Bret Weinstein talks with Gad Saad

This hourlong conversation between Gad Saad and Bret Weinstein, apostate professor of evolutionary biology at The Evergreen State College, is worth a listen. Weinstein shows himself to be thoughtful and articulate, and deals with many of questions that have arisen among this website’s readers. One in particular is whether the requested “absence” of whites from campus on the “Day of Absence” was voluntary (as Weinstein’s detractors maintain) or coerced, though not overtly. Weinstein gives the answer starting at 6:47. Weinstein also has a few choice words—critical ones—for the administration, students, and most of the faculty of his College, and argues that what happened at his school is a harbinger of things to come, and so we should pay attention to it.

And it looks as if he won’t be there in the future, though he’s not explicit about that. I hope some other school snaps up him and his wife Heather, also a whole-organism biologist.

This is just part I of the video, and I haven’t found part II.  Like many of you, my patience for long discussion videos is limited. This one is an exception, and I recommend it.


  1. Mark Reaume
    Posted June 25, 2017 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Part 2 was the part that I had hoped you would comment on since it has to do with his work as an evolutionary biologist. I admit that I’m not entirely sure what he was talking about for the most part.

    • Posted June 25, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      I’ll listen to this one within a day or so and let you know.

      • Posted June 30, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        Yes, part 2 was by far the more interesting of the two. Though, I do have a rather lot of patience for long form discussions like these. I know I’m a freak. And I ain’t apologizing.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted June 26, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      Most of the evolutionary discussion is above my pay grade, so I will not say much here. But at one point (at 12 min in) Weinstein criticizes operational definitions of fitness on the grounds that bottlenecks confuse the issue. And that is true, during the first year of bioinformatics we went trough a lot of mechanisms that would leave similar genetic trees and be problematic to tease out. But not always impossible and taught precisely because a) fitness is a useful operational description and b) we should not jump to unsupportable, likely wrong conclusions by not accounting for all possible mechanisms.

      While I also have a background in physics, not specifically quantum and complexity physics though, I do not understand Weinstein’s descriptions there but could take them to be the opposite of what has been done (observing no exclusive photon paths, using many measures of complexity). Potentially that happened because Weinstein himself does not understand the fields.

  2. Merilee
    Posted June 25, 2017 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Just watchec the first half-hour of part 1 and plan to finish it, and part 2, later. Weinstein is very impressive and clearly getting the short end of the stick.

  3. Posted June 25, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    I’ve followed this escapade as an almost applicant to Evergreen. My goal was the pathobioogy department at the University of Washington up the road. I called the department as asked what they thought of Evergreen grads. (This was in the early ’90’s). They said that typical Evergreen students tended to be advanced, motivated, and mature. But without transcripts they usually had no idea what to do with the applications. Instead of transcripts, Evergreen profs write essays about a student’s learning, etc. None of this strikes me as mature.

    Even then, and even by Seattle/Portland standards, Evergreen was considered weird. As an older white guy who ate meat and liked to weigh all sides of an issue, I assumed that I wouldn’t fit. It was a long drive, too, so I opted for another school.

    My gut feeling is that Weinstein is correct in saying that this extremism has yet to run its course. There is still room for the pendulum’s swing. I hope that cooler heads will prevail but truly doubt that they will.

    • BJ
      Posted June 25, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      It sounds like the school Maeby went to on Arrested Development. Maybe if you do really well you can get a crocodile in biology!

      • Posted June 25, 2017 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

        The only saving grace I know of is that Carrie Brownstein of Portlandia and Sleater-Kinney fame graduated from ESC. And for all I know – nothing – she would march with the fringe.

        • BJ
          Posted June 25, 2017 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

          I’ve tried to watch Portlandia several times and have found it painfully unfunny. There are no real jokes, no setup -> payoff writing. It all just seems so lazy and uninspired, basically boiling down to “hey, look at these characters we made up! Aren’t they cah-razy?!?”

