talking about.  So, I googled it, and found and read a good part of the email exchange that I guess you were referring to.

Sam, I’m sad to say, you came out swinging.  It doesn’t sound like you see it that way, but as a third party who likes you both, my read is that you came out swinging.  Given what you wrote about him in your book, how could he not start out on the defensive?  And your emails start out pretty aggressive too. Dude, that was your bad.  That is not a demonstration on the limits of discourse.  That is a demonstration of what happens when you open up with a punch to the gut.

I agree with what you say here, and I would point out your reaction is the second time Harris has published a private email disagreement and come out looking a lot less like the good guy he sees himself as—notably, the Ezra Klein disaster. 

This is how I’ve come to understand this unfortunately not-so-rare phenomenon in Sam Harris; this tendency to come out looking like the bad guy when he’s convinced he’s the good guy, but virtually every other impartial observer can see he’s either more or just as in the wrong.
 
To an intelligent outsider, it’s easy to see when two people are talking past one another in a disagreement, especially when both are making a valid underlying point but not agreeing on anything the other says.  Except in cases where one person is clearly defending a wrong or bad idea, this is how most debates between public intellectuals play out.  In these instances, Sam is wonderfully adept at seeing both sides to these “limits” or “failures” of discourse; at seeing them, accurately, from an outsider’s point of view.  In these situations he is incisive, penetrating and highly intelligent, as he is when he’s a participant in a conversation generally.

Where he fails, I think, is his particular delusion that he can simultaneously occupy this position of impartiality—this outsider’s view, as it were—and be a partisan for a particular idea within a conversation.  In fact, his idea of reason and rationality seems to entail doing just such a thing.  One sees evidence of this in his—to my mind—tiresome, overworked accusation of “intellectual dishonesty,” which for him is virtually a catch-all for positions opposed to the ones he holds most dear.  Only someone utterly convinced of his own ability to be impartial, not partisan, would level this accusation so often, as though it’s not really even possible to hold another position than his own without lying, either to oneself or to others.  We see this accusation over and over again with him, and to this outsider it’s rather obvious what’s going on.  Harris appears utterly convinced that he adopts his positions post hoc the application of impartial reason, and that he can simultaneously maintain this impartiality even as he advocates for an idea during a disagreement with someone else.
 
I think these times Harris is wrong but not realizing this himself is an unfortunate but entirely expected feature of his own self-image, as well as the public persona he puts out there.  We rightly suspect anyone in a transaction who opens with “You can trust me, I would never cheat you,” or “I’m an honest guy, I would never lie,” and so forth.  Invariably they are putting these issues of honesty and trust up-front and center because on their end, there is an issue with it.  To my mind, so it is with those who ardently claim to live by the virtues of reason and rationality.  As far as I’m concerned, this claim is practically an admission that they are less rational than they are partisan; that they are more deluded in thinking they can be both impartial and partisan at the same time; that they are more deluded into thinking their views are derived post hoc the application of impartial reason, as opposed to the same intuitive and potentially biased sources in others.  In any case, what you pick up on here I think is just a symptom of this deeper problem and his shortcomings as an intellectual.  He’s such an eloquent, incisive and intelligent guy, but for this delusion that he, unlike the rest of us, is both impartial and partisan at the same time.

 

[ Edited: 12 September 2018 14:36 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
Indarctos
 
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17 September 2018 10:21
 

Interesting conversation. However I feel like the quality of the podcast is going down lately.
Also, Sam finally admitted to not understand postmodernism.

 
goedselhoeg
 
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17 September 2018 14:46
 
atheist - 10 September 2018 07:32 PM

I enjoyed the podcast in general, and agreed with most of what was said.

However, Haidt’s views on free-range parenting - which by the way seems totally off topic from the bulk of the podcast - make me want to pull my hair out.  You can raise independent, confident children who are NOT coddled and still provide proper adult supervision.  There is a HUGE difference between thinking for your kids and sheltering them, and cutting them lose without supervision at all.  I think Haidt is pushing dangerous views on parental supervision.  Letting a 9 year old ride the subway alone IS neglectful IMO.  I don’t care if the child can do it 95% of the time.  It’s when the 5% situation comes up and a child that age doesn’t have the maturity to handle it where things get dangerous really quickly.  It is totally unnecessary to leave children unsupervised.  You can supervise from a distance and accomplish the same degree of independence without the risk.

