These are kids are about 18 to 22. This was just a few months ago, and then I say, you know, how many we had any restrictions, like your parents, you know, put limits. Hardly any hands went up.
I said, how many of you, when you have kids, will let your kids use devices without restrictions? Not a single hand went up. They all said, no, this was wrong. I wish my parents hadn't done this.
Hello and welcome, I'm Shane Parrish and this is the Knowledge Project podcast, exploring the ideas, methods and mental models that will help you master the best of what other people have already figured out. You can learn more and stay up to date at F-stop Blogs podcast. We also have a newsletter that comes out every Sunday called Brainfeeder. It's free, packed with all the best content we've come across this week that's worth reading or thinking about contains quotes, book recommendations, articles and so much more.
You can learn more at F-stop Blogs newsletter. Today I'm speaking with Jonathan Haidt. Jon is the professor of ethical leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business. John is a Ph.D. in social psychology, is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis, The Righteous Mind and more recently, The Coddling of the American Mind with his co-author, Greg Lukyanov.
We're going to talk about how we coddle kids and what to do about it, whether video games are harmful, the variables of hierarchy for kids and their impact, the role of social media and what we can do about it. We also talk about the second order impacts of the new norms of self censoring and being afraid to play with or challenge ideas. We explore why it's important to disagree and explore how to disagree in a world where that's becoming less common.
And we explore why we need people to disagree with us. We need others to make us smart. And if we surround ourselves with only people who think like us, we're going to reinforce what we already think we know and slow the pace of learning. While it's comfortable to only be around people that think like we do, it's a path to mediocrity and not excellence. It's time to listen and learn.
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That's Moodies WCR Dotcom and enter the code Farnam for ten dollars of. So happy to be here with you, Jonathan. I'm excited to get to talk to you. My pleasure. One of the things that seems to be going on in society today is the coddling of children. Is that something that's new or is it something that every generation feels about the generation that comes after them?
I think it's something that every generation feels. Some people have sent me quotes from ancient Greece. I wish I had them at hand where they complained about the kids today and how they don't respect their elders and things like that. So partly it is a kind of a constant generational thing. But the reason why would you grade Lukyanov and I think that this is so different is because never before have the mental health statistics just gone haywire for a generation so quickly.
So whatever, whatever we're doing and we'll talk about how that happened. But whatever we're doing, kids born after 1995 have really high rates of anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide. So this isn't just a question of which have different goals. So this is a question of something's going wrong and we need to figure out why.
So what's going wrong, in your opinion? What's going wrong? Well, first.
So let's start let's let's let's let's just start this right off with the stats just so that people are on the same page here. So when Greg and I were writing our Atlantic article in 2014 and 2015, people were talking about a mental health crisis on campus. And I was in charge of finding the statistics to back it up and they were not available. There were a lot of administrators and college counseling centers saying that they were overwhelmed. But nationally, representative data weren't yet showing an increase in major mental illnesses because the data takes about two or three years by the time from the time they left.
Yeah, there's a long lag. And and so we published the article in 2015 and it really wasn't like that. We proved our case. It was we were making an argument based on a lot of stories we were hearing and the plausible reasons to think that thinking in these ways and catastrophizing, black and white thinking, the kinds of cognitive distortions that you learn to not do in cognitive therapy. We made an argument that this will plausibly make students depressed, but it wasn't until 2016, 2017, that tons of data were coming in.
And so Jean Tanguy in her in her book Iogen documents this in the graphs in that book are just stunning. So I found the original data sources and we made graphs of our own in our book In the Codling. And what they show is a big rise in depression and anxiety only. There's no change in bipolar disorder, schizophrenia in no other category. It's just mood disorders or depression and anxiety. It begins going up around 2011. It goes up steadily and sharply.
It goes, I should say, goes up steadily and not so sharply for boys. It goes up steadily and very sharply for girls. And it isn't just self report. It's not just that kids are talking more openly about depression these days. It's that the rates of self-harm, that is, kids who are hospitalized because they cut themselves, that that's for girls only boys are not changing on that. That goes way up in the same pattern. And then it's also suicide.
The boys suicide rate, the United States is up 25 percent. The girls suicide rate is up 70 percent. So this is not just a generational misunderstanding. This is a generation age, an urgency that is really having a tough time of it.
Can you walk me through a little bit about like what does it mean to coddle and how is this manifesting itself today? And is it getting better or worse in your mind? Yes.
So codling just means overprotecting. It's a word that we didn't want to use. Greg and I had the original title arguing towards misery. That's what we titled our article and we submitted to The Atlantic. And nearing the end of the process, the editors came up with the coddling of the American mind, harkening back to Alan Bloom's book, The Closing of the American Mind. And we argued against it and we said we don't like it and we don't want it to insult kids.
But, you know, we tried to find other titles and we couldn't. It's a it was nothing that was catchy. It was a really good title in terms of getting people to read the article. Certainly. And once you realize that codling just means overprotection, we had to admit, yeah, that's what our argument is, that we've overprotected kids. And so the key thing to keep your eye on is this, that human beings learn from experience.
You can lecture your kids about the dangers of touching a hot stove. You can lecture them about the importance of dressing warmly to go to school. But until they touch a hot stove, it doesn't become an automatic reflex to avoid what it would be careful around stoves. And until they go to school wearing too thin a jacket and a cold, they don't learn that they need to look out for themselves. So kids learn best from feedback from experience and beginning, especially in the 1990s, the United States and I think perhaps in Canada, too, we began really overprotecting kids, that is.
Not giving them unsupervised time where they could learn from their own mistakes, we've kept them under our eye because just as the crime rate was plummeting in the 1990s, you know, we did have a real crime wave in this country in the 70s and 80s, just as the crime rate was plummeting in the 90s. We totally freaked out about child abduction and we literally stopped letting kids out of our sight. If you let your kid play in a park, you could be arrested.
That didn't really happen until the early 2000s, the arrests. But now everybody knows those stories. And so we've denied kids. We've overprotected them. We've denied them the most important kinds of learning experiences that they need. And as a result, we think they are more fragile and more easily hurt.
And this is a result of the best intentions of parents in terms of like trying to provide and trying to provide a safe environment for their kids and trying to make sure that nothing bad happens to them. Is this sort of like the same thing going on with adults more and more to what do you mean, overprotecting adults? Yeah, I mean, we've got airbags.
We've got safety mechanisms everywhere. Like, you can be wrong, but we sort of like try to limit the variance of how wrong you can be.
Mm hmm. Well, first, let's let's make a very sharp distinction between physical safety and emotional safety. So in our book, we cover statistics on just how safe childhood childhood has become. The kids' deaths in auto accidents and from diseases, from defective consumer products have plummeted. So that's great.
I mean, we're not you know, we totally agree with airbags and seatbelts, but a number of factors have led to a change in attitudes about children that is extremely overprotective and threat sensitive. So in some ways, this is just natural. That is, as we as we make progress and as we take for granted that our kids are not going to die of starvation and then later they won't die of disease, we focus on other things. So that's good.
That's normal. As family size has shrunk, that has a huge effect. How does that impact things? Well, when I was growing up, there were a lot of families in my town that had three or four kids. So there are a lot of kids around. And if you have three or four kids, you don't you can't helicopter them all.
