Dr. Gad Saad is a remarkable public intellectual. Alongside hosting the Saad Truth (his hugely popular YouTube show) he is Professor of Marketing at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada), and former holder of the Concordia University Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences and Darwinian Consumption. In addition to his scientific work, Dr. Saad often writes and speaks about idea pathogens that are destroying logic, science, reason, and common sense. His fourth book The Parasitic Mind: How Infectious Ideas Are Killing Common Sense exposes the bad ideas—what he calls “idea pathogens”—that are killing common sense and rational debate. Incubated in our universities and spread through the tyranny of political correctness, these ideas are endangering our most basic freedoms—including freedom of thought and speech.
In this exclusive interview, I speak to Gad Saad about idea pathogens, how they are infecting society, the consequences, and what we can do to immunise ourselves and fight for truth and the freedom of thought and speech.
Q: To what extent has human history always been a battleground of ideas?
[Gad Saad]: This is not the first time in human history that we have faced a battle of ideas. Today however, we are regressing to the dark ages. We had the scientific revolution, the enlightenment, and then all the downstream positive effects of these two wonderful movements that liberated us from the shackles of religion and gave us individual dignity and so many more benefits. For the next 400 years we saw nothing but progress, but the past 50 years have seen a slow- and then faster- reversal of that progress by idea pathogens which were spawned in the university ecosystem. As I always say, it takes intellectuals to come up with really stupid ideas. Unfortunately, these idea pathogens have led us to the abyss of infinite lunacy.
As an evolutionary scientist, one of the toolboxes I use is called comparative psychology which is a field where you compare human cognition, human realities and animal studies to draw parallels and understanding. In looking at the literature, I came across the field of neuroparasitology which looks at how parasites of various forms can infect various hosts. In the same way that a tapeworm can infest our intestine, a neuroparasite can infect the brain. There are some interesting examples of this, and toxoplasma gondii is one most commonly known. If a mouse is infected with this particular brain worm, it loses the fear of cats and becomes sexually attracted to the cat’s urine which- obviously- is not so good for the mouse. Another example comes in the form of brain worms that infect ungulates (deer, moose, elk) who- when parasitized by this brain worm- will engage in a behaviour where they move around in repetitive circles, bobbing their heads, unable to extricate themselves- even if a predator comes to eat them.
Human beings, like all animals, can be parasitised by actual brain worms but there’s another class of pathogens that can infest our minds and brains; idea pathogens.
Q: How are idea pathogens impacting post-enlightenment western civilisation?
[Gad Saad]: One cut doesn’t kill you… two cuts may not kill you… but once you amalgamate thousands of these cuts? In our case, the edifice of reason and dignity are being peeled from society; the protective layers and values that have made the West are being broken…. The great societies that have been spawned in the West are slowly being eradicated by idea pathogens which- while they work in different ways- share one common thread- that being to free their host from the shackles of reality. This might sound extraordinary but let me give you some examples. Postmodernism is the grandad of the idea pathogens which liberate us from truth- it espouses the idea that everything is subjective, and that there are no universal truths. Even something as banal as ‘only women bear children within the Homo sapien species’ becomes somehow contentious… That the sun rises in the East and sets in the West becomes contentious…. People start questioning ‘what do you mean by East and West?’ – ‘what do you mean by the Sun? – It’s a nihilistic movement, it’s intellectual terrorism. On 9/11, 19 zealots adhered to a particular ideology and flew planes into buildings – postmodernists are intellectual terrorists who fly their planes of bullshit into the edifices of reason.
Q: How have idea pathogens infected society?
