The battle of beliefs

Why neither side is right in the US campus crisis

I was recently listening to a speech by NYU moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt on the problem of free speech on US campuses. For those who don’t know who Haidt is, he is the author of The Righteous Mind, an excellent book that summarizes his moral foundations theory. The theory has it that morality is a multi-dimensional concept composed of care, fairness, loyalty, authority, sanctity, and liberty, which he theorizes all have some evolutionary origin. Left-wingers, by and large, have their moral fabric dominated by care and fairness, with much less importance attached to the other four. Right-wingers, however, hold a certain level of importance to all six dimensions, although less than left-wingers on the care and fairness front. When these morals clash, we have it why both sides fail to reconcile their difference, a good example being the burning of the flag which would trigger the right-winger’s loyalty foundation which is absent on a left-winger. Or homosexual marriage, which would trigger their sanctity foundation. In contrast, the support of welfare policies by the left is in line with their care and fairness foundations.

Haidt, however, is also well known on the internet for being one of the most vocal antagonists to radical progressives (disparagingly but not incorrectly called social justice warriors or SJWs) on US campuses. It’s not hard to see why: Haidt himself was embroiled in a major dispute with an oversensitive student who objected to a word used in a video shown in one of his classes. The ridiculously overblown situation can be read about in an open letter to the dean by the offended student, and do note the transcripts of the “homophobic” video as well as Haidt’s apology which seemed to look like he was in front of a student inquisition (complete with applause from the offended masses). In 2015 Haidt co-authored a widely read article on The Atlantic, titled “The Coddling of the American Mind” (it’s a long but recommended read), which explains the possible origins and the consequences of radical political correctness on campus. Continue reading

Fuck happiness

Life satisfaction is about having control

Few things have poisoned the mind of humankind more than the misguided belief that the pursuit of happiness is the overarching purpose of our existence. Worse still, we know this is not true and yet we desperately try to believe it, making our failure to be happy even harder to bear.

Before continuing, it is necessary to first define what happiness is. By most reliable accounts, happiness is a state of well-being where positive emotions dominate and there is a sense of satisfaction in one’s life. Contrary to most people’s Facebook and Instagram profiles would suggest, this should not be confused with the euphoric but fleeting moments of joy that most people experience on a semi-regular basis. Indeed, when one considers this distinction it becomes clear that true happiness really cannot be captured in a photo or in a statement, as it would be impossible to distinguish whether this reflects a state of mind or a temporary rush of joy. Which also means happiness can’t be faked. As everyone knows from *those people* on your Facebook or Instagram feeds who keep on shoving their supposedly amazing lives down everyone else’s throats, it’s almost a truism that the “happier” people are on social media the more likely they’re simply compensating for their inner misery or insecurity. Given that happiness can’t be detected and joy can be faked, most studies of happiness resort to measuring it through self-observation, which in turn complicates the comparison of happiness across countries even when using a less culturally-biased metric such as “life satisfaction”.

It is natural to assume that because happiness produces such a pleasure mental state that we should make it our life objective. This is actually one of the prime delusions of our species. Because when you analyze our main decisions in life, they are mainly geared towards one thing: control. Control over our lives, and control over the lives of others which have influence in our lives. This control is done to mitigate our primordial fear of uncertainty against the many threats we face to our lives and livelihoods. Take, for example, our natural proclivity (certainly in the more individualistic Western world) towards status-enhancing behavior. What is the point of status if not to elevate us to a more secure place in society? What is the point of money if not to give us more means to control our lives and our surroundings? It is telling that most people are aware of the (scientifically-backed) notion that money does not increase our happiness from the point beyond where our basic needs are satisfied. Despite this, they continue to seek more money even when this extra wealth may actually makes us more miserable. As one Harvard Business Review article summarized: Continue reading