Saad immigrated to Canada from the Middle East when he was a
child. He is now a professor of marketing at the John Molson
School of Business at Concordia University.
I buy a new book, I often flip through the index. For The Parasitic
Mind, I was pleased to see the names of great thinkers I admire,
including Richard Dawkins and Daniel Kahneman. Given Saad’s
background in evolutionary biology and its title, I had high
hopes it would include some insights on memetics, similar to
those provided by Dawkins and by Oxford University’s Computational
at the same time, the cover featured a blurb from logorrheic
Jordan Peterson. So I dived into it not really knowing what
insists that he should not be misinterpreted as a sexist, racist
or bigot, because:
hold a winning hand in Victimology Poker. I am a Lebanese Jew
and hence a ‘person of color’ (to use the obnoxious
parlance of the social justice warriors). I am a war refugee
who escaped religious persecution, and I am a ‘person
of size’ (I am overweight). It is difficult to beat me
in the Oppression Olympics, and accordingly I use my royal flush
of victimhood against those who typically seek to accuse me
of faux-racism, faux-sexism and faux-bigotry . . .
other pandemics where biological pathogens are to blame, the
current culprit is composed of a collection of bad ideas, spawned
on university campuses, that chip away at our edifices of reason,
freedom, and individual dignity . . .
that freedom of speech, the scientific method, intellectual
diversity and a meritocratic ethos rooted in individual dignity
rather than adherence to the ideology of Diversity, Inclusion
and Equity (DIE) are non-negotiable elements of a truly enlightened
society. A fair society ensures that its members have equality
of opportunities and not equality of outcomes . . .
social justice warriors (SJWs) might be outnumbered on campuses,
yet they rule via the tyranny of the minority, backed by ‘progressive’
professors and campus administrators . . .
address several anti-science, anti-reason, and illiberal idea
pathogens including postmodernism, radical feminism, and transgender
activism, the latter two of which are rooted in a deeply hysterical
form of biophobia (fear of biology) . . .
is a growing trend on university campuses to identify white
supremacy everywhere. If there aren’t enough rabid racists
around, just make them up to maintain the homeostasis of victimology
. . .
are the essential features that a society must possess in order
to be truly liberal and modern? . . .
posit that the guaranteed right to debate any idea (freedom
of speech and thought) coupled with a commitment to reason and
science to test competing ideas (the scientific method) are
what have made Western Civilization great . . . ’
is hard to disagree with Saad’s definition of a liberal,
modern society. Nonetheless the idea of ‘Western Civilization’
is very broad. If we use freedom of speech and a commitment
to reason and the scientific method as criteria, then it clearly
started in ancient Greece.
according to Freedom House, today the most free countries in
the world are the following:
Donald Trump won the United States presidential election in
2016, I began noticing a hysterical form of Collective Munchausen
wherein faux-victims were feverishly vying for top spot on the
prospective victimhood hierarchy . . .
negative hysteria surrounding Donald Trump is rooted in peripheral
processing (‘his mannerisms disgust me’). Trump’s
detractors should perhaps be spending more effort engaging their
central route of persuasion by evaluating his policy positions
in a dispassionate and detached manner . . . Many hysterical
anti-Trump voters begin with a visceral emotional hatred of
the man and then process subsequent information in a manner
that supports their a priori affective position . . . ’
is fair to say that it is not simply on the basis of ‘his
mannerisms’ that Trump is one of the most hated presidents
in US history. To give only two examples, he has had a disastrous
record on environmental issues, and although a self-professed
billionaire, paid only $750 in federal income tax the year he
was elected – far less than the average American pays.
his 1976 classic The Selfish Gene, evolutionary biologist
Richard Dawkins famously introduced the concept of the meme
to our public consciousness. Memes are packets of information
that spread from one brain to another. In reading this book,
your brain is infected by my memes. If you then discuss my ideas
within your social circle, my memes are further propagated.
Not all memes are created equal though, be it in terms of their
valence (positive, neutral, or negative) or their virulence
(how quickly they spread) . . .
his 2011 bestselling book Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel
laureate Daniel Kahneman argued that humans are endowed with
two systems of thinking: System 1 composed of fast, intuitive,
automatic, unconscious, emotional, and instinctive processes;
and System 2 made up of slow, deliberate, analytical, logical,
and conscious processes . . . The problem arises when domains
that should be reserved for the intellect are hijacked by feelings.
This is precisely what plagues our universities: what were once
centers of intellectual development have become retreats for
the emotionally fragile . . .
In reality, Kahneman explains that it is not a matter of the
intellect being ‘hijacked’ by feelings. Rather:
‘System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little
or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. System 2 allocates
attention in the effortful mental activities that demand it.
