« Making Sense with Sam Harris

#100 — Facing the Crowd

2017-10-09 | 🔗

In this episode of the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Nicholas Christakis about mob behavior, moral panics, and current threats to free speech.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Today, I'm bringing you Nicholas Christakis, Nick This is a sociologist, an a physician. He directs the Nature lab at Yale University, where he is appointed as the Alan Goldman family, professor of social and natural science, and he's the code. Actor of the Yale Institute for network Science, Haslam Lamb focuses on the relation between social networks and well being at his research, engages two types of phenomena: social mathematical and biological rules, governing how social networks form this is referred to as connection in his work. In the biological and social implications of how they operate, to influence, thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and this is often referred to as contagion. His lab also does experiments and how to change population level, behavior related to health and cooperation and economic
so is very interesting work, and I would have wanted to speak with Nicholas anyway about his work, but another thing It reminded me of the need to speak with him was his. Variance at Yale, which you may have seen on Youtube, and you should watch it now if you haven't But he was the professor a while back, who was standing before howling, mob of students and stood there with the imperturbability of a saint really as he was castigated by young men and women who were properly unhinged by their identity, politics and some of the crazy ideas about speech that rattling around in their heads I'll embed a relevant. Clip on my blog. There are many, but I'll have one there where this podcast is embedded and
You will enjoy the first hour of this conversation much more if you've seen five minutes at least of that encounter because You will see necklaces patience, patients, you will see the, ability of the situation he was in? You will see a has. Belletti to dialogue among Yale students that one could scarcely imagine possible- and this was, I believe, the first incident like this to come to national attention. This preceded the riots at Berkeley of preventing Milo's speech and it preceded Brett, Weinstein's ordeal at evergreen and preceded the attack, Charles Murray at Middlebury, so this was, if not the first moment like this, the first it became very prominent in recent memory. It makes for very interesting viewing so Nicholas, I talk about all that and then we get into the dynamics of mob
behavior and moral panic and related issues, and I think you'll find it interesting and useful and certainly timely conversation so now without further delay I give you Nicholas Christakis. I here with Nicholas Christakis Nicholas thanks for coming on the podcast. Thank you so much for having me, SAM O. We met at the TED Conference. If I'm not mistaken, I don't think we've met since I think that was in twenty ten, and if I recall you gave the talk right after mine or maybe it was just, we were rehearsing together or something, but that's the the moment I have in my memory where we shook hands. And said hi was at had just before, or after one of us got off stage age is that. Does that jibe with your memory, we were in the same session in my memories that you were sitting next to me as we are watching watching the speak
Sarah Silverman spoke, I don't know if you remember, and and the woman from ten thousand maniacs who died. Who singing I whose name I'm spacing on and on, and you you spoken. What I remember of your talk was that remarkable slide, maybe that the first time you used it where you showed side by side, photographs of a bunch of women wearing a head or and then a bunch of the the full Burke idea is full Burke and then, bunch of women on Gantley, clad, yeah yeah in a pornography or whatever, and you said they. These are very diff a more landscapes, but we should surely- and even they look like landscapes. I remember visually thinking yeah they were these under leaving heads in the way it was rendered your image and- and it really got me to thinking- and you know the
The topic of moral relativism in more universalism is an old one, but I don't think the sophistication of fog that we've been bringing to the topic lately has been very strong yeah. That was it. Are you made a big impression on me too, so we're going to talk about your science and and some of the signs you present that they're a tad and and some of the stuff you've done in the intervening years, but first it just tell people what your background, generally, chemically scientifically well, trained in the natural in the Social Sciences. I'm a physician, trained a hospice doctor, so I spend a fifteen years taking care of people or dying. I was in my first appointment was at the universe, Chicago, and I worked on the Southside of Chicago Tinkara, primarily indigent patients, although I had a few faculty and you know sort of more well to do people and I worked there as a This doctor and then when I moved to Harvard from Chicago in
thousand and one I was a pallet if clinic there was a Medison medicine doctor, so I was is a position, but then also I was trained as a sociologist, and I have a phd in sociology as well and My career has been devoted to research, so I'm primarily a research scientist in doing work in public health, but I stopped seeing since about ten years ago now, so I'm a natural in a social. Just an increasingly, we do a lot of computational science as well in my lab, will talk about the science 'cause. Obviously what can be known about social networks, an groups icon. G and many of the other topics. You touch your now, touching, a or human interaction with AI, so all of rain. Stand by. I want to start with your immediate background here, because this is, one reason why many people know of you and and what were eager for you to come on the podcast you and your wife Erica were really the
he's in the coal mine for some recent moral panic as the appropriate name? We've we've witnessed on college campus You are the man that many of us have seen standing Quad at Yale, or I assume that was the quad surrounded by a fairly low large crowd of increasingly unhinged students, and this was really mesmerizing to watch. I can't imagine it felt the same to be in the love it, and I must say you handled yourself as well as I could play. Imagine and- and you have been much praise for the way you conducted yourself in situation, and many professors have since found themselves in similar situations that was Bret Weinstein at Evergreen recently. So I just want to talk a little bit about your experience
at Yale and then move on generically to the problem on college campuses in general. You know, as described by people like Jonathan Height and others who are focusing on the way in which there's a kind of authoritarianism emerging on the left really exclusively. That is preventing free speech, and I want to get your sense of what's happening there and how big the problem is and then we'll we'll move on to the what we can understand scientifically about crowds and social trend. But insofar as you are comfortable talking about it, can you tell me about what happened at Yale? I think I'm I've been devoted to you know in some ways I I'm a little naive in the sense that I believe
within institutions. I'm also skeptical of institutions, and I am worried about institutions, but I also believe in in social institutions, and so I've devoted my life to academia and two what I take to be there at core commitments of modern american universities, which are indeed the world over and these commitments enter around. If you look at the motto of Yale, it's looks at VERITAS, I mean that's an extraordinary commitment, light and truth, and these institutions are committed to the the preservation, production and dissemination of knowledge, and our guided, ostensibly by principles of open Russian and reason and debate and sort of liberal commitments to. The quality of human beings, the capacity to perfect the world
the the no ability of the world, are, in my view, committed to a kind of a belief in the objective nature of reality and and and I would strongly defend those principles and have devoted my life to them and in fact, even in the narrow in issue of of free expression, have been defending free expression, often for disenfranchised populations for a very long time. So I even before I can deal four years ago I was at Harvard I, my wife and I had taken some unpopular stands defending the free expression of individuals. Who you know we're on the side of black lives matter who were protesting, there was a high students who had a t, shirt that says Jesus was not a homophobe and we came to his there was some minority students at Harvard who had some concerns about the the final clubs at institution that sort of a sir their kind of like
fraternities and and they had posted a satirical flyer and and some people were unhappy about that flyer and wanted to squelch the free expression of those students and- and we came to their defense, and so we you know I am committed to this. I sort of maybe naively bought in hook line and sinker to this belief that these institutions of higher learning in our society are important They are worthy of protection and respect and. So this is why, when they fail us, I get very sad I get for our society. I get sad for the students and I get sad for the the institutions and no I don't. I don't want to just keep talking endlessly, but I mean there's a there's, a parallel set and I'll come back. I think you're
Austin there's a parallel set of ideas about the body about universities in our society. If you think about these overseas, they are supported by tax dollars and the bequests of prime. Wealthy people and the reason this money is given to these institutions is to the mission of the Preservation reduction and dissemination of knowledge not to provide faculty with easy lifestyles. I mean. It's a wonderful thing to be a professor. I I see it as a calling, but that's not the purpose right I mean the. The point is that we are supposed to be that please which which, which discovers the things which preserves sanskrit preserve Shakespeare, which preserves antiquities, which preserves medical knowledge and scientific knowledge, which produces discoveries, were supposed to be the place that transmits this to new young people and and that's the rule were supposed to play in in society and and we have a deep commitment to lighten
so I get very upset when fields of inquiry or ideas are prescribed, and I that we, if our ideas are strong, they should win the battle of ideas. If, if you're so confident in what you have to say, you should be able to defend it, and your approach should not be to silence your opponents. Your cipro approach should be to win the ideas, I'm going to interrupt you by by reminding you of something you wrote which appeared in the New York Times I think is the only thing you wrote in the aftermath of what happened at Yale. Addressing it, you wrote here, quoting you the faculty must cut. The root of a set of ideas that are wholly illiberal. Disagreement is not oppression. Argument is not assault, words, even provocative or repugnant ones are not violence. The answer to speech we do not Like is more speech yeah. I couldn't agree more with that sentiment. An that's ism