[Gad Saad]: Idea pathogens start off with a noble objective. The rejection of innate sex differences by militant feminists comes from the laudable goal of eradicating institutional sexism. However, in the course of this laudable social justice we don’t have to murder the truth, do we? Regrettably, many of these idea pathogens have a ‘tension’ between consequentialist ethics and deontological ethics. Deontological ethics is based on absolute truths- it’s never OK to lie- that’s a deontological statement. A consequentialist view of lying would be ‘well, it’s OK to lie if you’re trying to protect someone’s feelings…’ – if your spouse asks you, ‘do I look fat in these jeans?’ and you want to have a long and happy marriage, maybe you ned to lie to protect your spouse’s feelings. The reality is that we are all consequentialist and deontological in our ethics, but the question is whether we are applying the right ethical system to the right conditions. The Truth however should always be deontological- you should never sacrifice truth at the altar of social justice- that is what idea pathogens do.
Q: Why (and how) do idea pathogens emerge on campus and spread?
[Gad Saad]: Idea pathogens emerge in disciplines where there is no direct link between the imbecilic nature of ideas nor their consequences. It’s no accident that postmodernism didn’t arise in business school or engineering faculties. You can’t have fully detached idea pathogens (fully detached from reality) if you’re trying to model consumer choice or economics. If you root your ideas in lunacy, your experiment will fail, and this has direct consequences- you can’t build a bridge or an aircraft using postmodernist feminist epistemology.
Idea pathogens begin in disciplines where you can pontificate like a complete imbecile, without any consequences. Most students are cowed into silence by pontificating professors, and this is precisely why I tell people to activate their inner honey badger. You need not be impolite or obnoxious, but if people are proposing things that sound wrong to you, it should be perfectly consistent with a free society to challenge those things. Even your professor should not be free from criticism.
Faux profundity is also important and is an important tool in how postmodernism is promulgated successfully on campuses. If I am listening to some postmodernist charlatan on stage talking gibberish, I can do one of two things. I can attribute the fact that I don’t understand a word he’s saying to my being dumb, or to the fact that he is espousing complete bullshit. By attributing my lack of understanding to my being dumb, I am using a false attribution style, and the speaker is able to get away with a lot of bullshit dispensing. There is a quote from John Searle where he’s speaking to Michel Foucalt (one of the holy trinity of bullshitters of French postmodernism which also includes Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida) where Searle says ‘how come, when I sit down and chat with you, it seems as though I can understand you, but when I try to read your words, I’m completely lost?’ to which Foucalt answers to the lines of ‘well you know in France, if we don’t include all this nonsensical verbiage, nobody will take us seriously. So, he is wilfully trying to confuse by masquerading as profound when he is really saying nothing.
People write to me and make the case that not everything about postmodernism is wrong and destructive, and I often push-back and ask them to list 10 concrete things that have come out of postmodernism. Most academic disciplines have a commitment to reason, logic, epistemology and intellectual growth. Postmodernism destroys this and takes you to a world where up is down, left is right, and so on.
Q: Why are we so susceptible to postmodernist, or pathogenic ideas?
[Gad Saad]: There is a collective malady I call ostrich parasitic syndrome. The Ostrich basically buries its head in the sand so that it can avoid reality, it’s like ‘la la la, I’m not listening to you…’ and the parasitic element here is where you wilfully deny realities as clear as gravity. Science denialism is an example of ostrich parasitic syndrome, as is the fact that a man, who has a 9-inch penis, can ‘become’ female simply by identifying as such. If you disagree with his self-identification, you are labelled a transphobe. To be clear, I am a strong support of trans-rights- every single individual should be able to live free of bigotry, and with full dignity, but in the pursuit of that social goal, we cannot murder the truth. You don’t need to reject reality to pursue social justice. This does not mean that gender dysphoria doesn’t exist, it does. It doesn’t mean that there are not people who are confused about their gender, there are. But it does mean that when JK Rowling argues that people who menstruate are women, and people who don’t are men, that she should not be cancelled! …it’s really gone too far.
Let’s look at another example. When it comes to an honest analysis of Islam, there are individual Muslims who are lovely, and some who are mean, like any other group… there are lovely Jews, and really mean Jews… Islam itself is made up of a certain set of codified beliefs which can be found in the hadiths (the deeds and sayings of the prophet Muhammad) and in the Sira (the prophetic biography). These lead to real world consequences. Of the 37,000+ terror attacks since 9/11 in over 70 countries, each one of them has been linked to the ideology. Just imagine in that scenario if some highfalutin’ western thinker then says, ‘No, Ahmed Hussein didn’t do it because of a Quran verse, but because he was bullied at school, not exposed to enough art, and because of a lack of solar panels and climate change…’ These are just some of the insane reasons that Westerners have come-up with to explain terror attacks. Accepting the reality of this does not preclude you from also accepting the fact that the majority of Muslims are nice, decent people.
