It’s no secret that there are a lot of bad ideas that spread, which make most of us rational thinkers wonder what’s going on. It’s 2020, and there are entire conventions of people who believe the world is flat.
Meanwhile, QAnon is being banned from most social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and it seems like YouTube may follow suit soon. As you may remember, last month I had a video debunking QAnon COVID conspiracies wrongly taken down. Fortunately, it was put back up because I was explaining how absurd it is to tell people not to wear masks during a pandemic.
I often sit back and wonder how many people can share so many bad ideas, so when I heard Gad Saad had a new book coming out titled The Parasitic Mind: How Infectious Ideas Are Killing Common Sense, I did what I usually do. I set a calendar reminder so I could get it on launch day and check it out.
Prior to stumbling across the book, I knew nothing about Gad Saad, but after some research, I found that he’s a professor in the field of evolutionary psychology. Since I loved Good Reasons for Bad Feelings by Randolph Nesse and Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright, I figured this would be a great book to check out.
I think it’s important to make it abundantly clear that I had no prior knowledge of who Gad Saad was before getting this book because after reading his book, I’m sure his loyal followers will call me a “snowflake” for pointing out the many flaws in his arguments. As we’ll discuss later, while Gad and others accuse people of pandering and identity politics, it’s blatant that they’re doing the exact same thing for a niche group of followers. Aside from the pandering, there’s hypocrisy littered throughout the book, and I think it’s important that we criticize weak arguments from those we hold up as intellectuals.
Now, before moving forward with my criticisms, I do want to say that I agree with Gad Saad’s overall thesis, which is that we should be able to have mature debates while using science and evidence to back our arguments. In his book, he brought up some interesting and solid points about biological differences, and I thought his argument comparing criticisms of Islam and Christianity really interesting.
Gad Saad definitely knows his stuff, but it’s clear that it’s in specific fields of knowledge, and that’s not said to diminish him in any way. I believe that the sign of a true intellectual is having the humility to admit that you can’t be an expert in all things. While he’s extremely well-versed in biological differences and certain areas of psychology.
The optimist in me wants to give him the benefit of the doubt that he just doesn’t know about the solid research in certain areas of psychology. But, I could see how someone would argue that he purposely neglects certain research because it doesn’t fit his narrative or brand.
Finally, I think it’s important to make clear for anyone who doesn’t know me that I’m a 35-year-old college dropout nerd who just loves to read books about psychology, philosophy, politics and other areas that teach me about human behavior. In his book, I learned that Gad Saad often likes to bring people onto his YouTube channel to debate, and while I’d be flattered, I’d be the wrong person to debate him.
Gad Saad has an obvious pattern of behavior where he not only panders, but he picks the lowest hanging fruits. It appears that he purposely argues with people less educated than himself on specific topics to not only win easy battles, but he then uses fringe examples and anecdotes to say, “This is how the everyone thinks who disagrees with me.”
For example, in the book he explains going to a dinner with one of his students to celebrate an occasion, and the student brought someone he knew Gad wouldn’t agree with. Gad shares the story, and the student he was debating was obviously a typical college student who thinks they’re a lot smarter and profound than they actually are. But, at best, it’s ignorant of Gad Saad to use it as an example of what “the left thinks”, and at worst, he purposely uses these examples to appear as though his arguments are flawless.
One of Saad’s weakest areas of arguments come in the realm of inequality and bias. While yes, there are many people who see all of their disadvantages through the lens of identity, Saad acts as though biases are some sort of pseudoscience. So, in this first section we’re going to discuss Gad Saad’s views on inequality and bias, and then we’ll see what the science has to say.
Why Do We Pretend Biases Don’t Exist?
If I had to break it down into percentages, I’d say I agreed with about 45% of what Gad Saad had to say. Yes, it’s less than half, but I don’t disagree with too much of what he had to say. In fact, towards the beginning of the book, I thought it was going to be all bad, but he actually sold me on quite a few ideas that I hadn’t considered. Unfortunately, unlike other chapters in the book, when he discussed racial and gender biases, he used zero scientific research.
I want to make clear that he used scientific research and evolutionary biology (and some psychology) to explain gender differences, but he basically denies that biases exist, which is completely absurd.
As a recovering drug addict who had absolutely nothing 8 years ago and worked extremely hard to get where I am today, I was a hardcore meritocrat for many years. Like Gad Saad, I believed that if you worked hard enough, you can achieve just about anything, but as I’ve educated myself more, I realize that hard work doesn’t guarantee anything.
Gad Saad’s primary argument is that he’s Lebanese, and his family fled persecution when he was younger. Much like Candace Owens, Gad believes that since he was able to rise up the ranks that nobody faces discrimination and that his experience trumps everyone else’s. What people like Gad Saad fail to realize is something that I failed to realize for a long time, which is that we’re the exception and far from the rule.
When denying that racial, gender, and other forms of discrimination affect people, he doesn’t cite a single study. I think it’s important to point that out because, for many of his other arguments, he uses research to back up his opinions, but not here. Rather than making any valid arguments backed by the science, he simply calls people snowflakes.