sing to me that this even needs to be said and said as frequently as we now have to say it, How is it that the left- and I do want to come back to specifically what happened at Yale, because many people just might not be aware of it or have forgotten the details? But how do you think it is that the? left primarily has lost sight of this principle that the antidote to bad ideas is good ideas, and the criticism of bad ideas yeah. I think the right in the take turns. In this regard I mean, let's not forget the history of Mccarthyism on campus and yeah, but it was sort of it. We sort of expect the right to get this wrong at the extreme right I mean the last is I was I was. I was talking to some students here recently I've they happen to be conservative students. Again, I should say politically, I'm left of center I mean, I'm very progressive. I I have all some libertarian ideas. I have some conservative ideas, but mostly my if I've done surveys I am significantly left of center
politically, overall honestly conservative students and I was about to say you know it's the left wing that marches in the streets, but that's actually not through the right wing also marches in the streets at different points in history in different locations. I think lately it has been. It has been the left which has abandoned these principles and and for me I should say that there are things like free speech or a non corrupt judiciary or a strong, fence. You know which really should be a political, and I also think it's tactically idiotic of the left to surrender this free speech. I mean, after all, isn't not forget the Berkeley Free speech, that's where the modern free speech movement was born at Berkeley and to and that's that's where you cannot give a talk now without police protection. You know. I don't agree with many of the things that Ben Shapiro espouses, but the idea that six, one thousand dollars of police protection would be required for Ben Shapiro to speak on a university campus is preposterous and
a waste of money. I mean, I think this is the other thing that I think is is astonishing to me is that if we could serving cultivate and recommit as a society to principles of open discourse and and protest. I totally support protest. Or the right of students to protest. I believe that many of the most important movements, the civil rights movement, the gay marriage movement, many of these which I wholly indoors have been the lead has been taken by young people and people protesting in the streets. This is the also part of the american tradition, and it it reserves, deserves respect and cherishing you cannot resort to violence or prevent others from speaking and it's it's cost effective. Like look at the money, that's one hundred thousand, could have been spent on dozens Students going to school for free you know when we lose sight of these core liberal commitments. I think we wind up spending money and and an
spilling blood, which is just heartbreaking, so yeah I mean I, I think it's nuts, that up or that many of these speakers need our protection, we're going to go back to Yale because I have to get there, but I I'll just give a little more color to how crazy this is news. You sent me a a an article from the economist prior to this interview, which I hadn't seen describing recent events at Reed College and it reads like an onion article, onion article, it's just unbelievable document. I'm gonna read a couple of paragraphs here to give people a sense of it because as much as I paid attention to this, I was still surprised by these young people. Interrupt you before I said, there's been a number of examples of almost stereotypical kind of troll revolution, like almost Maoism, where the far left resorts to eating its own, so Bret Weinstein, I mean Brett is a completely progressive individual for his whole life and
Rebecca Tuval, who wrote that piece. You know she was stunned and this this professor at Reed who you know who I might or might not agree with about a variety of things. You read, I'm your boss, the case I mean these are so many of these cases, which are so hard I understand- and I hope we can talk a little about where they might be coming from as well, but one definitely definitely okay. So so. There's this westerns say of course, that apparently has been receiving protests. It seems in in every single class at reed. So that's the the the set up, and so now, quoting from the article assistant, Professor Lucy, a Martinez Valdivia who describes herself mixed race and queer, ask protesters not to demonstrate during her lecture on Sappho last November. That's already an onion article and it's and also you know a favorite Theory as well, I mean it's interesting, it's not it should be electrical staff, but still or poetry on love is unbelievable, but anyway go on I'm going to get.
Mail from my reaction to that, but it gets better. Miss Valdivia said she suffered from post, traumatic, stress, disorder and doubted her ability to deliver the lecture in the face of their opposition. At first demonstrators announced they would change Dixon, said quietly in the audience wearing black after her speech number of them berated her bring her to tears demonstrators misspelled. The via was guilty of a variety of offenses. She was a quote race traitor. What held a white supremacist principles for failing to oppose the humanity syllabus? She was quote anti black because she appropriated black slang by wearing a tee shirt. That said, poetry is let she was quote an ableist because she believes trigger warning, sometimes diminish sexual trauma. She was also a quote gas lighter for making disadvantaged students doubt their own feelings of oppression, and- this is a quote from her. Now, I'm intimidated by these students, I'm scared to teach courses on race, gender, so
while they are even texts that bring these issues up in any way. I'm at a loss to as how to address this, especially since many of these students don't believe in historicity or object facts. They denounced the ladder as being a tool of White Sis, hetero patriarchy, so this is just so insane on every level end. This use of the term gas lighting with which I am familiar, which has been used to ever since that the film came out whatever sixty years ago, but I hadn't heard this being a probe. Added by the intersectional mob, but then I I recently watched re part of the video of you talking to students at Yale, and I heard one of the students I admonish you- gaslighting, which I hadn't caught the first time around, I have to say Nichols said video is just astounding to watch, and I can
imagine what it was like to be there not having yet been schooled in this trend that that this is the sort of thing that has been happening people am I right about that. Is that right? Were you aware of this happening to anyone else before it happened to you or were you? Are you the the first? I honestly don't the answer. I don't remember it at the time. I was because since then, there's been so many similar episodes that it, I don't remember, If two years ago, I was then other episodes. The that part of the problem is that there is some merit to some of the the full of the grand philosophical ideas, and, in my view, a lot of merit to some of the complaints of the students and the problem becomes that these have been so generalized, and you know what Jonathan calls concept creep as well. Fix phenomena. So what I mean by this you know earlier you- and I talked about a commitment to the idea that there is an objective nature to real
now there is a long philosophical debate about this topic. It's a deep and interesting of ideas about subjectivity. You know can we even see the world objectively? Does check the reality even exist. I think it does, but you can make an interesting philosophical argument. What about the notion of so called social construction? The idea that what the gender of the scientist or the racist beliefs of the scientist color, their objectivity. Of course they do. We have countless examples of this. We know this from research. By historians and others, we know that that it's difficult to be an impersonal observer. You know that we observers situated somewhere and I think there's validity to those ideas. Now. I also think there is an out- out there and that it is knowable and that we do our best to understand it, and so, when you carry the p,
Shin of objective reality to the extreme that you call it a tool of Sis Paidousis Heteropatriarchy you, you really have kind of jumped the shark. You've taken a core idea which says: look we need to not always believe what we are told, or we need to understand how a person's Xishan in society might affect what they see, no this upset. If this affects even ostensibly objective phenomena. We know that scientists, for example, looking so Emily Martin has done some fantastic work, which I teach and how scientists looking at You know it at the cell division or menstruation. You know interpret the biology by virtue of who they are, but then it takes it to such a ridiculous extreme that come absurd and similarly the notion of cultural appropriation, so the kernel The idea there is is that that some communities are of A lar so denigrated that not only are they let's say, killed and wiped out, but all of
ideas and culture is, is from them is effaced and and then all that's left is a kind of caricature of who they are, and there is some truth that too, that it's like it's a it's, a it's: okay, adding insult to injury, Do I engage in genocide but, like I take all your your does your culture as well and don't even credit you and who am I, to do that. The problem is that again it's carried to a preposterous extreme so that now you know that the whole history of ideas, end of end of culture of art and music, is endless theft. I mean it's endless. Modification and and information and exchange of ideas and of thoughts and and and musical and artistic forms and so forth. So to it so to then start claiming that you know that I would like they read college example that you know that that that she couldn't teach these things, so you know she couldn't wear
trees lift lit because she's appropriating african slang is just a crazy caricature. But is otherwise potentially an interesting philosophical idea to discuss, and so I think you know, this is The thing that is made it especially hard for me is that I believe that I have more than passing understanding of the system. To hear and- and I have a more than passing sympathy for some of the concerns about that. The students have about police brutality about economic inequality, about racial justice, but I am deeply concerned with the the Maoist abandonment of of reason and discourse, and the kind of dehumanizing atomizing people. I mean one of the things that has really just pressed me in the courtyard that day.