Dear Atheist,
on the toppic of free-range parenting I am 100% on the side of Haidt. I am from Germany and here it is not unusual, that kids at primary-school age (6-10) make their way to school on their own, on foot, by bus or on the subway. The amount of helicopter parents is rising in Germany, but noone criticises parents when they let their children run free, as soon as they seem fit. From my experience with three own kids I can only tell, that we never had bad situations, and that all three are now healthy and self-confident adults. And this wasn’t mere luck. I couldn’t name a single incident in my family or among my friends were something bad has happened because of free-range parenting.
I don’t know what you mean with the “5% situation”. Maybe you can give me some examples.

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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18 September 2018 05:14
 

I find it rather odd that “free-range parenting” is a controversy when an entire generation was raised that way during the worst crime and social pathology epidemic on record; when the threats to daily living were so much more likely and more real.  And without implying causality it’s worth noting that as this generation came of age, those crimes and pathologies returned to recorded lows.  Odd because despite the statistics that prove otherwise, the perception of threat is greater today than when the threat was actually greater.  Even I find it hard to kick that percetion, as rational as I am about social statistics and real probabilities.  What powerful force makes this a controversy when in fact there is less to be controversial about than when this parenting style was practiced?

[ Edited: 18 September 2018 05:16 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
GAD
 
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18 September 2018 07:23
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 18 September 2018 05:14 AM

I find it rather odd that “free-range parenting” is a controversy when an entire generation was raised that way during the worst crime and social pathology epidemic on record; when the threats to daily living were so much more likely and more real.  And without implying causality it’s worth noting that as this generation came of age, those crimes and pathologies returned to recorded lows.  Odd because despite the statistics that prove otherwise, the perception of threat is greater today than when the threat was actually greater.  Even I find it hard to kick that percetion, as rational as I am about social statistics and real probabilities.  What powerful force makes this a controversy when in fact there is less to be controversial about than when this parenting style was practiced?

We now live in a world of 24/7 instant news, internet and social media and are hyper aware of every missing kid as their stories get covered 24/7. That makes the perception that it is rare and only happens to people far away you don’t know hard to accept.

 
 
Russco79
 
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20 September 2018 10:48
 

The issue of helicopter parenting and the peanut allergy phenomenon go to right to the heart of political philosophy— what can we ask of the individual to benefit the group?  If we knew a decision meant a million people would have a better life but it required one of them at random to die would it be acceptable to go forward?  As defenders of coddling children can make that same argument— whilst it may better for everyone if our children aren’t petulant snowflakes if my child is the one that gets abducted and brutally murdered then my life is as good as over.  Can we ask a parent to be the sacrificial lamb?  Tough to call.

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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20 September 2018 22:45
 

I really feel that this issue is given much of it’s toxic traction via backlash. I absolutely agree that identity politics, victim culture and martyr narratives are terrible for our discourse but the ideological counterpart of this is equally absurd and equally without viable resolution. If an unqualified accusation of racism is bad it’s bad for the left and for the right. As is any similar accusation made simply for effect. IE Marxism. We need to stop speaking in truncated cliches and return serves. Otherwise we deserve this chaos.

What I most appreciated about this talk was the concession that it isn’t every college campus and on the campuses where it is an issue it isn’t the entire student body or the entire staff. These dramas play out among small groups of people who find these issues compelling. I work with college students. I assure that there are entire departments, entire schools and entire districts that are far too busy with actual education to obsess over this stuff. Most simply take the long way around the quad when a demonstration is occurring.

Seriously, when you characterize a malicious agitator as a portent of ultimate doom you empower them. I want to treat serious issues seriously but I don’t want to capitulate to requests for negative attention. Don’t assume malice when mere stupidity is sufficient explanation. Don’t assume a conspiracy when the actors involved are barely competent to fill out a request for public assembly. Don’t take leading and loaded news articles as evidence of ANYTHING. I’ve been the present witness to enough demonstrations to know that the press coverage is terrible. If the bulk of your justification for some ideology is hearsay and buzzword you are probably wrong.

Sorry for the rant. Carry on.

 
czrpb
 
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29 September 2018 10:18
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 12 September 2018 11:39 AM

Where he fails, I think, is his particular delusion that he can simultaneously occupy this position of impartiality—this outsider’s view, as it were—and be a partisan for a particular idea within a conversation.  In fact, his idea of reason and rationality seems to entail doing just such a thing.  One sees evidence of this in his—to my mind—tiresome, overworked accusation of “intellectual dishonesty,” which for him is virtually a catch-all for positions opposed to the ones he holds most dear.  Only someone utterly convinced of his own ability to be impartial, not partisan, would level this accusation so often, as though it’s not really even possible to hold another position than his own without lying, either to oneself or to others.  We see this accusation over and over again with him, and to this outsider it’s rather obvious what’s going on.  Harris appears utterly convinced that he adopts his positions post hoc the application of impartial reason, and that he can simultaneously maintain this impartiality even as he advocates for an idea during a disagreement with someone else.