After reading Dr. Jennifer Eberdhardt’s book Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, it’s hard to deny the reality of implicit biases. Gad Saad argues that the IAT (Implicit Association Test) is some kind of whacky test that just calls everyone racists. On the other hand, you have Dr. Jennifer Eberdhardt who has been studying racial biases for years and is a psychology professor at Stanford University. Dr. Eberdhardt covers dozens of peer-reviewed studies that go beyond the IAT, and she’s hired by police departments around the country to teach them about biases.
Like I said, Gad Saad loves picking fights by punching down, but I’d pay money to see him debate someone like Dr. Jennifer Eberdhardt. If Dr. Eberdhardt is unavailable, I’d gladly watch him debate the author of Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, Dr. Mahzarin Banaji.
I absolutely agree with Gad Saad that some people are prone to outrage culture, and I’ve experienced it as someone who was canceled in 2019. When all of the protests on riots were breaking out on college campuses because they refused to let certain conservatives speak, I thought it was ridiculous. But, it comes off as hypocritical when Gad Saad cherry picks which science he wants to believe.
A much better book on this same subject is The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff. What separates these two books is while Gad Saad denies biases and prejudice play any significant role in our society, the other authors are intellectually honest and explain that these are issues, but there are better ways to resolve them. In fact, Gad Saad may benefit from reading my favorite Jonathan Haidt book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.
Haidt is a moral psychologist, and he does an excellent job explaining how we’re guided by emotions rather than rationality. He points to studies where something as simple as having hand sanitizer nearby makes people more conservative because they’re subconsciously reminded of cleanliness, a core value of conservatives. If something as seemingly meaningless as hand sanitizer can make someone more conservative, how can Gad Saad deny biases when we’re so easily primed.
I could go on and on about the peer-reviewed science that makes Gad Saad look silly in this regard, but I highly recommend he and his followers check out the book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by the behavioral economist Dan Ariely as well as Thinking Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman.
But moving on, in this final section, I think it’s important we discuss how these “intellectuals” are often pandering hypocrites who are profiting off the polarization of the current political climate.
Gad the Grifter
I don’t think Gad is stupid. It’d be extremely ignorant of me to assume that he’s not intelligent with all of his academic accomplishments and knowledge in various areas. Although he’s not stupid, he, like others, is trying to profit off of these divisive times. While Gad Saad will try to argue that he’s a principled man who is only doing this because he believes in freedom of speech and the sharing of ideas.
I’m a biracial straight man who looks white, and I’m pretty progressive, but I too believe that there are some far-left people who have gone off the rails. Years ago, I respected the opinions of people like Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, and Tim Pool. Like all of these examples, Gad Saad found a niche as being the anti-snowflake advocates while becoming progressively worse. It’s no longer about compelled speech. These men found an audience and decided to double-down. Now, they’ve sacrificed their rationality for their brand.
Do I think it’s a jerk move to misgender a trans person? Absolutely. But do I think it should be against the law? Nope. Do I disagree with race-based genetic science in certain aspects like intelligence? Yes, but I also agree with Dr. Fredrik deBoer in his new book The Cult of Smart: How Our Broken Education System Perpetuates Social Injustice that there are individual genetic differences we shouldn’t deny.
Personally, I agree with people like Gad Saad that it’s silly that the same people who mock climate-change deniers also pick and choose which science they want to believe. As someone on the left, I know there are plenty of people on the left who disagree with science that offends them. But this is no longer the core of what people like Gad Saad are arguing against. Instead, they’re pandering, and their loyal followers don’t see the hypocrisy.
Throughout his book, he makes similar arguments as Haidt in The Coddling of the American Mind that so-called Social Justice Warriors catastrophize everything. There is a set of people who believes the world is going to come to an end if someone they disagree with ideologically comes into power. While Haidt makes logical, evidence-based arguments against catastrophizing, Gad Saad just calls them snowflakes and then proceeds to do the exact same thing.
Within just a couple of chapters, Gad Saad equates progressives to the 9/11 terrorists to calling them catastrophizing snowflakes. His brand agenda has become so important to him that he neglects to see his own hypocrisy.
Lastly, I think it’s important to state that one of my favorite books is Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth by Stuart Ritchie. There’s a lot of bad science out there, and it’s important that we know how to separate good from bad studies. Aside from shady tactics, researchers use, like P-hacking, Gad Saad is a prime example of using selection biased for his arguments.
I’m sure if Gad Saad wanted to, he could refute a study or two that someone like Dr. Jennifer Eberdhardt references, but Gad Saad uses selection and confirmation bias to only discuss research results that agree with him. Something I’ve come to respect from true intellectuals is their ability to try and refute their own points while making their argument, which is something Gad Saad doesn’t do.
So, is The Parasitic Mind a good book? Not really. It’s a clear cash grab to exploit anyone who has ever called someone a snowflake. Aside from just being a lazily written book, Gad Saad didn’t say much that people in his circle haven’t said a million times already. The target audience of books like this are people who want to go deeper in their echo chambers, and this is a weakness from influencers on both the left and the right.
My final thoughts on Gad Saad as a person? He’s a troll, and as someone who was a troll in my teen years and early 20s, I respect a good troll. Unfortunately, his brand is being an intellectual, but he merely punches down and debates non-experts. I don’t think anyone should take him seriously until he debates experts in opposing fields.
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