Q: What are the dangers of ideological conformity and the reality of some of our diversity, equity and inclusion movements?
[Gad Saad]: I think of ideological conformity as being the DIE Religion (diversity, inclusion, equity). A neuropsychiatrist came up with something called the hygiene hypothesis for evolutionary medicine. If you look at kids who grew up in sterile environments, they are much more likely to have respiratory ailments and auto-immune conditions than children who grew up with allergens (such as pet dander). The reason for this is that the immune system has to be constantly fighting and engaged for it to be effective. You can take this same idea and apply it to the ideological environment where if we sterilise our inputs too much (in echo chambers) we are not able to experience our perceived ‘pollutants’ (opposing ideas). Our brains have evolved to be activated by opposing ideas, and that’s how we should frame our critical thinking. By creating universities that are nothing but echo chambers of ideological conformity, we are being anti-Darwinian. We are not feeding our minds with the necessary nourishment to function optimally.
So… diversity, inclusion and equity again start from a noble place and you hear people talk about equality of opportunity and outcome. If there is a systemic lack of opportunity where- for example- systemic racism or sexism doesn’t allow women or black people to be on campus- that of course must be addressed but we cannot conflate that with equality of outcome. Let’s take the Department of Mathematics at Princeton as an example. If they (hypothetically) did not have the requisite number of black mathematicians, we cannot automatically blame systemic racism.
Diversity, equity and inclusion start from a noble position but end-up becoming every single thing that we have fought against, in our fight to gain human dignity. Critical race theory is a grotesque repackaging of Nazism, but it packages itself as a fight against racism. In the pursuit of the fight against racism is it not grotesquely racist to ask people of a particular skin hue (in this case, white) to go to seminars where they have to self-flagellate and apologise for being white and accept responsibility for acts committed hundreds of years ago? How is that laudable? How is that liberal?
We are living at a time where people are punished just for speaking a truth. If for example, I say that I am particularly attracted to black women, I am accused of being a rabid racist for objectifying the black body. If I say that I am not attracted to black women and prefer Asian women, then I am engaging in sexual racism. If I’m attracted to black women, I’m racist… if I’m not attracted to black women, I’m racist.
We are also seeing people creating faux-intellectual answers to problems that may not even exist. For example, a woman from Queens University in Canada decided to wear a hijab for 18 days to demonstrate how rabidly Islamophobic the Canadian people were. At the end of day 18, she found that Canadians were incredibly kind, sweet and polite to her. Did she revise her hypothesis? No… she concluded that they were nice to her precisely because they were so Islamophobic that they had to overcompensate by being nice to her. Therefore, there was no way that Canadians could be free from the downstream appellation of being rabid Islamophobes.
Another even more astonishing example… An Israeli doctoral student wanted to do some postdoctoral research demonstrating that the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) engaged in the rampant, systemic rape of Palestinian women. Much to her dismay she discovered that there were zero cases of the rape of Palestinian women by IDF forces. Did she conclude that the soldiers were truly moral and were not exploiting their positions? No…. she concluded that they were so hateful, so loathing of Palestinian women, that they were not worthy of rape. Her conclusion was that not raping Palestinian women was an act of hatred by the soldiers.
Q: How can we immunise ourselves against idea parasites?
[Gad Saad]: We have to activate our inner honey-badger. This is an animal the size of a small dog which can hold 6 adult lions at bay through its sheer ferocity. When I say we must activate our inner honey badger, what I mean is that we have to have certain first principles that we truly believe in, that we can annunciate, and that we refuse to be silenced. We cannot be silent from fear of losing friends- if someone cannot accept you may have a different opinion, that friendship is not anti-fragile, and you should not be around that person.
