About a month ago, a guest on the Joe Rogan podcast caught my interest. No, it wasn’t “Elon Musk Smokes Pot, Part II,” it was Jonathan Haight who is a social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He talked quite a bit about his book “The Coddling of the American Mind” whose tagline explains its subject quite well, “How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.” The podcast can be found on the Joe Rogan website and while over two hours long, it is an interesting deep dive into the complex double edged sword of free speech in our polarized, social media based society.
Some highlights include:
0:15 Recent free speech issues in universities
0:20 Free speech and the collapse of trust on university campuses
0:25 How “call out cultures” threaten free speech
0:40 Rise of the zero-sum “good versus bad” fight mentality
1:10 Childrens’ need for healthy social stress
1:25 Children, social media, and the rise of depression
1:57 Reprint of John Stuart Mills free speech book On Liberty
Again, the whole discussion is fascinating, but the last ten minutes are where Mr. Haight points out that in any group where people strongly think alike there is obviously a tendency toward confirmation bias and the restriction of free speech. People need to be exposed to a healthy level of dissenting opinions to prevent this. At the same time norms or laws are necessary to hold people accountable for intimidating and violent hate speech prevalent in online “culture wars.” This is where free speech gets tricky. The creation of large numbers of completely fake accounts, bots, social groups that post blatant lies, and in general posting by “non-verifiable” accounts needs to be addressed. Mr. Haight makes the explicit point that anonymous accounts are acceptable and necessary in some cases, but social media platforms need to do a better job enforcing strong rules on the types of behavior that can lead to the deletion of a person’s account.
The next post will provide some highlights of the book On Liberty. It’s only about an hour read, but it is still difficult to get one’s head around the style of Mills’ writing. The rewards are worth the effort though. Who wouldn’t want an “awakening from the deep slumber of decided opinion,” a new appreciation for the nuance of both sides popular arguments, and a renewed appreciation for the environments of free speech that still exists around the world?