Saad, Another Libertarian


This is a very important post because it is a critique of a critique on everything that is wrong with liberals by an evolutionary psychologist.  There will be a total of three posts.  This first topic is about facts and feelings and how they relate to Donald Trump.


I just got done reading “The Parasitic Mind” by Gad Saad, and the book was enjoyable because it was lucid… Saad claims to not have any skin in the game and is an apolitical Canadian.  But he sure does favor what a typical conservative does (i).  Saad is an evolutionary psychologist, which is not a problem.  The problem is that he does not know how to present sensitive issues of status to the public.  He wrote his book to combat liberals’ attempts at destroying freedom and truth. These are the same aspirations that every conservative has.  Saad believes that parasites disguised as “thought patterns, belief systems, attitudes, and mindsets” have made liberals unable to think clearly about the facts.  What are these facts? Saad being as eclectic as he is has them in his book. He targets the usual suspects, including relativism, constructivism, feminism, victimhood, social justice warriors, and political correctness.  Saad has a lot of strong points on how we block truth due to political correctness and being ideologues.  I am usually of the opinion that truth can set us free although it may hurt at first.  But some of these truths may be the price of being ideological.

Any system that is built on a false understanding of human nature is doomed to fail. Building a society where the primary objective is to protect one’s fragile self-esteem from the dangers of competition will only lead to a society of weakness, entitlement, and apathy. Life is necessarily competitive; society is necessarily hierarchical. It does no one any favors to pursue a utopian vision of society where no one’s feelings are hurt.

The above quote sums up Saad’s grand vision and understanding of human nature.  This means there is no place for equality or equity.  Although he claims that humans are both competitive and cooperative, he fails to discuss the egalitarian aspects of cooperation.  If we exclude the work of Wilson, Boehm, Waal, and others, then perhaps we can conclude that we are selfish to the core.  But there is a good case to be made that our moral emotions give us the capacity to be empathetic towards in-group and even out-group members.  Saad wants to convince us that his argument is based on facts.  It is not.  It is based on a preference for a worldview that assumes that life is a struggle for survival.  This is a belief that he bought into.  It is not a matter of fact (iv).  Saad sits on top; it is in his best interest to believe in legitimizing beliefs.  He’s legitimizing a world of absolute meritocracy.  We know of his ilk.


Liberals Voted Irrationally Against Trump

In the political arena, Drew Westen has shown in The Political Brain that emotion is both central and legitimate in political persuasion. Its use is not an illicit appeal to irrationality, as Enlightenment thought would have it. The proper emotions are rational. [1]

Saad gets it right when he points out that separating rationality from passion gives a false dichotomy.  Neuroscience shows that this dichotomy is fiction because we reason with emotion.  When it comes to political reasoning, which is moral reasoning, emotions are very pertinent.  Saad claims that liberals did not support Trump because of their visceral hate and contempt for him.  We did not like his brazen disposition and political incorrectness.  Instead, we should have been looking at the facts like his experience as a successful businessman or his stance on issues of importance.  Well, that would not have been a fruitful avenue to take.  Besides people vote based on their gut feelings on whether they like the candidate or not.  This means that Trump’s beliefs, personality, mannerisms, and behaviors did not align with our preferences.  It can easily be argued that it is rational to not vote for Trump based on those reasons (i).  In fact, emotions are so important that voting on values almost always trumps one’s interests [3].

This is not good enough for Saad since we must use conscious reason to calculate and maximize our self-interest.  This is a form of reasoning that people seldomly engage in.  It has its roots in the Enlightenment era and is used in economic models as a form of means-end rationality.  Real reason uses metaphors, frames, prototypes, and emotion and ninety-five percent of our reasoning is unconscious [1].  So why are we holding liberals and conservatives to unattainable standards?  Because we want to believe that we are rational; it makes us feel smart (ii).  Now, some decisions are more cognitive-intense than emotional, but we are talking about political reasoning not which mutual funds to purchase.  If rationality is about goal-oriented behavior and how we feel towards a candidate is important to us, then it is completely rational to vote based on preferences-values and not our interests. Although our “interests” are usually framed in terms of pecuniary or quantifiable ends, it can be argued that our values become our interests.