And you have kids societies developing outside. You can go outside after school and there'll be kids playing somewhere. But as family size has shrunk and this happens all over the developed world, as soon as you get rising prosperity and increasing safety, it has huge changes, mostly for the good. We people become more tolerant. They begin to care more about women's rights, gay rights, animal rights, human rights. So in some ways, societies become more progressive.
But part is that part of that is they become more caring, softer in the sense of, you know, the old idea of, you know, spare the rod, spoil the child that is long gone. That's I'm not saying it should come back. I'm just saying we develop an idea that children are precious. There's oh, there's a wonderful line from a book. It's that children have become economically worthless and emotionally priceless, something like that. And so as we invest more and more in our children, as we invest more and more, and as college gets more competitive, get into we see them more as an academic project in a variety of ways.
We've deprived kids of the childhood experiences they most need, and we replaced it with too much supervision and too many after school activities related.
As you were saying, that I'm thinking like, is that related to our identity as parents too? And we see sort of like our success in relation to our kids in the sense that if they get into a great school, it speaks well of us.
So, yes, I think that that is part of it. The you know, the bumper stickers that show your, you know, what what schools your kids went to. And then here there are complicated interactions that I don't fully understand in which even as women have begun working, you know, most women now work, they are still held much more accountable for how the kids turn out. There's an amazing statistic. We found that if you look at the total number of hours that women spent doing child care in the 1950s when very few of them worked outside the home, and you compare that to the total number of hours of child care that they do now.
When the great majority work outside the home, the number has gone up. Women have fewer children, many fewer children. They're working much more outside the home and they're spending more time with kids. Men are spending more time with kids, too. So the bottom line is we are basically over parenting now. Again, not everybody, not in all social classes, but in in sort of this, you know, the common form of middle to upper middle class household where there are two married parents and a lot of investment in kids, which generally is a good thing.
But we've we've failed to give them the opportunities, thousands of opportunities to learn from feedback from the world, much of which is painful.
And this is age specific to I think there's a limit to like if you haven't done it.
Oh, I'm sorry. Yeah, I think of it in terms of their being sensitive periods. So if you think about language learning, so when I was growing up, we started. Spanish or French instruction in seventh grade, which is ridiculous because there's a window for phonology, learning the brain is a window for phonology, learning from roughly age seven to 13. And so if someone comes to to this country, let's say at the age of 13 or 14, they will have an accent for the rest of their lives while their younger sister, who was 11, will speak with absolutely no accent.
So it's crazy that we don't let kids learn. We don't teach them a foreign language until just as the window is almost closed. And I would argue that the same way there's a sensitive period for social learning, for learning. You know, you go out of the house all over the world. I studied street kids in variety societies all over the world. That phenomena starts around age eight. So you don't have six year olds living on the street.
But at age eight kids are their brains developed enough? Their social skills have developed enough that they go out. They have all kinds of adventures. They can steal food. They can run from the police. They can find a place to sleep overnight on a you know, and a brighter note, this is when you have children stories of just kids going off on adventures. And so from age eight to 12, I think is a sensitive period where kids are supposed to have adventures with other kids.
They play all kinds of games, they help organize. And what we've done is we've taken that critical period and we've said, stop, you don't get that anymore. We're not going to give you freedom until it's too late. And so when I speak about the book all around the country, I ask at what age where you let out and people who are born before 1982, the answer is always six plus or minus a year.
We used to always let kids out outside with other kids at the age of six or seven. And then I ask just kids born after 1995 and the answer is usually between 10 and 14. So we've really cracked down on childhood freedom and I think we're reaping the results of that now.
You mentioned there's a difference between boys and girls. What accounts for that difference in terms of how it's impacting their mental health?
Yeah, so rates of depression and anxiety before puberty are fairly similar. But at puberty, there's a big divergence and depression and anxiety generally go up for girls. So that's been that's been long known. Girls have more of what are called internalizing disorders, that is disorders, emotional disorders, where they they make themselves miserable. They ruminate more than boys do. Boys have higher rates of what are known as externalising disorders, which is they make other people miserable.
And so that's especially conduct disorder and alcoholism, criminality, things like that. So those gender differences have long been there and now bring in social media and look what happens. So if suppose you go back to around 2009 to 2011, which is the period when iPhones and, you know, Android phones were getting so cheap and accessible that most teenagers had them. So if you drop a whole bunch of smartphones into the pockets of kids, the boys basically just play video games with him.
They don't. And video games turn out to not be all that harmful. Actually, if you're addicted to them, you're deprived of other things. So that's bad. But, you know, an hour to a video games, it doesn't seem to really do much. But but the girls are very differently affected. Girls, girls higher up. So boys hierarchy is based on athletic ability or toughness or ability to dominate and insult competitions and teasing things like that.
But girls, it's about who's in, who's out, who was included, who was excluded, who's friends with who, who knows who has secrets. And so it's their aggression is relational girls. When they they don't bully each other physically so much, they damage each other's relationships. And so when when smartphones come in and social media, especially now, this multiplies their ability to damage each other's relationships enormously. And so if you're a girl, even if you're not on social media, somebody says something about you, somebody posts a doctored photo of you, everybody's laughing at you.
And, you know, this is happening. Other people tell you and there's nothing you can do to stop it. You can't even talk back or fight back. So it's always been hard to be a junior high school kid. It's always been harder, I think, to be a girl in middle school than a boy in middle school. And social media has just made it a lot harder.
How do you think we should deal with that? Oh, my goodness. I think it's very clear. I shouldn't say that this is all complicated stuff, but I think what I can say is this.
The evidence linking social media to bad mental health outcomes is far from complete. It's not it's not proof positive, but it's not just simple correlations anymore. There are now a number of experiments in which they randomly assigned people to get off social media for a few weeks. And lo and behold, you see very direct improvements in mental health.
And we see this around the world. Or is this very sort of like us that I don't know? I know in the US and UK things are very, very similar. I was just in the UK they're doing the same thing about. Restricting kids mobility, although not as much as we do there, having exactly the same gigantic increase in girls, depression, anxiety and self-harm and suicide in the US and UK and Canada were all at record high levels for teenage female teenage suicide.
So this is throughout the Anglosphere. I don't know about the continent of Europe yet, or East Asia or South Asia. I'll be looking at that next. Again, this all just emerges in the last few years. And so countries that don't have great statistics might not know it until a year or two from now. What's the role of somebody in the universe?
Actually, maybe we can walk through it from different perspectives. The role of the parents in raising kids, the role of students when they're in university or high school, the role of teachers and the role of institutions in terms of how we're all playing into creating this environment that is perhaps creating fragile kids. Yeah, well, first let me first go back and drop in the piece that I should mention. I said, oh, it's easy. What do you do?
So I think that if the evidence is now growing that social media directly causes or indirectly causes these these terrible symptoms, especially in girls. I think we need to start treating social media a bit like smoking or drinking. That is, it's really clear that it's bad for kids. When the millennials got social media in college or later they weren't damaged by it. There's no sign that millennials had a crisis of mental health because their social nature was largely their brains were mostly developed.