If we go back to the work of Charles Darwin (who, by the way, some now wish to cancel) he assiduously collected data over several decades from many disciplines from geology, palaeontology, animal husbandry, ecology, biodiversity and created insurmountable evidence for evolution that for over 150 years people have tried- and been unable to falsify or disprove. Whenever we are arguing for a position, we can use a tool called the nomological network of cumulative evidence. Let’s suppose I want to prove to you that toy preferences are not socially constructed. The usual argument of social scientists is that mommy and daddy are arbitrarily sexist pigs, that they teach little Vikas to play with the Gun, and little Linda to play gently with pink Barbie. If I wanted to prove to you that there are actually hormonal and biological signatures that explain the specificity of toy preferences, how would I go about doing that? What evidence would I have to amalgamate to convince you of my position? I could, for example, take children who are in pre-socialisation stage of cognitive development and show you that little boys and little girls already exhibit those sex-specific preferences for which toy they prefer. That one line of evidence is already putting a nail in the coffin of social constructivists, but of course- if I want to build a good nomological network, I need much more. What if I take data from other animals? What if I brought infant Vervet Monkeys, Rhesus Macaque’s and Chimpanzees and showed you that they exhibit the same sex specificity of toy preferences? Well now, it’s making your position of social construction look pretty silly. What if I also now brought in children who suffer from congenital adrenal hypoplasia which is an endocrinal disorder that masculinises morphology and behaviour. Little girls who suffer from this disorder have reversed toy preferences from their counterparts – they prefer toys that are similar to boys. So now I’ve gotten you data from paediatric endocrinology, from comparative zoology across many species, from developmental psychology, all of which are pretty unassailable. Now imagine if I added another 7 or 8 lines of evidence. Now you start to look like a fool. When we are seeking truth, we can’t be cognitive misers. We have to do the hard work.
If all else fails… perhaps you can use your position in victimology poker. I score very high, I am an Arabic, Jewish, war refugee. To win arguments against social justice warriors, I can use their own grotesque calculus to win arguments against them. This may sound silly, but it’s actually showing the power of satire.
We have to use all the evidence and tools we have to convince people of our position.
Dr. Gad Saad is Professor of Marketing at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada), and former holder of the Concordia University Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences and Darwinian Consumption (2008-2018). He has held Visiting Associate Professorships at Cornell University, Dartmouth College, and the University of California–Irvine. Dr. Saad received the Faculty of Commerce’s Distinguished Teaching Award in June 2000, and was listed as one of the ‘hot’ professors of Concordia University in both the 2001 and 2002 Maclean’s reports on Canadian universities. Saad was appointed Newsmaker of the Week of Concordia University in five consecutive years (2011-2015), and is the co-recipient of the 2015 President’s Media Outreach Award-Research Communicator of the Year (International), which goes to the professor at Concordia University whose research receives the greatest amount of global media coverage.
Professor Saad has pioneered the use of evolutionary psychology in marketing and consumer behavior. His works include The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature (translated into Korean and Turkish); The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption; Evolutionary Psychology in the Business Sciences, along with 75+ scientific papers, many at the intersection of evolutionary psychology and a broad range of disciplines including consumer behavior, marketing, advertising, psychology, medicine, and economics (Google Scholar). His Psychology Today blog (Homo Consumericus) and YouTube channel (THE SAAD TRUTH) have garnered 6.4+ million and 19.7+ million total views respectively. He recently started a podcast titled The Saad Truth with Dr. Saad, which is available on all leading podcast platforms.
In addition to his scientific work, Dr. Saad is a leading public intellectual who often writes and speaks about idea pathogens that are destroying logic, science, reason, and common sense. His fourth book The Parasitic Mind: How Infectious Ideas Are Killing Common Sense will be released on October 6, 2020.
He received a B.Sc. (1988) and an M.B.A. (1990) both from McGill University, and his M.S. (1993) and Ph.D. (1994) from Cornell University.