In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris debates Scott Adams about all things Trump.
#87- Triggered A Conversation with Scott Adams
This thread is for listeners’ comments.
Wow, that was an infuriating conversation to listen to! I agree with what Sam said in the preamble, Scott seemed to come across calmer and more yogi like, but it did not hide how vacuous most his claims were. He seemed to be playing games, perhaps an exotic type of hypnotism like Sam suggested, instead of facing and rebutting the damning evidence that Sam presented in a reasoned way.
I agree with Scott with regard to Trumps skills as a persuader, he has a good point there, but he seems to completely ignore the result of this persuasive ability and how Trump chooses to use it in such a caustic fashion. He exudes a quasi form of nihilism where the truth doesn’t matter, we should simply focus on the result. In that sense he fits squarely on the extreme political left (which Sam quite rightly derides), yet he chooses to defend a president who is harbouring the most extreme right wingers in the US political system. This is a very odd position to stake out.
I have occasionally tried to read a Dilbert comic, when I encountered one. I could never connect with them, and I think that’s because I could never detect a soul behind it…(if you know what I mean…)
Now I know why.
Trump’s negotiation skills are useless in the job of President: he is never up against individuals, but politicians and leaders with armies of advisers and donors behind them; a Senator simply isn’t as free as a CEO. Leaders can’t agree to treaties without approval from their parliaments.
Furthermore, political negotiations are usually, at least in part, public: so whatever extreme “initial offer” Trump makes during a negotiation stays on record and will keep certain parties from even starting to negotiate. The global community doesn’t forget the countless times he has insulted them.
And, of course, so far Trump hasn’t done any negotiating at all: he left it all to Mitch McConnell or Pence.
He obviously was trying, very hard and continuously, to negotiate with James Comey, and he saw how that worked out.
The basic assumption, also on Scott Adams’ part, seems to be that politics is like business - but it’s not: optics matter a lot for career politicians, more so than quick gains.
I am also highly skeptical about the argument that Trump is bringing the extreme Right to the center: Trump was the far-right gambit to see if they can get their way using election: when Trump fails (not if), they will be even more energized to use illegal and violent means to get their way.
I was thinking the same thing as Twissel. Words matter to most people, and certainly those in positions of taking action on words coming from the leader of the world’s most powerful country. But Adams believes his own bullshit about the zero-sum game of 1 vs 1 persuasion. With his framing Trump’s immigration, North Korean, Russian hacking tweets/proclamations, Adams seemed to be drawing the target around the Trump’s rhetoric after it has already been fired against the wall.
A president’s negotiations are not transactional events, but words that lead to an entire cascade of activities by 100s and 1000s or even millions of people—towards specific actions or even inactions, towards policy and decisions affecting both personal and aggregate levels. These activities have real impact and can cascade in ways that are impossible to predict. On immigration Adams was so sure that Trump’s proclamations have led to a decrease in the “wrong” kind of immigration. Adams implies that no one should care if some insignificant percentage of “non-bad” (he calls them gang members who haven’t committed a crime) people are caught up in the net of deportations? Adams makes no attempt to project the impact Trump’s messages have on “good” immigration and tourism (it’s too early to tell).
On China/North Korea, Adams claims Trump is playing China “exactly right”. What about the impact of his sloppy words on South Korea (again, not just the new leader but on military choices, millions of Seoul residents’ personal security choices, policy choices by the government, etc). A cascade of small and large activities have come out of Trump’s mixed messages. Some of these will be hard to undo if Trump changes course yet again.
Scott is a bit of a bullshitter himself! Seems like he has Trump on a pedestal as an alpha ‘persuader’, and works from there to minimise his glaring flaws.
Scott is a bit of a bullshitter himself! Seems like he has Trump on a pedestal as an alpha ‘persuader’, and works from there to minimise his glaring flaws.
Yes, there were innumerable instances of Adams making Trump out to be a genius with a master plan, but only being able to do so if he completely ignored the actual evidence. One of the most glaring examples of this was Adams talking about how Trump was ‘likely’ taking it to Putin ‘under the hood’ while publicly praising Putin. Adams described this as the perfect way to play it. In response, Sam mentioned how Trump wasn’t just praising Putin in public but that Trump was also thoroughly trashing his own intelligence agencies in public too. And Harris made the very real and sobering point that there’s every reason to believe Trump’s public trashing of his own intelligence community is deeply hurting both he and his country. Trump’s losing some of his most knowledgeable intelligence officials because of it, and now his own intelligence agencies seem to be leaking information that’s hurtful to him.