There's not that much bullying in college or late high school, but I think the case can be made and should be made and are beginning to make sure that every middle school principal should say, parents, please don't let your kids have a social media account. There should be no social media in middle school. I'm not saying no screens. Kids love to watch video. You know, you want me watch television? We were kids. I'm just saying we need to set norms in the norm.
Should be nobody has a social media account until high school or maybe age 16. But that's probably undoable at this point. And the reason it's so important for the principal to say it and for the American Pediatric Association to say it is because it's a social coordination problem. So my 12 year old son really wants to be on Instagram because his friends are. And it's really hard because I want him to be connected. I don't want him to feel excluded.
But but I you know, it's so important to keep kids off of social media that I'm sticking on this. My life would be so much easier if only half the kids were on Instagram, then at least he's not the only one. And there's parenting pressure, too.
I remember, you know, I took screens very seriously when my kids were either pre five and there's pressure from other parents.
It's like they're not going to hurt. They're not going to learn. They're falling behind. Right. There's this implied message of like if they don't have an iPad in their hands free, that they won't know how to use technology. And the use of technology is what's going to get the job.
You know, I think I think that people were thinking that five or ten years ago, back when we all thought tech was wonderful and Google and Facebook were magical companies and, you know, the bloom is off the rose. We have a much darker view of media now. There were a bunch of articles, New York Times, about how the people who created all these systems don't let their kids have them. In Silicon Valley, the norm has been, you know, they don't let their kids use social media.
And that's been going on a long time. So I think there's much more awareness now that social media in particular has a dark side and that screen use above a certain, you know, say two hours a day is bad. So so I think it's crucial. So any parents who are listening to this podcast, I urge you to follow a few simple rules. That is two hours a day of screen time. And actually the apple controls are very good for that.
The new ones just about a few months ago are actually very good for that. Two hours a day, total screen time, not counting homework and no social media until high school and lots of free play outside. Let your kids out, especially by the age of seven or eight. Let them out to have unsupervised time with other kids in a place that's physically safe. OK, so now back to your regular schedule question. What was it?
It was wasn't the different roles of like everybody involved in the system, right? Not only do we have technology which doesn't have any sort of like moral compass, but we had parents, we have institutions and we have students. And at what point do students take responsibility for their themselves?
Yeah. So this is something Greg and I should have done more of in our in our book. We are so alarmed by the trends that we're mostly hoping to persuade parents, teachers, principals, university administrators to change their ways and while setting limits on screen time, otherwise give kids more unsupervised time. So that's what we're mostly doing. I think we should have tried to speak more directly to the kids themselves. One thing I'm finding as I as I speak about the book around the country, I always ask when I give a talk of a university, you know, I was asked, OK, members of AJAN or GenZE, you know, those of you under twenty three.
Did I basically get this right or wrong? Have I mischaracterized your generation or largely got it right and. They overwhelmingly say, yes, you got it right, that is they're not defensive, they recognize they know that they have huge rates of anxiety, that they know that something's wrong and they know they can see that the social media sites, especially the ones where it's one to many, like Facebook or especially Instagram, those are the ones that are bad for the mental health.
So I think that if now that it's clear in the last two or three years now that it's clear that that something is going really wrong, I think that because it's just an education issue, like if you're educated, you should be able to make informed decisions, sort of like the war having or experiencing with nutrition, right?
Well, that's right. Nutrition or smoking that back when it wasn't clear whether, you know, these things were bad. Now, with junk food, I think people always knew and with cigarettes, they kind of always knew even before the surgeon general said anything. So now I think I think any conversation that parents have with kids that it's had in schools start by asking the kids, what do you think? I gave a talk at Auburn University and I met with about 30 students afterwards and I asked them how many of you had a device and had, you know, had a brand on your devices from the time you were in middle school.
And almost every hand goes up because these are these are kids are about 18 to 22. This was just a few months ago. And then I say, you know, how many we had any restrictions, like your parents, you know, put limits. Hardly any hands went up.
I said, how many of you, when you have kids, will let your kids use devices without restrictions? Not a single hand went up. They all said, no, this was wrong. I wish my parents hadn't done this. So I think we can we can talk with kids now and work with them to develop some healthier practices and norms. How does this relate to cognitive behavioral therapy?
So CBT is a is a central feature of our book of the coddling of the American mind. And that's because the origin story of the book is very much about CBT. It is that Greg Lukyanov, the first author, is prone to depression and he had the worst depression of his life in 2007. He made very specific plans for how to kill himself. I don't actually I should ask him whether he actually bought the materials to suffocate himself and take pills or whether it was just the plan.
But somehow or other, a ray of light broke through or something, and he called nine one one and broke down crying and and got himself to a hospital. And when he was let out, he enrolled in cognitive behavioral therapy. And he credits that with with saving his life, with with beating back the depression and with largely immunizing himself. He still has some nothing like that has ever happened again. And so he learned these techniques of catching your mind in action.
You know, some little thing happens. You say, oh, my God, I always do that now. I'll never get a job.
And now, you know, the overgeneralizing, catastrophizing, black and white thinking. And so he he learns how to recognize these cognitive distortions. And then he goes back to his job as the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, pushing back mostly against administrators on college campuses who are trying to restrict student speech largely to protect their own liability issues. And in 2013, 2014, in that academic year, Greg begins for the first time really seeing students asking for protections from, you know, from books and speakers and words and acting as though not just that some speaker or book will be outrageous or wrong, but that will be dangerous and using that language of safety, of emotional safety.
And he sees them catastrophizing and overgeneralizing and using the exact cognitive distortions that he learned to not do. And so Greg comes to talk to me. In May of 2014, we'd met through a mutual friend in New York, and he liked my book, The Happiness Hypothesis, where I talked about CBT. So great comes to talk to me to share his idea. And I thought it was brilliant. I thought, my God, this is this is what what's happening.
I just begin to see and to hear about these trends in the academy as well. And I thought Greg's explanation made a lot of sense. And so we set to work writing up this article, writing up this idea. We submit it to the Atlantic. And it came out in August of 2015. And that was actually before the wave of protests, before all hell broke loose beginning at Yale at Halloween in 2015. So CBT emerges as as the most effective.
Well, it's not more effective than other techniques necessarily, but it's so easy to do that. The success rate is very, very high and it worked for so many things. And so, um. So, Greg, learning CBT is what first allowed him to recognize this new pattern of thinking on college campuses. And it's one of the most important techniques we recommend. Universities around the country are flooded with mental health cases. They can't keep up with the demand.
And so we think. Why not just teach everyone CBT orientation, why not, you know, for seven dollars, you can buy David Byrne's book Feeling Good. It's a really good book. Easy to read.
You know, you can buy a subscription to various apps that will teach students CBT, just teach everyone CBT because it helps you think better even if you're not depressed.
So we love CBT and we're recommending it widely.
So students are claiming, I guess, that I'm generalizing here so that we can talk about sort of like the role of the institution while students are saying this is a trigger for me, this is upsetting me. This is and the response why is the response of that for the institution to be like, OK, well, we're not going to do that anymore then. Versus like the problem isn't with what we're teaching. It's a reaction to what you're teaching.
