An Open Apology to @JonHaidt

The context is more or less here:

You can click on the tweet to see what I had said exactly, but it boiled down to calling him “Anti-republican at best, Anti-conservative at worst.”

So what went wrong with my thinking? I was reading this article and came across the following exchange:

JONATHAN HAIDT: No, not anymore. Now I’m non-partisan. I was a Democrat my whole life, and I got into political psychology because I really disliked George W. Bush.  And I thought the Democrats kept blowing it. I mean, in 2000, 2004, they blew it. And I really wanted to help the Democrats.

JOHN LEO: So you voted for Obama.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Twice. I no longer consider myself a Democrat today. But let me be clear that I am absolutely horrified by today’s Republican Party – both in the presidential primaries and in Congress. If they nominate Trump or Cruz, I’ll vote for the Democrat, whoever it is.

(Emphasis Added.)

Blame it on an internal bias, but I immediately jumped to the conclusion that Haidt was opposed to “Republicans” or “conservatives” themselves, rather than the party . Haidt politely corrected the record. Somewhat ironically I was engaging in the very same distortion that Haidt is always fighting against, just from the side. Even more humorously, I understand how he feels from the political level. I tend to feel the same way about the Democrat Party and it’s potential nominee!

In mitigation, I can only offer the following experiences.

On twitter I mentioned the 2012 elections. I was wrong it was 2008, but the idea was the same. I was warned by another republican/conservative type not to wear in an “I voted McCain” sticker, lest I face heckling bordering on harassment* from…well everyone else in the building. The number of “I voted Obama” stickers was so overwhelming, I took off my simple “I voted” sticker because that caused uncomfortable confrontations. (“Where’s your Obama sticker?! I have extras!”)

Some time after the election, I was “outed” as a conservative at the lunch table by a professor who was simply bored and wanted some fireworks. I quickly finished my lunch and left. By the by, at the time I was an hourly research assistant. Quite literally the lowest man on the totem pole. Even the undergrads could boss me around. What I was being told was not to avoid the appearance of impropriety or bias on my part, but rather to limit walking into confrontation.

Later after my career change, it was suggested to me by a mentor (who’s not progressive himself) that I recast myself as a “libertarian” as it would “create much less resistance for [me]” than my current conservative tact. (Which mind you at this point was primarily fiscal/constitutional conservatism, an arguably near cousin to libertarianism, but I guess just not good enough.)

I have been told to “tone it down” or “be less obvious in my viewpoints.” Never once has the critique been that my delivery is bad or that I’m too mean, it’s always the viewpoints themselves I’m supposed to hide. (My favorite suggestion was that I “wait until [I] get tenure to make those arguments.”)

None of this justifies the unfair conclusion I jumped to with respect to Prof. Haidt. I only hope to provide at least some mitigation to it. It would seem that politics makes us distrust each other at a fundamental level. That’s the real problem.

The other day in a conversation with someone, they said “it’s not a good time to be a free speech advocate in academia.” I replied “With Haidt and Lukianoff doing their work, maybe that will change.” I stand by that statement.

Oh, and I’m pretty sure that this incident renders my Career Suicide status at “Simpsons Level:”


People will say “what do you mean by harassment? You’re being melodramatic.” Perhaps, although I would consider constantly heckling someone who simply wants to eat their lunch without being told their “stupid” or “hate the poor” or making insinuations about racism being borderline harassment.