I think these times Harris is wrong but not realizing this himself is an unfortunate but entirely expected feature of his own self-image, as well as the public persona he puts out there.  We rightly suspect anyone in a transaction who opens with “You can trust me, I would never cheat you,” or “I’m an honest guy, I would never lie,” and so forth.  Invariably they are putting these issues of honesty and trust up-front and center because on their end, there is an issue with it.  To my mind, so it is with those who ardently claim to live by the virtues of reason and rationality.  As far as I’m concerned, this claim is practically an admission that they are less rational than they are partisan; that they are more deluded in thinking they can be both impartial and partisan at the same time; that they are more deluded into thinking their views are derived post hoc the application of impartial reason, as opposed to the same intuitive and potentially biased sources in others.  In any case, what you pick up on here I think is just a symptom of this deeper problem and his shortcomings as an intellectual.  He’s such an eloquent, incisive and intelligent guy, but for this delusion that he, unlike the rest of us, is both impartial and partisan at the same time.

I have been with Sam since _End of Faith_ and TOTALLY agree with this! I am very disappointed with Sam’s inability or lack of desire to actually have difficult conversations which he asserts he is doing. Seemingly, he wont actually engage with people who disagree, Klein being the last I know about. The discussions he is having on “difficult topics” are with people he agrees with! For me his refusal to do a podcast with Ta-Nehisi Coates because Coates wont be either rational or honest (and likely both) is proof he doesnt really want to expose the problem with the “left” he is presently fixated on *in the way he says they should be exposed*! Why doesnt he use these difficult conversations to expose the irrationality of the “left”‘s plainly stupid ideas? Remember, Sam is continually saying the left should not shut down speech but engage with it and show how bad it is, so why isnt he doing what he says ought to happen to say Richard Spencer or Milo or whoever? Why DOESNT he debate these identity politics fundamentalist and show how dumb they are? Wouldnt that be much more effective than bringing on say (ugh) Haidt?

Sam isnt really having difficult conversations.

[ Edited: 29 September 2018 10:22 by czrpb]
 
czrpb
 
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29 September 2018 16:19
 
czrpb - 29 September 2018 10:18 AM
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 12 September 2018 11:39 AM

Where he fails, I think, is his particular delusion that he can simultaneously occupy this position of impartiality—this outsider’s view, as it were—and be a partisan for a particular idea within a conversation.  In fact, his idea of reason and rationality seems to entail doing just such a thing.  One sees evidence of this in his—to my mind—tiresome, overworked accusation of “intellectual dishonesty,” which for him is virtually a catch-all for positions opposed to the ones he holds most dear.  Only someone utterly convinced of his own ability to be impartial, not partisan, would level this accusation so often, as though it’s not really even possible to hold another position than his own without lying, either to oneself or to others.  We see this accusation over and over again with him, and to this outsider it’s rather obvious what’s going on.  Harris appears utterly convinced that he adopts his positions post hoc the application of impartial reason, and that he can simultaneously maintain this impartiality even as he advocates for an idea during a disagreement with someone else.

I think these times Harris is wrong but not realizing this himself is an unfortunate but entirely expected feature of his own self-image, as well as the public persona he puts out there.  We rightly suspect anyone in a transaction who opens with “You can trust me, I would never cheat you,” or “I’m an honest guy, I would never lie,” and so forth.  Invariably they are putting these issues of honesty and trust up-front and center because on their end, there is an issue with it.  To my mind, so it is with those who ardently claim to live by the virtues of reason and rationality.  As far as I’m concerned, this claim is practically an admission that they are less rational than they are partisan; that they are more deluded in thinking they can be both impartial and partisan at the same time; that they are more deluded into thinking their views are derived post hoc the application of impartial reason, as opposed to the same intuitive and potentially biased sources in others.  In any case, what you pick up on here I think is just a symptom of this deeper problem and his shortcomings as an intellectual.  He’s such an eloquent, incisive and intelligent guy, but for this delusion that he, unlike the rest of us, is both impartial and partisan at the same time.

