On Pivot, NYU’s Scott Galloway talks with his colleague, the co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind.
On the latest episode of Pivot, NYU’s Scott Galloway spoke to his colleague from the Stern School of Business, Jonathan Haidt, the co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind.
In the book, Haidt and his co-author Greg Lukianoff argue that Generation Z — the group born after 1995 — have been raised to avoid taking risks and to earn “prestige points” by objecting to subjectively controversial jokes in the workplace. He claimed college professors like him are now walking on “eggshells” because they’re afraid of being reported and shamed by their students.
“My prediction is that all the problems that we have on campus, the endless conflicts over words and clothing and food, these endless conflicts are coming to you in corporate America,” Haidt said. “Depends on the industry; I hear they’re already there in journalism and tech actually, but I think they’re gonna enter just about every industry. I mean, maybe not mining or something, but any industry that hires smart kids from the elite schools, especially in the Northeast and West Coast, is going to be importing this conflictual attitude.”
Below, we’ve shared a full transcript of Scott’s conversation with Jonathan.
Scott Galloway: Hi everyone, this is Pivot from the Vox Media Podcast Network. I’m Scott Galloway, here without adult supervision, as Kara Swisher is in Kauai on vacation. Kara, Kauai, and vacation are three words I would never imagine in the same sentence. But Kara, we hope you’re enjoying yourself.
My co-host today, Professor Jon Haidt, a social psychologist, professor at NYU Stern School Business, a colleague, and the author of multiple best-selling New York Times … author of the Happiness Hypothesis: The Righteous Mind. And most recently, The Coddling of the American Mind, which we’ll get to a little bit later. Jon, welcome to Pivot.
Jonathan Haidt: Thank you, Scott. It’s a pleasure to share the mic with the most charismatic and provocative professor in my building.
Go on! By the way, the building is just you and me. Right? It’s just three of us. Yeah, that’s a pretty low bar. That’s definitely tallest midget syndrome. And by the way, congratulations on your most recent book, which is, no joke, kind of blowing up. And you know how you can tell it’s really successful is people, our colleagues are really starting to resent you. If you get a Netflix series, we’ll start hating you. But anyways, let’s bust into some of the biggest stories of the week. And I’d love to get your thoughts.
Amazon passes Apple and Microsoft to become the most valuable company in the world. So some boasting here, I’ve been predicting this for several years and finally, it’s happening. I would argue that it’s kind of the baton been handed off from the iPhone to voice. Have you thought at all, Professor, about voice and what it might, how it might actually impact some of the things you talk about? The pervasiveness of technology in our lives and in our homes and our kids kind of growing up with this always-on technology?
I haven’t thought much about it. We only just got our first device, somebody gave us the Google, little Google thing. The only thought I have on it is that I’m very concerned, as we’ll talk about later, about the way that the touch technologies, I think, are a lot more addictive than, say, television screens that you and I grew up with. They’re interactive in a way, the way that slot machines are. And so far, I think voice is probably not going to be like that. I mean, conversation with the thing is, you know, kind of fun, kind of frustrating. But it doesn’t make people turn into, you know, the person sitting at the slot machine for hours on end.
So you think it’s less insidious than the touch stuff. And our colleague, Adam Alter, has written a great book on this, Irresistible.
Next big story, I don’t know if you saw this, but Bezos, or MacKenzie Bezos, is about to become the fifth-wealthiest person in the world, as they’re splitting up. And a private matter, I don’t think it’s that newsworthy. But the thing that I thought was kind of interesting was the press release. And I just want to read a line from it. “We feel incredibly lucky to have found each other and deeply grateful every one of the years we’ve been married,” blah, blah, blah… “We’ve had such a great life together as a married couple. We also see a wonderful future ahead as parents, friends, partners in ventures and projects and as individuals pursuing ventures and adventures.” It sounds like they’re going on a cruise together.
And by the way, as someone who’s been divorced, I just want to tell both of them that that is exactly what divorce is. It’s a series of new and fun adventures together. And by the way, and I’m pretty sure Bezos listens to this, that procedure he’s about to have every three years called a colonoscopy isn’t an invasive piece of metal inside, it’s a hot stone massage of his innards. Who writes this shit? Seriously. And if I, okay.
