Jonathan Haidt is a writer and social psychologist who started out as a liberal. But along the way something unexpected happened: he actually read a book that featured the writings of leading conservative thinkers.
Until then, Haidt:
…had thought of conservatism as a “Frankenstein monster,” he says — an ugly mishmash of Christian fundamentalism, racism and authoritarianism.
Let that sink in for a moment. Here was a man whose life’s work had been to study the social psychology of moral development across cultures, and who was entering the field of political psychology, and yet until that moment he had swallowed whole the caricatured stereotypes of what a conservative is, without having the intellectual curiosity to find out for himself (I have a bit of sympathy for him; it took me decades to actually get around to reading the work of conservatives, too—although I’d never demonized them in quite the same way as Haidt had, nor was I a political psychologist).
Just to show you how partisan Haidt was prior to reading that book, he says that after John Kerry’s 2004 defeat, he “entered the field of political psychology in order to ‘help liberals win.’” And yet his mind remained open enough that, when he began reading the anthology Conservatism, only three pages into it he was “floored” with the thought that conservatives might actually “have a better formula for how to create a healthy, happy society.”
I can imagine what that moment was like.
The answer he finally came to put him in the centrist camp, neither wholly conservative nor wholly liberal. But that was a far cry from where he started out.
Haidt has quite a bit to say about the influence of liberals in academia and especially psychology:
Mr. Haidt has repeatedly criticized his field, psychology, for including too few conservatives in its ranks. When the topic of academic discrimination against conservatives comes up, he pulls from his filing cabinet a new study by Yoel Inbar and Joris Lammers which finds that: “In decisions ranging from paper reviews to hiring, many social and personality psychologists admit that they would discriminate against openly conservative colleagues. The more liberal respondents are, the more willing they are to discriminate.”
No surprise there. But it is surprising that Haidt previously had spent close to twenty years in academia without ever noticing that sort of thing. But then again, we all know that a mind is a difficult thing to change—especially if a person never exposes him/herself to thinking or writing that challenges the point of view he/she already holds. But I commend Haidt for having the courage to finally do just that, and to follow where his new knowledge led him.
It isn’t easy.