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Haidt is Egregiously Wrong About “Provocateurs” and “Trolls”

Opinion Video: What’s At Stake When We Don’t Teach Free Speech

In a video interview of Johnathan Haidt by Wall Street Journal Robert L. Bartley Fellow Zachary Wood on the question of What’s At Stake When We Don’t Teach Free Speech Haidt says the following (at about 1:52):

You know it’s tough because there is there is an actual tension if you take both sides to their maximum. So what we’ve been doing on campus is exploring further reaches of being more sensitive, being more, more progressive, more careful, more welcoming about issues of race and gender, and that’s all good but we can sometimes take it too far with all this talk about microaggressions to the point where people are hypersensitive. So that’s one direction. At the same time, and that’s a problem brought to us by the left.

But at the same time, the internet and toll culture and developments on the alt-right have created a nastier, you know, I mean, the alt-right culture that we’re seeing all around us now, the, the, the idea of trolling. And so if you have increasing sensitivity and increasing obnoxiousness, well yeah, there’s a tension. And I wish the Republican groups on campuses would stop inviting provocateurs and trolls and would focus on inviting conservative intellectuals. That would solve a lot of the problem.

Haidt is dead wrong, and infuriatingly so, and in multiple ways, to suggest that Republican groups should stop or curtail inviting provocateurs and trolls and focus on inviting intellectuals.

First, it’s Orwellian thought policing hiding behind the excuse of “niceness.” It’s disinvitation behind a pleasant façade. It’s a rhetorical trick of emotional reasoning. It epitomizes the word “insidious:” Operating or proceeding in an inconspicuous or seemingly harmless way but actually with grave effect.  It’s an exemplar of the old saying about when Fascism comes to America it will be with a smiley face. I am not for one second even hinting that Haidt is anywhere close to being Fascist. No person on the planet, IMHO, is more open minded and welcoming than Haidt. But the idea that controversy should be avoided is precisely the problem. And the extent to which Haidt promotes the idea is the extent to which he exacerbates it. He plays right into the hands of the REAL campus fascists.

Second, it’s coddling. He’s protecting the snowflakes. He’s exacerbating the very problems he purports to be against in The Coddling of the American Mind and when he talks about the need to be Anti-Fragile.

Third, it’s a defense of a sacred value of the left: The self-perception that it is the ideology of “nice,” and of “care,” and of “kindness” when the facts of history prove it to be nothing of the sort. It’s a defense of an “entrenched yet questionable orthodoxy,” a “comforting delusion,” a self-congratulatory lie, that the left uses to feel good about itself and to justify its moral superiority and its oppression and mistreatment of “others.” 

Fourth, it’s an outrageously hypocritical defense of a second sacred value of the left: that it sees itself as speaking truth to power, and that it is therefore not merely epistemically justified but morally obligated to provoke and to “troll” the powers that be. Provocation and trolling, is, and always has been, if not the raison d’être of the left, at a minimum its de rigueur modus operandi. From Woodrow Wilson’s progressive era to Jeremiah Wright’s “God DAMN America!” to Barack Obama’s “fundamentally transform America” the left has done nothing if not provoke and “troll” those of us who happen to believe in her all-foundation founding principles of liberty and the Constitution that formalized them. From its embrace of Lenny Bruce and Robert Mapplethorpe to OWS, BLM, and ANTIFA the left is the ultimate provocateur and troll. The real problem here is that today the left IS the establishment and Milo, and Shapiro, and Coulter, and other conservative intellectuals like them are today’s Lenny Bruce. So for Haidt and/or the left to call out “others” for doing what it has done for centuries is the height of “morality blinds” hypocrisy.

Fifth, Haidt calls out the right for “nastiness.”  This too is the pot calling the kettle black.  The left, through its obvious disgust with and disdain of  “deplorables,” “clingers:” through its habitual yet unfounded labeling of “others” who disagree with it’s “enlightened” world view as racists and bigots and Nazis and Fascists, is now, and always has been, nothing if not “nasty” toward people unlike itself.    .

Sixth, one person’s “controversial” is another person’s intellectual. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Paul Krugman, EJ Dionne, and countless others on the left are considered “intellectuals,” but to those of us who believe in and love American values and principles, and who think holistically and who value ALL the moral foundations equally, those people are every bit as much provocateurs and trolls as is Milo.

Seventh, who gets to draw the line? FIRE’s Database of Disinvitations lists over 200 different people from all segments of the ideological spectrum. Presumably every single one of them was in some way “provocative.”

Eighth, proponents of free speech and viewpoint diversity, Haidt among them, have been saying that the antidote to speech you dislike is more speech.  By imploring Republicans not to invite certain types or styles or content of speech Haidt seems to violating this principle.  

Haidt’s comment leads one to suspect that it’s not really provocateurs who he wants to disinvite, but rather anyone who upsets his clearly leftist sensibilities.



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