So moving on… Zuckerberg says his ‘19 resolution is to host a series of public discussions about the future of technology and society. What do you think of Mark Zuckerberg going on tour to talk about this stuff?
Well, I think the fundamental problem that you and I are gonna be talking about is that social media and technology have put us all into a social space where whatever we say, various strangers with assumed names are going to say incredibly nasty things about us. Which makes us all reluctant to speak in public and which kind of decimates trust and a speak-up culture within companies and within the public square. So I would say that Facebook and other social media companies are part of the very reason why the idea of a public conversation is rather unpleasant to most people. I don’t think we can really have public conversations anymore.
It feels as if there’s an entire industry that’s developed in shaming and being a victim. Or that the moment you say, and actually I think I stole this line from you, the moment you’re offended, you’re automatically right.
So there’s, go ahead.
Yeah, I wouldn’t say it’s an industry. It’s rather more that you have to look at any conversation in terms of what people are trying to do. And people are always concerned about getting prestige. And to the extent that technology changes social dynamics so that when two people are talking, they’re not necessarily talking to each other. They’re talking to the, possibly a very large audience. That changes the nature of interaction, and generally, in bad ways.
Yeah, and what would you say, what platform embodies the worst of that? Is it Twitter? Is it Facebook? If you spend time looking at the different platforms…
Yeah, I’m on Twitter. And that is certainly terrible for this. I mean, Twitter does a lot of good things, I’ll get a lot of information. But the dynamics, and I see it myself too, we don’t speak up openly and honestly and fully, at least hardly any of us do. Facebook I’m not really on. I have an account, but I don’t use it much. I think, you know, longer form, more emphasis on interacting with friends is not as bad. But it’s so pervasive that I think Facebook, Instagram, I think all of them change the dynamics and put us in this prestige economy, you could say, where we’re really concerned about how others will read
This is a segue into your book, but I think it’s an important one. You write a lot about this, some of the wealthier universities or some of the areas, wealthier areas that are popular with the universities, kind of the vibe has changed. What’s happened there, Jon?
So beginning of 2015, we saw some, or 2014 really, we began to see some funny things on campus. We began to see students protesting over speakers. Now they’ve done that since the 60s, on and off. But it was always protesting “this person’s offensive, we don’t want this person here, because we hate their ideas.” But for the first time, around 2014, we started getting students protesting because a speaker would be “dangerous,” or a book would be “dangerous.” And so they would request a trigger warning. So there was this new idea that students are fragile and that adults need to protect students from books, words, ideas, and speakers. And this completely confounded most of us. What are they talking about? Like violence, how is reading a book violence? And so there was this new moral culture that we didn’t understand in 2014, 2015. And then it spread very widely in late 2015, beginning with, there were protests at Yale and then it spread to dozens and dozens of other schools.
So there’s a kind of a moral incoherence on campus now, where a lot of us are in the older culture in which we think what we’re doing is pursuing truth and transmitting it. But a lot of students, not most, but some students in certain departments think that the point of us being together I campus is to fight for certain kinds of justice and to battle oppression. And so we have incoherence in the classroom, where people are pursuing different goals. And there are mechanisms by which people can prosecute each other.
And you mentioned that there are six factors that have given rise to this generation of kind of fragility, if you will. What were some of the other factors?
Yeah, so the fragility part, so we’ll get into the mental health in a moment, but there’s a huge rise of anxiety and depression in students born after 1995. And that actually is one of the six contributing factors. When you suddenly have a big influx of students who have anxiety disorders and depression, they are prone to see things as dangerous, threatening. You know, basic experiments, you bring people in the lab, if someone has an anxiety disorder and you show them random pictures, they’re going to see more lions and tigers and bears and ambiguous situations. And so if the speaker comes to campus or if a book is assigned and most people are like, “Okay. The Great Gatsby. Okay, we can read that.” But somebody says, “Oh my god, there’s, you know, there’s violence against women in it. There’s classism, there’s all kinds of bad stuff. You know, we can’t read that.” So the idea of seeing books and words and ideas as threatening, dangerous, violence, it’s hard for most people to see that. But for people who are depressed or anxious, it’s easier to believe that. So that’s one, the rise of depression, anxiety.
