Why Conservatives Hate UC Berkeley

"This is normal religious behavior"

Freedom of speech on the American campus is at risk. The American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt talks about the causes.

Free speech in American universities is at risk. In 2016 there were a record number of attempts to prevent controversial speakers, mostly from the conservative to right-wing populist camp, from appearing. What are the reasons for this development?

It's an interesting and complicated sociological question how a whole new set of behaviors spread across the American campus that would have been shocking five years ago. One important reason is certainly the massive increase in animosity between the parties that we have observed since the 1990s.

Social Democrats, who are called Liberals in the United States, and Conservatives hate each other more than ever. At the same time, the universities, which have always had a left-liberal orientation, have moved so far to the left that there is almost no diversity at all. In this way, a space free of contradictions has arisen, in which any opinion to the contrary has become intolerable.

As we saw at Berkeley or Middlebury College, this intolerance sometimes turns into violence. What led to this radicalization of the students?

One reason for this is undoubtedly the extraordinary events that took place between 2013 and 2016 and which evoked a movement of social justice - in particular through the online videos in which black people were killed by police officers. Understandably, this radicalized many students and, in particular, set in motion the Black Lives Matter movement, to which various other interest groups have since attached themselves. In the course of this, completely new norms regarding free speech were established on campus between 2014 and 2016.

The rules of what can be said often border on the grotesque. Who defines these norms and who enforces them?

Most of these are informal norms.

But I have heard of cases in which the university administration issues precise regulations, for example which carnival costumes - let's take the famous "sombrero party" - are not allowed to be worn because they could offend a minority - in this case the Mexicans.

Yes, but that only concerns behavior. Free speech is protected by the First Amendment. Unlike in Germany, hate speech must not be banned in the USA. The majority of people over 30, including most of the professors, are also in favor of free speech. We also know from recent research from Yale that even the vast majority of students are in favor of free speech. But they are intimidated by an atmosphere of censorship in which the smallest verbal slip can have catastrophic consequences.

Everyone is afraid of being insulted as a racist or sexist, as homophobic or Islamophobic.

Does that mean that this trend is primarily coming from a small group of students who have the majority under control?

It is a small but growing group, mainly from the humanities and gender studies, who advocate the idea that emerged in the 1980s that the integral parts of society form a comprehensive system of oppression. These students are so full of anger and self-righteousness that they feel they can tell everyone else what to say and what not to say.

And why do these others put up with it?

It is also a question of cowardice on the part of professors and students. Everyone is afraid of being insulted as a racist or sexist, as homophobic or Islamophobic. There is an absolutization of the victim perspective. Anyone who turns one of the victim groups against himself has automatically sinned against all the others, because everything is connected in this gigantic context of oppression.

Social media will probably also play a decisive role in this.

Yes, everyone today has the opportunity to organize a mob, which in turn means that everyone is also afraid of being attacked by this mob.

The protesters are essentially the youngest generation of students who are known as “snowflakes”, which means “tender souls”. How did this cult of sensitivity come about, and what does it say about the mentality of the parents of the “snowflake” generation?

The parents of the youngest generation of students are baby boomers who - mostly with the best of intentions - tried to spare their children any frustration. But children need the experience of dealing with adversity, being excluded or being teased. Today's college students have never had the experience of being jostled by a playmate without an adult rushing over and ironing it out. This is why today's students on campus expect an official authority to intervene immediately in the event of a conflict.

Political correctness dates back to the 1990s, when new forms of thinking and courses such as gender studies were established at universities. What is the difference between then and now?

The older version of Political Correctness is based on the assumption that there is a lot of injustice in the world. This idea is one of the basic liberal assumptions on campus, and there are good reasons to agree with it. What is new is the feeling of vulnerability. What is new is that the moment someone contradicts the victim consensus, he is already committing an act of violence. It is then commonly said that the person denies the members of one of the victim groups the humanity, yes, the right to exist.

The psychologist Nick Haslam calls this increase mechanism “concept creep”. . .

. . . Which means something like: If someone says something that goes against my grain, then it is hurtful, and if it hurts, then that is violence, and if it is violence, then it wants to kill me, and if it kills me want, then it denies me the right to exist - and we cannot allow that on campus.

That sounds somewhat absurd. Then every look in the newspaper would have to be fatal.

From the outside it looks absurd. The key is to understand that this is normal human behavior. That is why I am so committed to this matter. My area of ​​research is the psychology of morality, and what we see here is ordinary religious behavior.

Humanity evolved as a religious species. We choose something, we revolve around it, we revere it. From the outside it looks like we've gone crazy, but we're not crazy, we've formed a community of faith. Emile Durkheim taught us that. When we revolve around the Kaaba in Mecca, that brings us together as Muslims. When you revolve around a group of victims, you are united in a religious community that pursues the same noble goal. Then life has meaning.

So it is a kind of religious war in which violent means are used if necessary?

Indeed, one of the most alarming trends is the propensity to justify real violence. The general line of argument goes like this: We tried peaceful means, that didn't work, so we have to use force. The out-of-the-box view is violence, but the real violent response to it is self-defense.

Don't give the Anglo-Saxon ideas of “safe spaces” and “vulnerability” a chance!

When a presidential candidate who chants like "Kill the bitch!" cheers and calls on people to real violence, moves into the White House, one cannot really be surprised at such developments.

This extremism, of course, exists on the two edges of the spectrum, that is clear. Most of the violent actors on campus also come from the anti-fascist movement. H. from the outside. But the rapid pace with which left illiberalism is spreading is really scary. These are no longer mere anecdotes as they were recently. This formerly American phenomenon has recently spread like wildfire in other Anglo-Saxon countries as well. I don't know what it's like in Germany or in Switzerland. . .

There is this phenomenon there too, but not nearly as extreme.

That would be a good reason to build a high wall around Europe. Don't give the Anglo-Saxon ideas of “safe spaces” and “vulnerability” a chance!

In 2013 the Department of Justice and Education significantly expanded the anti-discrimination statutes. This is not least a consequence of the fact that the universities covered the perpetrators for far too long in the course of the epidemic rape on campus and left the victims alone.

That's right. The only problem is that a disproportionate network has emerged at the universities, which is practically forced to react in a completely exaggerated manner. A good part of the administration now consists of supervisory authorities and complaints committees, which for their part lack transparency. In addition, the norms of what can be said have become so tightened that even a harmless remark is classified as “sexual harassment”.

The matter is exacerbated by the so-called "reporting bias" system. H. the institutionally anchored fact that anyone who wants to report a real or alleged transgression can anonymously pass it on to the authorities. Every complaint that is received is investigated with enormous effort and can have serious consequences for the “accused”. Who actually started this institution?

Let me think. The Stasi?