Gaad Saad, a psychologist who specializes in applying evolutionary biology to the study of consumer behavior, has written a book of great value, and moreover, it is a book that required great courage to write. The book is filled with interesting ideas, and I have space here to mention only a few of them.
What most draws me to the book is that Saad has a philosophical turn of mind, and as such, he is concerned with fashionable attempts to deny the existence of objective truth. He says,
The central focus of this book is to explore another set of pathogens that are as dangerous [as biological parasites] to the human condition: parasitic pathogens of the human mind. These are composed of thought patterns, belief systems, attitudes, and mindsets that parasitize one’s ability to think properly and accurately. Once these mind viruses take hold of one’s neuronal circuitry, the afflicted victim loses the ability to use reason, logic, and science to navigate the world. Instead, one sinks into an abyss of infinite lunacy best defined by a dogged and proud departure from reality, common sense, and truth. (p. 17)
The mental viruses Saad has in mind are to a large extent those that deny that human beings have a biological nature. He says, for example,
Many idea pathogens share one common thread, a deep desire to liberate people from the shackles of reality. Take, for example, the blank slate premise of the human mind. It posits that humans are born void of any evolved biological blueprints and innate individual differences. Our eventual life trajectories are thought to be fully shaped by the distinct environment to which we’ve been exposed. (p. 70)
It is exactly here that Saad has manifested his courage, as the followers of many fashionable movements deny what he affirms and have been quick to boycott and blacklist dissenters. He tells us that the
idea pathogens on university campuses fall into several large categories. Postmodernism posits that all knowledge is relative (no objective truths)…. Social constructivism proposes that the great majority of human behaviors, desires, and preferences are formed not by human nature or our biological heritage but by society, 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. Transgender activism purports that biological sex and “gender” are non-binary fluid constructs. Scientifically speaking, postmodernism, social constructivism, radical feminism, and transgender activism are all based on demonstrable falsehoods. (p. 69, emphasis in original)
Saad has placed great stress on the findings, as he takes them, of evolutionary biology, but how do we know these findings are true, and, moreover, so firmly established that resistance to them can be characterized as mental pathology? In a crucial passage, he says that evolutionary theory is supported by “nomological networks of cumulative evidence.” “This approach epitomizes the gift of the human intellect. It is akin to building a jigsaw puzzle. No single piece is sufficient to see the full image but once all of the pieces are placed in their rightful positions, the final pattern emerges clearly” (p. 146).
Saad, it transpires, firmly believes that science is our best means to attain objective truth. “Philosophers have offered many frameworks to define truth. Mathematical proofs, for instance, are axiomatic truths. Empirical truths, on the other hand, are sought by the scientific method” (p. 143, emphasis in original). Saad’s views about evolution and science merit careful consideration, but my aim here is to present them rather than evaluate them. I would, though, note one problem. When he says that the “scientific method is the universal epistemological framework for understanding the world around us” (p. 57, emphasis added), he is making a statement that he takes to be true, even though it is a philosophical statement and not a scientific one.
In his stress on the objectivity of logic and reason, Saad finds an ally in Ludwig von Mises, whom he cites:
The contemporary progressive mantra considers it laudable to argue that different races, cultures, or religions possess distinct ways of knowing. However, not too long ago, the idea that people of different races or classes possessed distinct ways of thinking and reasoning, was reserved for racists and other miscreants. Ludwig von Mises … coined the term polylogism to capture this exact folly. Mises differentiated between Marxian polylogism and racial polylogism…. Polylogism is an anti-science notion, as Mises well knew…. There is no “black mind” or “white mind,” no “white male way of knowing” or “indigenous way of knowing,” there is only one truth, and we find it through the scientific method. (pp. 59–60)
An objection might occur to some readers, but Saad has an answer to it. Saad says that there is only one way of knowing, not separate male and female ways of knowing, but doesn’t he also, against those he calls radical feminists, emphasize biologically based differences between the behavior of men and women? Saad would reply that there is no contradiction: there are evolutionary reasons for both universal logic and sex-based differences in behavior.
If science is to continue to progress, it is essential that all lines of inquiry be open. This openness ought not to give way to the demands of certain “oppressed” groups that controversial views that hurt their feelings should be banned:
Given that they are so wrong, how do the ideologues defend their idea pathogens? Under totalitarian regimes, the solution is direct. You criminalize if not violently suppress (or kill) any dissenting voices. In the West, the ideological indoctrination is subtler. It is achieved by an ethos of political correctness and best enforced by creating university campuses that lack intellectual diversity … intellectual terrorists instruct generations of gullible students to remain quiet in their classroom seats while they inculcate them with anti-science nonsense. (p. 92, emphasis in original)
The “social justice warriors” have met their match in Gad Saad, and readers will benefit from the many stimulating ideas in The Parasitic Mind.