This will no doubt be interpreted as irrational because we are supposed to use unemotional reasoning in order to calculate what is in our best interest.  It is a stigma to say that likes and dislikes were involved in our decision-making process.  But why should quantifiable interests be more important than values?  Moral psychologists have documented the rich tapestry of emotions that we experience when issues of status, rank, power, control, fairness, loyalty, caring, safety, sanctity, inclusion, exclusion, equality, and freedom arise, which are exactly what politics and moral reasoning evoke.  These emotional experiences make life meaningful and allow us to share identities and beliefs, which makes us tribal.  These shared beliefs allow us to cooperate with a collective vision in order to press our interests.  Although tribalism certainly connotes irrationality, it can be rational to want to be ideological (iii).


Facts, Truth, and Everything Is Relative

Saad goes on to say that “Any human endeavor rooted in the pursuit of truth must rely on facts and not feelings [2].”  Although this statement is technically not true, we know what he means.  Saad means that we cannot base truth on a hunch, we have to be aware of our bias, and we cannot reject or accept facts solely on our dislikes or likes.  I say “solely” because neuroscience explains how we experience “truth” in terms of affect (think of emotion) as we simulate “truth” to see if it fits our understanding.  In other words, we interpret facts and reason with emotion.  In fact, scientists devise hypotheses based on confirmation biases.  In principle, it’s the competing confirmation biases that give us truth.  So Saad’s statement is misleading if we are concerned about objective truth.

But the above is not the real reason for Saad’s claim of truth.  The real reason is that he wants to portray liberals as people who cannot be taken seriously.  We can therefore be dismissed by more serious-minded intellectuals.  Conservatives have made a business out of saying “facts don’t care about your feelings”.  Conservatives are tough, no-nonsense people, so this is what we should expect.  This should not intimidate anyone because it is only revealing their own feelings since it is an appeal to their ego. Still, emotions help interpret facts and play a role in what we value, which is important.  Liberals know that in order for these values to be matters of fact that we must restructure our beliefs.  If we believe that political correctness is moral, then the next step would be to ask about its efficacy; that is, does political correctness improve the status of marginalized others?  This is now empirical.

Truth is a kind of illusory rule-following, the purpose of which has long been forgotten; it’s a “mobile army of metaphors” that become “enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically” by people in charge.  Nietzsche

There is a common misunderstanding about truth and facts.  We already unraveled the role of feelings in interpreting facts and reasoning.  But what about “it’s all relative”?  Conservatives hate this statement.  Presumably, it delegitimizes their beliefs which they want to be absolute facts.  Saad and scientists want to believe that absolute objective facts exist so they can make predictions. Objective facts exist, but they must be relative to the interpreter.  So there are only relative objective facts and not absolute objective facts.  Saad is not giving “it’s all relative” the proper treatment.  Think about how ideologies frame abortion. Conservatives frame it as “a baby”.  Liberals frame it as “a cluster of cells”.  Therefore, abortion is immoral for conservatives and moral for liberals within their respective frameworks.  Both statements are matters of fact.  Both worldviews are right.  Although philosophers would call these distal beliefs since they are hard to prove, this is legitimate reasoning that people engage in.  A hard relativist would say that everything is relative to a point of view and not one point of view should be elevated over the other. Science, in my view, is the final adjudicator, so I disagree with the hard relativists.  Contrary to what Saad says, morality is not absolute. Unless we define it as “well-being” since there is a biological argument for this.  But morality has been expanded to moralities by Haidt, who is in charge.


Notes

i) Saad is not a political conservative, but he holds their worldview.  Saad has stated that he is a libertarian, which is two steps away from a conservative.  Cognitive scientists have developed models for two different modes of reasoning that are seen across cultures, which are used by both conservatives and liberals.  Saad would agree perfectly with the reasoning of a “strict-father morality”, which is the mode of thought that conservatives use.

ii) Rationality is a big topic.  Philosophers have defined all kinds of rationality.  In the everyday sense, it means someone who does not give in to their passions in order to serve their long-term interests, not being too emotional or impulsive to pursue what’s most important, or that which is agreeable to reason.  We favor this definition because serving our long-term interests has survival value.  It is also a social norm that we follow.  People want to be seen as smart enough to protect their long-term interests.  Notice how Saad uses this to draw criticism that we are not rational.  Even so, it is rational to vote based on values, which involve emotion.

