At the end of October, the Institute for Humane Studies posted a video of a talk that had recently been given at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. The speaker was Professor Jonathan Haidt. The talk is entitled The Coddling of the American Mind, which just happens to be the title of a book that he co-wrote with Greg Lunianoff.
This talk is nearly an hour and a quarter long. If you regard that as bad news, then the good news is that watching it is time well spent.
Haidt presents himself as a reasonable, warm, friendly, winsome person. Cynic that I am, and one that previously was not familiar with him, when his talk starts sailing into water that has recently become controversial to the extent of generating riots, I wonder whether this is a persona that he projects in order more safely to navigate this perilous course. I go off and explore his other speeches and interviews, and return a verdict of Not Guilty.
This is not a persona, but the real Haidt, and the perilous course takes him face-to-face with what has colloquially been termed the Snowflake Culture – i.e. university Safe Spaces, etc.
Gratifyingly, however, he does not so much confront it as strive to understand it. That essentially is the genius of this talk. He explores its origins, its ethos, making us his audience almost empathise, before he explains why it is profoundly and dangerously wrong.
The talk has more visuals than I would like. The editors of this video cut away from the slides enough to prevent Haidt becoming for us a voice-over for a picture show; but the audience in the hall does not have that privilege. My rule with visuals is simply stated: include it only if the argument would be significantly impoverished without it. I venture that there are some slides here that fail that test.
In striving to help us understand various details, Haidt supplies a great deal of survey data which are displayed for us in the form of various graphics. I have absolutely no quarrel with this talk being data-rich. Speakers who address controversies without showing their workings are suspect, and graphics convey such workings very effectively. However, it’s almost as if including an abundance of slides generates its own momentum and that the slides that are necessary and desirable somehow give birth to others that are less so.
How often have I observed in this blog that the better the speaker the pickier I get? The previous two paragraphs are a good example of my becoming hyper-picky, because Jonathan Haidt shows here that he is nothing short of an exemplary speaker. It’s not just the delivery which is superb, but his argument is flawlessly structured also.
I think I may read the book.