The other really big ones are the huge overprotection that Americans began doing in the 1990s. And so when I travel around the country talking about the book, I always ask people, how old were you when you were let out? That is when you could go outside, walk to a friend’s house, you and your friend go to a park or, you know, go to a store or something. And I always say, “Okay, people born before 1982,” so Gen X and older. And the answer is always six, plus or minus one or two, nobody says 10. It was always first grade or maybe second or third at latest. And then I say, “Now just students, just people born after 1995.” So that’s Gen Z. And the answer is never below 10, it’s anywhere from 10 to 14.
And so what we did in the 90s, so this is kind of crazy, but, you know, when you and I were growing up, I’m 54, 55 or something like that and when we were growing up, there was a huge crime wave. I mean, it was actually kind of dangerous to be outside.
Yeah there was real crime.
Yeah. Now, you know, the criminals rarely would hurt kids, but there was a lot of crime. And then just as the crime rate is plummeting in the 1990s, Americans get this idea that if a kid is ever unsupervised, that kid will be snatched. And so we start hearing, not so much in the 90s, but in the early 2000s, we start hearing the first reports of parents who are arrested because their kid was found playing in a park and that’s child endangerment. We have to, you know, are you a fit parent? And so, once that begins happening, Americans further their freakout and raise their kids in a paranoid, defensive way. And what we’ve done to people, deprived kids of the main nutrient that they need to become adults, which is they have to have practice being autonomous. And we said, “No, no. No practice until you’re 14 or 15.”
Jon, there’s a lot of discussion around this kind of expectant millennial generation in the workforce that is, I would argue, expectant but also incredibly talented. What do you expect from or what will the impact be on corporate America as this sort of fragile generation, if you will, starts to enter the workforce?
Yeah. So first we have to be very, very clear that the kids born in 1995 and after are not millennials. So the last millennials graduated from college — I mean, those who are at least going for four years — they graduated from college around 2015, 2016. Everyone who’s graduating after that is Gen Z, and they had a substantially different childhood. If you were born in 1996, you had a substantially different childhood than if you were born say in 1993, in that you got social media at a much younger age, you were more overprotected.
So let’s be very clear: Millennials are actually doing fine. Millennials are creative, they go out and start businesses. You know, every generation loves to rag on the one behind it, but when you look at the mental health stats, the millennials are doing fine. The next generation, Gen Z, is not. Gen Z, there’s a really sharp spike around 2012/2013. If you look at all the data on teen mental health, you see that nothing is changing except for depression and anxiety, and those are going up very fast; going up in boys somewhat, and going up in girls much faster. And so the campus … So this is what hit us on campus around 2013/2014, when Gen Z arrived on campus and brought their norms of safety-ism and fragility, and asked for more protection.
Once they began graduating, getting hired, now in the last year, only in the last year, I’m now … Whenever I talk to someone in business … Well, I very often hear a story like, “You know, we were in a sales meeting and somebody used a metaphor or told a joke, and next thing I know, there’s a complaint to HR.” And as one said to me, “We’re all just exhausted from dealing with this stuff.” It’s like we have a job to do here and we’re spending all our time policing speech and responding, how do we respond to …
And it’s not, you know … If it was obviously racist stuff, that would be one thing. But like one story was in a meeting, somebody said, “Yeah, but that would be like selling ice to Eskimos,” and a recent college grad objected, and went to HR and complained. Now you might say is this an anti-Eskimo joke? But this is what call-out culture is all about; it’s not about did you intend … Did you say something bad about Eskimos, that they have a lot of ice up there? No, it’s if you can possibly interpret someone else’s words in the worst possible way, you should do so because that’s how you get prestige points.
And so this campus call-out culture, which is completely antithetical to cooperation … I mean, people who do this, it’s very hard to cooperate with them; you have to walk on eggshells around them. So it’s gonna have a … This is my prediction. I know you like predictions on this show. My prediction is that all the problems that we have on campus, the endless conflicts over words, and clothing, and food, these endless conflicts are coming to you in corporate America. Depends on the industry; I hear they’re already there in journalism and tech actually, but I think they’re gonna enter just about every industry. I mean, maybe not mining or something, but any industry that hires smart kids from the elite schools, especially in the northeast and west coast, is going to be importing this conflictual attitude.
