When Anderson Cooper’s mother, the designer and heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, reached her 91st birthday, they began a correspondence, breaking a wall of silence between them. This 2016 conversation covered life in the spotlight, suicide, money, and grieving for a parent and a child. Vanderbilt Died in June at age 95.
The authors of a new article in The Atlantic say political correctness on college campuses has gone into over-drive. Students are demanding it. There’s a growing movement to eliminate “microagressions,” subtle actions or statements that reinforce cultural or racial stereotypes. And administrators are giving in by creating rules for faculty that include trigger warnings for books that might elicit strong emotions. The end result, the authors argue, is a generation of coddled young adults who are unprepared for the real world. They join us to talk about why they think this trend is harming higher education and the emotional health of students.
- Greg Lukianoff President and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education; author of "Unlearning Liberty"
- Jonathan Haidt Social psychologist and professor at New York University's Stern School of Business; author of "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The authors of a new article in The Atlantic say political correctness on college campuses has gone into overdrive. Students are demanding it and administrators are giving in by creating rules for faculty that include warning students if a book on a reading list might elicit strong emotions. The end result, the authors argue, is a generation of coddled young adults, unprepared for the real world.
MS. DIANE REHMHere to talk about why they think this trend is harming higher education and the emotional health of students, Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and from an NPR studio in New York, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt of New York University. Throughout the hour, we do invite your comments and questions. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
MS. DIANE REHMFollow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to both of you.
MR. GREG LUKIANOFFThanks for having us.
MR. JONATHAN HAIDTThank you, Diane.
REHMGood to see you both. Greg, tell us about his new political correctness that you and Jon Haidt write about.
LUKIANOFFWell, you know, political correctness, you know, was a term that people came up with in the '80s and it never really went away. But I've been a First Amendment lawyer defending free speech and academic freedom on campus now since about 2001. And for most of my career, I've dealt with really ridiculous cases, don't get me wrong, but for the most part, it's come from administrators. Administrators over complying, catastrophizing, overreacting to relatively tame speech and punishing professors and students for it.
LUKIANOFFIn the past year or two, maybe more like two years, it increasingly is coming from the students, which is a little distressing to watch, you know, a real desire for speech policing. Sometimes fully aware that that means that they themselves could be subjected to, you know, for example, at Ithaca College the policing of micro aggressions, which are unconscious slights that you can commit against each other.
LUKIANOFFWell, you know, like a good example in the sense of, you know, of a very legitimate example of micro aggressions is, like, if -- that's cited if somebody constantly is complimenting an African American for being articulate would be something that -- 'cause that implies that that's strange. But at the same time, when you look at some of these policies -- like, the University of New Hampshire, for example, had a quasi micro aggression policy that listed American -- the term "American" as problematic.
LUKIANOFFAlso, listed the term "Arab" as being something that should be avoided, which, of course, when you think about it, it's like that's kind of insulting and insensitive to people who are actually Arab to say that just saying what -- their actual ethnic background is insulting. There was one at University of California in the UC system that talked about saying that someone got a job based on merit was a micro aggression, saying that America's a land of opportunity is a micro aggression.
LUKIANOFFSo definitely a lot of these things are very worthy of study, but when you start policing them, you actually end up hurting candor and discussion, sometimes with this sort of vague idea that you're improving it.
REHMAnd then, Jon Haidt, in the article, you talk about the so-called trigger warnings. Help us to understand that.
HAIDTCertainly. So the idea grows out of chat rooms, feminist chat rooms in the 1990s. And like so many of these ideas, there's a good idea there that gets taken too far. So the idea was if a discussion thread is going to be talking about rape, you might want to alert people because people who have been raped, women who've been raped could really be very upset by that. So that's not a bad idea. But when it spreads into college campuses and you start putting warning labels on books and videos, not just because they have graphic, horrible violence, but because they express something that somebody might get upset about, you're putting warning labels on ideas and you're conveying a very, very dangerous idea.
HAIDTSo, for example, I teach in New York City. Suppose I was to take my students on field trips all over New York, but every time we go to the Bronx, I say, okay, we're going to have a police escort and we'll have ambulances with us. Now, have fun. Let's do it. It'll be fun, but, you know, don't worry. We'll have police and ambulances with us just in case. And I don't do this for, you know, for other parts of the city. What are the students going to start thinking about the Bronx?
HAIDTAnd when they notice that it's mostly African Americans, what are they going to start thinking about African Americans? So it's really dangerous to start tagging ideas that one group doesn't like as dangerous.
REHMAnd I gather that could include certain books, Jon?