I have been with Sam since _End of Faith_ and TOTALLY agree with this! I am very disappointed with Sam’s inability or lack of desire to actually have difficult conversations which he asserts he is doing. Seemingly, he wont actually engage with people who disagree, Klein being the last I know about. The discussions he is having on “difficult topics” are with people he agrees with! For me his refusal to do a podcast with Ta-Nehisi Coates because Coates wont be either rational or honest (and likely both) is proof he doesnt really want to expose the problem with the “left” he is presently fixated on *in the way he says they should be exposed*! Why doesnt he use these difficult conversations to expose the irrationality of the “left”‘s plainly stupid ideas? Remember, Sam is continually saying the left should not shut down speech but engage with it and show how bad it is, so why isnt he doing what he says ought to happen to say Richard Spencer or Milo or whoever? Why DOESNT he debate these identity politics fundamentalist and show how dumb they are? Wouldnt that be much more effective than bringing on say (ugh) Haidt?

Sam isnt really having difficult conversations.

Here are 2 big causes for why he is this way (IMHO):

1a.  If you go look at Beyond Belief in ‘06 when he was debating much more about religion, Scott Atran basically denied (and I assume still does) that the *major* motivation for terrorists (given the time they were mostly referring to Muslim terrorists) was religion. Basically, Sam was taking them at their word(s), ie: that their religion was their main motivator. Atran spoke mostly about them being dispossessed and thus looking for something to join (and a bit of American/Western imperialism).
    LINK: https://samharris.org/beyond-belief-the-debate-continues/

1b.  He used to relate the story where he was talking with an academic/physician/ethicist who was on Obama’s ethics council (if im recalling this correctly) about female genital mutilation (FGM) and cultures which practice it. This person basically was a relativist and would not agree with Sam that this was a bad practice and ought to be stopped, and even more, we ought to actively encourage changing that culture. I think—and completely understand—that such people are pretty lost in their fantasy world and would also be hard pressed to listen to them on any other topic or in the future.

CONCLUSION: From these early experiences I think Sam is now predisposed/biased against academia, and certainly the “left” academia. These experiences have caused him to believe much of the “left” is delusional on religion and violence. Note, many years later he applies this to guns and asserts the main problem with “leftists” in the gun debate is that they dont understand violence.

2.  Safety: Specifically his and even more Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s safety. This he as spoken about for over a decade at this point and I think is no small part of why when “leftist” say terrorists’ motivations are mostly stuff other than religion he basically can NOT hear/listen any longer.

 
czrpb
 
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czrpb
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30 September 2018 07:02
 

So, what does this have to do with this particular podcast? I guess Ive come to believe Sam is going the way of (say) Christina Hoff Sommers: Granting their stated intentions, they are MORE interested in playing a policing role in “left”. Sam seems to be MORE interested in policing the “left”‘s rhetoric around religion, speech, and social issues (race, gender, immigration, etc), Sommers is MORE interested in policing #metoo, than actually engaging with those they believe go too far or actually even participating in the movements themselves! (Yet another example is Sam thinking he got serious about sex & gender when he had the very nice, but in no way part of the ‘crazies’ he seems to be so worried about, Martie Haselton.) And to repeat, Sam is vulnerable to this critique because he is so hard on the “left” for what he views their anti-free speech position; he asserts bad ideas need to be brought to light and addressed head-on: Is he doing this with the “left” he is so worried about?

So, in this way Sam gets the best of both worlds: He is “left"y but also gets to be an iconoclast (by attacking his own “group”). If we apply Haidt’s heuristic of “follow the prestige” doesnt this explain why Sam isnt out there with BLM but instead criticizing them? Doesnt this explain how he can be part of a group (say IDW) he doesnt really want to see himself as part of, as Ezra suggested and Sam recoiled annoyingly (if not angrily) from? He is looking for prestige from a different group, the one that more comports with his preference(s) for being seen as objective and rational, ie simply following the data.

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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02 October 2018 03:50
 
GAD - 18 September 2018 07:23 AM
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 18 September 2018 05:14 AM

I find it rather odd that “free-range parenting” is a controversy when an entire generation was raised that way during the worst crime and social pathology epidemic on record; when the threats to daily living were so much more likely and more real.  And without implying causality it’s worth noting that as this generation came of age, those crimes and pathologies returned to recorded lows.  Odd because despite the statistics that prove otherwise, the perception of threat is greater today than when the threat was actually greater.  Even I find it hard to kick that percetion, as rational as I am about social statistics and real probabilities.  What powerful force makes this a controversy when in fact there is less to be controversial about than when this parenting style was practiced?

We now live in a world of 24/7 instant news, internet and social media and are hyper aware of every missing kid as their stories get covered 24/7. That makes the perception that it is rare and only happens to people far away you don’t know hard to accept.

To your point, the frictionless appearance of these rare stories plays right into the availability bias, a well-known confound to rationality.  It is a tough bias to kick, especially when in theory or the abstract so much is at stake.

 
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