And we need to give you tools and skills to do what what that would be kind of invalidating their experience.
So in general, in general, when we're faced with a student requesting an accommodation, we must give them the accommodation. It's not legally, but practically speaking, you know, if a student comes in and says, you know, I've had a hard mental health day, I need an extension on the paper, it's very hard for us to say, well, tough luck, toughened up. I'm not saying we should. I'm just saying because we you know, the Americans with Disabilities Act is a lot of guidance.
And obviously with rising rates of mental illness, we need to accommodate such students. So I'm not objecting to them, just saying it leads to an attitude in which everyone is afraid to judge on a case by case basis. And the response is pretty much always to give the students what they want. So individual professors do that, administrators do that. And so if students are saying that something is threatening or violent or dangerous or emotionally unsafe, it's very rare that someone will stand up and say, is it really?
Tell me about that. Let's look for evidence. Generally speaking, administrators and professors will just say, OK, is that because they're following policy?
And then if they follow policy, they know they're not going to get in trouble? I think so. I don't really know. But I think that's the case. So we are in a we're in a case of change, in a time of changing norms. That's not necessarily a bad thing. The student demographics change where racially more diverse, there are many more people with mental illness. You know, the fact that people with Asperger's or autism can can go to college now.
And so those are generally good things. But I think we're so sensitive and careful that I think we might have slipped into norms that that make it difficult. Would that make it more likely that students will self label even students who don't have diagnoses will self label. And that's this wonderful term called concept creep from my friend, the Australian psychologist Nick Haslem. Ideas of trauma are important in psychology and psychiatry, but now trauma is expanded to mean just unpleasant experience.
I just saw an article the other day online. Somebody wrote an article about for survivors of Math Trauma.
Now, OK, math can be anxiety provoking and I can believe people have had anxiety attacks.
But to say that you're a survivor of math trauma, if you're anxious about math, you know, that encourages people to self label. And if you self label.
Well, you know, a lot of what we do in the academy is we're very careful about people's use of words. We think that the words students use can have effects on them. And then we go and allow and encourage people to label themselves as victims, as traumatized, as even as marginalized, to take that as your identity, as your label, rather than looking for evidence, you know, have you been marginalized? Maybe you have. Maybe you haven't.
Let's look. So I think we have to be very careful with the labels that we allow or even encourage students to adopt for themselves. It seems like we almost reward this victim mentality today. And more than ever, that's I think that's true.
I mean, back in the 90s, there were books written about this. So there are things that seem perennial. And so the idea that there are people the idea of a victimhood culture is something that is not new just in the last few years. But I do think that it is it comes and goes and I think it's come back in a very strong way. Recently, there's a wonderful book called that is called Victimhood Culture. And there's two sociologists, Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning wrote a wonderful article on microaggression in 2014.
And they analyze what what are the dynamics of status in a victimhood culture. And so because they were puzzled by why do we have at our most progressive universities, because this dialogue doesn't happen at the places where there's probably the most racism. They tend to happen to places that are most egalitarian. The discourse around micro aggressions and victimhood, they say, reflects a new moral culture in which you achieve status, not by being strong, not by being beautiful, not by being smart.
You achieve status, by being by emphasising how much you've been victimized. And if you haven't been victimized, then you achieve status by standing up for people who have been victimized. So there is an ethical core to that. But I think it ends up creating a culture that celebrates. Weakness and victimhood and encourages students to label themselves as victims, which is very disempowering. Are we going the other way now where people are just afraid to bring up anything controversial?
And then what do you think the sort of like second order consequences of that are?
Yes. So there's a whole bunch of things coming together here. And in our book we really try to avoid we really try to avoid simplistic answers because it's very complicated to explain how a new moral culture began to emerge on campus in the last few years. So so we think a whole bunch of things come together in in recent years. Um. Wait a second. What exactly was your question?
There's someone who said, well, if we're if the response to sort of the rewarding this mentality is to step back, cease to push forward something that might be challenging or emotionally difficult or something we've done historically. Yeah. And it's to change the curriculum or change what we would otherwise say as individuals, not only in organizations. I mean, I think we can see it more and more in organizations, too, where people are just afraid to speak their mind for fear of saying, you know, one word wrong.
That's right. And then what are the consequences of that?
Well, that's right. So let's bring in the other major piece here. We've already talked about social media, but one impact of it is what what's called call-out culture. And so that's as you were describing. It's a culture in which people are on the lookout for things that they can call out about another person. And so, you know, life is difficult enough. Social life is difficult enough. Diversity is challenging. Bringing people together from around the world is challenging.
And we believe we argue in the book that that this can work best if you have a general assumption that you give people the benefit of the doubt. We all are human. We all make mistakes. It's very hard to move forward if there's no forgiveness, no tolerance. But what we call our culture does, and this was a campus point, is that it incentivizes people, it gives them status for finding errors in the speech of others. And it's remarkable how often that error is a single word.
It's not usually the arguments, not usually like a critique of someone's argument. It really is.
Often they use this word and this word is either inappropriate or problematic.
And so when you let me be clear, most teenagers, most college students are mentally healthy. They come to college, they want to learn. This is not a story about a generation has lost its minds. It's a story about a generation that has a new dynamic in which a subset, often a small subset of students are in this new economy of prestige for calling others out and everyone else is afraid of them. So everyone has to watch what they say because someone in the class, someone in the group, could call you out.
And there's a world of difference between speaking and a group where you trust each other and speaking in a group where anyone could report you at any time to the authorities or shame you on social media. And so if you can imagine growing up where in your teen years, you're always self censoring, you're always careful. We think this is what's happening. This is what many students tell us. It's like they often just accept it as normal because that's all they've known.
And this means we might have a generation that's afraid of afraid to take risks, afraid to play with ideas, afraid to challenge dominant ideas. It's going to lead to a lot more conformity, a lot more, a lot less creativity.
Does it go further than that?
Like, I'm just thinking, as you're saying, that that if I don't develop the skills to deal with adversity or pushback or difficult things when I'm a teenager, what happens when I'm 35 and, you know, I run into somebody at work that starts challenging me or I go through a major life struggle or.
No, that's right. So we don't have to wait till they're 35. We actually know the answer because the oldest members of of Gen Z are twenty two now or twenty three turning twenty three this year. So they've been out and they've graduated from college and they've been out in the work world in corporations for one or two years now. When Greg and I wrote an article in twenty fifteen, a lot of people said, oh come on, this is just college students being college students.
When they go out to the real world, they'll have to change.
And now it's clear no looks like organizations or organizations that do so it depends on the industry. So I've heard from a number of people in journalism, the arts and media and tech in those four industries. It seems as though the organizations are changing to accommodate the students. And again, it's not most of them. All it takes is a couple who who bring these new ideas about speeches, violent speeches, traumatizing.
And so I'm now often hearing stories about people who've hired they've hired young people and this young. Person here is a joke or overhears a joke, someone tells someone else a joke and they find the joke distasteful and so they don't just ignore it, they don't talk to the person. They just go straight to H.R. and file a grievance report. And again, it's you know, running a company is very difficult and you always have blowups among your people. If now you have people who won't give each other the benefit of the doubt, but who take language in the worst possible way and assume the worst about each other, it's very difficult to run an organization.