          • Jeff Rankin
            Posted June 25, 2017 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

            I’d only seen the feminist bookstore segments, and assumed it was a documentary.

            • BJ
              Posted June 25, 2017 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

              That was their best stuff, and it was clever, but still had the same problems I discussed. The only other parts of the show I ever enjoyed was Kyle MacLachlan as mayor of Portland.

              Because Kyle MacLachlan is awesome.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted June 25, 2017 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

                Only someone who’s never tried to sit through Dune or Showgirls could say that. 🙂 Although I liked his performance in Blue Velvet and some other things. 🙂

              • BJ
                Posted June 25, 2017 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

                I’ve sat through both! Dune is a lot like Zardoz: tons of ideas from a talented director, but so overstuffed and disjointed that there was no chance of it being well-executed (so I don’t blame MacLachlan for the performance he gave). Showgirls is one of the best bad movies ever.

                Also, in addition to his performance in Blue Velvet, he was also great on Twin Peaks and in The Hidden.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 25, 2017 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

        Ha ha! Oh how I loved Arrested Development

        • BJ
          Posted June 25, 2017 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

          Here’s some money. Go see a Star War.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted June 25, 2017 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

            Or the camel toe.

            • BJ
              Posted June 25, 2017 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

              Get rid of the Seaward.

  4. Posted June 25, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    This is super stuff. I would try to say more. It seems that Brett Weinstein is really trying to integrate his knowledge and understanding with a truly compassionate view of the world. I was on the west coast when Evergreen was founded and I was thoroughly behind its inception-being somewhat of a radical hippy myself. I must say even after a douse of unbridled hippiness at Berkeley. Where any ground under my feet was swept out when I witnessed the clearheaded idealism at the start of the movement shift readily into us vs. Them and threats of violence. Took quite a frw years to regain ground-but I sure learned what was discussed in the video of personal courage and trust in oneself and the necessity of direct action on the spot but also how confused people can be about how to behave, even with the best of intentions. That the free expression of every stray thought has to be tempered with a larger understanding. And how much power each of us actually has to influence and create.

  5. BJ
    Posted June 25, 2017 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    It’s pretty clear that, regardless of whether or not the “day of absence” was literally forced upon white students and staff, it was essentially so because if you didn’t leave, you weren’t “engaging in allyship.” We all know what it means to regressives any time one isn’t “being a good ally”: you’re branded as a racist.

    Furthermore, we know what happens to people if they decide to publicly speak out against this supposedly voluntary activity. We know from the examples of what happened to both Weinstein and the students who supported him after he came under attack.

    None of this makes the absence seem in any way voluntary, beyond the fact that white people weren’t literally forced off campus with guns to their heads.

    • Posted June 27, 2017 at 7:01 am | Permalink

      I’ve just read PZ Myers’ piece on this. His position and that of most of his commenters is that Weinstein’s original letter was wrong in its characterisation of the day of white exclusion but that the response to the letter was totally unacceptable.

      PZ (and most of his followers) seems to have failed to make the obvious conclusion from the response that violations of the “voluntary” exclusion would probably have been met with the same harassment and threats of violence that Weinstein has experienced.

      It doesn’t matter if the day of absence was advertised as voluntary or not, if your refusal to comply is met with verbal abuse, calls to have you fired and threats of violence to you and your family, it is not voluntary.

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 25, 2017 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Everything I’ve seen of Brett Weinstein makes me like him. And after watching this interview, I like him even more. His is a voice of reason and equanimity amid the madness.

    That said, we should take care (and I’ve no doubt Prof. Weinstein would agree) not to toss out the social-justice baby with the social-
    justice-warrior bathwater. The pursuit of social justice is among mankind’s most noble callings; it has bequeathed us universal suffrage, equal justice before law, and internationally recognized human rights.