HAIDTOh, that's right. So an example here in New York was at Columbia University. Students requested trigger warnings whenever Greek mythology was taught. Why? Well, there's a lot of rape in Greek mythology and how can you expose students to stories that involve rape without warning them? Well, that's like how can you take them to the Bronx without an ambulance?
REHMHow did we get here?
LUKIANOFFThat's the big question and I wrote a short book called "Freedom From Speech" that came out about a year ago where I actually think that this is somewhat of a natural progression, essentially. And it's a natural progression of what is otherwise very good things. As societies become more comfortable, as you have a greater option just to listen to people you already agree with and you more media options that totally reflect your point of view and you surround yourself entirely by people who agree with you, we tend to do that.
LUKIANOFFThere's also the problem of helicopter parenting, when we have more resources to spend on our students and our children, there is a tendency to coddle them. And I don't think -- and I think this is a progression that means that students who've grown up, one, being protected to a greater degree than was ever really possible before, but two, the really negative part of that, though, is being told constantly that they're very fragile.
LUKIANOFFAnd this is not -- this, unfortunately can be a very -- this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy is part of the problem. So I think that it's -- like things like political correctness, for example, they're negative outcomes of otherwise positive developments.
REHMYou know, it's fascinating because Donald Trump talks an awful lot about political correctness. Now, to what extent are people who are thinking they like what Donald Trump says rebelling against this exact kind of political correctness?
LUKIANOFFI honestly think that's a big part of what his appeal is, which I think many people find kind of mystifying. But I do think that part of it is they actually see someone who isn't self-censoring and they admire it, for some reason.
REHMSo in your mind, should people, students, teachers, be allowed to say anything they feel like saying?
LUKIANOFFThe thing about freedom of speech and the thing about academic freedom is it's not anarchy. You suffer the consequences of what you say. So I remember someone saying, you're saying that the Constitution forbids me from having a speech code on public campus -- by the way, it does and that's pretty clearly established law -- so they were saying, there's nothing I can do if someone is spewing racist vitriol?
LUKIANOFFI'm like, I graduated from Stanford in 2000. If someone was actually spewing racist vitriol, they would be appropriately ostracized. They would be appropriately called out as a bigot. It is a system, but it just -- but as soon as you have coercive force behind it, as soon as you have the threat of being kicked off campus, it ends up having a chilling effect on dialogue and discussion rather than a productive, getting to know people and what they really think.
REHMJon Haidt, what about this so-called fragility? Is that what you are seeing really as a social psychologist? Do young people in colleges or in business sort of feel themselves to be somehow taken down by certain kinds of language?
HAIDTThat's right. That's what so excited me about Greg's idea. Greg had this great insight that some of the things happening on campus were basically teaching the very cognitive distortions that he had learned to challenge when he learned how to do cognitive behavioral therapy on himself. And so that -- so when I saw that he was right, that we're basically teaching students to think in ways that will make them more anxious and upset, it was like a light bulb went off in my head because my first book was on ancient wisdom.
HAIDTAnd one of the great ideas of the ancients is that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. So here's a wonderful quote from Mencius, the third century Chinese philosopher. "When heaven's about to confer a great responsibility on any man, it will exercise his mind with suffering, subject his sinews and bones to hard work, expose his body to hunger," et cetera, et cetera, "so as to stimulate his mind, harden his nature and improve wherever he is incompetent."
HAIDTAnd this conveys a really wonderful new term from Nassim Taleb called anti-fragility. Some things are anti-fragile, like our bones. If you don't use your bones and if you go to Mars and you're weightless for two years, your bones are going to get so weak, they're going to break. But if you run stairs, you exercise, you pound them around, they get stronger. Kids are like this and so the urge to protect them, while it's well-meaning, it's exactly the best way to hurt them.
HAIDTIt's exactly the best way to make them weak so that as soon as they leave the protection of adults and college, they're going to crumble. They'll have no way to deal with the real world.
REHMBut if that's what they're doing in college, protesting this and protesting that word or book or sentence, how are they going to learn?
LUKIANOFFRight, exactly. And I mean, what I deal with at FIRE, at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, are situations in which professors and students, you know, get in trouble, usually from the administration, sometimes because students didn't like what they had to say. I mean, there was a case that we had at Brandeis University several years ago, but it involved someone explaining where the racial epithet "wetback" came from in his Latin American Studies class.
LUKIANOFFHe explained where it came from and he criticized its use, so perfectly legitimate to discuss in a Latin American Studies course, but he was found guilty of racial harassment in that case. And Brandeis University has never formally overturned the finding or apologized.
REHMGreg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, co-authors of the cover story in the September issue of "The Atlantic." It's titled, "Better Watch What You Say."
