Jonathan Haidt in Auckland – a quick recap

by Daphna Whitmore

US social psychologist and author Jonathan Haidt spoke on 1 August in Auckland to a crowd of around one thousand people. He is best known for his book The Coddling of the American Mind which examines the new climate of trigger warnings and acute sensitivity of Gen Z.

He was an engaging speaker and covered his key topics of how Gen Z suffers from more depression and anxiety than previous generations and its correlation with social media pressures, parents wrapping their kids in cotton-wool, and the phenomena of helicopter parenting. This manifested with people getting to university and demanding trigger warnings be put on anything that may upset them. It has left them more fragile.

Haidt says the top US universities have this problem big time, but some universities are bucking the trend and are standing up to this, and are doing well.

He noted the 20th century was great for the US (though not for the countries it invaded etc) and it exuded confidence. In contrast, the new generation is fearful. Haidt did say we need to be careful of moral panic, and things are not terrible, but a real push-back is needed against the authoritarianism.  We need an environment that enables people to be anti-fragile – more than resilient – to actually grow stronger through challenges that life presents.

He thinks New Zealand is still a way off from the levels of fragility-authoritarianism seen in the US which has led the trend, but the signs are here.

At question time were serious questions, and no long grandstanding time-hogging speeches. So it clearly wasn’t a left wing crowd! One person read out the content of anti-bullying posters at Auckland University that stated there was a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ for a whole list of things including causing offence. It looked like the American nightmare was already here.

*We hope to have a review of Haidt’s book on Redline soon.