An I wrote a little bit about this in that one other prior. I think you're, the only second public remarks I'm making about this, the piece in the New York. It was a young woman who, I think was African American and she said to me very plaintively and it it pulled at my heartstrings. She said You know you cannot understand our predicament, because you are a middle aged and white and male and- and I said to her, I said to her, that I understood what she was saying, but that I nevertheless believed in our common humanity. And I believe that all of us is- and I still believe this- that all of us as human beings seek to understand each other united, Our common humanity
and that, even though I was a different gender and age and and and skin color than her, that I never the less could understand her and that I was interested in making the effort to understand her. And I would hope that she could understand me and I'm an end to the students. A jeered. At this. Your your hand, that was, and then there was another student, a minority student who later wrote a post in the Yale Daily NEWS where he wrote that he had never been more disappointed in his colleagues. Then, when I was The titles at the time were that we were the masters of these colleges. Another call head of college, the title is changed and I'm and he said I've never been more disappointed when the master made the argument about our common humanity and that his peers jeered, and so I think when so my point is when you, when you are and and the commitment to our common humanity when you itemize people
when you believe that only certain types of people have authority to use certain types of cultural ideas are tropes. You a face. For me a fundamental reality of our common humanity and a fundamental tool we can have to interact with each other so that professor at Reed claim that she can't wear a t. Shirt that says, poetry is lit is to me just is preposterous and violates every basic principle. In my view, that should animate a civilized society. To use the example of what the young woman said to you in the quad. That amounts to a naked decorate Asian, that meaningful communication is which, which I think is really self defeating in the end, so. What is your game plan if you're saying that you, can't communicate your grievances. Anyone who is not exactly like you yet to anyone who doesn't for them, along with her, but it's, but it's whatever you ask is there are there are other Experi
is that we all have had with pain and suffering and death and grief and you know. Maybe I've not had exactly the same kind of suffering as you SAM, but I'm pretty You've had some knocks in life and I'm pretty sure that if we had a drink together and we're talking about a topic that we would find common ground or shared understanding, even with Miller trajectories through life. Of course, person struggled with Poverty is a child. Another person struggled with the divorced parents, another person you know escape, Vietnam on a boat and another person you know, will witness violence and another person. You know there are gradations and differences, but I believe people can empathize with each other. I hope I mean I I don't, but so what was so disturbed in about that encounter you had- was the insistence that none of that is PA and none of that is ethically or politically relevant, and what was in its place was desire to Essentia
to shame you into silence, and this is again coming from Yale students objectively, some of the most privilege people who have ever lived whatever the color of their skin. I this is just under Bible again, you know taking on board everything you just said about. Who knows what suffering even privileged people had in their lives, but the idea that these were some of the most aggrieved people on earth. This was like the wailing of the widows of Trevor needs. To I mean it was just it was madness, and so again this I'm speaking as someone who just watch this outside who's. Not you know, doesn't know these students and hasn't lived with them and dealt with them subsequently, and so it's just, but just to see the breakdown of discord through the lens of what you experience there again from the outside, was pretty startling, so I I wanna I just want to before we get more into this now and and again we're going to talk about the more general
insights. We can glean here about crowd dynamics and social contagion, and all the rest. But before we do anything so I want to back up and just remind people how this kicked off at Yale, what happened, you can be as abbreviated as you want, but just describe what the sequence of events well, would. Rather have you describe the sequence of events sure in my recollection, what happened? Is your wife Erica who was also a professor at Yale Respond did to an email that came out from the school admonishing people to dress in the most tasteful possible and politically correct Halloween costumes and your wife Erica. If memory serves wrote a response to this to the to the some hundred students who were under her charge in what was at their their dormitory or their house yeah. I mean, I think, the
the original email was sent by a dean, a person, the dean's office here, man by the name of birds, will Howard, I previously Sir Robin Dean at the at here at the new western university and he had sent the same hollow in costume, email there and then sort of decided to resend it to five or ten years later at a different. You know city in at a different time. They they had been to my knowledge. No, no episodes of students in face it Gail or pushing the boundaries in it that, in that such such an extreme way but nevertheless this email was sent out in and actually in the New York Times the previous month there had been a all exchange about this Halloween costume guidance, so in in the in the site, people were talking about how this is it's getting a little out of hand and seemed a bit silly, that universities were provide, official guidance on Halloween costumes. I think there were six people who wrote in that art all in five were against Halloween, guides and one was for it and so
there have been a number of emails that had come out at Yale. At this time in the run up- and I think this is one that the Dean Howard sent was that maybe the third and and broadest most detail that had links to Ex double an unacceptable costumes. The recommended in non recommended, costumes and and and it was it- was coming from a a positive intention and that is to say that you know it it's not necessary to set out to cause. Needless offense you know, I'm not. I think in a free society, we have to tolerate offense. But it's not like I'm interested in deliberately offending people or you know- and we can talk about some examples on college campuses where This can be hard anyway and what had happened is we had been hearing from the students and Erica. In particular, I've been hearing from her students that the students felt infantilized by this email. So many of the students were objecting to this that they couldn't believe this in Erica that they had taught a class. This was in late October, where the students in the class was about child development. She taught a class
a child development, and there was an add, an animated and intellectually rigorous conversation about about what you know. What what stage of the college students at in are they capable of choosing their own costumes are negotiating among themselves. You know if there if they are to have taken offense talking to each other and so forth, And because we had done it is until the new one, probably but because earlier in the year, so this was in October. In August, I had sent an email to the students, the four hundred students in Silliman there that summer there had been the murders in Charleston where this this man has I'm I'm blocking, thank God who went into the African Methodist Episcopal, church, the mother church in Charleston and slaughtered nine or ten people at close range, who had welcomed into their midst, so he was white and the victims were all black and you know: vile and despicable carnage, motor goodbye racial hatred and and there have been a lot of discourse in the public space that summer
That was the summer where all the confederate flags began to finally come down, and- and I wow I'm very concerned about these events. Like many people were- and I had organized a series of speakers at Salem and we had a- we had a famous african american historian from M. I t who came in and spoke about the history of slavery in american institutions. We we had does some people talking about There are aspects we also had also had booked months earlier, Greg Lukianoff, who would come to speak about free speech, You know there was a series of public speakers. Anyway, I send an email in August late August, beginning of September to the students in the college about the aftermath of Charleston, and I talked about how is a public health and one of the things that I found most distressing- was that that Walmart stop selling confederate flags, but not guns. And that, in my view, this had it backwards that there was all this focus on symbolism, but not on practical concerns. You know that that
really we need to address- let's say issues of inequality and issues of violence in our society and that these symbolic things while important were distracting potentially distracting us. I had a I had an essay about this, which is, I think, still somewhere online and a couple of just and the student feedback was tremendous. Dozens of students wrote to me and they said wow. This is Scott me to think and it so interesting and and the headmaster's masters deal you know previously. We hadn't spoken to in this way, and for me it was normal. It was like writing an essay like a thoughtful essay where you're trying to defend a point of view, and we had we had done this previously. Yeah. When I had been at Harvard we, my wife and I had a similar role there and I regularly communicate with our students in this fashion and some would agree in some wouldn't agree and we had debates there about religious. Rules in public places and veg. Arianism and you know, could we wrote a lam at Greek Easter in the college court. You
using university money to purchase the lamb. I mean you know they. They interesting sort of questions for the students to debate and anyway,. We got all this positive feedback for this and there's been a lot of students complaining about the Halloween, costume guidance, email, and that was the history. In the background the New York Times article was in public sphere, Yale students, in really. We had gotten some praise for engaging the students with ideas and that's what they, my lovely wife, who spent her career, taking care battered women and and inner city, children and and and and home substance users and this is have in her life- were very progressive people, got her to send this email, which said you know, do you, students and the email just to clarify. My wife's argument was not actually taking a stand one way or the other on whether the guidance was necessary in one way or the other on the costumes. She was saying Do you still use student should probably consider weather
wish to surrender this authority. Two super ordnance, it fundum it was a left wing position saying you should be deeply Michael of surrendering power too the state to the administration, and you should talk about that. That was the actual essence of my wife's, very gentle email, the aftermath of which you summarized earlier, I mean I should say that the email was utterly balance as was yeah. Stein's email to his administration. I mean there's no trace of racism, there's no trace of bigotry, there's no trace of failure of empathy or lack of sympathy for this students right it's it's like showing respect. I believe we show respect for the students when we say we know- we're interested in engaging you and ideas. Many can work
talking about people who are old enough to be shipped off to fight a war, we're talking about people who, in a few short years, will be on the job market as some of them highly educated and in demand young adults in the country. I mean these are people who should be able to talk about a how to win costume that offends them. Yes, but do you see the problem is again, there's see. This is again where I have some empathy and sympathy for the students to, and so this is what was is so challenging because again, you see there's a kernel of like we discussed earlier with this notion of cultural appropriation and and that these claims that science is the and objectivity claim subjectivity are tools of oppression. You know these these Dick Ulous Lee extreme claims. There's an element of truth as well to the students, sense of alienation and part of it again is developmental. You know, eighteen to twenty two year olds feel a sense of nation. We all did different ways and now you know, if you're
