‘When 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…
The 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…’
It 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.
‘In 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)…
In 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.
When 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.
In 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.’
‘Another 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.
‘People 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:
‘In 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 values.’
‘This 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.
This 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.
High 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 fifty years.
Consequently, 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 follows:
And 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
‘The 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…
Societies dominated by traditional pro-fertility norms allow sex only within marriage, imposing severe sexual repression on unmarried young men.
Throughout 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…
The 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 security continuum.’
To put it simply, when survival is not guaranteed, you make war; when you can take survival for granted, you make love.
More 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.
But when people feel fearful and insecure, there is an authoritarian reflex to materialist ‘Strict Father’ values.
‘The 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…’
Among others, he satirizes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and criticizes ‘bullshitter’ Michel Foucault, as well as ‘arrogantly sanctimonious, if not pathologically hysteric’ Greta Thunberg.
Saad 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.
However, he also recounts with dripping contempt how:
‘My 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…’
Once 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.
‘Progressives 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’…
The future must belong to those who criticize, mock, ridicule, and satirize all prophets, ideas, religions, and ideologies…’
Agreed. 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.
And why not start closer to home, with Saad’s friend Jordan Peterson, who in 12 Rules for Life writes:
‘People, 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…
Why 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?…
You’re 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…
Perhaps 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…
So, 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…
But every person is deeply flawed. Everyone falls short of the glory of God…
Heaven, 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…
Life 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).