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#137- Safe Space A Conversation with Jonathan Haidt

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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02 October 2018 04:16
 
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.

Harris does seem to have fallen off from his earlier willingness to engage people with whom he diametrically disagrees, I think, perhaps, because of his perception of the failure of those conversations.  To the point already raised, I think he thinks they failed because those conversations have not ended with anyone admitting he is right, which he seems to think he’s capable of determining both objectively and as a partisan in the discussion.  In the past I would say his success rate was about 50/50 for both parties coming to some kind of equitable disagreement, if not mutual understanding, but now he seems to have given up.  Is this an awareness of his limits as a rational interlocutor, of his frustration with people not coming around to his way?  I think the two are one in the same with him, and I think he mistakes persuading the interlocutor to change his or her mind and persuading people listening to the conversation to go a certain way—ultimately, perhaps, his way.  If he wants to show Coates is wrong, for instance, like you say have the conversation and speak to the audience; expose his foolishness, perhaps indirectly, for what it is (if you think it’s in fact foolish).  Just don’t expect to convince him as the metric of a successful conversation, or even to convince the audience, per se.  Instead I see successful conversation as one from which truth emerges, maybe even recognized by both parties, maybe even the end as agreement to disagree, not one where one party has the truth and convinces the other.  I think Harris would do better to take a more detached view of his own views and stick to this emergent-truth rationality, as opposed to saying the way he holds or forms his own views is intrinsically rational.

I am familiar with the Scott Atran exchange.  In that Harris comes across as less than bright and even less than honest.  What Atran says—and what the best science we have says—is that the most reliable predictor of suicide terrorism is participation in some kind of action-oriented social network, all else being equal, not simply religious belief, which all Muslims share; that suicide terrorism is a form of parochial altruism rooted in a desire to belong to a cause that binds men together, not the pursuit of a metaphysical view about paradise.  In any case, Harris “rebuttal” of Atran on his blog not only gets Atran’s position dishonestly wrong; he goes on to stress precisely the dimensions of the sacred and the holy that Atran discusses in his book as one of the more powerful reasons religious belief persists and can be harnessed to enhance social bonding.  Harris is so bent on religion as a set of propositional truths about reality that he either can’t or won’t see what science says about religion, religious beliefs, and religious belief itself.  The Atran exchange shows just how irrationally devoted Harris can be to a position to which he’s attached, and I think he’s so attached because he’s hell-bent on blaming Islam for 9-11 and just can’t see religion in any other way than one in which it can only look bad.  And debunking it as a set of propositional truth claims about reality only makes it look bad…

That’s my own “mind-reading” of Harris’ position, which I offer in light of your interpretation and its emphasis on prestige.  Whatever his inner motives, the facts of his behavior in light of his professed statements—and the disjoint between the two—calls for some kind of explanation.  As someone devoted to the self-promotion of his own views in the name of a higher rationality, I think he opens himself up to a special kind of scrutiny that most people can arguably avoid.

[ Edited: 02 October 2018 13:25 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
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02 October 2018 04:33
 
Brick Bungalow - 20 September 2018 10:45 PM

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.

If you haven’t checked out the book, I highly recommend it.  No truncated cliches and counter serves in it; no ideological backlash and hyperventilating over selective news media.  It’s a circumspect look at a relatively minor (so far) phenomenon in terms of six proposed causal vectors and three organizing principles, one that stands to threaten today’s kids, if it becomes mainstream.  I think you might like it as an antidote to the tendency you warn against here, especially if you work with students.

 
czrpb
 
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02 October 2018 06:29
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 02 October 2018 04:16 AM

That’s my own “mind-reading” of Harris’ position, which I offer in light of your interpretation and its emphasis on prestige.  Whatever his inner motives, the facts of his behavior in light of his professed statements—and the disjoint between the two—calls for some kind of explanation.  As someone devoted to the self-promotion of his own views in the name of a higher rationality, I think he opens himself up to a special kind of scrutiny that most people can arguably avoid.

I’m sipping what the philosopher is pouring! Love it! raspberry

 

 
czrpb
 
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02 October 2018 06:43
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 02 October 2018 04:33 AM
Brick Bungalow - 20 September 2018 10:45 PM

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.

If you haven’t checked out the book, I highly recommend it.  No truncated cliches and counter serves in it; no ideological backlash and hyperventilating over selective news media.  It’s a circumspect look at a relatively minor (so far) phenomenon in terms of six proposed causal vectors and three organizing principles, one that stands to threaten today’s kids, if it becomes mainstream.  I think you might like it as an antidote to the tendency you warn against here, especially if you work with students.