So I think leadership is needed.
And again, it's not that these are bad people or bad kids, it's that they've been raised with a set of norms that's really bad for them, that makes them very bad cooperators. And if you can't cooperate, you can't be employed. So I think leadership is needed to explain, you know, yes, you're going to hear things. You're going to be insulted. We have to work on these problems as a group. Come talk to me. But we have to do it informally, not with a bureaucratic procedure, and we have to really try to cut each other some slack.
Is there anything related to this where it seems like we're not taught how to disagree with people either through school or through a parent? That's right. How should we think about that? Like, how should we disagree with people? Yeah. So first OK, so first is you have to recognize why it's so important to do so. I recognize I recommend that everybody read John Stuart Mill on Liberty, just chapter two. That's all you have to read. Oh.
And in fact, you don't have to read all of it. At Heterodoxy Academy, an organization that I co-founded with some other professors, we find that Mills Classic work from 1859 is so relevant that we produced in addition, which is just 50 percent of Chapter two. So you get this whole great work of Western civilization in seven 7000 words.
If you go to Headworks Academy Dog Mill. And what Mill showed, I mean, Mill could be writing today. It's all the same questions. What he showed is that, first of all, to assume that, you know, that someone else is wrong, that you know, you know, my side is right. We have no need to discuss this because they're wrong is such arrogance. And most people who think that are wrong about many things, as you know, will be shown several decades later.
So we can't be so sure that we're right. More importantly, we need others to argue against us in order to strengthen our own thinking. He says he, who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. You really can't know what you know until you've had a critic. So you have to seek out your critics. You have to welcome them. So when I give talks now, I've made it a habit to start, you know, to start by asking the question period.
You know, people who disagree with me, people who have a counterargument, please come forward first, because let's get those counterarguments out there first, because that's the only way that I'm going to get better at, you know, what I'm thinking and arguing about.
So, um, so first you have to accept that we actually need others to make us smart. And if we surround ourselves with people who confirm our existing thoughts, we get stupid, quite frankly, stupid. And in this age of social media bubbles, that's a real problem. So the question your question was how do we learn how to argue once people accept the, um, the the the case for why you need to be exposed to people who disagree with you and who challenge your your ideas, then the question is how do you do it?
And here I have two recommendations. One, the one that worked for me that really helped me because I was a kind of a, you know, arrogant, argumentative teenager and young adult is reading Dale Carnegie's book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. And it's so easy once you read. It's a great book. It's a really fun book. And what he teaches you is don't come out saying you're wrong and here's why. Come out saying, oh, that's very interesting.
You know, I think you're right about that one thing there or we have this in common, or I can understand why you're saying that or hear something in my experience that confirms what you said. And once you start by agreeing on something, then you can pivot to. But now, on the other hand, you know, it seems to me that and then you can raise your point and then you're much more likely to persuade the person.
So there are basic social skills. If you're a homosapien, you evolved for group combat, you evolved for confirmation bias and motivated reasoning. We know we're not really evolved to be academics or or scientists searching for a truth in an unbiased way. We evolved to basically, you know, CIA and win in social competitions. But if you learn some skills, you can actually be very effective as a teacher, as someone who persuades, as someone who changes people.
It's interesting, as you say, that in the context of evolution of his thinking, which we don't often change our moment, somebody is disagreeing with us, even if they're polite and they acknowledge where they might be wrong, you know, where we might disagree a little bit.
But it does have the impact of sort of signaling to your tribe that you're them. Yeah, that's the problem. So in the righteous mind, in my second book, it's about. Moral psychology, I have a section there is one thing I got really wrong. Well, there was something that was right about it was I talk about what would an ideal society B? And I say, given our limitations, you know, an ideal society would be one in which all of our reputations are on the line all the time.
And I and I was referring back to the story of the Ring of Guirgis from Plato's Republic, in which Plato asks if a man had the mythical ring of Guirgis in which he returned the stone. You know, the gem in words on your hand, it makes you invisible. He asks what man would stay on the right path? What man would not avail himself of the treasures and the women of the of his, you know, of other men?
And he says that it's only our fear for our reputation that makes us ethical. And I think there's a lot of evidence for that, that that's a very powerful that's one of the major producers of moral behavior. So I wrote in The Righteous Mind, this isn't writing this in 2011. That would be a great society if all of reputations are on the line at all, you know, all the time.
And now looking back on that, seven years later, I realized why I got that wrong, because once we had social media, all the reputations are on the line all the time, but not in a consistent or honest way. That is anything you say can and will be distorted, taken out of context, used against you. So you better watch what you say.
And we're finding that life where your reputation is on the line all the time is actually hell. It's really hard for teenagers.
But, you know, look, it's really hard for, you know, for adults, for academics. I you know, we used to be able to be provocative and in academic seminars and at conferences, we could be provocative. We could raise hypotheses that could even be, you know, upsetting to some people. But that kind of ended in the last few years because whatever you say, even if it's an academic conference, if someone tweets it and takes one line, you know, then people go to town on you for that one line.
And so we're all teaching, thinking, living in a minefield.
It's getting harder to even think out loud and sort of like hypothesize in real time about exploring different pasts and the conversation. That's right.
There's a playfulness. So used to be really fun to be a professor. I mean, I still like I still love it. I've got incredible job security.
I get to, you know, read and think and do what I want all the time.
So I love being a professor. But there used to be a playfulness in a provocativeness to it, to being an academic. And I do feel and I've heard a lot of other people say the same thing, that that kinda went out the window over the last few years.
What's the best counterargument to your theory on what's happening, causing the mental sort of strain on in terms of what's causing the rise in mental illness?
Some people say that it's not a real rise, that it's just that young people are more comfortable talking about mental illness. And that was plausible until two or three years ago. Well, that's when the data came out. But now that it's clear that it's not just reports of depression, anxiety, it's actual hospital admissions for self-harm. That's not self report. That's actual blood. And it's actual death. It's actual bodies. The victim, if I said this already, but the the suicide rate for teenage boys is up twenty five percent.
The suicide rate for teenage girls in America is up 70 percent. The numbers in the UK are not that different.
So so they want to have data for other countries or I've just looked in the U.S., UK and then Canada and Ireland also had that suicide. We need to look at East Asia where they have very high rates of device use. But it's can be complicated there because suicides there traditionally at least are more about what what do you call them? Durkheim, anyway? They're either suicides because you're too tightly bound in and you kill yourself from shame. And that's more the East Asian situation.
Traditionally it was. And then there are suicides because you're too loosely bound in or you're suffering from Ademir Enormousness, which is more the Western situation. So I don't know what we'll find when we really start looking at suicide stats. Again, they're brand new. I mean, they only this only really began around 2012, 2013.
So we'll have to look. How do you use this research? You're a parent of two kids. How do you use it raising your kids who are nine and 12?
Yes. Yeah. So I'm raising two kids. My wife Jane and I are raising two kids in New York City. And fortunately, we met Lenore Skenazy like five or six years ago. She's the woman who wrote Free-Range Kids. She became famous and infamous because in 2009 she let her nine year old son ride the New York City subway alone back to their house from Bloomingdale's and the Upper East Side to their house somewhere else in Manhattan. And thank God we met her and read her book, Free-Range Kids.