REHMWelcome back. Two guests are with me. Greg Lukianoff, he's president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. He's author of "Unlearning Liberty." And from an NPR studio in New York City, Jonathan Haidt. He's social psychologist and professor at New York University's Stern School of Business. He's the author of "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion." Greg, how did you and Jon first get together on this issue?
LUKIANOFFWell, you know, how we came to this was actually really quite personal and I had never talked about it publicly before this article came out. I used to have very serious bouts of depression and I had a really, particularly scary one back in 2007. And the thing that helped me not go into relapse, not to recur, was when I started doing cognitive behavioral therapy. And I was doing this at a time where I was covering some really kind of crazy cases for FIRE. And what -- all cognitive behavioral therapy is -- and it's amazing that you can apply this ancient wisdom, you can apply this practice of talking back to your mind and that can be so effective at treating anxiety and depression.
LUKIANOFFSo what you do is, you know -- and everybody does this, to be clear, everybody engages in cognitive distortions -- so, you know, like you do a job interview and you're saying, "If I don't get this job, my life is over," or "If this person breaks up with me, you know, that's it for me." You know, we all say these exaggerated things. And the incredible insight of this very successful intervention is all you do is you look at your own thoughts, you look at how exaggerated they are, and you ask yourself, "Is this a cognitive distortion? Am I engaged in dichotomous thinking? Am I in black-and-white, kind of either all or nothing? Am I engaged in magnification? Am I really going to die if I don't get this job interview right?"
LUKIANOFFAre you engaged in personalization? Are you seeing yourself as fundamentally broken over something relatively small? And since I was learning these habits about how to argue fairly with myself -- when I was watching the way we're teaching students to argue on campus, I was saying, "Oh, my goodness. We're actually teaching students to engage in cognitive distortions almost as a rhetorical tactic." This is not just a formula for bad outcome for free speech or bad outcome for critical thinking. This is a formula to make a generation anxious and depressed when they don't need to be.
REHMSo then you and Jonathan?
LUKIANOFFYeah. Oh, yeah. So Jonathan didn't know each other. I was a huge fan of his book, "Happiness Hypothesis," also a big fan of his book, "The Righteous Mind." I wanted -- we had a friend in common. We went and met for lunch. So we'd been friends for a couple of years. And we just met for lunch once again and I brought up this idea that I just thought it was kind of fun. And he was like, "Yeah. Let's do that." And I was really excited to work with him. It was a real pleasure working on the article with him.
REHMSo, Jonathan, what was it about the idea that really grabbed you?
HAIDTWell, the first was that I'd been teaching for about 17 or 18 years. And just a few months before Greg came to me, I started seeing this craziness in students: Students saying that, you know, if I assigned an article that involved a person dying of cancer and someone would say, "Well, you should have had a trigger warning on that." I showed a research video in which, during the discussion between two undergraduates, someone said something and a student in the class took great offense to it and emailed the dean directly. Stuff like -- and I was like, "What is happening? I don't understand what's happening."
HAIDTAnd so, when Greg came to talk to me, it was, I thought, a really good diagnosis. And we did a graph. We, if you'd -- if you look on Google, you look at the frequency of these terms, they come out of nowhere in about 2011, 2012. It's really just the last two or three years. So if listeners graduated from college three years ago, they didn't see this stuff. But now it's spreading very rapidly.
REHMAnd spreading because of social media?
LUKIANOFFSocial media definitely has a huge role in it. My research assistant, for example though, graduated even in 2013, and she, you know, she stays in touch with her classmates from Denison and they were unfamiliar with these terms as well. So it really has been a very rapid explosion. Now that has been one of the things that people have said about the article, is saying, "Well, you don't have enough research on how common trigger warnings are." I'm like, "This push has really been about a year and a half, as best I can tell, when it's really gone -- when it's really gotten intense."
HAIDTAnd it tends to happen...
REHM...there's another term that's come into play called "vindictive protectiveness." Tell me what that's all about.
HAIDTMm-hmm. So, as Greg said, political correctness has been around for a long time but that's been based on ideas of justice and fairness. The new political correctness is based on ideas of protection, of people are so fragile -- especially people who are members of the six or so major victim groups -- are so fragile that we need to protect them. But this is not the protection of a loving mother protecting her child. It's not nice and warm protective. It's vindictive, it's angry, it's moralistic. And that's really conveyed in the idea of micro-aggressions. Even the people who proposed the idea grant that they're often unintentional -- no harm was meant.
