Yascha Mounk in Persuasion:
Yascha Mounk: You’ve just written an interesting and—ironically—viral piece about the way in which our digital institutions have made everything in American life uniquely stupid over the last ten years, and why you’re not very optimistic about that changing. Tell us the basic premise of the piece. Why is everything uniquely stupid?
Jonathan Haidt: The piece is the culmination of my eight-year struggle to understand what the hell happened. I’ve been a professor since 1995. I love being a professor, I love universities. I just felt like this is the greatest job on Earth. I got a glimpse, as a philosophy major, of Plato’s Academy—sitting under the olive trees talking about ideas. And then all of a sudden, from out of nowhere in 2014, things got weird. They got aggressive and they got frightening. This game has been going on for thousands of years, in which one person serves something, the other person hits it back—around 2014, intimidation came in. There was a new element, which was that if you say something, people won’t argue why you’re wrong, they’ll slam you as a bad person. On the left, they’ll call you a racist; on the right, they’ll call you a traitor. But something changed on campus.