I recommend it to everybody who has kids. And she completely convinced us that that overprotection is bad, that kids need more experience. And so we were fortunate. I mean, Manhattan's incredibly safe. When I was growing up, it was dangerous. I grew up in Scarsdale, a town north of the city. And so we had a real crime wave here in this country. But it ended in the 90s and now it's so safe. My wife, my kids, they can walk around at night.
I don't know anybody who's been. Mugged in recent years, it's really safe in Manhattan and most of New York City, much of New York City at least so so we are fortunate to live near some beautiful parks and playgrounds and we encourage our kids to go to them right nearby. So we give my kids errands. And at first it was really scary for us. I mean, that's the thing. I talk to other parents about this, you know, about the importance of letting their kids out and let them run an errand.
You can see the telic. But but but what if they hit by a car?
And of course, yes, you should think that. But after you.
But then you have to think, well, at what age were you let out? Weren't you riding your bicycle around town when you were eight? Weren't you and your friends going to a store when you were nine? And then the first few times you kids do it and maybe they're five minutes getting late, getting home and you're panicking. And then they walk in and they say, oh, yeah, I you know, I stopped here to talk to somebody, you know, you realize, oh, yeah, OK, this is normal.
So we are making a deliberate effort and it is hard at times. It is scary at times, but we're so happy we're doing it. Our kids think of themselves as more independent. They're proud of that, that they're more independent than other kids their age in New York City. My son, especially once he entered sixth grade and had to go to a junior, a middle school about a half mile away. He takes the subway all over the city now.
So, yeah, we've we've Lenore has helped us to raise our kids free range.
I like a lot of those ideas and I try to put them in practice with my kids as well. And for reasons I'll leave off the air. You know, in Ontario, the province that I live in, an equivalent to a state, it's illegal to leave a child under the age of 16 unsupervised.
Now, is that in your home, it's illegal or you just mean like in a car or a park or what?
Oh, it's a blanket statement. And then if you start digging into it like Child Services says, you can't do it under 12. But the Red Cross offers babysitting courses that are left like none of these things line up. And it all seems so manipulable towards parents who try to give their kids more freedom.
That's right. There's the problem of law and there's the problem of other parents who will shame you. So first, I would encourage you to find out exactly what the law says, because I was surprised to learn that in the United States, most states don't set an age. There are a few states that will say twelve or something. But you have to look at for what? And so leaving kids alone like it, can you can you leave your kids alone at home when you go pick up something at the store?
Very few states actually set an age. The problem is not necessarily the state laws. The problem is often that Child Protective Services or the local police enforce it in a certain way. Yeah. In New York State. So what I did is I gave my son when when I first sent him out, I wrote up a little thing. It was like a free range kids license, you know, which says, you know, my name is Max Hyde.
I'm old, I live here. My parents think it's appropriate for me to learn how to walk around independently, just, you know, just like they did when they were my age.
If you don't believe me, first look up New York state law, such and such, which says that the state gives parents substantial leeway to make these decisions. If you still don't believe me, please go read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, then read Free Range Kids and then let me go. Yeah. So somebody did a calculation. A lot of the cases of arrest are when parents leave a kid in a car. Now, if you leave a toddler in a car, you know, I can at least understand why people are upset.
But, you know, there have been parents arrested for leaving an 11 year old kid in a car, somebody to calculate. I need to look this up, that at present rates of abduction, there are about 100 people, 100 kids abducted a year in the United States by strangers at present rates of abduction. You'd have to leave your kid unsupervised, alone in a car, in a parking lot for 700000 years before they would probably be abducted. So it's a ridiculous, ridiculous policy.
It prevents us from raising kids free range. The goal of the law should be to stop kids who are treating their kids badly and neglecting them. And unfortunately, they've the implementation recently has been if you're not supervising your kid, you're neglecting them. And that really contributes, I believe, to suicide.
And it gets so many. Right, like letting a grade three or four walk to school. If it's like, I don't know, five hundred meters, it's like you can't do that. Not only do parents look at you differently, but the school looks at you differently. And everybody in this sort of like ecosystem is like you're doing something that's different. It stands out and it challenges my notion of American parenting.
Because now. Right, because if you say, well, I'm raising my kid free range, I want my kid to learn how to cross streets on his own. I want my kid to learn some sense of being a self-governing, autonomous creature. That's a rebuke to them. And then they're going to get very defensive.
They're going to say, no, no, no, it's you who's the terrible parent. And that's why I'm actually optimistic this is going to change, because as I said two years ago, we didn't know that. We didn't know the suicide stats. We didn't know that the terrible things that are happening, it's only in the last year or two that it's really become public knowledge and most people still don't know it. So. I'm hopeful that with our book, with Greg and I are talking about this a lot, I'm hopeful that once everyone realizes that we are, this is absolutely horrible, especially for girls.
We could be losing a whole generation of girls to depression, anxiety and fragility. So I think we're going to see change because now you have an argument. Oh, yeah? What, you think I'm the bad parent?
You know, look, here's the future for your daughters or for your kids more generally, but especially for your daughters.
What else do you do other than sort of like give them friends and more unsupervised time?
So my wife and I, I mean, we both backslide a lot and we often do help them out and solve problems for them. But then we'll sort of catch each other and say, you know, let my parents, you know, my my my parents spoke a little bit of Yiddish, as most American Jews of their generation did. And one thing that my mother would say to my father is Harold Lezama Zion, which I believe means let him be just you know, my dad would say, have you done your homework?
You know, are you ready? You know? And my mother would say, let him let him be let him make his mistakes, let him suffer the consequences. So we just try a little harder to let our kids learn in the most effective, possible way. And learning from feedback from experience is 10 or 100 times more effective than telling kids a fact.
That's another way that we coddle kids, is we don't let them tell you if they forget their homework, we'll drive to the school and we'll pick it up and we'll get it. We'll make sure it's done because we just don't want them to experience that sort of pushback.
That's right. And it's in part for that reason. It's also in part, as things get more competitive, admission to college is more competitive. So we especially do that when it has to do with success in school, at least in middle class and above. So that's another factor here. But again, there's lots of threads coming together. There is no simple explanation for why this has happened to us.
It seems increasingly just to sort of take a sidetrack or maybe a parenthesis here that we're wrapping the notion of intelligence and smarts up into grades more and more. I'd love to hear your thoughts exploring that and what it means to be successful that we're not teaching what is really what does it mean to be smart versus academic smart. And it seems like we're narrowing our definition of smart.
Absolutely. There's a lot of writing recently about meritocracy. I mean, this is all just such an interesting social science puzzle. What is happening to our society. And in a sense, we're having this conversation on the deck of the Titanic as the Titanic is possibly going down. I mean, the political polarization, you know, the rise of actual Nazis marching. I mean, you know, the violent I mean, there's not a lot of violence yet, but we have a lot more violence now than we did a few years ago.
So there are a lot of dark clouds. There are a lot of bad things happening. And let's see. Wait, I'm sorry I lost the thread again.