minority student in these institutions there may be an extra burden of alienation that you feel- and I think there are ways that we can discuss that with students. I think their ways we can reform our institute and I'm not. I don't lack sympathy for that, but I, as Jonathan Height to said you, I think I'm the fundamental commitment to these institutions is to looks at VERITAS, and you know this has to be done in a way in which we retain a deep and abiding commit to speaking the truth and having open expression? So then what happened? Is she sent the email and some fuhrer erupted and then you stepped out of the building to talk to an assembled group of students, how did the the you tube video in line? I'm not sure I want to go into all the details because it's you know it's it's sort of almost like you know it's it's almost prurient but
You know I at around four. On that day, I, the students, assembled in the courtyard and we're we're talking remarks. Some were very positive You know we are one Yale. You know which I totally endorse and is somewhere very specific and targeted at I'll. Send you know I would, I would say, while we're harassing- and you know, I felt that it was appropriate to model my commitments. You know that I took a walk, the walk and not just talk the talk and that it would have been sort of from cowardly to not talk to the students about their strongly held views. So I I a I went out into the courtyard around four o'clock to to will witness what the students were writing and to just to talk with them, and I I sort of walked around quietly around the courtyard and made a show of reading what they had written to to to dignify what they were
kading and two and two model open expression? And so I just was reading all this prose. That was in the slogans that were a written everywhere in colorful, chalk and unbeknownst to me to students had just left the courtyard where they had previously surrounded the dean and and some small fraction of them up. I would say a hundred two hundred fifty students, something like that. Maybe under fifty came to the courtyard and down and the assembled, and eventually you know you some of the videos that were I mean they were of the dozen or two dozen people filming that that event, and at least six people released videos online. I think almost an hour. I think the only if you can assemble from different clips that people released the full hour between five and six o'clock and unbeknownst to me. Greg look Jana food been invited months earlier. He had been in
it over the summer and and and he'd invited by several entities at Yale and because I knew him. I asked him if you could add a stack us tack on a talk on of free expression and first amendment, as part of our speaker series that evening before he had his other commitments on K and and he he arrived at five o'clock. I was already in the court yard and he was walking across the courtyard to his to is a common Asians in the college and I didn't know
He was there. I mean I had no idea, I didn't see him, I was you know, engaged with the students and and unbeknownst to me. He also took some video footage and then eventually, things die down after sometime after six o'clock, and I think Greg was speaking around seven o'clock in the college that evening. So you know, I think it was. You know I think it was. It was a challenging time in that, certainly in my life it was a challenging time. I think in some of the students lives, I was very upset. There was a lot of great hostility expressed towards one of the students in particular, and I came to her defense. The next day we sent a tweet out saying that no one should The you know should be judge just for her of the short clip on video. I she was wrongly docks by another organization, not by Greg by someone else, if not, of course, not by Greg our,
and we also got many many vile threats, and you know I completely repudiate those That's this was a young woman who I didn't know well, but you know by a bride report, was otherwise sensible person, and I think she got swept away as as happens when odds and- and you know I think you Know- was not at her best that afternoon and many people were not at their best. I mean I it's very important, also to note that that I mean, as you have suggested, by having seen much more of the video footage. A number of students were very strongly challenged by the remote since that day I want to talk about mob behavior. But let's talk about your experience as this as the the energy of antipathy gathering around you here and- and you are finding it increasingly difficult to have a conversation with a mop mob. Maybe let's just point and again, people have to watch some of this video to see what
you are dealing with and how well you were dealing with it, but there's just a problem of spoken geometry. It is very difficult to talk to a large group of people, all of whom want to be heard, and any one of whom can interrupt you at any moment or or demand that you not interrupt anyone else and such that the dynamics of you trying to reason with people who didn't to be reasoned with or just obviously on work. You know for much of that. There are a few things that I did wrong. I think I was silent for the first hour from four to five and I just listened to the students and then there's no video footage has been released at that hour because probably not very interesting although your impressively silent for stretches in the video that is really I was interested in listening to the student. Hearing what they had to say and in this how about that you've been the students. You know wanted me to answer their queries, and some people have said. Well. Why didn't I sit down
and that's not a Why suggestion in that type of a situation, in my view now and other said? Well, why don't you leave the clear to students were clearly very heated, but that was not a possible thing for me to do in that situation. I was in circle by the students and at one point I I suggested that I might need to go and fulfill some of the duties and the students didn't want that. So so anyway, I have to stop you there, so you actually felt that there was a period there where you couldn't have physically left. Well, I didn't as the boundaries by like barreling through the students, but you know I there was no obvious. I was around I mean you know there was, and there was students were five deep. I mean that was there was no obvious way for me to go anywhere. Or just the obvious question here. Was there any moment where you actually worried that it would become physically violent well I'd rather not go there. I think you know. I think that I think that
I was trying to do in that situation was to try to get the students I was trying to, Lloyd, a circumstance in which the students d individuate it, and there is a kind of inflection point during social movements of all kinds in sort of group dynamics where you can reach an inflection point where suddenly feel anonymous and are disinhibited and sort social innovations following people start acting in ways. They would not otherwise act and this is well understood. Yeah I mean you can see even in what is said apart from any possibility of violence, you can see that peoples. Emotions are being amplified by the group dynamics, or at least that's. That is the way it seems because much of what was being said to you in that circumstance, it's very hard to imagine any one of those students saying what they said precisely how they
edit if they were just standing alone with you in your office. Think well I mean, I think, that's I think one of the things that's important understand. About mass movements. I mean one of the reasons that they're effective is 'cause they are demonstrations of social power So you know when you have the the mothers against drunk driving band together. Individual mothers losing their children to drunk drivers aren't as effective as a political force until they and the you have the market, Pettus Bridge the civil rights March or or you you know the valium walking on the name of the famous the the gay bar is it stonewall? I think it was called that right, yeah, Stonewall, yeah when you have events like that which galvanizes and groups of people band together. It's it's a demonstration of social power and it calls for change in a way that
equal number of people. Atomized are not able to do, but what you also get with those in addition to the good that can come of it is, is, is the other phenomena such as this We're talking about now we're people kind of lose their identity is the sort of flip side of that is when they join the crowd and- and so it was very important in those circumstances- is to get will you know so so, for example, in in in in in a one of the reasons that people wear masks during sort of orgies is to de Individual, it's just inhibiting during during ask balls during medieval. You know, mass balls, for example, or or jurors, you know, wear masks it's too and to permit them to do these facilitate their doing these wild things I just want to say for the record. I always wear a mask at in order, but you know this these there's these so well understood social, psychological phenomena, which you know come to play at different moments. We were, you know, we're social animals where we can
and human behavior through scientific inquiry. We my lab, spends a lot of time on this. Obviously, in various ways and and anyway on the the individual nation, you know what's very important, those settings. This is very important for the people. To feel themselves to be as individuals and not as part of the crowd and to feel themselves bill of moral agency. So you want the people to sort of be identified by team? You know I am so, and so I'm not just part of this crowd and you want them to see the person to whom they're speaking as a human being right like it, was a wonderful like I have gotten death it's periodically in in my life, for not many, two or three or four times, and and lots of hate mail, not lots, but periodically. I've gotten hate mail, the last ten or twenty years about different things, and I always respond into it. Unless I get, I can't cope with that volume of mail, I'm getting and people in the persons will send you these very vile things, and you were on to them and they ' Oh, my god, I didn't think you would answer me and then they'll say
No I'm actually not a bad person, I'm so sorry, I said those mean things to you know you can live, Dear many p, who send vile things because they don't recognize you're, a human being on the other end of the line, and that you are actually capable of talking to them. And you know not. Everybody can be dealt with this way, but some people can be dealt with this way, and so there was a wonderful Berman done by a grad student at Nyu, published about six months ago, in which he was on go to system for identifying racist speech online. Now people who are tweeting. A lot of very racist things, and he developed these out little box. They were actually more like sock puppets, so you develop these accounts where the the people that the p, the fake accounts there, either a white person or a black person, the little photograph, the cart avatar of the twitter account and the person either. Few followers or many followers so as low status or high status, and he experimentally, but he had a corpse the people who are sending out racist tweets and when they did that, so this racist
and let's say we're sending out a very vile racist tweet with bad language to another person, so person, racist person, a sends a tweet out to person B. Then these bots person see would respond to person a and say very sweetly, hey man, you probably shouldn't do that. There's a real person on the other end of that, and he found it just simple intervention, especially if you had a white person that did that with high followers. So his experiment was to test, the status of the Inter mattered. Keep but never less. It was always helpful, as I remember the experiment. It was able to show that that simple cultivation in the person expressing hatred of uh mission of the common humanity attend did the behavior for months afterwards that account reduced I the racist tweets. They were sending My point in that example, in in the other stuff, we're saying is that you