And what … So I think we’re already seeing it. We’re already seeing that the moment you complain to HR, every complaint has to be taken very seriously, immediately; there’s a general kind of gestalt where, all right, we have to investigate it and it can’t be dismissed out of hand. In my sense is occasionally, it’s probably appropriate to say, “Well that’s just stupid. Get back to work,” and show that there are some boundaries around what qualifies as a complaint. And also to the extent that if someone is really brave coming forward, you create a supportive environment where they can reach out. But also to acknowledge, in certain instances, that someone … You know, this isn’t a valid complaint.
So you advised our headmaster; how would you advise managers in these companies as they start to see this rise in fragility?
That’s right. So yeah, so this is gonna be huge. And yeah, I should work up an inspiring speech and approach that leaders can give.
So I think the key thing is, with all these conflicts, you always have to start by looking at what are they right about? What’s the other side right about? And so I think a company where you just sort of say, “Come on! Get thick skin,” or “Get back to work,” you know, you might be masking some problems. And obviously with #MeToo and other things, there are real problems; there are culture problems that have to be addressed. So I think the first step is a company has to show that it is serious about creating a welcoming, inclusive culture, that it’s serious about cracking down on any displays of racism or sexism. So you can’t just give a speech; you have to really show that your heart’s in the right place and you’re working on it.
Once you do that, then I think you can give a speech more along the lines that you are suggesting … Something like, “Look, we’re all together here to do something, together. We think we have a great product, we think we serve our customers well. We’re in a competitive environment and if we don’t pull together and hold together, we’re going down. So we gotta work as a team.” And if you invoke a noble purpose, if you invoke encompassing identities, then I think within that, you can say okay, now how are we gonna resolve our disputes? There’s going to be endless misunderstandings. We’re human beings, for god sakes; we’re always gonna make mistakes, we’re gonna have slips of the tongue, we’re gonna misinterpret each other’s words. That’s always gonna happen. So let’s decide, how are we gonna do this? Are we going to initiate a bureaucratic procedure every time? If so, we’re going down and we’ll be out of business in a year or two. Or are we gonna try to give each other the benefit of the doubt and try to work this out?
So I think the more a company has rigid bureaucratic procedures to handle grievances, the more it’s gonna resemble a modern college campus; just with endless, endless bureaucracy. And as you know, in our bathrooms … Have you noticed the signs in the bathrooms at Stern?
So yeah. It basically says if you see something, say something. We have a bias response team, and students are told, here are three ways you can report anyone who you think has shown bias, and the data … I mean, what they’re basically responding to, most of the cases are students reporting professors for something the professor has said in class. So you know, we’re all teaching on eggshells, and I think the corporate world … Obviously, you always have to be politic, you always have to be careful, but I think it’s gonna get a lot worse.
Yeah. Yeah, you’d like to think universities would be a safe place where we’d be a little bit more generous with each other, and if someone, in an attempt to be provocative or push the boundaries of your comfort zone around learning, that we’d be generous with one another. And I find that that generosity is disappearing.
It assigns … Go ahead, Jon.
And that’s the heart of the problem. So as a professor, as an academic, we trace our lineage back to Socrates; he is our patron saint, and what did he do for a living? He provoked. That was the whole style. So you had … He couldn’t really do it in downtown Athens, and what they did was they were moved out to a grove of olive trees just outside of Athens, where they had different norms, and they created the kind of community in which people challenge each other. And out of those challenges and conflicts, the truth emerges. So that’s our foundation myth, that’s our origin story, and that’s the way I experienced the academy until 2014. And 2014/2015, everything changed, and now I am not provocative, I don’t tell jokes; you know, because I have to teach to the most sensitive student in the room. Not the average student, not the-
And that must be impossible for you. I don’t know how you hold your tongue; your tongue seems to be on a very loose leash.
Oh no. I’m always five minutes away from losing my keys and being unceremoniously kicked out of NYU, because you can just see these kids … They’re actually … So far, I’ve been pretty lucky, and they’re usually pretty generous with me. And I think a lot of it is you walk in with a reputation for being thoughtful around these issues; I walk in with a reputation for not being thoughtful around these issues. So there’s a bias that people who take my course are prepared to be a little bit offended.