iii) If liberals wanted to use reason-based rationality, they could certainly weigh the pros and cons of their candidates.  They could evaluate them based on intelligence scores, personality inventories, past voting records, and stance on issues that serve their interests.  But people do not have the time to engage in this type of reasoning.   If we are honest, then these would have come after the fact anyhow as most reasoning is post hoc.  We feel first and then justify with reasons, especially when it comes to people and politics.  It turns out that it is a good heuristic to vote for party affiliation because it increases the probability that one’s perceived interests will be carried out and values will be upheld.  Moreover, our gut instincts about Trump turned out to be more than correct.

iv) Biological life can be a competitive and cooperative struggle for survival.  But it does not have to be.  We have the capacity to help those who can’t compete and to protect against the corrosive effects of exaggerated social hierarchies.  Evolution is more accurately defined as the survival of a species in terms of adaptation to ecological niches.  Saad’s entire argument for a worldview of absolute meritocracy rests on what he claims is a biological imperative.  He is conflating stuff.  This will take a post to explain.


References

[1] Lakoff, George.  The Political Mind.

[2] Saad, Gadd.  The Parasitic Mind: How Infectious Ideas Are Killing Common Sense

[3] Westen, Drew.  The Political Brain.

Comments

  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Sounds an awful lot like Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism”, all the way down to claiming a monopoly on rationalism.

    Are you sure you want to waste another second of your lifespan on any such bozo?

    • musing says

      I’m glad you made that comment. I was concerned that I wouldn’t get my relativism point across without sounding like a total relativist.

      The interesting thing is that he thinks we are complete bozos too. It must have to do with that in-group/out-group thing. He made some good points. And it is good for a reality check to get an outsider’s opinion every now and then. He knows his stuff and has an explanation for everything, with studies to back it up. I just don’t agree with the core of libertarianism. Evolutionary psychology is a legitimate field; I just don’t know the best way to disseminate the findings.

      I do hope to get the point across in the next post that these worldviews are based on preferences. And there is no biological mandate that we have to enforce on people as in when he says “Life is necessarily competitive; society is necessarily hierarchical.” It is hierarchical, but there is nothing that says we can’t level it a bit from time to time.

      • Ichthyic says

        The interesting thing is that he thinks we are complete bozos too

        this is only interesting if you have no knowledge of even basic psychology, and don’t recognize projection when you see it.

        I’m sorry to see you even interested in Saad, at all. it speaks to your ignorance of the underlying research in sociology and psychology, which you absolutely NEED to have some semblance of in order to actually understand the authoritarian personality types that represent “conservatism” and always have.

        • musing says

          I see that you are similar to Trump and Saad in that you like to attack the person. You completely misunderstood what I meant by “how we came to the conclusion to not want him in office, as with most things, is complex.” What I meant was did we like or dislike him first, or did we start on a neutral footing and come to rational conclusions based on his policies. I am interested in rationality as a concept of how we reason with our emotions since they are intertwined. This is raising a scientific question and is drawing attention to our decision-making process in light of our emotions. It is not trying to call into question the validity of our conclusions. I then bring up the argument that even if we voted based on gut feelings, which 80% of us do anyhow, it is still rational to not like him. Even if we had no knowledge of his character or past indiscretions, we may not have liked him based on his personality. I’m arguing that these gut feelings are rational to have. They are rational to have because they give us an indication of the candidate’s values. Saad is arguing that we need to focus on their policies because his form of rationality is about maximizing our interests and precludes values. But values are just as important as our interests (say economic interests).

          I agree that Trump brings out the authoritarian personality in many of us (some more than others). Saad and most conservatives either have the authoritarianism trait or had it brought out of them by Trump appealing to fear and hate. Even if there is projection going on, that has nothing to do with the fact that we are all self-righteous and believe that our positions are the right ones and all outsiders are “bozos”. I believe that Saad is sincere in that he thinks he is fighting for freedom and truth. Although he does not realize that the interpretation of these values that he holds is subjective. As objective as he tries to be, they are his versions of freedom and truth. I think it would be best to read an author’s argument first along with asking pertinent questions before attacking. Seek first to understand then to be understood. But I can’t quite even understand what you are arguing against. I think you are reacting to me giving Saad the attention that I do along with misinterpreting the fact that I am calling into question the validity of our voting behavior, which I am not. You probably should carefully reread the post.