What was your question? We're talking about our notions culturally and as a society of what it means to be smart and how to narrow it down or academic. OK, yeah. So there's a lot of interesting writing about meritocracy. And there was an interesting article, especially with the death of George H.W. Bush the other day about the old WASP aristocracy. And a lot of things changed when Harvard changed its admission criteria to be who was your father? And you know what what kind of what kind of young gentleman are you?
Two SAT scores and to test scores, which are largely measures of IQ that started us on a path to a meritocracy based on essentially on IQ, supplemented by conscientiousness and ability, or to work hard or parental pressure to work hard. And as our society, as American society has gotten more competitive or basically it's on test scores. And so when this happens, we as with as with all problems, with metrics, if you measure X and you reward on X, then people are going to gun for X.
But if what you really want is Y, then you shouldn't be focusing so much on X. And unfortunately, we focused on test scores and this is especially a problem in East Asia. I've noticed my family went we visited a few countries in East Asia a few years ago where the pressure in Korea in particular, but it's similar in other countries. There's so much emphasis on the test that kids have very little time to play. So so, yes, I think that we are changing the nature of childhood and we're too focused on skills that actually don't matter as much.
And what we're creating is a generation of people who do well on tests but may not have the may not development and have a chance to develop the human skills that would actually be better for innovation, better in business.
Thinking out loud here a little bit, it seems to tie in to what we were talking about earlier, possibly, but people following policy and procedure, not knowing when to exercise judgment and overrule the policy or procedure or this is an exceptional case versus like. Yeah, I know if I. All of this, I'm not going to get in trouble, I can never get in trouble because I'm just following what I was told to do. Exactly. So the name here, the name that everyone should know is Philip Howard.
He has this he has a wonderful TED talk a number of years ago. Let's see if I can find the name of his of his TED talk. At any rate, if it wasn't quite called kill all the lawyers, but it was basically about how law is strangling us. And so Philip has written several wonderful books, including The Death of Common Sense, about how in many institutions and all institutions, you know, teachers, doctors used to have much more leeway to exercise common sense and then they could learn from feedback and they could develop skills of judgment.
But the kind of bureaucratism mindset, the increasing use of metrics has has led us to, in a sense, strangle judgment and put in procedures. Barry Schwartz also has a wonderful book on practical wisdom. So, yes, these are big changes in our society that I think are robbing us of wisdom. If we if we if we don't let people exercise common sense, we end up with all these atrocious cases of just stupid things happening, like a parent who is arrested because they let their kid play in a park.
What are the skills that you would want students to have that you're seeing come through school? I know you deal mostly with master's students, but is there a change in the students over time that you're like, oh, this is probably going to impact them later down the road? And it'd be really advantageous for them to start learning this other than sort of like how to disagree with people and how to operate in a world that might push back and have the sort of like a.
. Fragility of the world pushing back on your ideas or your beliefs.
Yeah, well, I think that the idea of the idea of playing with ideas that they're not personal is a very important skill. And so what I've noticed among young people, like especially in discussions, discussions or, you know, on Twitter or elsewhere, is there's an increasing use of ad hominem argument. There's an increasing sense among young scholars, even young young graduate students and people in their 20s in the academy, that what you do when you have a dispute with someone is you don't address their ideas, you discredit them.
And Greg calls this the perfect rhetorical fortressed. You have a set of arguments about the danger of their ideas and how they're giving comfort to bad people and how they're associated with bad people. So it's a striking thing that's happened to us is when we published Article 2015, we expected a lot of pushback and there was almost none. That is, almost nobody said we were wrong. People said we were bad, but almost nobody said we were wrong. And now here it is three years later.
And we just published this book and it's gotten a lot of press and it's gotten to really negative reviews. So it's gotten the dozens of really positive reviews, but it's gotten to negative reviews. And in those negative views, they barely touch our arguments. They don't really say that we're wrong again. They just say that we're bad, we're bad people. And so I think the there's a really important skill in a modern, secular, liberal society, especially in the academic world, that you have an ability to discuss and debate ideas without taking them personally.
And the idea that if someone disagrees with, they're not attacking you. So that's one that I've that I've noticed. I was talking to somebody from France who said that in France it's very common to assign kids in high school, especially here's a position writing essay about why you think it's right and write an essay about why you think it's wrong. Actually practice taking both sides. And that's commonly done in debate. But I think it's rarely done in a regular schooling.
You know, here's an issue. You know what what do you think about it? Go find evidence to make your case. Well, and that's just for your side. And we don't expose I think we really need to give people practice making the case on both sides, learning from people who honestly believe something. This was Jon Stewart Miller's point. As I said, he who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.
But then he goes on to say, it is not enough that he hear these other views from his teachers who do not believe them. He must hear them. And I'm paraphrasing. He must hear them from people who actually believe them and can give them their fullest exposition. So I think there are there's a whole suite of intellectual virtues, intellectual humility, generosity of spirit, giving people the benefit of the doubt, not being overconfident. There's a whole suite of intellectual virtues that I think have gone by the wayside as the emotional volume gets turned up, as the tribal necessity gets turned up, that is, as the things you say are taken as gang signs.
What team are you on? So this is why, you know, it's you know, as we say, a stopped clock is right twice a day. But, you know, it would be very hard for people on the left to ever say that Donald Trump was right about anything. You know, he must be right about something here and there. But if you say that you could get in big, big trouble and I'm sure it's the same, you know, the same on the on the right.
I mean, these processes work on both sides, which just goes back to the sort of black and white thinking.
It's a form of intellectual laziness.
It's laziness would indicate that the reason you're not doing it is because you just don't want to put in the work. But I think it's not laziness. I think it's closer to cowardice. I think it's and I don't want to say cowardice because we're all suffering from it. I think it's just life in a mine field, life in a call-out culture. If you live in a call-out culture, you can't do nuance. You're not allowed to do nuance. Everything's black and white.
The other side is evil and they're never right about anything.
And part of that is signalling again to your tribe.
You're exactly. That's right. Some people use the word virtue signalling. Yeah. Yeah. So if you analyze speech online and increasingly speech in class and for a generation that grew up with social media, all speech is essentially online or at least could be. So I think we need more walls to to mark off different areas of civil life. We need spaces where different norms apply. Um, I wouldn't quite call them safe spaces, but I would call them domains with different norms.
And and let me also be clear, you know, Greg, and I've always been clear, I hope. That if students want to create a safe space for LGBT students or black students as a space, a social space, a space where they get together and have different arms, that's that's great. That's the First Amendment right of association argument has always been that the classroom must not be a safe space, that classrooms must be places where any claim will be challenged, not not attacked, not shamed, but counter arguments backed by evidence will be given.
Tested. Yes, tested. I want to switch gears a little bit before we wrap up, you're a moral psychologist. What is morality? Oh, boy, on what, in seven seconds or less. So I'll just jump in. Let's see what comes out of my mouth. So I think of morality as a thing that people do. That is, if you have a bunch of people somewhere in the world, they're going to have cooking and cuisine.
That's just something humans do. They're going to have music. That's something people do. They're going to have language. They're also going to make judgments about each other. If you have two people and especially you have three, you're going to have people talking about or judging others. Humans create normative worlds. Norms emerge quickly. How do we address each other? What's appropriate? Can I take that thing that you were just using? So when you have humans interacting, they almost immediately develop norms about behavior and then they judge each other based on those norms.