actually use these basic liberal principles of our common humanity, too, the dress and address. Wrongs and he rage and violence in our society, and I think it's enter in some ways attempt to tamp down a little bit on on certain aspects of mob behavior. I don't know if I answer your question, but but there are elements there of and understanding of social psychology that I think help us understand some of the phenomenon that we've been seeing here I did not, do you think the the dynamics of our behavior in person up close and personal or in any. Play, isomorphic with mob behavior online, or do very different dynamics, kinda player, they're very similar behave You know we have a lot of anonymity. There's no doubt in my mind that if you moved anonymity from Twitter, the bad behavior would decline. Yeah I couldn't,
more. That's anonymity. In almost every case now I think, is corrosive. Fabric is some is not that you don't want to be able to be a anonymous whistleblower blower in some circumstance, but it's just it never brings out the best in in people in in normal interactions. Yes, but I'm hesitate to oppose anonymity, because I also think anonymous speech should be allowed in, and you know I straw over the issue of anonymity. I think on balance online, it's a corrosive force, but I'm not prepared you notice to say that nobody who is anonymous- you know people people write to me when I have to admit I've taken the stand publicly, that I think there's that you know you should have the courage of your convictions. We Should all of us work together to cultivate a society where we do not demonize people for their beliefs, that we engage them? or we ignore them I'm and that if we can create a kind of a culture, I think we could also in parallel to that. Like you, we don't fire people for their opinions. For instance, like like the ESPN,
reporter who you know, call Donald Trump, a white supremacist. I don't think she should lose her job. People should be allowed to have. You know I think we want a society where people are losing their jobs for expressing their beliefs. Well, if we push up there, but if we do that, that also means, then we can. If we had such a society, then I think we could also tolerate we we would. We would make it easier for people to have the courage of their convictions and publicly express their beliefs They all are locked together is the point this. This call out culture in this outrage is interconnects with problems of anonymity and troll like behavior right, but clearly there is a belief too far that can't be embraced by an employer. Certain beliefs are antithetical to the job requirement right. If you have a, if you discover that somebody who's working for the NWA C p is actually a you know. The most committed racist
his private life. That's a problem for his function in the jobs yeah. There's no doubt that there are such case This is an example as well, and you know, for example, the police. You know I'm not. There was a case recently of a firefighter who, who made some very racist remarks that you know would call his fitness for duty into question. I'm not I'm not saying that we need that. I'm certainly not saying that employers should be, in all circumstances, prohibited from you know exercising their judgment or relieving employees whose beliefs are commitments are inconsistent with the performance of their duties, not at all. In my suggest but I am suggesting that there is an aspect. Culture right now you know it's like it's like theism. You know if you are a communist She believed that you couldn't work in Hollywood, that you couldn't work in the State Department, if there's anything incompatible between being a communist and working in the State Department, or in Hollywood I mean that this doesn't seem to me to be relevant the slightest
and not in not consistent with our american values right, we're a plural. Democracy where we have heterogeneous beliefs and we're committed to free and open extraction in my other, although even there I mean again, I but my my understanding of the history of of the red scare is not what it should be. So I I sort have to bracket that topic with my eggnog Hasta here, but I can imagine I mean there was. There was certainly a moment where it became obvious just how dysfunctional to put it blandly, I mean the real word. Probably is more Evil communism was in its application on the ground in the Soviet Union yeah, but but the the issue for me would be, and I'm not a communist at all, and I and I think more people have died at the hands of the of the far left in the far right in the last hundred or two hundred years. But that's not what I'm saying I'm so obviously, if you're a russian spy, you have no
place in government no bright line between being ideological in a way that you are the system around you can tolerate, and being ideological to degree that you are yes, whether or not you info employed by the KGB, or you may as well be well I don't know you may as well be is different than you are employed. I think that is it. I don't know because you're sufficiently that you will leak secrets if you can wow leaking different and then being committed. I mean, let's look at. There is a bright line between fought in speech and behavior, so being a spy is different than being sympathetic and and the symmetry is very important. As they weren't going after the far right during Mccarthyism. You know if they're so concerned with the far after you know, if they were really sir, and what about the monarchists in the state department? Maybe there was a monarchist in the State Department and
I'm certainly not defending Joe Mccarthy and I'm just I'm just that's the world we're in right now is it increase some people wouldn't put it past main I'd. Just think there The boundaries here are inconveniently fluid. Yes, and this is this is the thing with campus speech again. So what's amazing to me, is that a lot The cases that are brought up these days about uh, you know speech. That's out. Bounds. First of all, they are well understood. Exceptions like one like one of the distinctions. That's often forgotten is the distinction between Pre Express' in harassment. So is minutes and there's also even under the harassment there's an exception for public figures right so harassed. Is when you have repeated typically targeted speech against your individual, so for example, so famously the Nazis. Can map March through Skokie Illinois, the Supreme Court ruled but not stop in front of my house. The former is
free expression in the latter is right and and this is well understood. You know I mean there are boundary cases and difficulty blah blah blah another so you can't threaten an individual turns out. You can actually save all things about public figures like the president or sir. Actors I'd. You know, there's a whole other jurisprudence. As well, because they don't have the same- expectation of not being quarter after criticized as other people. So there's all this they're, all these understood diff, is their boundary conditions about you imminent. Citing to imminent danger versus not imminent danger, so you can, for example, the left wing professors that have been calling for white genocide. You know you can make abstract you know men's to white genocide, but it's different than saying: let's get guns today and go kill so and so so they're. All of these sort of he says, there's a lot of history of people. Thinking deeply about
expression and where the limits are, and one of the things that amazed me is that into my you went to most the view of most people who have experience with first amendment issues. None of the cases we've been discussing or anywhere near those boundaries. I mean Shapiro is nowhere near boundary? I mean he's where we would think about God. This is a hard case. Do or do we not you know and so and then think what happens is. Is we this a lot So subtlety of thought and but Weinstein a white supremacist? Then what you call the actual white supremacists, I mean this is a ridiculous statement and it it it's a again, it's a kind of a you know, a kind of concept, creeper kind of extension which which which, which John makes us, lose the capacity to use powerful words when they are actually needed, as we've just discovered in in the excerpt. I read from the economist article, even some
Who is mixed race and queer gets all of these epithets thrown at her I mean the words have no meaning she's she's antiblack she's, yes, array trader. I mean it's yes, well that that expression, breaks my heart I mean I'm. You know that that the expression race traitor was an expression that you know previously had currency in the sixties, and I really thought in the last half century, and You know with the election of President Obama, who I greatly admire, uhm that we had put some of that behind us and this. This fact that students in two thousand and seventeen would resurrect you know. Such language is very depressing to me. So who is to blame for this trend? I guess the first question I ask is: is this as big a problem as it seems, or is this just being magnified by a cousin or two dozen very salient cases like
Gail in Evergreen and read and Berkeley and Middle Burry, and yet other men in their many. There are probably dozens now, but is this actually emblematic of a kind of creeping moral panic on our college campuses or there? Are ninety five percent of college is oblivious to this trend, and if you could live a thousand separate lives simultaneously. And enroll in all these schools? You wouldn't notice any of this on most campuses. You know I on You don't know the answer to that. There's I see conflicting quantitative evidence, at this point. So on the one hand, I certainly see many anecdotes in my own life and money more cases.
Innovation? The you know, the fire of Free Foundation for individual rights in education and an extraordinary gonna station, in my view, is sort of a civil rights organization has maintained a database and reports that increasing dis invitations, increasing episodes, more campuses. With the speech codes that really don't pass muster. You know they would report their quantitative data, showing significant increases and and and again, Jonathan Knight has this some other evidence that using a Google searches and other techniques sort of quantify some of these phenomena, he he traces in a kind of inflection about four five years ago to some of these events, but there's also other evidence. That's against that, for instance, online. Just the last couple days, I've been tweeting with some people about a new evidence about, for instance, the national opinion research enter at university. Chicago has, for forty years been collecting data on people's willingness to tolerate you know a prescribed opinions and at the
serve aid many prescribed opinions. You know atheism, can you be an atheist? Would it be ok for an atheist to speak in public teach? My children, I forgot the third category and forty years they've, been asking the question to be homosexual. Forty years I've been asked that question too. I forgot all the categories and one categories, was to be a racist, and you know we've made huge progress on most of the categories, but but my point is the according to that forty years of data, there is a not not much change in the public's tolerance, including young people's tolerance, for prescribe speech, so their their data would suggest that things are
not worse now than before and the Knight Foundation, and then there was a survey that was just released by UCLA, which showed that very surprisingly, large fractions of there was a sample of one thousand. Five hundred students from around the country show that very surprising, very large fractions of them had what I would consider to be illiberal views. You know they would clamp down on speech and various basic equated speech with violence, etc, and yet simultaneously. That was another report that was done by with the Gallup Organization. I think that the Knight Foundation commissioned, which show that, yes, that might be true, but the students were no different than the adults so about similar percentages in a parallel population of general. So. My point is, I see I don't know exactly. I believe very strongly that something is different on campuses, but I think the science, the social science, a bit mixed right now, the picture and it's
I know for sure, in so far as it is a problem who do you think, is primarily to blame for it to me that the the students, the administration, the per dressers that the parents of the students there many different roles here. Who, who do you put the other many people that the many many theories about what's happening, but what I would say is that d d actors that I think have a duty to address this are the faculty and in that you quoted from my York Times piece from you know you're so go. I think it's our obligation to preserve the commitment of these institutions to free and open expression, and I think it's our duty to push back against the the false claim that speech is violence and and- and so I I I'm- not gonna- blame the faculty, but I am going to say that I think the faculty have a duty to oppose the.