  2. Bruce says

    Ancient Neanderthal graves with flowers are obviously a non-utilitarian, non-rational response to death, which with Saad guidance I can now clearly see must have been caused by rampant political correctness gone mad in that era.
    How we all long to return to a time before these liberal ideas infected our society.

  3. Katydid says

    I think it’s Saad who’s not thinking clearly here. For example, the reason why the majority of Americans did not vote for Donald Trump. He’s a failed businessman many times over and we have decades of evidence that he lies and cheats…and he’s not even good at that. It’s obvious that he’s lying and cheating and it gets him–at best–only short-term gains. He took a fortune in profits from his father and lost most of it. He’s created a vast ocean of people who hate him everywhere he goes.

    Add to that his raging malignant narcissism and inability to get along with people, and the majority of the US concluded he was not what they wanted in a leader. Sounds pretty rational to me.

    • musing says

      How we came to the conclusion to not want him in office, as with most things, is complex. But those are some good reasons to not vote for him, including his malignant narcissism. Narcissism correlates with the personality trait authoritarianism, which has negative effects on democracy. In the next post, I will clarify what I mean by it is rational to vote based on likability and values.

  4. brucegee1962 says

    Life is necessarily competitive

    What libertarians like Saad and Rand miss when they talk about self-interest and competition is that, since human’s specialty is communication and cooperation, societal evolution is based around competition between groups. We’re tribal because nations and cultures and entire ideologies are in constant struggle with one another — the “selfish meme” theory of social evolution.
    There are advantages to a hierarchical structure — particularly if you’re living in a feudal society where the ultimate weapon is a knight on horseback followed by a bunch of retainers whom he is responsible for feeding. There are advantages to a more egalitarian social structure in a democracy where much of the competition is carried out through economics. Nowadays you don’t have to go on a Crusade to spread an idea, because we have the internet. What social structure will be best adapted to let our culture compete in future environments? We don’t know for sure, and neither does Saad.

    • musing says

      I agree with your explanation of inter-group conflict. That is a good point that how culture is structured will dictate the means of competition. As interesting as inter-group conflict is, I was focusing on conspecific conflict. The mere fact that we are competitive and hierarchical does not imply that we cannot use our moral emotions to sympathize with those that are left behind. So just as we have evolved adaptations to compete with one another, we have also evolved adaptations that make us moral. There is no reason why society cannot use the tools of redistribution of wealth and welfare to reduce the deleterious effects of social hierarchy, with stipulations. One bad effect of hierarchy is that those who make 40k vs. 140k household income have a relative risk of death three times that of the higher income. Saad is saying that we should not interfere with the “natural order” of things because we will make incompetent, fragile people. But the natural order is to be competitive and to use our cooperative moral emotions. His is a form of social Darwinism. He places “greatness” and competition on top. To Saad, getting ahead in life is more important than getting along. He criticizes liberals for wanting a utopian society but that is what he wants too but of a different kind. Saad cannot focus on one while dismissing the other in order to argue for a hierarchical biological imperative. I hope this is reasonable?

      Addendum

      Bruce thanks for pointing out that Saad is similar to Rand! This will help me in my next post.

  5. says

    Saad claims that liberals did not support Trump because of their visceral hate and contempt for him.

    How did Saad determine that the “visceral hate and contempt” he refers to was not the predictable result of knowing more facts about the Angry Cheeto and his policies?

    • musing says

      Have not heard “angry Cheeto” before. I like that. He doesn’t; it is speculation. But I was trying to argue, perhaps not successfully, that most of us vote based on how we feel towards the candidate. In fact, researchers only need two variables to predict how we will vote, which include partisanship feelings and how we feel towards the candidate. How we feel towards the candidate gives us clues to the values they hold. Values are just as important as our interests, but they seem to be more easily influenced by our feelings than say our economic interests. Saad is claiming that in order to be rational beings we must go through a mental calculation that serves our interests. But politics is not like purchasing a mutual fund. It is still rational to vote based on our feelings because we know that party affiliation will lead us to a candidate who holds our values and interests. So we performed a calculation at one point in time knowing that voting for Democrat or against someone that we don’t like (because we like those who share our values) will work in our favor. Rationality means using knowledge to accomplish a goal, which is what we did. We just did it earlier.

