Apr 15 • 1HR 27M

Jonathan Haidt On Social Media’s Havoc

The champion for heterodoxy takes on Twitter and Facebook.

Andrew Sullivan
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Unafraid conversations about anything

Haidt is a social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at the NYU Stern School of Business, and he co-founded Heterodox Academy. His latest book is The Coddling of the American Mind, but our discussion centered on his new piece for The Atlantic, “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid,” a history of social media.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips of our convo — on why the Internet nosedived in 2014, and what we could do to fix Twitter — head over to our YouTube page.

For more on the precarious state of the liberal order, check out the full transcript of our episode with Jonathan Rauch we just posted. Jon being the optimistic liberal and me the pessimistic conservative, we debated Trump, the MSM, and Russiagate.

Meanwhile, a listener remarks on last week’s episode:

If Dr. Christakis’s appearance was part of a book tour, it worked on me. I’m going to buy his latest book. I’m reminded again of all the significant voices I’ve heard since I subscribed to the Dish. If I fail to resubscribe in the future, it will be only because I didn’t know that payment was due. I’ve definitely got my money’s worth from this subscription.

Here’s a clip of Christakis and me talking about why friends — especially male friends — rip on each other:

Here’s another listener on the “wonderful interview with Professor Christakis (a personal hero of mine)”:

Your comment about the uniqueness of Christianity, with respect to love, rather surprised me. Are there not very revolutionary (and non-obvious) similar attributes in Buddhism? Or even certain aspects of Judaism (or any number of other philosophical/religious traditions that predate Christianity)? That somehow the faith that you happened to be raised in is the system that uniquely changed the world seems, frankly, a bit parochial to me.

And if it did change the world, why was it that it took another 1700 years for its promises to be at all realized? (Full disclosure: I’m partial to Pinker’s argument that the Enlightenment was the singular inflection point in history.)  

So my first request would be for you to interview an academic with broad knowledge of other faiths/philosophical systems to have a conversation (not a debate!) about the uniqueness of Christianity (and as you mentioned in the interview, the Catholic church). If that treads on your personal belief, then I would certainly understand your reluctance to have such a conversation.

My second request is that you would have an interview with an academic about theodicy. While I’ve read a number of layman’s discussions of this topic, I’d love to hear an honest, intellectual discussion on this subject.

I didn’t mean to suggest that the Buddha wasn’t also deeply instrumental in shifting human consciousness. Judaism and Islam also have deep traditions of mutual respect and love. But the radicalism of agape, a universal love to be expressed in action every minute, across tribe and race and region, is one of Christianity’s core legacies. Theodicy was well-covered on the Dish blog, but a pod convo is a great suggestion.

This next listener finally got around to our December episode with David Wallace-Wells on Covid — a topic that Christakis and I covered last week:

I'm a bit late in feeding back on this interview, but I just caught up with it on my daily dog walk this morning. David is obviously very well-informed on Covid and seems (as you note) to be an “honest broker” of information, which is relatively rare nowadays given the extent to which everything is politicized.

That said, I was taken aback that he was unaware of where Covid ranked in terms of causes of death in America today. Heart and stroke and cancer both kill far more people than Covid (approximately 850K and 600K per year, respectively). Interestingly, we seem to have learned to live with these levels of systemic death, much of which could be prevented through lifestyle changes.

You covered a lot of Covid ground and I was pleased to see that David avoided the standard condemnation of alternate public health approaches in some red states (Florida et al) and countries such as Sweden, acknowledging that Covid presents complex issues and the solutions are not always clear. One size does not fit all.

By now it should be obvious that the widespread condemnation of the Trump administration’s Covid actions was misplaced and utterly political. In fact, America, under two administrations, has pursued most of the same policies as the rest of the world with middling success. And the results have not been markedly better (or worse) in 2021 than in 2020.

I thought you shortchanged the whole discussion of therapeutics and failed to even mention the appalling fact that we are now two years into the Covid epidemic and there is still no standard, effective protocol established for early, outpatient treatment. There are countless studies showing that many lives could have been saved by simply promoting safe, readily available, over-the-counter therapeutics like vitamin D to strengthen immune systems and regular nasal wash to kill viral particles at the point of entry (the nasal passages) before they have a chance to circulate and replicate.  

Nor was there even a mention of the successful therapeutic efforts of doctors like Tyson and Fareed in California. There are many other examples around the country of doctors using cheap, repurposed drugs (anti-inflammatories, anti-virals, etc.) with excellent safety profiles to successfully treat Covid patients. Rather than sharing these stories, we hear endlessly about the next dose of experimental vaccine and expensive new pharmaceuticals with significant side effects and no long-term safety records.

In summary, the Wallace-Wells interview provided listeners with a fairly thorough summary of the current, approved Covid narrative, but failed to even acknowledge the contrarian views of tens of thousands of medical scientists and practitioners around the world who have signed the Great Barrington Declaration, rejecting the damaging public health approach taken throughout most of the developed world (lockdowns, quarantine, mass vaccination during a pandemic, etc.) — an approach that ran counter to virtually all established public health policy for handling epidemics.

Speaking of going against the conventional wisdom on Covid, Jerusalem Demsas has a great piece on “the four pandemic predictions about the economy that never materialized”: the eviction tsunami, the “she-cession,” the housing-market crash, and the state- and local-government deficit explosion.

Listeners are still gushing over the Fiona Hill episode:

I absolutely adored your interview with Ms. Hill. Your camaraderie was delightful, and I loved hearing about how she and you both took your tests and were admitted to gifted school programs. I loved her take on Putin as well. And Trump:

But the biggest highlight of your discussion, in my opinion, was at the end where you both suggested ideas for how to get America out of the quandary we now find ourselves. I read/hear far too often about how we got here and what the problems are and far too little about what we should do about it. I loved the idea of strengthening unions and investing in small communities. I could easily see either a Republican or Democratic candidate who ran on a platform that tries to seriously tackle wealth inequality and our failing local communities winning an election by a landslide. Andrew Yang perhaps? 

Whoever it is, this is the time for a new kind of New Deal. We need new ideas and new leadership. I’m almost to the point where I simply will refuse to vote for anyone over 60. In any case, thanks for actually making a case for potential solutions instead of just wallowing in what ills us as so many others have done.

This next listener, though, thinks I’m not focusing enough on tangible stuff:

You should talk about material issues. Most of the young people in France support Le Pen (per Eurointelligence). Young people around the world are turning to left- and right-wing populism (Boric in Chile, Orbán in Hungary, etc.), since centrist politics have failed them. Why is this? Financialization of the economy, cutthroat competition in the labor market with mass immigration, elite overproduction, deindustrialization, decline of labor unions, austerity, and the rise of China. You will not have any “liberal democracy” to preserve if you do not address material issues.

If you are my age, you have lived through one elite failure after another, with politics dominated by the boomers. What do you have to lose by voting for the political “hand grenade”? Completely rational.

As always, keep the dissents and other commentary — including guest recommendations — coming: dish@andrewsullivan.com.


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