HAIDTBut by labeling it micro-aggressions, you're starting off the discussion by saying, "You are evil. You are a racist. You are hurting people." Now, let's talk about proper ways of speaking. You know, if anybody has ever read, Dale Carnegie, "How to Win Friends and Influence People," you know, the best way to change people is to start off nicely, don't attack them. And if you want to guarantee that you'll be locked into eternal conflict with no success in persuasion, start by attacking them. So it's this vindictiveness that I think makes it so destructive.
REHMHere's an email. "How much of this overly political correctness is because the children of extreme helicopter parents are ageing into college life? Is it really the students or is it the meddling parents?"
LUKIANOFFYeah. I think Jon and I both agree that the helicopter parents have a lot to do with this. I think we've been sending the wrong -- but I also think K-12 sends the wrong messages. It sends an idea that adults will always be there to protect you from things that might be offensive, that someone is...
REHMWell, you're not going to change K-12.
REHMYou're not going to change K-12.
HAIDTYes, we must.
LUKIANOFFI think that K-12 could use some lessons from Lenore Skenazy, the creator of the Free-Range Kids movement, for example.
LUKIANOFFYou know, just to create an environment that isn't quite so fearful. You know, where the idea that to -- I mean, it's one of the reasons why I like CBT so much, because it's not as if we're suddenly going to go back -- you know, I don't even know -- none of us even want to go back to. I mean, my dad was born in 1926 in Yugoslavia, for example. And he learned a lot of life lessons in fairly brutal circumstances. Nobody wants to go back to the 19th century, nobody wants to go back to the 18th century.
LUKIANOFFBut we have to think of new ways and new techniques and new tools that allow people to be -- to take advantage of the natural resilience and anti-fragility, as Jon and (word?) put it, that they have.
REHMAt the same time, I mean, if you put language aside for a moment, the world is a more dangerous place for some children who live in...
REHM...in areas where guns proliferate, where there perhaps is not enough parenting, where things happen that even adults wouldn't want to see. So that to say that all this comes from helicopter parenting makes me worry a little bit because there are populations who are really suffering. Jonathan.
HAIDTWell, I think it's very important for people to challenge that notion. We all feel that way. People often feel that the world is getting worse. And from the 1960s to the early 1990s, we did have a massive, massive crime wave. And that's when this all happened. That's when people turned to helicopter parenting. But the crime rate is -- has dropped tremendously since then.
REHMNot here in D.C., Jonathan.
HAIDTThe crime wave is over.
REHMNot here in D.C. As a matter of fact, it's on the way up again.
HAIDTWait. But is it -- wait, but compared to the 1980s? Is it anywhere near the 1980s?
LUKIANOFFYeah. I can remember gun violence in 1993, back when I actually went to AU, and it's nowhere near the levels it was at in the '90s.
REHMI think that's absolutely right. But in the last year it has gone up.
HAIDTOkay. Okay. But, Diane, that's in very different populations. So you're right that there are some populations in which things are more dangerous now than they were five or 10 years ago. But overall it's way, way down. Rape is down 75 percent since the 1970s. And the populations that are having this problem, helicopter parenting, are certainly populations in which the threats to their children have probably never been lower in human history.
LUKIANOFFAnd that's one of the things that I do find interesting, is that people who are demanding a lot of this stuff are -- and I had this experience when I was at Stanford for law school -- in a lot of cases, it's coming from pretty upper-class, sheltered people. It's not really coming from the populations that -- there. And that's one of the interesting things, when people argue, for example, for trigger warnings. They always seem to start out by saying, "Well, I don't have PTSD. But if I did, I'd want someone to give me a trigger warning." But they're always saying -- and this is the vindictive protectiveness idea -- where essentially it's always about some other unnamed other group that needs my vigilant, angry protection.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones, see what listeners have to say. First to John in Charlottesville, Va. You're on the air.
JOHNYes. Thanks for taking my call. I am a teacher and I've been doing it for over 30 years. I've done it at the four-year institution level and right now at a community college. And I just want to back you guys up and say, hey, that you're absolutely correct. And I've seen it evolved -- or devolved from, you know, just political correctness into the situation now. And administrators are very hair trigger about supporting students that will do this and oftentimes to punish teachers. And it is weirdly, tends to be kind of affluent students who co-opt suffering, marginalized people in their -- and sort of identify with them in some way and absorb their outrage. And that's just my perspective. I just wanted to back you guys up. And I'll just hear your response.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling. Greg.
LUKIANOFFYeah. I've been doing radio all over the country about this topic. And I'd already been talking to professors about how it's their perception that things are getting much harder. But just, I really appreciate it -- I would really appreciate it if more professors would come forward and say so publicly. So, for example, Jay Rosen, you know, a great journalism professor at NYU was willing to Tweet. It's like: Listen, I've been self-censoring myself more. I am worried. I feel like it's too easy to say the wrong thing, just in the last few years, in a college classroom. And that's not the way you can really have a meaty education, if you're always walking on eggshells.