Hmm .. i think i need a bit of help here and i dont really know how to well describe my thoughts so forgive (any incoherency of) what i write ...

i am wondering how much we need or ought to police kids. Do Sam/Haidt/etc think their values/ethics/morals are the end and pinnacle of the topic? In Sam’s metaphor, has humanity already found the landscape’s global maximum? I guess i just want to get out of the way and let the next gens fumble around the landscape.

now, i actually have kids (2 still at home) so im quite curmudgeonly too, especially with my 14yr old son. he thinks his opinions ought to be taken seriously, but of course he hasnt actually read anything on the topics (though i have a crap-ton of books avail) and thus his ideas come by osmosis from the cultures he participates in (unfortunately, a great amount are online cultures) and he doesnt actually reflect on what his beliefs are, let alone where they are coming from.

my point is, whenever i listen or read haidt (much more than sam) my 1st reaction is emotional and i mostly just wish hed shut-up! for some reason, he massively annoys and rubs me the wrong way.

help! and any thoughts? smile

[ADDENDUM: instead of “my point is”, i should have said “my problem is” ...]

[ Edited: 02 October 2018 07:02 by czrpb]
 
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02 October 2018 12:57
 
czrpb - 02 October 2018 06:43 AM
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 02 October 2018 04:33 AM
Brick Bungalow - 20 September 2018 10:45 PM

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.

If you haven’t checked out the book, I highly recommend it.  No truncated cliches and counter serves in it; no ideological backlash and hyperventilating over selective news media.  It’s a circumspect look at a relatively minor (so far) phenomenon in terms of six proposed causal vectors and three organizing principles, one that stands to threaten today’s kids, if it becomes mainstream.  I think you might like it as an antidote to the tendency you warn against here, especially if you work with students.

Hmm .. i think i need a bit of help here and i dont really know how to well describe my thoughts so forgive (any incoherency of) what i write ...

i am wondering how much we need or ought to police kids. Do Sam/Haidt/etc think their values/ethics/morals are the end and pinnacle of the topic? In Sam’s metaphor, has humanity already found the landscape’s global maximum? I guess i just want to get out of the way and let the next gens fumble around the landscape.

now, i actually have kids (2 still at home) so im quite curmudgeonly too, especially with my 14yr old son. he thinks his opinions ought to be taken seriously, but of course he hasnt actually read anything on the topics (though i have a crap-ton of books avail) and thus his ideas come by osmosis from the cultures he participates in (unfortunately, a great amount are online cultures) and he doesnt actually reflect on what his beliefs are, let alone where they are coming from.

my point is, whenever i listen or read haidt (much more than sam) my 1st reaction is emotional and i mostly just wish hed shut-up! for some reason, he massively annoys and rubs me the wrong way.

help! and any thoughts? :)

[ADDENDUM: instead of “my point is”, i should have said “my problem is” ...]

I don’t get the impression that Harris and Haidt are policing students into a specific moral position as much as protecting them from one that is ultimately toxic.  Yes, this does mean that values are not so relative that some can’t be called toxic, but the three principles Haidt lays out strike me as a horrible way find one’s moral compass.  I see Haidt and Harris more about steering students into developing their own moral compass, within a certain paradigm of adult guidance, which seems reasonable enough since adolescents almost by definition need adult guidance.  There is no doubt a balance that needs to be struck between the freedom to explore or learn on one’s own and the imposition of basic values, but I think Haidt at least is quite aware of this.  His point seems to be if we are going to teach students values, then the three they are being taught now, on some campuses, are a bad idea—a bad idea that will do them harm, whatever our good intentions.

As a parent, don’t you try to strike a similar balance between freedom and imposition?  If so, then maybe you have more in common with Haidt than you might think.  For my part I find him one of the most refreshing thinkers on morality—on morality as people actually think and behave, not, like Harris, on morality as a rational foundation or a normative system to be justified or not.  If you haven’t looked at it, I can’t recommend enough his book The Righteous Mind.  For an abbreviated version, I think an academic paper that sums it up is available on his website.

Hope this helps.

 

[ Edited: 02 October 2018 13:00 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
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03 October 2018 09:29
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 02 October 2018 12:57 PM

His point seems to be if we are going to teach students values, then the three they are being taught now, on some campuses, are a bad idea—a bad idea that will do them harm, whatever our good intentions.