    Also, I get identify politics. Minority groups did not choose identity politics; they had identity politics thrust upon them, by being closed off from the ordinary avenues of political power, by being forced to bind together to battle injustice. And the need for identity politics has not yet fully passed. Look at the way Republicans are ruthlessly employing gerrymandering and voter suppression laws to disenfranchise minority groups around the country since the Roberts Court rolled back the Voting Rights Act.

    But what I object to — and object to strongly — is identity politics designed to divide, identity politics that seeks to exclude, identity politics that says outsiders have nothing to contribute to the commonweal, that says outsiders can never even understand a group they do not belong to. That type of identity politics threatens to tear our American polity apart.

    • Posted June 25, 2017 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      Also, I get identify politics. Minority groups did not choose identity politics; they had identity politics thrust upon them, by being closed off from the ordinary avenues of political power, by being forced to bind together to battle injustice.

      If that were true identity politics would have arisen on the factory floor or in the projects and not at elite colleges.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted June 25, 2017 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

        It didn’t arise there; there, it deformed into something aberrant and unhealthy.

    • BJ
      Posted June 25, 2017 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know if your point about identity politics is buttressed by the reality of who seems to practice them most these days. It seems the practitioners are most often people doing it on behalf of the groups whose identities they say they want to protect, rather than the people in those groups themselves. This being the case, identity politics seems by design to be a method of dividing people.

    • Historian
      Posted June 25, 2017 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

      I do not know, or even if it’s possible to know, whether political polarization fostered identity politics or vice-versa. But what we do know is that the nation has not been so politically and culturally divided since perhaps the Civil War. This downward spiral is continuing with no end in sight. When I was younger I thought it made sense that the two parties should be ideologically based, liberal and conservative. At that time liberals and conservatives could be found in both parties, with the Democrats tilting slightly left and the Republicans slightly right. I now realize that that system worked better for the nation. There was more civility, less bitterness, and more things got done in Congress that most people could live with. In other words, compromise was not a dirty word. I do not know if it is possible to go back to those days. But, as of now, the bitterness is so deep that many people avoid associating with people whose political views differ from their own.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted June 25, 2017 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

        We now have one party that’s fractured into interest groups, that has no new ideas or fresh leadership, that’s lost its way and stands for nothing — and another that’s survived by breeding resentment, that draws its energy from its worst and most extreme elements, that’s abandoned all principle to follow a big orange idiot over the cliff of white nationalism.

        Other than that, the ship of state sails on.

  7. Jeff Rankin
    Posted June 25, 2017 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Yes, excellent conversation in part 1 – Prof Weinstein thoroughly addresses a common criticism levied at him – that he played some role in creating the monsters at ESC since he identifies as a progressive.

    I found part 2 dry but it tended to be more on the academic side of things.

  8. rickflick
    Posted June 25, 2017 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    What strikes me most how courageous these two men are in facing down the mob. Let’s just hope more on campuses join them.

  9. BJ
    Posted June 25, 2017 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    It amazes me that, in every single appearance, Professor Weinstein is just so pleasant, eloquent, self-effacing, and sweet. If I was in his position, I don’t know if I would be able to so easily tamp down the anger I would feel. He really is a consummate gentleman and professional, and the type of person with whom I would enjoy a drink any time.

  10. Dale
    Posted June 25, 2017 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful interview. Weinstein provided thoughtful and insightful ideas regarding the situation at ESC and perspectives on the regressive left. I do hope he remains in academia. He would be welcome addition to any biology program in need of his services.

  11. Posted June 26, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I lost all respect for Gad Saad when he began trying to actively court Alt-Right trolls as followers by using words like “castrati” and “ladyboy” as insults for people who disagree with him. Bret Weinstein is great, though. He should be on Sam Harris’s podcast. It’s unfortunate that he has to associate himself with the likes of Fox News, Dave Rubin, and Gad Saad.

    • Posted June 30, 2017 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      David Rubin? He’s on your enemies list? You must be one hardcore ideologue.

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