HAIDTI think, we need to add in here -- and so, John, thank you so much for pointing out that the keyword here is "hair trigger." The administrators are on a hair trigger. And this is because of all sorts of things that I did not know until I teamed up with Greg. Greg, do you want to him about what happened and...
HAIDT...when the Obama administration changed the definition?
LUKIANOFFYeah, okay. So definitely the secret engine that really pushes this into overdrive is fear of litigation and fear of the Department of Education. And in 2011 and then again in 2013, the Department of Education changed the standard to how harassment was adjudicated and also how it was defined. And the quote, unquote, "blueprint" standard that they came out with in a University of Montana settlement just said: Any unwelcome sexual speech -- verbal conduct is what they referred to it. And they even explicitly took out the reasonable person standard from the -- it's a weird paragraph to read, saying, even if, you know, a reasonable person wouldn't find it offensive, it's still harassment.
LUKIANOFFNow, if I got a chance to challenge that in a court of law, it would not stand a minute. It's just much too vague. It's much too broad. But when universities are put in a position of having to enforce something that they can't actually, possibly enforce, they do overreact, which I also think teaches the cognitive distortion of castrophizing.
REHMAnd what they're having to do is respond to parents...
REHM...when the young people complain to them.
LUKIANOFFParents and students and donors. That was one of the most interesting articles written on trigger warnings, for example, was by seven humanities professors and inside higher education, saying that they're scared to death of these things because they're already getting demands and requests from administrators, students and parents saying, you know, "How dare you not put a trigger warning in your class that, you know, might be about human -- or your humanities class?"
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's take a caller in Indianapolis. Hello, Carolyn. You're on the air.
CAROLYNHi. Thanks, Diane. I'm actually a student at Wellesley College. And what I've found -- I have a comment. It seems like this political correctness is often centered around the idea of tolerance. But what it ends up producing is a sort of intolerance because, as a student, you constant -- you're constantly on your guard feeling like people are maybe going to attack you for not using the wrong terms or being ignorant of them. So, and what that ends up doing is creating an environment in which people are afraid to even engage in conversation. So it's really quite detrimental to the learning process. I know, coming as a Midwesterner, going to New England for school, I was definitely hesitant to engage my freshman year.
HAIDTOkay. Well, thank you, Carolyn. Thanks so much for that comment. I think you've really put your finger on it, that the key issue here is tolerance. But tolerance is very tricky. When you bring people together from all over the world -- our schools are increasingly international -- and if you want them to get to know each other, you want them to talk about difficult issues, but a crucial principle -- it's called the principle of charity -- that is, let's all agree to take each other's statements in the most charitable possible way. Let's put the best possible reading we can on each other. If we do that, then maybe we can calm down our normal moralism, our normal self-righteousness, and we can begin to have discussions.
HAIDTAnd that should be the campus ideal, especially the small liberal-arts college like Wellesley. But instead, what the purveyors of these ideas -- trigger warnings and especially micro-aggressions -- you could say the principle of the micro-aggression is: Let's take everybody's utterance in the worst possible way that we can. Let's all interpret everything in the worst possible light and now go ahead and discuss. And the result is everybody's walking on eggshells. I mean, everybody is afraid of being brought up by the politburo.
REHMNow, what about racial intolerance and racial bias and the concern of those of different racial, ethnic origins and their feelings. You talked earlier about the word Arab.
LUKIANOFFYeah. Well, I mean, the irony here is that a lot of this -- and it's been great having callers saying, you know, what I've seen. But I had the same experience, you know, at Stanford, where I had to point out in my human rights classes that when -- and having come from working, I used to work with inner-city high school kids in the Southeast back in the '90s -- and they were listing all the words that you should not say and the way you should speak. And I was constantly challenging my human rights class and saying, "Um, so you're basically saying that everyone should talk like upper-class, ivy league educated, affluent, liberals from the San Francisco area. And you don't see anything kind of discriminatory about that?"
LUKIANOFFMeanwhile, when people talk about, you know, safe spaces -- like, I'm a big fan of the idea of people talking across genuine lines of difference. But if you create too many rules, which are necessarily going to be culturally based, you actually decrease candor. You make people not want to engage with each other, if they know someone's going to immediately jump down their throat if they say something slightly not in the approved way.
REHMJonathan, how much is all of this getting in the way of educating college students?