Well, that could be.
But it is out of control, and the signs. You know, the signs have graduated from we’re on the 9th floor at Stern, which is the top floor, and the sign on the door to the roof is, “If you are feeling depressed, please call this number.” And I think that’s a worthwhile sign, and now there’s signs in the bathroom saying, “If something has bothered you, report it.” I mean, pretty soon it’s gonna be signs saying, “If you’re having a bad day-”
If you’re unhappy for any reason.
Yeah, “it’s someone else’s fault, and call this number.” It feels kinda really over the top. So let’s get back to corporate America. It feels as if … You teach a lot about ethics in leadership, and focus on these issues, and how, the intersection between thought leadership and the corporate world. And I’ve always thought, having spent the majority of my career in the private sector, that if you don’t assign … You know, what gets measured, what gets done, and someone has to be responsible for something. Who in a company is responsible for what you would call moral or ethical leadership? Is it the chairman of the board, is it the CEO? Because it seems like unless these things bubble up … Who’s responsible for framing these issues and making decisions around them?
Yeah. The way leadership works psychologically … You know, humans evolved in this interesting way, where we’re a primate species so we’re hierarchical, but yet we lived for a long time in hunter-gatherer groups that are very egalitarian. But then as soon as we get agriculture and surplus, we go right back to being hierarchical. So we’re designed for hierarchy and we look to the leader to provide leadership, and especially to resolve conflicts; that’s something that even chimpanzee leaders. And they’re generally bullies and not good leaders, but they are expected to resolve certain kinds of conflicts.
So we don’t look to the chairman of the board. We naturally look to the person who is in charge, and that generally is the CEO. And so if the tone at the top is not good, it’s almost impossible to improve things elsewhere. It’s very difficult. Tone at the top is not sufficient; people are as much or more affected by what those around them are doing. But you have to try to get alignment between the messages and the actions given by those at the top, those in the middle, those all around you.
So I co-founded a site called EthicalSystems.org, and the idea was there’s all this research out there on how you can improve your ethical culture, but it’s scattered across like all these different disciplines, and I didn’t know it when I came to Stern, even though I study morality. So if listeners go to EthicalSystems.org, we have a lot of advice there for how to measure your ethical culture. We’re especially working on a speak-up culture project; how do you measure who is afraid to speak up about what and why? And there are huge generational differences. You know, older people will kind of assume, “Well, if people have a problem, they’re gonna come tell me,” and younger people are saying, “No way, I’m not doing that.”
So the executive, the leader, the CEO, is responsible for putting out inspiring message, for making clear that he or she cares about ethics; rewarding for it, hiring and firing and promoting for it. So there’s a lot that you can do, but it’s gotten a lot trickier in the last couple of years because of the spectacular collapse of trust due to the call-out culture enabled by social media.
So what do you do if it’s … Let’s just take an example, Facebook. I’m curious to get your viewpoint on this. It feels like there was negligence in terms of not putting in place the safeguards to ensure this platform wasn’t weaponized, a lot of evidence showing that the product they put out results in teen depression, our elections may have been contaminated. And the CEO sets a tone, but the CEO, a lot of people would argue, can’t be removed from office. Does the responsibility fall to someone else, shareholders or us as voters, to put in place people who can regulate these companies? Because it seems as if in tech right now, there’s a lot of what could loosely be deemed unethical behavior.
What’s your viewpoint? How do we address the problems that Facebook … You’re saying it’s the CEO.
Well, I am saying that the CEO has the ultimate … He’s the point person-
Sets the tone.
… who sets the tone. That’s what I said. Now if the CEO is being unethical, irresponsible, then I think it is the board’s job. Typically, as in the case of Zuckerberg, he didn’t do anything illegal; it’s not so clear that there are grounds for removing him. But Facebook, I think, has changed so rapidly and has become so powerful, they really have to do a deep reckoning, and I’m not sure how that’s gonna come about. I’ve spoken there a few times, I know a few Facebook employees. I think it’s a company full of good people, full of idealistic people, and this is one of the basic things about business ethics: Bad things happen not so much because of bad people, necessarily, but because systems are in place that allow things to happen that, in retrospect, are terrible.