The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective
experience of agency, choice, and concentration.
we think of ourselves, we identify with System 2, the conscious,
reasoning self that has beliefs, makes choices, and decides
what to think about and what to do. Although System 2 believes
itself to be where the action is, System 1 effortlessly originates
impressions and feelings that are the main sources of the beliefs
and deliberate choices of System 2.
the unlikely event of this book being made into a film, System
2 would be a supporting character who believes herself to be
the hero. The defining feature of System 2, in this story, is
that its operations are effortful, and one of its main characteristics
is laziness, a reluctance to invest more effort than is strictly
necessary. As a consequence, the thoughts and actions that System
2 believes it has chosen are often guided by the figure at the
center of the story, System 1.’
manifestation of whataboutism occurs when people accuse me of
not focusing on their preferred issues. ‘But what about
Israel, Professor Saad? Why don’t you criticize their
policies? What about Trump’s position on climate change,
Professor Saad? Are you a climate change denier? If you care
so much about the state of our educational system, why don’t
you attack Trump’s secretary of education, Betsy DeVos?’
This is as logical as questioning why a dermatologist is spending
her time curing melanoma . . .
Here Saad is being disingenuous. A dermatologist spends her
time curing melanoma, because that is where her professional
expertise lies. Saad’s expertise lies in evolutionary
psychology, not in postmodernism, or ‘radical’ feminism,
or the other straw men he attacks in this book. And he is not
criticizing them on the basis of science, or reason, or even
on the basis of ‘common sense’, but rather because
he has an emotional aversion to them. Of course he has every
right to his personal likes and dislikes, but this perspective
should be honestly presented as the polemic which it is, rather
than as anything having to do with science or truth.
expect that I should dispense my ire and cast my critical eye
on the right in equal measure as I do the left… Postmodernism,
radical feminism, cultural relativism, identity politics, and
the rest of the academic nonsense were not developed and promulgated
by right-wing zealots… My goal is to defend the truth,
and today it is the left’s pathogenic ideas that are leading
us to an abyss of infinite, irrational darkness . . .
Ronald Inglehart, founder of the World Values Survey and author
of Cultural Evolution, has demonstrated that using ‘left’
and ‘right’ in this manner is an obsolete way of
characterizing major cultural divisions. A more accurate and
empirical way to describe these cleavages is between ‘materialist’
value systems (at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs),
and ‘postmaterialist’ value systems at the top of
this hierarchy. Inglehart writes:
the decades following World War II, something unprecedented
occurred in economically advanced countries: much of the postwar
generation grew up taking survival for granted. High levels
of economic and physical security led to pervasive intergenerational
cultural changes that reshaped the values and worldviews of
these publics, bringing a shift from Materialist to Postmaterialist
broad cultural shift moves from giving top priority to economic
and physical safety and conformity to group norms, toward increasing
emphasis on individual freedom to choose how to live one’s
life. Self-expression values emphasize gender equality, tolerance
of gays, lesbians, foreigners and other outgroups, freedom of
expression and participation in decision-making in economic
and political life.
cultural shift brought massive social and political changes,
from stronger environmental protection policies and anti-war
movements, to higher levels of gender equality in government,
business and academic life, and the spread of democracy.
levels of existential security are also conducive to secularization
– a systematic erosion of religious practices, values
and beliefs. Secularization has spread among the publics of
virtually all advanced industrial societies during the past
although within most countries religious people are happier
than less religious people, the people of modernized but secular
countries are happier than the people of less-modernized but
highly religious countries.’
Indeed, according to the 2020 World Happiness Report, the happiest
countries in the world are as Finland, Denmark, Switzerland
and Iceland. (Canada is #10)1
according to the 2020 Social Progress Index, the countries with
the highest social progress are 1. Norway 2. Denmark 3. Finland
4. New Zealand 5. Sweden 6. Switzerland 7. Canada 8. Australia
9. Iceland 10. Netherlands
decline of xenophobia, racism, sexism and homophobia are part
of a long-term trend away from inward-looking tribal moral norms,
under which large parts of humanity were excluded from moral
citizenship, and genocide and slavery were standard practice.
The distinction is fading between an in-group, who merits just
treatment, and outgroups, to whom moral norms do not apply.
Globalization and the emergence of knowledge societies is linked
with a trend toward universal moral norms in which formerly
excluded groups, such as foreigners, women and gays, are believed
to have human rights . . .
dominated by traditional pro-fertility norms allow sex only
within marriage, imposing severe sexual repression on unmarried
history, societies have encouraged young men to demonstrate
their fitness through heroic acts of violence on behalf of their
tribe or country, motivating them to risk their lives in war.