That's morality. So moral psychology, at least as I've been doing it, there are many different forms. But moral psychology is I do it looks at how can it be that morality is very different around the world.
You know, there are feudal societies and egalitarian societies and and there's all, you know, so many different there are cannibalistic societies. There are trading societies. How can that be? Well, at the same time, the elements of morality are often so similar. So when I was in graduate school, I read a bunch of ethnographies for the first time that his book length treatments of other cultures. I was amazed by Professor Alan Fisk, a wonderful anthropologist, a scientist, all these books.
I was amazed that practices around purity and pollution were common around the world. So in the in the Hebrew Bible, women are supposed to avoid touching sacred objects for during their menstrual period and for a month or two after giving birth. Well, it turns out menstrual pollution and birth pollution are very common in societies that have never met. They they didn't share this idea somehow came out of the mind that that that the body goes through cycles of of whole of holiness or ability to approach holy objects.
So as a psychologist, I thought, wow, this is really cool. I used to read a lot of Carl Jung when I was younger. Carl Jung talked about archetypes and he got kind of mystical about it. But I just took an evolutionary view, which is just as our tongues contain receptor cells for four or five different properties of the world, so we taste sweet, sour salt, bitter and umami, or sort of a meat substance because our ancestors ate fruit meat.
And so we evolved to have tongues that are responsive. And in the same way, I said, what are the taste buds of the moral sense? And I was I was a postdoc at the time with Richard Qader, another wonderful anthropologist and one of my friends. Craig Josephite was also working with a waiter. He and I scanned a lot of anthropological literature and evolutionary literature looking for matches. That is, for example, reciprocity. There's a great evolutionary paper by Robert Trivers about the evolution of reciprocity.
And lo and behold, it turns out that every human society does reciprocity.
And, you know, that's the basis of fairness. So we hypothesized from our reading from an academic exercise that the five best candidates for being the tastebuds of the moral sense or the moral foundations were care, care and compassion. Because we're mammals, we nurture our young fairness, reciprocity versus cheating. We're all sensitive to that loyalty, you know, group loyalty versus betrayal, authority versus subversion. We're hierarchical creatures like most primates and sanctity or purity versus degradation.
Now, here we're different from other primates. We have a sense of disgust. And this was based on my work with Paul Rason at Penn. So those were the five original moral foundations. And since then, we think there are actually probably a bunch more. The one that we think the evidence is best for is liberty or autonomy. You know, if you if you restrain a kid's arms or an animal's arms, they want to escape.
The Hebrew Bible tells the story of the Jews escape from from from bondage in Egypt so so that we think as a sixth moral foundation, liberty, autonomy. And so if you assume that everybody in the world, if you're a human being, you have these taste buds, you have these receptors, but your culture may or may not build on them. So every culture builds to some extent on fairness, but then often it's different, like, OK, you know, if a Hatfield kills a McCoy, does that mean that McCoy can kill a Hatfield while in traditional societies?
Yes. But in a modern secular society, no. So moral psychology as I do it is about this thing that people do, which is based in part on our innate evolved nature with lots and lots of different modules or or innate abilities as they develop variably in different cultural contexts, rather cultural specific ones as well that are layered on top of these sort of like maybe universal human.
Moral issues, yeah, moral attributes, yeah. Yes and no. So I would say that you can get you can you can moralize something, you can make something a moral issue, but it's not going to really stick or work unless it's at least related to one of the moral foundations. So let's look at a few in modern times. So homosexuality is moralized and said to be bad in many cultures, not not all, but many, most large scale societies for thousands of years.
So that was a pretty direct basis. You know, it's treated as an abomination in the Old Testament, Hebrew Bible, and that's clearly linked to the sanctity foundation. So that's a kind of an easy development when it's not innate that we dislike homosexuality, it's it's a cultural development that's very common. But in the last 30 years or so, we've had an amazing and wonderful transformation in which it's been decoupled from the sense of disgust. And I think young people, I think older people, even if they are in favor of gay gay marriage and gay rights, they often have a more visceral sense because that's the way they were raised.
Those were the pairings that were made for them when they were growing up. But now we've made such progress on gay rights so quickly that I think homophobia has become a great, great moral sin in many subcultures in America and elsewhere. And there I don't think that's linked to well, it is linked to discuss perhaps. I think people are homophobic, are treated as contaminating as as as, you know, beyond the pale. But I would think that that's more related to compassion and fairness, that it's wrong, it's cruel.
It's unfair to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation. So I take a very dynamic view of cultural evolution. So we have an innate human nature. But that doesn't mean that we have to live in a fixed way. It just means the building blocks that are given to us are innate. But how we put them together can change. And what we've seen in the last 30 or 40 years has been astonishingly rapid change in how we use these moral foundations to construct different moral edifices.
And there's nobody consciously sort of doing this. But it sounds like these things maybe are innate in us and we awaken them through culture. And the reason that culture would do that is to get a group of people to behave in a certain way.
Or I wouldn't quite say that culture wants people to behave in a certain way. Evolution proceeds with no necessary direction. Now, cultural evolution sometimes does have direction. So, for example, I spoke to somebody who was active in the gay rights campaigns in around 2008 and 2012, and she told me that in 2008 a lot of the arguments were made based on rights, like people should have rights. Why don't people have the same rights to marry? And that generally didn't work so well.
And in 2012, they focused more on compassion. They're just wonderful moving videos. If you Google Mainers United from the state of Maine, they put on these beautiful 30 second ads in which people would basically testify. You know, I'm a I'm a reverend. I'm a minister at this church. And, you know, when I found out that my son or nephew was gay, it was hard for me at first. But Jesus told us to love, love everyone, and that means everyone.
And and so they were able to use they were able to basically appeal to other moral foundations and and make really morally and emotionally elevating pitches. So that was an example of, I would say, deliberate cultural evolution. I mean, people, you know, in biological evolution, there's no guide. But in cultural evolution, there can be political movements that can be more or less skillful. So, yeah, I think that human intervention does happen in cultural evolution.
That's awesome. Jonathan, thank you so much for your time. Where can people find out more about you? Um, I have a YouTube channel. I forget how you find that, but there's one there. We have a lot of stuff on the book. If you go to the codling dotcom, Greg and I have put up some stuff. We'll have more stuff soon. And the righteous mind dotcom. I have a lot of materials there. Perfect.
Thank you so much. My pleasure. Can I just add one thing, which is for anybody who actually wants to help a group learn how to talk across differences and learn how to how to gain the benefits of diversity because you learn how to how to give people the benefit of the doubt and ask questions in a in a good way go to open mind platform dot org. It's a resource that me and Caroline Male and a few others created for use in schools and companies and churches and synagogues and non-profits.
It's really hard these days to run an organization or to be part of an organization. There's a lot of political polarization and division and we created Open Mind the Open Mind platform to help people address that. Excellent. Thank you. My pleasure. Hey, guys, this is Shane again, just a few more things before we wrap up. You can find show notes at Farnam Street blog, dotcom slash podcast. That's fair. And am s t r e t blog.
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