So one example is I nearly deleted my Facebook account. There’s this steady drip of problems, but when I read that New York Times thing a few months ago that the phone number that I had provided for two- step verification, that those phone numbers are now part of the network of information, I felt so betrayed. And I asked a friend who was a former employee, and he said well, nobody set out to do that; that certainly wasn’t … The goal wasn’t to do that, but you know, we’re trying to grow the network as fast as we can. We have to make it … The bigger it gets, the more valuable it gets, exponentially. And so once the information was in there, it just somehow kinda got pulled in.
And so I think an important point about Facebook is that it now has so much power and is doing so many things that if its employees aren’t all looking out for problems, then problems are gonna just keep growing and multiplying. And so you have to have a speak-up culture; you have to have a culture where people feel that they have the good of the company at heart, they want the company to be successful, and if they see a potential problem, they’re gonna say something. I just read something, I can’t remember where it was, a few days ago, about some science that there is not such a culture at Facebook, or that employees are afraid to speak up.
So I think Facebook has to do … Like most big companies, they have to do a lot more to encourage employees to feel secure speaking up. I think an ombudsperson … The research seems to show that having an ombudsperson is generally very helpful. That person can resolve problems more informally, often. So I don’t know enough about Facebook to give very specific advice, but you have to have a culture in which everyone is looking out for problems and has a way to bring them up.
Yeah Jon, so the general reputation of Facebook is they’re incredibly, and this is Kara’s word, “docile” whereas Google has very much that speak-up culture. Just real quickly, another what I would argue is sort of an ethical lapse was this kinda shitshow con, not contest, of HQ2, where it feels to me in retrospect that there’s a lot of evidence that this was never really a contest; that the cake was baked, the game was over, and this was just an elegant transfer of wealth from municipalities to the shareholders of Amazon. What’s your take on that and who … You know, do you think this is what you would describe as an ethical lapse, and how do we, as shareholders and as citizens, push back on a firm like Amazon? And is push back required, or are they just doing their job?
Yeah. Well I’m very influenced by Richard Florida here, I know that you’ve spoken with him, and he was very upset about this. He could see it coming. You know, he could see what Amazon was doing, and playing cities off each other to force them into a race to the bottom to make more concessions of taxpayer money. So yes, it was very manipulative; I think clearly it was a strategy to gain various advantages. It wasn’t a sincere quest, I don’t think.
And was that ethically wrong? Well, from society’s perspective, yes. Part of what happened to American capitalism in the 1970s was we had some clear ideas laid out about how the ethical responsibility, the fiduciary duty, the duties of executives and leaders, are to the shareholders; maximize shareholder value. And so as that idea of shareholder primacy took hold in the ‘70s, the idea … And I see it in some of our MBA students, I’m sure you see it too. The idea is that there’s only one stakeholder that matters, and that is the shareholders, and to the extent that you ever care about employees or even customers, it’s only to the extent that doing so will increase shareholder value.
That’s a terrible way to think about business. It’s not the way that it’s thought about everywhere in the world, it’s not the way that America used to think about it, necessarily. It might lead to more dynamism and I can’t say that it’s absolutely terrible overall, but I think that a stakeholder view … This is what we’re trying to teach in many business schools. Taking the stakeholder view, just telling people, look, good business means managing a lot of different relationships; you gotta keep your eye on all of them. And if you focus too much on the shareholders, you’re gonna end up doing some bad things.
So was Amazon doing the right thing? Well, you know, for its shareholders, it probably was. And so unless we get either more regulation or new norms that businesses have social responsibilities, we’re going to keep getting this. And of course that’s what Larry Fink’s letter to investors last January was, was … I don’t know what came of it, I don’t know whether businesses are listening, but the idea that we have to start judging businesses more by their social effect. It’s the longest-running debate in business ethics, and I think a new chapter just opened up this year.
So let’s talk a little bit about winners and losers, and I’ll ask you if you think that Apple is a winner? It seems to me that Apple has been very effective at starching their hat white in 2018, and trying to separate themselves from the rest of big tech and say that privacy is a basic human right. What are your observations on kinda Tim Cook’s indignance tour, and basically trying to say, we’re the good guys?