HAIDTOh, I think it's -- well, I don't want to exaggerate and catastrophize and say it's fatal. But it's really antithetical. So I study moral psychology and moral judgment. And we able to think clearly and rationally under very special circumstances. But as soon as we want to reach a conclusion or as soon as we -- or we get emotional, we get angry, open-minded thinking shuts down and we become lawyers. No offense, Greg, but we become -- our thinking becomes lawyers. We start with a conclusion and then we'll do whatever we can to reach it. So this...
REHMI have to stop you...
HAIDT...to be continued right after.
REHM...right there, Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff. Together, they have written a cover story for The Atlantic's September issue, "Never Watch What You Say."
REHMAnd we're back with Jonathan Haidt. He's a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business, author of "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion." And Greg Lukianoff, he's president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. He's author of "Unlearning Liberty." And together they have written a cover story for the September issue of The Atlantic titled "Better Watch What You Say: How the New Political Correctness is Ruining Education."
REHMNow, there is an email here, I think it's really important to read. It's from Amanda in Melbourne, Florida, who says, as a minority in the South, I believe I am a member of the population where things are not improving. I fear for my safety more now than I did five or 10 years ago. When I see the Confederate flag or hear the N-word, I don't believe I'm being overly sensitive. I fear for my life. Jonathan, would you like to respond?
HAIDTOh certainly. So Greg and I don't mean for a moment to say that there's not a problem, that there's not problems of inclusiveness. Things that many African-Americans are dealing with are not micro aggressions, they're macro aggressions. I'm not saying that Black Lives Matter needs to suddenly just be nice and stop using confrontational tactics. But on universities, it's a very, very different, different thing.
HAIDTNow African-American students on universities do face comments that are really insensitive, as Greg said. Oh, you know, you're so articulate, things like that. So there is a problem. What Greg and I are advocating is not saying oh, you know, just toughen up, there's no problem. What we're saying is if campuses really want to be more inclusive and create a positive environment, they should begin in a more positive way. Don't go accusing everyone of racism and aggression and micro aggression. So we agree there's a problem, but we think the means chosen are counterproductive.
REHMAll right, and here's another email from Mary Ella, who says, I have no doubt your panelists are well-qualified, their work is well-researched, but it is fundamentally important to acknowledge they are both white males, thus historically advantaged in a way students of color and female students showing up to college classrooms are not. As member of the social segment least likely to be on the receiving end of micro aggression, trigger-worthy acts and other minor acts of discrimination, it needs to be pointed out that the personal value of political correctness to them is always going to be less than the potential value to a person of color or to a woman. Greg?
LUKIANOFFWell definitely, you know, this has also been something that I've noticed in the past couple years. Prior to about two years ago, I didn't have anybody tell me to check my privilege or that, by the way, why should I listen to a white male. And I have to say, of the, you know, two dozen times I've gotten that since then, nine times out of 10, it's been from a white male. So I get to watch this used as more of a rhetorical tactic.
LUKIANOFFNow, I'm not saying there isn't truth behind it, and I'm not going to deny that there's privilege to being a white male in this society, but I think that it's a way of sort of avoiding what -- the argument that we're making. If you look at cognitive distortions, if you look at the theory of cognitive distortions, are we really saying that we're not magnifying things enough, that actually we should be engaged in more dichotomous thinking, that we should be engaged in more personalization?
LUKIANOFFCBT is not the end all, be all, don't get me wrong. But at the same time, I do think it provides a roadmap to how to argue more productively that's really hard to disagree with since it's based on how to argue more fairly and rationally with each other.
REHMAll right, let's go to David, who's here in Washington, D.C. You're on the air.
DAVIDHi, thanks for taking my call.
DAVIDI object to the term political correctness first of all and always have because I think it's a term used to dismiss the ideas and concerns of people of color, women and liberals, mostly used by conservatives. What your guests haven't talked about -- you've talked about some really strange and kind of perhaps marginal things that are happening on campus, but you're not talking about some of the really nasty, strident, uncivil speech of campus conservatives that's parallel to what you hear in a Tea Party rally.
REHMGive me an example of what you're talking about.
DAVIDWell, you know, a lot of -- for example after President Obama was elected, a lot of the people who went out before the Tea Party were college students, and they attacked members of Congress in -- when they were having town hall meetings, for example, and they were just calling people -- Barney Frank, for example, they were -- they suggested that he was some kind of a Nazi or something. It was incredible. But these were college students, and a lot of them were sort of really going out and doing a lot of this really nasty, uncivil speech, and those were college students.
REHMWell, you've also got political speech involved, and political speech takes on yet another dimension.