The ideal leader was the Alpha Male who fought fearlessly and
demanded unquestioning obedience in combat. Azar Gat has argued
that war sometimes provided almost the only opportunity for
young men to have sex, with rape being a fringe benefit of war
. . .
negative relationship between pro-choice values and tolerance
of violence and war reflects an evolutionary principle: sexual
freedom and physical violence are at opposite poles of the existential
put it simply, when survival is not guaranteed, you make war;
when you can take survival for granted, you make love.
broadly, when societies feel confident and secure, they adopt
what George Lakoff calls postmaterialist ‘Nurturing Parent’
values, and these are dominant in the countries the World Values
Survey identifies as the most progressive and postmaterialist:
1. Sweden 2. Denmark 3. Norway 4. Iceland 5. Australia 6. Netherlands
7. Andorra 8. Finland 9. Canada 10. Switzerland.
when people feel fearful and insecure, there is an authoritarian
reflex to materialist ‘Strict Father’ values.
greatness of the West stems in part from its protection of fundamental
freedoms and its commitment to reason and the scientific method.
Over the past few decades though, nefarious forces have slowly
eroded the West’s commitment to reason, science, and the
values of the Enlightenment. Such forces include political correctness,
postmodernism, radical feminism, social constructivism, cultural
and moral relativism, and the culture of perpetual offense and
victimhood . . .
others, he satirizes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and criticizes
‘bullshitter’ Michel Foucault, as well as ‘arrogantly
sanctimonious, if not pathologically hysteric’ Greta Thunberg.
gives examples which demonstrate that there are indeed numerous
inherent, biologically-based differences between men and women,
so it is unreasonable to conclude, for example, that the small
proportion of women in STEM fields is due exclusively to sexism.
he also recounts with dripping contempt how:
wife and I had taken our daughter to play at a local children’s
park. Standing in the middle of the play area were some individuals
so fully covered in black niqabs that we could not tell if they
were women, men, or any of the 873 ‘genders’ that
now constitute the rich fluidity of ‘gender expression.’
The image was so jarring that we decided to leave. Since sharing
this story, I have been derided by some Western bien-pensants
for our ‘silly’ overreaction . . .’
again, Saad is being disingenuous, and more mad than sad. Given
that he knows what a niqab is, it’s fair to assume that
he knew they were women. Would he find similarly jarring the
image of Hasidic Jews wearing a shtreimel, a tallit and a gartel?
As is often the case in this book, it seems there are deux poids,
deux mesures – precisely the opposite of the objective,
rational perspective Saad ostensibly advocates.
consider it laudable to criticize, mock, or insult all religious
beliefs – except for the one untouchable faith. To attack
Islam in the West is ‘Islamophobic,’ ‘racist,’
and ‘bigoted’ . . .
future must belong to those who criticize, mock, ridicule, and
satirize all prophets, ideas, religions, and ideologies . .
But if you are going to be anti-religious, at least be consistent,
as are the remarkably entertaining Christopher Hitchens in God
is Not Great, Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion,
Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural
Phenomenon, or Michel Onfray in The Atheist Manifesto:
The Case Against Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
why not start closer to home, with Saad’s friend Jordan
Peterson, who in 12 Rules for Life writes:
unsettled by their vulnerability, eternally fear to tell the
truth, to mediate between chaos and order, and to manifest their
destiny. In other words, they are afraid to walk with God. That’s
not particularly admirable, perhaps, but it’s certainly
understandable. God’s a judgmental Father. His standards
are high. He’s hard to please . . .
should anyone take care of anything as naked, ugly, ashamed,
frightened, worthless, cowardly, resentful, defensive and accusatory
as a descendant of Adam? Even if that thing, that being, is
himself? . . .
bad enough, as other people know you. But only you know the
full range of your secret transgressions, insufficiencies and
inadequacies . . . And with this realization we have well-nigh
full legitimation of the idea, very unpopular in modern intellectual
circles, of Original Sin . . .
Man is something that should never have been. Perhaps the world
should even be cleansed of all human presence, so that Being
and consciousness could return to the innocent brutality of
the animal . . .
here’s a proposition: perhaps it is not simply the emergence
of self-consciousness and the rise of our moral knowledge of
Death and the Fall that besets us and makes us doubt our own
worth. Perhaps it is instead our unwillingness – reflected
in Adam’s shamed hiding – to walk with God, despite
our fragility and propensity for evil . . .
every person is deeply flawed. Everyone falls short of the glory
of God . . .
after all, will not arrive of its own accord. We will have to
work to bring it about, and strengthen ourselves, so that we
can withstand the deadly angels and flaming sword of judgment
that God used to bar its entrance . . .
is suffering. That’s clear. There is no more basic, irrefutable
truth. It’s basically what God tells Adam and Eve, immediately
after kicking them out of Paradise: ‘Unto the woman he
said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception;
in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall
be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee… (Genesis
3:16) . . .