The liberal moves and and that I would hope that more more professors would see this. I I noted that I noted that a number of professional organizations we had a couple of sociologists in the in the state of Connecticut. There was a a. I think he was african american professor of sociology who, who made some rather racist remarks and done, and that was you know, calls to fire him. I don't think you should have been fired. Myself, I don't end and I don't agree with his remarks, but I don't think you should have been fired and and then the sum professional organizations came to his defense. But you know a lot of people pointed out that this was, hypocritical. I mean where were these professional organizations we defending right wing expression? We can They they lose credibility if they don't accept, they only come out and protect left wing expression, and I think this is the crucial thing. You know all these people on the right that are against this invitations. Well,
you should then also be opposed to the DIS invitation of Chelsea Manning all People on the right that are protecting free speech? Well, then, you should support the football player wants to. You know, kneel during the national anthem. Each case is different. Yes, we could construct our. And so forth, and did on the left people on the left. I think it's outrageous that you know professors that are talking about white, Missy are being criticized by the right. Well, then, you need to, and you know, I think this is. I think all of us together need to work to create a culture of discourse certainly within our universities and hopefully in the broader society at least my view of the kind of society You should happen that I'd like to live in the difference in context matters. You You have to give a platform every. No that's exactly what you're not obliged. Let's be very clear, this is misunderstood as well. So on the December Tatian thing, nobody is automatically entitled to a platform at any institution.
They their public squares for that in our society you can get on a public square and sit on a soapbox and give a lecture so you're not entitled to speak at a versity, but I think once you're invited you should, to be a strong presumption against this invitation unless there was an information It was not known about you so in the Chelsea Manning situation, everyone knew, thing about Chelsea Manning Sound, like they were invited and suddenly discovered something about her. You know, I don't think I think university should not yield to a mob crying for this invitation. I think it's bad president. It would have been fine. Not to invite her like if the committee said we don't want her here, for she was a traitor she. This is our belief. Whatever you know, that's their opinion. That's fine, and similarly I also don't think we can should. I think we should push back strongly against the hecklers veto or the silence so here's. The other thing which I know you know in many it's often misunderstood, which is when you heckle speaker when you prevent
Murray from speaking and He'S- not a white supremacist. I mean this slander of him is just appalling to me when you heckle a speaker or use bull horns or or or create a situation which he cannot speak you're, not just injuring his or her right you're, injuring the rights of all the people who wish to listen to that speaker this is why assassinations are considered a worse crime than murder. It's because you're not only killing the person, but because depriving the electorate of their lawful will, and so I just don't I I think, we've lost sight of that. I think we, you know once you invited speaker, they should speak did you don't have to go or you can protest them and I need to say something else. Then I'll shut up, strongly support the right of students to protest, strongly and I think most of the time the students are right, not always most of the time. You know I'm up list did vice by student movements and
passion, but I do not think the students are. You know I have the right To prevent other students from hearing whoever that is, that they've invited to speak on our heroes. So what form do you think that protest should take? I mean I think, there's lots of civil approach tests. I mean, I think, there's lots of peaceful protest. I mean this is the other thing, that's extraordinary about them, extraordinary rights? We have is the right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition. The government for redress of their grievances shall not be infringed. I mean that's a basic idea: really I take me to a Charles, Marie or Ben Shapiro of and at Berkeley should hold posters outside. They can hold posted, they can they can a, symbol outside an object they can. They can scream outside They can come into the venue and and stand at the rear and most universities at Harvard and Yale they're very well defined and reasonable rules. You can lift posters in the back. But the front? Why will in the front you obstruct other peoples, views in the back? You don't have
Use I mean that's. I can not a hard distinction to make what you should. You should have to be quiet and let the event proceed. Yes, you can have a heckler's veto, that's right, so you can at and they're also but within their tolerance to like? So? If you know you know for uh from the interruption is tolerated. I mean we're trying to educate students. We don't want punitive polices, police state, you know if a you know, for example, at most of these institutions are even rules of thumb for the university police. If someone, is the podium for thirty and then leaves, then we don't do anything if they do it for more than thirty seconds and we send the cops up to get rid of them. You know it so there are so the I'm not endorsing that. I don't think that's a good course of action, but my point is: there: are procedures in place to tolerate reasonable protest and opposition Anan and when you cross the line is when you prevent the ability of others to hear their chosen speaker on a campus yeah,
again, these these lines are very hard to draw because it it does depend on the speaker, see if you have a speaker who gets death threats in applause, cool death threats. You have someone like Ion Hersey Ali on a college campus, but I on these death threats again are not free expression know, but I'm just saying if somebody, if a student jumps up on stage there to seize the mic for thirty seconds I'm not which I'm not defending, but I'm just saying the rules of thumb about what we do have, but no, but in that context the rule of thumb just can't be applied. Anyone who jumps on the stage with one eye on the speaking that has to be perceived as a security problem. Yeah I mean I, I won't speak for- on because what she's had to indoors just absurd. But what I will say is is that in the university community we can tell students that you know we. We prohibit you jumping on the stage and seizing the microphone or intimidating speakers that, because we'll blah blah blah, but I would not as
As an educator, I would not be in favor of a rule. That said, if a student does that they're suspended for a year, I think that's too draconian and Typically, we have rules of thumb about how we cope with that. You know, for example, that the no placards rule you know you can't obstructive division of the of the person you know, but if a student you know unfurled approach, this banner off to the side in the front of the room you know We would not immediately have the police tackle them right. You know we would sort of say you need to move on. I I just you know it's like. We want the police to exercise, judgment and restraint, and we we. We want to sustain the fundamental commitment that the speakers to be allowed to speak in a civilized way, but we also recognize competing to me. As for protest and- and you know, sometimes it pushes a little bit the boundaries now again you're and I are discussing what I would call really tiny boundary conditions. I mean nobody. I would not endorse what happened at Middlebury. I mean, I think that was preposterous in the most egregious instance,
is totally illegal. It was an assault I mean these. Well, that's another thing that this, of course, assault is yet again another whole yeah. I think that's exactly right, yes, this may be a question you don't want to answer, but in your case Yale. How did the other professors and the administration respond? I mean what was the aftermath? Is it has that resolved itself adequately or is it well? I think administrations around the country you know, are facing a lot of challenges in coping with these events and, I think, I think you know, as time has gone by on your did. There's more sort of received wisdom about sort of what's happening and how to navigate this terrain. So I think I think it's these. These events are hard in the moment to cope with. And this is why I think principles are so important as well. You know why do we have principles why commit ourselves to sort of restraint in punishment,
Why why I object to, for instance, sentencing guidelines that give reduce the latitude of of of judges The reason we promulgate principles to live by whatever those principles are are so that in the heat of the moment, we have a to set of ideas that can help us address challenges that we otherwise might find difficult. And this is why we have this commitment to free expression in our society, because it's hard freeze, it is hard and- and so we have to commit to a when, when we are in the cool light of day, because when then, when it comes up in, impassion moment- it's very, very tempting full yeah. I know that's, not the right course. In my view, zero,
well. Let's just talk about the phenomenon of moral panic will remain somewhat agnostic as to how big a problem. This is on college campuses nationwide, but where it is a problem it does strike. Me that has the character of what I'm calling a moral panic and the there been other moral panics in our history in a relatively recent you and old enough to remember the childhood sexual abuse, panic and pre day care centers, like predicament martini preschool. And that's not to say that no child ever gets abused in a preschool, but pretty sure none of those cases where those people were sent to life in prison were guilty. I saw I was amazed which tribe yeah. I was amazed because I I at what year that happen, and you know in the 80s. So you know I was probably in college myself, and my memory of the mcmartin preschool- and I wouldn't ask our listeners, who are old enough to know
something about it to just take this test right. Now in real time. My memory was that you know, though there was some aspects of the case that were not, as they first seemed, basically something herbal did happen there and no! No! No! I mean it was I since look it up and it seems that what you have is a story of. As you said, something like a witch trial where you had perfectly innocent people accused of impossible- rhymes and, in this case sent to prison. Yes, yes, it was uh uh. Believable. There were many many such cases, and it was a kind of moral panic in our society and- and you know it's it's a it's one of those things where it's like a kind of a Stasi or like a witch trials. Like a circular denunciation, you You have to denounce others less. You fall under suspicion, and so these it's. You know why these? What politician is going to come out and say you know we should these