LUKIANOFFAbsolutely, and I do want to say that I'm actually not a huge fan of the term political correctness. I think it means such different things to conservatives and to liberals and to different people.
REHMIt really does.
LUKIANOFFBut unfortunately, it's a good shorthand to get -- to talk about a bunch of things pretty quickly. But that's one of the reasons why we try to actually -- you know, we took 8,000 words to sort of carefully explain it. And when it comes to, you know, vitriol from conservatives or conservative censoring, you know, I've fought that as a lawyer my entire career. I mean, there's a very interesting about the freedom from speech phenomenon, about the desire to be protected from speech, going on right now at Duke, where a bunch of students got together to say that they will not read a graphic novel that includes a homosexual relationship because it goes against their values.
LUKIANOFFAnd, you know, this is a big story right now, and we're saying no, we're not training people to develop the right intellectual habits if that's what they're saying. What you should actually be saying is wow, something that challenges my point of view, let me read that, I'd love to. But we're not teaching students. And this is being reflected in both conservative and liberal students and students who don't even think of themselves as particularly liberal.
REHMJonathan Haidt, do you think that young people and perhaps older people alike are simply becoming more sensitive because of what they hear bandied about on radio, television, in public every single day, four-letter words being thrown around, language becoming more course? I mean, is that partly at work here?
HAIDTWell, there are lots of historical trends. One really important one, which is happening all over the world, is that when you grow up with peace and prosperity, your standards change. You invest more in your children, you have fewer children in the first place, and so people become -- they have higher expectations that there will be no violence, no bullying. So there's a general trend that goes with modernity and being -- getting increasingly wealthy.
HAIDTAnd the same time, we have social media making it increasingly easy to throw around obnoxious terms and racist speech anonymously, and so I guess we do get caught up in debates over linguistic problems when there are fewer large and violent problems to deal with.
REHMHere's a tweet from Dorothy, who says perhaps universities and colleges should have a general trigger warning as part of their admissions acceptance letters.
LUKIANOFFThat's actually Jonathan Rauch, who's a big advocate of -- he was an early advocate for gay marriage but also of free speech. He says, yeah, I'm okay with a trigger warning saying you're going to hear things that challenge you in colleges in general. And he did a great video about this. As for different solutions, I definitely want to make sure that I mention this, and as for seeing the kind of people who are concerned about this. Jeff Stone, who is the dean of Chicago Law School, a great First Amendment person, great intellectual, has come out with a statement on academic freedom and free speech that schools are adopting, actually the New York Daily News just endorsed it yesterday, that talks about these kind of threats, these kind of, you know, sometimes well-intentioned threats but basically where -- you know, whether it's disinvitations or demanding that people not be exposed to ideas that offend them, trying to push back against that.
LUKIANOFFAnd I think it's important for professors to consider adopting the Chicago statement, particularly just to remind people that you can't really have an education if nobody's beliefs are challenged.
REHMYou had two women who were disinvited from giving college commencement addresses.
LUKIANOFFYes, Christine Lagarde we talk about, who is the former head of the International Monetary Fund. Is she still at IMF?
LUKIANOFFShe was disinvited from -- well, she faced a disinvitation push at Smith, and in the face of it, she withdrew.
LUKIANOFFI don't think she should have, personally, but...
REHMBut I mean why was she hearing all this...
LUKIANOFFOh, what was the justification? Because the argument was that the IMF hurts people globally and that it hurts the poor globally, and that's a perfectly fine, you know, debate or discussion to have, but I think that we're -- when we engage in disinvitations, we're thinking the wrong way about it. It's like because you disagree with someone is not a reason not to have them on campus. It's all the more reason to have them.
REHMAnd there was a second person.
LUKIANOFFYes, absolutely, well of course Condoleezza Rice is one of the more famous ones. And keep in mind, like, this isn't a huge, huge list of people. But one of the reasons why we brought up Rice is, one, it was a very high-profile example, but, two, it's also the idea of yes, you know, a lot of us -- I'm a civil liberties lawyer, believe me I have some very strong feelings about the war on terror and about the Iraq War and that sort of thing.
LUKIANOFFBut that's all the more reason why you might want to hear from her. Furthermore, her background is kind of striking. You know, she grew up in Jim Crow South and is now -- and went on to become a provost at Stanford. That might be something you might be able to learn from wisdom from, and you might want to take a second and go, okay, maybe I should hear them out first before I say that they shouldn't speak on this campus.
REHMSo how many does it take to get somebody disinvited?
