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The Problem Of Understanding Others

A second post on Gad Saad’s, The Parasitic Mind. I’m not sure this was his central aim but he did make me think about the problem of understanding others.

Is Society Really Collapsing?

I really wanted to know why he thinks society is collapsing. I have never known why people think this. It is not that there aren’t big problems, but the belief that we are a worse society than before is hard for me to grasp. Saad says he believes in science and evidence. What is it that leads him to collude that we are spinning down to disaster? What metrics was he using to track/predict the collapse? (Perhaps he should read Hans Rosling, here and here).

People have been telling us society was collapsing for many years. I always worry that this shows a complete lack of historical perspective. Seriously, it is hard to pick up any history book without thinking; “why did they think this was okay?”

I take the point that just because people have constantly worried about societal collapse without it occurring in the past doesn’t prove society isn’t really collapsing this time. Yet, it does make you wonder; why is now the time that it is really happening? Let’s treat it as a scientific problem. Show me the evidence.

Romans, Great Builders But Society For Most Is Immeasurable Better Now. Just Watch Gladiator

Bad Academic Thought, In Pictures

Saad’s Figure 1 explaining his ideas on societal collapse is like a parody of bad academia. (He may be mocking the reader with the figure, he does say satire is very important to him). The figure he uses is hilarious in how unscientific it is. It is exactly what I criticize consultants for doing. It is literally boxes and arrows leading to a box in the center that says the ‘death of the west by a thousand cuts’. You could presumably change any box to ‘unruly puppies’ and it would be just as scientific.

When we talk ‘boxes and arrows’ this phrase is used to mock academic work that has regressions without any proper theory. What makes it so great is that Saad went beyond even that bad work. He didn’t even feel the need to add the regressions to give his ideas the spurious appearance of mathematical legitimacy. Why would anyone find this convincing? I genuinely don’t know. What is more I really want to know. There is a great potential for a scientific investigation on that.

Theory Of Mind: The Problem Of Understanding Others

Saad talks about theory of mind and the failure of liberals to understand Trump voters. This is the problem of understanding others, at least others that don’t agree with us. I think he is correct. I will confess to much of that myself. When you see someone with different political views it is very easy for all of us to think, “how could someone come to that conclusion?”

Yet it is important to try to understand. It isn’t just a moral need to understand others. It is hard to win an election/debate when you have no clue how to appeal to a large chunk of the population. As such, I think Saad’s message to liberals to ‘try and understand others’ is very helpful. Saad is surely right when he suggests that. It is a message that all sides can do to be reminded of.

A challenge I had with Saad’s book is that he also seems to fail to have a meaningful theory of mind about people who don’t agree with him. Do as I say not as I do. Saad seems to lack any ability to speak to people who don’t already agree with him. Perhaps he isn’t the best advocate for us thinking through what others think. He asks us to think more about the motives of Trump voters but then, for example, doesn’t think at all deeply about the motives of those opposed to Trump’s supreme court pick. We should all try and understand others.

Don’t Take Yes For An Answer

In possibly the strangest bit of the book he gets upset that a court in British Columbia agreed with him. He conveys the gist of a legal argument that was made. This, apparently, was that peer review is inappropriate for indigenous scholars coming from an oral heritage. He disagrees vehemently with the indigenous scholar’s argument and the court agreed with Saad.

Saad’s complaint, therefore, struck me as especially odd. Why get so upset about a result he wanted? He thinks that the case should never have got as far as it did but surely he needs to calm down. Part of thoughtful investigation (including science) is listening to positions. Surely a court can’t be criticized for thinking it through before agreeing with him. The sort of scientific thinking he advocates must involve considering things that don’t immediately intuitively seem correct. Furthermore, surely there are plenty of problems in the world that are still happening. Why fixate on a court case that ultimately went the way you wanted it too?

Crotchety Old Men Of The World unite

Getting older, as both Gad Saad and I are, I worry that we are just becoming crotchety old men. To illustrate this point Saad goes into a random rant about grade inflation.

M.B.A. requirements are being watered down not because students are much smarter and better prepared than they were thirty years ago, but because of competitive pressure for schools to find new ways to attract students

Gad Saad (2020)

He isn’t completely wrong. (Although I found it hard to logically link this comment to political correctness or any similar bugbear of Saad’s). What was interesting is that I could imagine many left-wing academics saying the same thing. I guess the optimistic point is that aging professors can all come together. We can solve the problem of understanding those we don’t agree with. All aging professors can empathize with their colleagues, left- or right-wing, in thinking that the students aren’t as good as they used to be.

Read: Gad Saad, 2020, The Parasitic Mind: How Infectious Ideas Are Killing Common Sense, Regnery Publishing 

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