sensors are inhumane. It's very difficult for the politician to do that, because you know there little kids are being soft on crime or, in this case, Softon Child yeah exactly women you're defending child molesters. Of course, I'm not defending Tom. Let's really talking about you know, but but you know that, but that's the problem in those types of situations where you have a kind of vibe friends, falsification. You know where people are afraid to reveal their true beliefs, because they think you know some. The emperor has no phenomenon and everyone you know agrees that the emperor is wearing beautiful clothes and, in fact, he's not, and everyone's heard of the breeze that these has to be no agrees that they're horrible sexual abuse is taking place in these preschools because they're afraid they'll be accused of being unsympathetic, but that's not what's happening, so these are situations where just the the numbers that are being claim
can give the lie to the phenomenon. I remember that the journalist, an and writer Lawrence Wright was on my podcast and he he wrote a book that was somewhat related to this phenomenon of the satanic ritual of use moral panic, and he remembered when this was just becoming prominent in the news he he is journalist got interested in it and he went to a seminar. I believe it was being taught by law enforcement in Texas on this issue of satanic cult, abuse and the claim was, I believe, given by a police officer in this context, that were fifty thousand child murders every year due to satanic cults in the United States now and Lawrence. Remember, That you know at that moment, he realized he was in the presence of a social phenomenon that he had never witnessed because there never been a year in the United States, with anything like fifty
murder, murder of any kind right, yes, and here you have law enforcement talking about fifty thousand babies, essentially being here you to Satan and their exam of this and again, I don't know if we have the double date on all these questions, but they know their. It's claimed, for instance, that something like one and three or one in five girls who goes to college, get raped at college apologies to for the the people who will get pissed off here by ' 'cause. I haven't actually done my homework on this topic, but I gotta think that- and I know that there are people like chris- the Hoff and others who come out and said the these statistics are totally wrong and here's why I just haven't followed the plot here, but I gotta think there's one three, three or one, five five women go to college is getting getting raped. I would be a if we are actually in that situation. If college, where that dangerous for women either what is being considered, a rape is being
define down so preposterously the to get number or the numbers of fiction. It's just. It seems like we we would be faster than we are to diffuse some of this just by getting ahold of the relevant facts. Well. I would disagree with you on the new importance of facts. I mean that's it. You know one of the you know I think with my when I political arguments with my friends and I have friends from the recently far left to the recently far right. I am you know, I think it's one thing. We can agree on a set of facts and then we can have a disk I meant about our ideology. You know this is what the income inequality is in our society today. This is knowable piece of information. This is what social science tells us about. What some of the causes of inequality are? We can now discuss what, if anything, we wish to do about this situation, and and in the right and the left will have different ideas about about it. But it's like climate change,
I mean what I hate about. This is like We may or may not decide that it's worth us responding to climate change. I mean, I think we should that's my opinion of have left wing. You know about this, but I really don't like the idea of trying to put your head in the sand and say you know, because I don't want to engage a difficult policy decisions that I'm going to deny the factual basis of it, and I- and I think we lost a lot of that night. I'm not enough of a historian to know, I suppose my political science, friends or my story and friends would say that probably american political discourse has always had the strand in it, but in my lifetime it seems that we've gotten less technocratic about our the way we approach pulled up sort of policy problems and much more ideological, and I have seen evidence to support that that you know the l ideological, despite separation in the in the Congress, for instance, is at an all time high. So I guess what I'm saying is: is that a you know like a famous saying, you're entitled to your own opinion, but
your own facts. I just wish we could get to a point where we can agree on whatever that you know we we were facing a problem of whatever the type is, let's agree on the facts, and then we can decide. You know what to do about it and and in fear of where we might get shouldn't lead me to denying to the necessity or the actors necessity of acquiring or the accuracy of the whatever facts we we know we are looking at was a let's connect. This conversation to some of the scientific work you've done over the years and your study of Social can Jan and Social networks and now the new work you're doing with AI and you know rather like a low level ai and how it an even strangely enough, deliberately inaccurate, ai or random ai on how that can enhance human behavior. What What does science know about beans, individual
and, most importantly, collectively and their behavior. They can help us move to something more rational and ideal here, Yeah I mean we do in my lab. We, we do a lot of work on the different aspects of these types of ideas. We we have a program. Search on the evolutionary prodigy and the behavior genetics of human friendship, we try to understand. Why do people befriend each other at all other Don't do this. Other animals have sex with each other as we do, but we also befriend each other. We form long term non reproductive unions with other members of our species and elephants do this, which is amazing, certain other primates, certain whales form
ships, but but it's very rare in the animal kingdom, so we we try to understand the origins of this, this practice and and its meaning for us as a species. We have a program of research which tries to understand phenomena of social contagion. You know how is it that ideas and norms, and also by large, contagious. Germs can spread in human populations, and how might we exploit an understanding of these to intervene in social systems to make the world better? For example, can we create artificial tipping points in the developing world? Can we thoughtfully and shrewdly target structurally, influential individuals. So in these villages we get these five people to change remind about this public health practice. The whole village will copy them. We have support from the Gates Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Institutes of health. We do a lot of work, that's trying to invent techniques to foster-
behavior change at scale, population level scale, and this is instantly. This research is sort of dangerous because it has a sort of dual use. I was giving a talk about our work in a country that I won't name a few years ago and and- and I was talking about how some of the work of one of my colleagues Fowler had done on voting and increasing using ideas of social contagion to increase turnout and these people we're asking all these questions- and I realize it some point that this- that this was a sort of authoritarian country that they, let's just say it was not a democracy but they were asking these questions to kind of reverse engineer what we were doing. They were not interested in increasing voter turnout in or facilitating the spread of, true information. They wanted to suppress the true information and reduce turn out. Let's say so there. Do you so they're interesting ethical questions here about some of the stuff that many labs, including ours around the country, are engaged in in sort of social engine, hearing and then the third thing we do is we
which you are alluding to and I'll give you an example of why. I think that work is interesting and it's a little bit related to everything else. We've been discussing today, as we do work where we use some software that we put in the public domain that allows us to create temporary, artificial societies of real people. We recruit thousands of people online and we come in for an hour or two hours for them to play in our online laboratory kind of a social games. Able to model social challenges like social traps that groups falling. And many of the things we've been discussing, whether it's racism or or mob. Action or violence are, are kind of social trap, their way in which individuals when they act together do things that are against their own, Kristin against the group interest, so we we created- kind of ways of exploring things like how do people share better and how do we get people to coordinate their activity better and how do we get people to cooperate better? how get people to evacuate efficiently in a in a disaster situation, so we built
all these models of real people acting in these situations and what we're beginning to do is to add artificial intelligence agents to the social systems. So What we're doing is we're creating hybrid system, heterogeneous systems of humans and machines, so think about autonomy. Vehicles on the road where there are people that are driving cars in their driverless cars. How do we pro and the driverless cars to behave in a fashion that gets the people to act. Not only are the driverless cars driving into Safeway there, modeling and encouraging driving by all the other people as well, so we've done in my lab. Is we've invented a bunch of techniques to do this, and so the way I summarize this idea is that we're, not a laboratory that is trying to invent you, know, I'll or or or IBM Watson or some. Super smart neural net trained.
Machine learning and trained algorithms that that try to reproduce human mission, that is to say, we are not trying to smart ai! That replaces human cognition. Instead, what we've been focused on is what we call dumb ai that supplements human interaction. So can we a very simple, dumb, trivial agents which, when mixed in to a population of humans, help the humans to help themselves. Help us overcome some of these social dilemmas. Get to be less racist and less truly online. Get us be able to share with each other better get us to be able to coordinate efforts better together and the Their most recent paper we had, we were able to show that we took four thousand people and put them into groups of twenty and then sometimes we sneakily replace the people with some box, and then the people were given a collective challenge like they all had to
coordinate on a solution to a problem and if they work together, they were all paid and if they didn't they weren't paid he showed that by adding some bots we were able to get the groups of people to work more effectively together and specifically, as you alluded to one of the sneaky are tricky things that we did is that we that the bots that the programming is the dummy I program we have to give the bots was that the boss had to be a little bit imperfect that adding a little noise to the system, adding a few people who were delay. Currently making wrong choices, unlock the potential of the group to converge on the proper solution, and if you give me more time, I can give you a metaphor about why that is the case yeah. Why do you think that was the case? Let me give you, let me give you an example. So. So imagine that I took imagine we have a landscape uh of hills and mountain, so they're a bunch of hills of different heights in one big mountain and then I take four people.