LUKIANOFFYou know, that's a really -- that's a great question, and it seems to depend on the campus. I think that there's been a big pushback against the disinvitation push, you know, and I think it really culminated with Bill Maher, like when Berkeley was put in the position of being asked to disinvite Bill Maher during the 50th anniversary of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, they're like this is just much too humiliating. So they had him speak. The sky did not fall. He said some great stuff about freedom of speech. It's actually really quite a good speech.
LUKIANOFFSo I think that there's been some pushback coming from the administration, realizing that these standards, they can't work with them.
REHMYou've probably seen this happen at NYU, Jonathan.
HAIDTWell, I think the -- we're all thinking about, say, the Bernie Sanders event recently and where Black Lives Matter put him in a very difficult spot and interfered with his speech. I suspect that a lot of speakers just don't want to face that. So when they hear there's a campus brouhaha, they decide, well, you know, to heck with it. I'm busy, I don't want to deal with this.
HAIDTAnd I'm also very afraid that campuses now are much more conservative in who they invite because they don't want to trigger this.
LUKIANOFFThat's absolutely true.
HAIDTEverybody's worse off.
REHMWhich is so sad.
REHMBecause it changes the entire atmosphere of college or university, which is to open one's mind to a variety to a breadth of ideas and statements. Go ahead, Jonathan.
HAIDTI think one of the best additional points that's been raised in the discussion, this comes from Megan McArdle and a few others, who have pointed out that universities have changed in the last few decades. They've become much less classical bastions of learning and, like everything else in our culture, they've become part of the market society. They're seen as a means to an end. These students are consumers who are paying a lot of money. And so we're moving away from the idea that they should foster debate and moving towards an idea of the consumer should get what he or she wants, and if they're asking for protections, well, we should give them those protections.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Let's go to Hobe Sound, Florida. Karen, you're on the air.
KARENHi, thanks for taking my call.
KARENAnd I'm a senior citizen, no surprise coming from Florida, but when I grew up and worked in the business world in the '60s through the year 2000, things that were said were outrageous, and I'm glad that we have improved upon that. However, today I feel that the government is being run by lawyers, and the school systems, with a trickle-down effect because of litigation and whatnot, and no one really cares about discussing important matters because they feel that it may expose themselves, and others will think less of them, I guess.
KARENBut mostly people don't care what I think, nor are they interested in how I feel about social issues.
LUKIANOFFAnd that's what really suffers is genuine candor, genuine talk across lines of difference, and I think one of the great signs of this is the fact that comedians are saying that they no longer want to play at campuses. So we're coming out with a documentary called "Can We Take A Joke" to talk about the fact that we're cultivating an environment on campuses where comedians don't want to go anymore and what that says about whether or not you listen to people that you differ with or whether or not you listen to people who have different experiences or whether or not you're able to be challenged. And if you can't be on campus, where can you be?
REHMI mean, comedians feel that their comedy is not appreciated, or it's too over the top or what?
LUKIANOFFWell, what Chris Rock said was -- he actually referred to students as being too conservative, that you can't even be, as he put it, offensive on the way to being inoffensive. Like if you're going to be initially offensive to make a larger social justice point, they don't care. They fixate on the part that you said that was offensive. So -- George Carlin said he didn't like playing campuses anymore. Chris Rock said he didn't like playing campus. Jerry Seinfeld has gotten a lot of heat for it but didn't back down at all for saying he didn't like playing campuses.
LUKIANOFFAnd I became aware of this doing a -- doing a podcast at the Comedy Cellar back in 2012. There was a comedian named Lee Camp, who was the self-described most liberal comedian on the panel that I was talking to, and he said I don't even like doing campuses anymore because I can't use my good material.
REHMInteresting, and finally Jonathan Haidt, what needs to happen to correct this?
HAIDTWell, the first step, as we talk about in our article, is that the Obama administration needs to change the standard of what counts as harassment to free administrators from fear of litigation. Another thing that needs to happen is alumni need to call, call -- donors especially need to call and say are you guys doing this, are you having these policies that are hurting free speech? If so, we might not give.
HAIDTAdministrators are caught in the middle. They get pushed by the students to provide these protections, but in the long run, the protections are so counterproductive, but unless people push back, they won't be able to do it, they won't be able to make changes on campus.
REHMWell, very thoughtful article and conversation. Thank you both, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, co-authors of the cover story in the September Atlantic magazine titled "Better Watch What You Say: How the New Political Correctness is Ruining Education." Thank you both.
HAIDTThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
How the remote island became one of the world's most important laboratories for understanding climate change.
Democratic presidential hopefuls take the stage for two nights of debate. Winners, losers and what we learned about the state of the race.
Taffy Brodesser-Akner, a writer for New York Times Magazine, has a new book called "Fleishman Is In Trouble."