To his credit, Saad is too bright and rational to endorse this
hocus pocus. Nonetheless, rather than critique this mainstream
nonsense from Peterson’s bestseller, he chooses to attack
the most obscure and fringe nonsense (e.g. that sharia law should
be imposed in Canada).
YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter have more global control over
us than all other companies combined. It is not hyperbole to
say that they have more collective power, in terms of the information
they control, than all the rulers, priests, and politicians
of history. If knowledge is power, then these social media giants
are nearly all-powerful when they decide which information we
can have and whether we can be allowed a social media platform…
It seems obvious that these online companies must be regulated
as utilities. Just as your electricity or phone line is not
shut off if the electric company or phone company doesn’t
like what you say, social media platforms should not be in the
business of monitoring and punishing speech . . .
a Jewish man who escaped religious persecution in Lebanon, support
the right of Holocaust deniers to spew their vile and inhuman
garbage . . . ’
again, it is hard to disagree with the gist of Saad’s
point, that social media may now be considered essential services.
However, with regard to absolutely unlimited freedom of speech,
as he himself admits, speech can have negative consequences
– murderous even – and he is far removed from the
‘common sense’ he advocates when he suggests that
there should be absolutely no limits. There is also evidence
that both Russia and China have weaponized social media against
the West, so once again, it is clear that some controls are
idea pathogens on university campuses fall into several large
categories. Postmodernism posits that all knowledge is relative
(no objective truths) while generating obscure and impenetrable
prose that is tantamount to random gibberish . . . Social constructivism
proposes that the great majority of human behaviours, desires,
and preferences are formed not by human nature or our biological
heritage, which means, among other things, that there are no
biologically determined sex differences, but only culturally
imposed ‘gender roles.’ Radical feminism asserts
that these gender roles are due to the nebulous and nefarious
forces of the patriarchy . . . ’
cartoonish characterizations are, of course, inaccurate. If
they were true, one could wonder how anyone smart enough to
be admitted to university, let alone teach in one, could hold
regard to Saad’s idea of ‘postmodernism’,
it is not only postmodernists who believe that knowledge is
relative: there is a very mainstream and legitimate debate in
the philosophy of science between those who believe that science
increasingly approaches the truth (Karl Popper’s verisimilitude,
or the correspondence theory of truth); and those who believe
that science creates increasingly effective paradigms to understand
and predict the universe (e.g. Thomas Kuhn’s Structure
of Scientific Revolutions, or the coherence theory of truth:
constructivism does not contend that ‘the great majority’
of human behaviours are not formed by human nature, nor that
there are ‘no biologically determined sex differences’.
Rather, it holds that although biology plays a very important
role, so do gender roles that are imposed by culture, which
include patriarchal forces. This is pretty self-evident to most
people, and one has only to look at the situation of women in
the Middle East, for example, vs. that of women in Scandinavia
to see this.
Although they have the same biology, women in Scandinavia enjoy
far greater equality of opportunity to participate in all aspects
who are interested in a more scientific and fair-minded analysis
of how both biological nature and culture influence behaviour
should consult Stanford professor Robert Sopolsky’s brilliant
advocates ‘common sense,’ but common sense is continuously
evolving. In the past, it was ‘common sense’ that
nonwhites were slaves, and that a woman’s place was exclusively
in the home. As recently as the year 2000, gay relationships
were not recognized by any national governments. Now, 29 countries
have legalized gay marriage: Argentina, Australia, Austria,
Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ecuador,
Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta,
Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa,
Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay.
The acceleration of this sort of evolution in common sense is
what progressives advocate.
regard to existential threats, the West is not seriously endangered
by Islam, any more than it is by Judaism, Wicca, or astrology.
As for the boogeyman of terrorism, in a world of 7,800,000,000
people, each year 26,000 people die from it (1 out of every
is more of a concern, approaching 2 million in 2020. However
the #1 cause of death by far is cardiovascular disease, so in
terms of existential threats, what we should really be worried
about is obesity.
Saad is obviously correct that Islam is antithetical to progressive
thought. Where then, should we look for inspiration?
freedom, happiness, quality of life, social progress and equality
of opportunity are our criteria, we are probably better off
following the guidance of Scandinavia, especially Sweden with
its unconscious culture code of lagom (balance), than the unbalanced
rhetoric of Saad.
am periodically challenged in my dogged efforts to combat the
idea pathogens spread by social justice warriors. The criticisms
usually take one of two related forms: 1) ‘Professor Saad,
are you not exaggerating the problem? After all, social justice
warriors constitute a minority on most campuses.’ 2) ‘Dr.
Saad, why don’t you tackle more important problems? Stop
obsessing about some quack outliers. Teach us about your areas
of scientific expertise . . . ’
can only agree respectfully with this sound advice.