      Not liking Trump with visceral hate is probably a function of him being on the other side and his narcissistic-authoritarianism personality. So our feelings toward his personality gave us clues to his values. These values that he has are not in accord with our values. If values are important to us, then we used knowledge, e.g., our feelings, to conclude that he was not right for us. This is non-reason-based rationality. But it is still rational behavior. There is a bias for some reason that feelings make us irrational. Some do. But feelings are still used to reason with. And values are hugely important.

      These emotional experiences make life meaningful and allow us to share identities and beliefs, which makes us tribal. These shared beliefs allow us to cooperate with a collective vision in order to press our interests. Although tribalism certainly connotes irrationality, it can be rational to want to be ideological (iii).

      Now perhaps you are one of the few that before you had any feelings of like or dislike did a calculation to see if his policies were in your favor. That is fine too. It’s completely subjective which route works for you. In a nutshell, I am trying to say that feelings are used to reason with and are often completely rational to use if values are important to us. In fact, all the research shows that we vote based on feelings. This is nothing to be ashamed of because we are tribal people that want to share similar values and beliefs. If this is still not clear, when I’m clear-headed I will be doing a post that clarifies this, amongst other things.

  6. says

    I notice there’s a “trackback” to this post from something called “Libertarian Guide,” where there’s a lot of hand-wringing over the impending consequences of the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. To which my response is: Y’all should have thought of that BEFORE you started trashing that ruling as “Federal overreach” and “judicial activism.” Seriously, glibertarians have opposed Roe literally since day one, and now they’re pretending to care about the consequences after they got the reversal they always wanted? Fuck them all, and the brain-dead nags they rode in on.

    • musing says

      No that is an actual word, which means a major restructuring or redo. I will omit it. You stand true to your screenname “Raging Bee”. I will have to take a look at that guide. Thanks.

  7. says

    BTW, I just had another look at that “Libertarian Guide” place, and they’re not even trying to hide the blatant dishonesty of their agenda. Here’s just one article that puts the doublethink right out front:

    https://www.lewrockwell.com/2022/07/no_author/what-does-the-declaration-of-independence-really-mean/

    The Framers of the Constitution were horrified by “egalitarianism” and “democracy,” and they made it clear that what they were establishing was a republic in which the respective states continued to possess inherent rights not ceded to a central national authority.

    Right…the people who wrote “all men are created equal” were horrified at the idea that all men might be equal. And they start, and end, by bashing Lincoln for quoting the “all men are created equal” bit, because supposedly that made him a tyrant.

    Thus, as we commemorate the declaring of American independence 246 years ago, we should lament the mythology about it created in 1863, and recall an older generation of 1787, a generation of noble men who comprehended fully well that a country based on egalitarianism is a nation where true liberties are imperiled and soon extinguished.

    Yep, there you have it: even if that piece doesn’t say the secessionist slaveowners were “freedom-fighters,” it does echo the Southern-nationalist propaganda-point that the guy who went to war to free the slaves was a tyrant, and his Emancipation Proclamation was a “mythology” to be “lamented.”

    • musing says

      I honestly do not know enough about the history within that time period to be of any assistance. I never assumed that the founders believed we were all equal in abilities, attractiveness, and intelligence. It is obvious that we are not. So that passage was always ambiguous to me. I have read that they assumed that we were all equal under God. I am sure that their thoughts and attitudes toward equality were different than ours. If you have some insight on this, then I would love to see it. My main gripe with libertarianism is that it often, not always, resorts to social Darwinism. They pretend that self-interest is not the same as selfishness. But when you read Ayn Rand, it is clear that she believes we are independent and self-interested maximizes. There is little emphasis on empathy and helping others. They say they do not mind if Churches provide assistance for others, but it cannot be the state. The state is inefficient and tramples on our civil liberties. But, again, they don’t place an emphasis on cooperation and empathy, which is just as much about human nature as self-interest is.

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