Did he and/or Sam detail the harm to them in holding this morality and attendant behaviors? AFAICT, so far all they describe is the harm to the targets. Maybe they then have or would suggest that they themselves might become the target; basically this would be similar the only argument Ive heard from Sam about free speech, and basically a slippery-slope argument.

TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 02 October 2018 12:57 PM

As a parent, don’t you try to strike a similar balance between freedom and imposition?

I am not sure. I mean to teach them that I dont really care what beliefs they have, but far more that they know why they have them. I suppose the objective is (much more) to live a considered life.

TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 02 October 2018 12:57 PM

Hope this helps.

Thanks for all your comments and thoughts! I will continue pondering . . .

As for Haidt, you said “I find him one of the most refreshing thinkers on morality…”, are there references to something you feel new and/or (very) little known? If its this “Moral Foundations Theory” then Ill need to research more, but initial impression is that for me it doesnt seem radical, new, unique, etc.

 
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03 October 2018 14:45
 

Did he and/or Sam detail the harm to them in holding this morality and attendant behaviors? AFAICT, so far all they describe is the harm to the targets. Maybe they then have or would suggest that they themselves might become the target; basically this would be similar the only argument Ive heard from Sam about free speech, and basically a slippery-slope argument.

I am thinking of the book, not the podcast.  There Haidt and Lukianoff mention some harms stemming from the three moral principles they worry about.  Things like “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you weaker,” for instance, turns kids from resilient problem solvers capable of getting by on their own into whiney little bitches who cry to out authority to solve their routine problems for them (my words, not theirs).  Or that seeing the world in terms of good and bad people battling it out in a zero-sum game drains conflict of the nuance necessary to resolve it equitably—that sort of thing.  In the book they aren’t really concerned with free speech.  That’s Harris’ thing.  They are concerned with how these outlooks on life lead to maladaptive behaviors and expectations.

As for Haidt, you said “I find him one of the most refreshing thinkers on morality…”, are there references to something you feel new and/or (very) little known? If its this “Moral Foundations Theory” then Ill need to research more, but initial impression is that for me it doesnt seem radical, new, unique, etc.

I don’t think Haidt himself would claim to be radical, new or unique.  In fact he credits Hume for the basic model of “moral foundations theory,” at least as far as moral judgment is concerned.  Rather his strength lies in the empirical research supporting the theory, and the fact that focusing on more than two sources of moral judgment is rather new to rational treatments of morality, at least in the Western tradition (where harm and fairness are emphasized, to the exclusion of others).  He’s claiming to describe how in fact people make moral decisions, and how in fact they reason morally, and as far as I can tell he does it quite well.  Nothing more specific comes to mind right now beyond recommending the book.  The introduction does a great job of laying out the conceptual frame, making it easy to pick and choose which sections to read for the empirical backing or more specific issues.

Thanks for all your comments and thoughts! I will continue pondering . . .

You’re welcome. 

 

 
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23 October 2018 06:29
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 02 October 2018 04:16 AM
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.

Harris does seem to have fallen off from his earlier willingness to engage people with whom he diametrically disagrees, I think, perhaps, because of his perception of the failure of those conversations.  To the point already raised, I think he thinks they failed because those conversations have not ended with anyone admitting he is right, which he seems to think he’s capable of determining both objectively and as a partisan in the discussion.  In the past I would say his success rate was about 50/50 for both parties coming to some kind of equitable disagreement, if not mutual understanding, but now he seems to have given up.  Is this an awareness of his limits as a rational interlocutor, of his frustration with people not coming around to his way?  I think the two are one in the same with him, and I think he mistakes persuading the interlocutor to change his or her mind and persuading people listening to the conversation to go a certain way—ultimately, perhaps, his way.  If he wants to show Coates is wrong, for instance, like you say have the conversation and speak to the audience; expose his foolishness, perhaps indirectly, for what it is (if you think it’s in fact foolish).  Just don’t expect to convince him as the metric of a successful conversation, or even to convince the audience, per se.  Instead I see successful conversation as one from which truth emerges, maybe even recognized by both parties, maybe even the end as agreement to disagree, not one where one party has the truth and convinces the other.  I think Harris would do better to take a more detached view of his own views and stick to this emergent-truth rationality, as opposed to saying the way he holds or forms his own views is intrinsically rational.

Again, excellent! Agreed, thx!

 
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