And I drop them at a random spot on this landscape, and I handcuff them to so they each facing in North South EAST West, and I blindfold. So that's a scenario with landscape with hills in a mountain, and I randomly pick us on this landscape, and I dropped four people and their blindfolded come together, and I say: okay guys climb to the highest mountain. The people talk amongst themselves, and they say well. What are we each take a step in our direction and report back which way is up hill? So, let's take a step in north says it's up. Hill from here, EAST and West, say its lateral from here in south, says it's downhill from here, so they all claim. Really move a step? North and then I repeat, the experiment now West says it's uphill from here, so they take a step west and they keep doing this and eventual get to the point where they all say it's downhill from here. Well,. Have they arrived at the highest mountain in this landscape? No they've arrived at the nearest hill right and they're on the top of the
here's tail and now they're trapped there. They can't escape it How do they find the highest mountain in order to hide find mountain. We have to let them make some mistakes. We have to. Let them take some steps down. Easily, even though it makes no sense and if we let them make some mistakes. If we tolerate some noise in the system, a little error. Then it will see tempers of the time Let them go downhill, even though we let? The go downhill, even though they should write. Let's say so now, there's some probability we'll take a sequence of downhill steps, get down to another valley and climb a different mountain and eventually explore the whole landscape certainly they will come to the highest mountain they'll find the global optimum, not just the local optimum and they'll get there, because the glue optimum is so high. That mountain is so high that even if they take ten or twenty one hundred steps down, they Turner come back up because it's the highest mountain that's. Why adding a little noise?
reading a little error in these groups helps them to find the global optimum and not just the local optimum, and we showed that this would prove that this could work and a bunch of other results in this paper, but the gist of it is not even the specifics that noise is helpful for Sir For instance you- and I remember when we were in college, actually there's some ways in which the online searching algorithms are degrading, are find useful information, because they're so specific when you and I wanted find a biography of Winston Churchill or CHE Guevara We went to the library- and you know there was the book. We were four and the near it. There were better books. So a little noise. A little error got us to find a superior outcome too much error? We don't want to be in a different floor of the library and be encountering biochemistry textbooks when we're looking for historical figure, Ographie's, but we want a little bit of error and that leads to optimality. This is well understood, so what we've
able to show is that there are many social dilemmas where we can add. Little artificial intelligence into these hybrid systems and and help populations of humans, in fact we're beginning to think about ways to do this with the problem of fake news as well. You know: how can we improve the quality of discourse in our society, perhaps by using some of our ideas and you have id is beyond adding noise in this case and will actually before you go there How generalizable is this principle to? decision noise principle. I mean we're not the first to think of that Explore that I mean we are. Work was looking at in social systems, and I gave the analogy of search a moment ago there. These are well understood, other for instance, mutation in biology as an example, if you think about a reproducing organism, if it reproduced with perfect fidelity at each generation, that actually might be problematic, because no evolution changed, the organism would die right. So you
a little you need a little lack of fidelity in transmission. A little mutation in each generation is a good thing. Actually, it permits the organism to explore larger part of the evolutionary landscape, so idea of noise, and it's also known as simulated annealing, I mean there's a number of ideas about the importance of air light, slow amounts of error in similar there, some similar principles in in chemistry with catalysis, I mean that that just that just the generic scientific idea, but we we explored in the social systems, but that the higher order claim here is that there should be. It should be possible to create a fait, family of simply programmed agents, not necessarily just with noise as it simple programming. There are other kinds of ideas which could be introduced into social dilemmas, cooperation, nation, navigation, evacuation, etc, sharing and help people to overcome traps, because they're not able to work effectively together.
Right. So we we have a number of ideas, racism, online racism there. We have some ideas about this as well. I cited a paper earlier in our conversation done by different laboratory, so when you we're talking. I was reminded of an experience I had in this relates back to just the dynamics of crowds. It was one point now I don't know twenty five years ago, where I briefly had to function as one of the body. Parts for the Dalai Lama when he was traveling in France And- and this was the Dalai Lama at the height his fame and in France, where he he really is received as a kind of head of state. So he had proper bodyguards. He had like four guys with analogous to our secret service, guys with guns around him, but they wanted us, the the people who were you know studying with him Buddhist meditators to be the kind of the buffer between them and the crowds yes, just by the sheer
back in proximity. We were the ones who had all of the conflict with the the PDF Preston and and otherwise, and one thing I noticed very early on with the it was just crowd after crowd, after crowd the difference between a crowd where there was some demarcation. Yeah like a physical barrier, but it could be, is as tenuous as something like a just a velvet rope where there was some demarcation as to where to stand, if you're part of the crowd and when there wasn't a demarcation, that was the difference between absolutely piece full civil order and just utter chaos. That is the simple as possible. Bot right we're just talking about a rope, and so are there. Are there general principles that you have? found beyond adding a little noise in conditions analogous to search other. There are some idea,
but uh. You know we haven't published the mall yet and uh, and I'm not sure I want to talk about them. Just yet till we sort of nail down more of the details, I have book- that's forthcoming in about a year or so from little brown. The title of the book is blueprint, and it's on the sort of the of illusionary foundation of a good society, or not I'll, be discussing some of these ideas in that book and sort of you know. How is it that that natural selection has shaped not just the structure and function of our bodies, not just the structure and function of our minds, but also the structure and function of our societies and and some of the prince was we've been discussing, you know are very relevant, that you know on this specific example of of the box. There is a way in which you we are actually experimenting with the separation bot right now, which I don't want to go into too much, but but it can kind of
like the Dalai Lama example, you gave it kind of in forces a kind of fun perimeter of fewer social connections between groups and it manipulates. The structure of the network, this spot as in in ways that we believe will improve on welfare. It is interesting because, when you get to the space, you discover things that are right on the surface of human experience and have been there. Your whole life, but you, you may have never noticed them and and one thing that I've noticed of late is that good, civility and even just good manners are a barrier very clear barrier against violence when things are are genteel and civil and predictable and people you know, hold the door for one another
If it's real SAM, you see. This is the problem if it's like, if it's like, if you know, if you have you is an extreme example. I know that's not what you're saying, but you know you could have very. These were genteel of course, conjures up. You know genteel asians we're. Meanwhile, there slavery and there can be situations where exporting your horror to some other conditions. Yeah exactly, and so you know, I think I think, like the role in this, you know had a very good. You know the or the Greeks did you know had it. You know had a true very civilized culture of parliamentary debate, but only for a fraction of population, so so yes I think you're actually right. I think there are norms, as you said, of of of of politeness, which are you know and discourses which is with the theme for today. A discourse in groups, I would say, is the thing for today, which you know which it served the function of reducing violence. I mean this is Greg Lukianoff's point. We use our words so as not to
each other yeah yeah, this is progress right. This is the whole point we talk to each other we even say vile things to each other, and we have a sure that allows that so that we don't draw swords- and in this in fact, is one of the gifts of the enlightenment, I believe, I believe, that's the origin of the handshake. Yes, yes, yes, I think, I've heard that same story that you know, there's no gun and there's no weapon in my hand, although pansies will touch each other's hands. Jane Goodall is shown in a very similar kind of handshake. You kind of way. But but your point is that you know this this. I think there is a sense in which certain norms to prevent violence. And dot- and there is some old wisdom there- that it, you know always is- is valuable. Well, listen. Necklaces been really a a feast to see the world through your eyes for nearly an hour and a half here,
and I will have to have you back when you publish your blueprint, so you can divulge all of your secrets from the chance to come back. Thank you for so much SAM for having me. Yeah, really been great where would you like people to find out- about your work. In the mean time before your new book comes out. Well, I can be followed on Twitter and my twitter, My handles Na Chris Stock Is- and I have my lab website is human h lab net human nature, lab but not in all our research is there and videos of We're doing around the world and our software is down notable there there's lots of resources right right, well, write that book, I have to finish it now: yes, fix complex Social, systems for and fix twitter, while you're at it, because there's a lot of fixing that needs to be done. Thanks SAM If you find the podcast valuable. There are many ways you can support it You can review it on Itunes or Stitcher or wherever you happen to listen to it. You can share
on social media with your friends, you can talk about it or discuss it on your own podcast or you can support it directly and you can do this subscribe, enter through my website, SAM Samharris, DOT, org and there find subscriber only content, which includes my app. Anything episodes. You also get access to advance tickets to my live events as well as streaming video of some of these events, and you also get to hear the bonus questions from many of these interviews. All of these things in more you'll find on my website at SAM
Transcript generated on 2019-11-16.