So as a father who has been working on this for a couple years and trying to figure out, how do I put healthy limits on my kids without being too intrusive, I gotta say, the Apple controls work pretty well. And so I think Apple has responded. You know, they were taking some heat last year, I don’t know how long these were in the works, but I think Facebook emerges as the one that has more ethical problems coming up. And Apple, as far as I know, has had fewer. So I think they are at least taking seriously this issue of tech addiction and the mental health effects that it may have.
So loser Facebook, winner Apple. Any other winners and losers from the world of tech that you would think are doing an especially good or bad job trying to address these issues?
Oh, let’s see. I guess I don’t know … Yeah, I don’t know the insides of the tech companies well enough to say. I’ll leave that to you. What do you think?
I think you summarized it. I think Apple, I don’t know if it’s … I mean, Tim Cook’s sudden concern over privacy is similar to, if Larry and Sergey suddenly became very worried about device addiction; it’s awfully convenient for him because he’s basically sticking his finger on the soft tissue of companies that traffic in data, specifically Google and Facebook. So I think it’s … I’m not saying it’s not principled, but it is awfully convenient. And Google has had this incredible heat shield in the form of Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, who are arguably kinda the most photoshopped images in the history of business, and they have just been the bad guys here. And I think it’s probably only gonna get worse.
So as a dad, as a professor, what are the one or two things you’re most optimistic about and most concerned about? And I’ll broaden it up from technology to the world of politics that we’re living in now; what you see in terms of our youth and … You know, we’re what I call one of the 15 top 10 business schools in America, arguably producing the leaders of tomorrow. If you were to … Let’s talk about predictions. If you were to try and predict one or two kind of real issues, concerning issues, over the next 10 years across everything you look at, what would those one or two things be, Jon?
Well I think the number one thing is the mental health crisis of teenagers; the skyrocketing rates of anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide, which are especially affecting girls. The data wasn’t so clear in 2015, when I was writing my article with Lukianoff, and now it’s really clear. So I think we’re gonna see, in the next year or two, a national reckoning … And this is happening in Britain too, they have the same things. Canada, too. We’re gonna see a national reckoning with the fact that we are in danger of losing a generation; that we’re gonna the generation after the millennials, is gonna be much fearful, much less able to face risk. It’s gonna impact the business world, it’s gonna impact innovation.
So I think the next year or two is gonna see a major reckoning with this, and a recognition that you know what, sometimes good intentions produce bad outcomes and we’ve been overprotecting kids. So I think we’re gonna make some big changes in how we raise and educate kids.
The other thing that I’m very encouraged about is we didn’t really talk about identity politics here. There are two forms of identity politics: There’s kind of a nasty common enemy identity politics where you say, you know, it’s all the fault of the oppressive groups and the victims are the good people. And that’s what we have mostly on campus, is this common enemy; everybody’s supposed to unite against the straight white men who are the evil oppressors. And that can never lead to progress, inclusion, harmony, trust. That’s the road to endless conflict.
But what’s encouraging to me is that just in the last year, and I think it’s because as we’ve seen right-wing racial identity politics and we’ve seen white supremacy, and Nazis, and things like that, I think that’s encouraged a lot of scholars who are not white men … There are a lot of black, and Muslim, and LGBT professors who are suddenly saying, “Wow, we’ve gotta stop doing this. This is not the way to promote harmony and inclusion.” And so Amy Chua writing about political tribes, Francis Fukuyama about identity, Anthony Appiah. There’s a whole bunch of really good books out in the last year or two.
So I’m optimistic that we’re gonna break out of this sort of death spiral of mutual hatred and pitting groups against each other, and we’re gonna try to use some more psychologically sophisticated and morally uplifting ways, more in the form of Martin Luther King, and many of the early civil rights leaders, we call this common humanity identity politics.
I’m optimistic that things are getting so bad, on campus at least, they’re so bad that there’s a rise in recognition that we got to change course.
Wow, you’re the optimist. Sometimes I think it’s darkest before it’s pitch black.
Jonathan Haidt is a professor at NYU Stern School of Business, and author of the best-selling book, The Coddling of the American Mind. Professor Haidt, you are doing important work. I’m so glad we had a chance to discuss this, and I will see you around-
See you around the halls of Stern.
-in the halls.
Great. Thanks, Scott. Thanks so much.
Thank you, Jon.