Along a similar vein, just a few seconds later, Harris brought up Trump’s “cyber security alliance” with Russia; a proclamation Trump made and then took back within the same day. Adams made the point that Trump could have just been ‘A/B testing’ - just trying out various things to see what sticks. That’s all well and good - there’s no rational justification for doing that A/B testing in public with a foreign adversary instead of vetting those possibilities with the experts in that area first. This is the dangerous hubris Harris was talking about as it relates to Trump - we have a President who knows nothing about what he’s doing but is so brazen within his own ego that he’s not constrained by the limits of his own knowledge. So yes, Trump did eventually get feedback about how effective a ‘cyber security’ collaboration could be with Russia… and he got that feedback in arguably the most destructive way possible. When, it was entirely possible to get that feedback without the nonsense - he could have simply asked his internal experts about those possibilities BEFORE he ever had the conversation with Putin, or tweeted about it thereafter.
Overall, I think Sam could have done a much better job pinning Adams on some of his rather inane positions. When Adams asked what quantifiable harm Trump’s lies had done, I think Harris should have stayed on that point for much longer, and went through more of the substance. While it’s a bit of paradox trying to determine what would have happened in the absence of something else not happening, there are still many examples where Trump’s lies have clearly hurt the country. One obvious one is Trump and his team’s continued lying about their meetings with Russia. Because every time there’s a leak that confirms a meeting took place which Trump and his team had previously said didn’t, it gives Russia more information about exactly what communication channels we’re tracking. If Trump and his team were honest from the outset, we wouldn’t be in the unenviable position of having to expose our own surveillance tracts just to get the Trump Admin on the record about what his team was actually up to.
Trump’s incessant lies about ACA have clearly hurt the country too. Our elected officials just spent 6 months having a fake debate about a non-existent crisis (ACA is not ‘failing’ or ‘failed’, nor is the healthcare market on a crash course with hell because of ACA). And because the debate was centered around a falsehood from the word go, it’s quite likely either (a) nothing will get done, or (b) Congress will pass a bill that immediately makes the situation quantifiably worse than it was before (more uniinsured, higher premiums/deductibles, etc.).
I think Scott’s two screen analogy was worth the whole podcast (and yes I know that reaching for an analogy makes me lose the argument ). We are all vulnerable to cognitive biases and need to be willing to examine our deepest beliefs (look at what is on the other screen). This applies to everything in life - we all see things imperfectly and no matter how sure you are about your interpretation of the past, the usefulness of your cognitive model to predict the future is much more important and my opinion is that on this topic Scott has a more useful construct in forecasting (not excluding the possibility that Sam is right about permanent damage to our culture/discourse, just think that is a lower probability outcome). I do think Scott was a little facile in places but I also think Sam revealed a lot about his deeply and long held biases too.
We are all vulnerable to cognitive biases and need to be willing to examine our deepest beliefs (look at what is on the other screen).
No doubt this is true. However, I think a pitfall that sits right behind this reality is the false notion that, because we are all vulnerable to cognitive biases, everyone’s opinions are equally valid.
I haven’t finished the episode yet but I had to look up ‘persuasion pacing and leading’ that Scott referred to in the beginning of the podcast. After some digging around it turns out that it’s part of NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming). That rang a bell as many PUAs (Pick-up Artists) claim to use this technique to manipulate women to sleep with them. It’s a scientifically discredited technique which should instantly raise red flags after claims by one of the founders to have essentially reversed aging and cured near-sightedness.
“RICHARD [BANDLER]: Basically what happened is that I noticed that when I hypnotically regress people repeatedly they looked younger. So I started first thinking, well isn’t there a way to maintain that. I noticed when I hypnotically regressed people to before the age of 5, who currently wore glasses, didn’t need them to see. So I started leaving people’s eyes young and growing the rest of them up to the present and it would change the prescription of their glasses radically to the point where they could see better. And done enough times, some of them could see without glasses. So I went a little step further, and did a DHE (Design Human Engineering™) treatment where we set up a mechanism in the back of their mind that repeatedly age regresses them hypnotically; when they sleep, when they blink, all kinds of things and in a state of time distortion. And it can take years off the way people look, it also ups their energy level and in some cases the bi product [sic] has been they recovered spontaneously from very serious diseases. Because they were aged regressed to where before the disease started. Now I cannot prove that but I’ve seen it enough times that I’m impressed with it.”
If that doesn’t sound like bullshit…
After Harris describes Trump in the 38th minute, Adams asserts that Harris just revealed his cognitive dissonance. Beginning in the 39th minute, Adams claims that “the most classic [cognitive dissonance tell] is to imagine that you can know somebody’s inner mental processes.” He goes on to explain: “If you imagine that in [Trump’s] mind he’s thinking this or in [Trump’s] mind he’s hollowed out or in [Trump’s] mind there is no depth; if you imagine that those are in there, I would say that is entirely imaginary and almost certainly a tell for cognitive dissonance.” This accusation struck me immediately because it so obviously revealed Adams’ own dissonance. Throughout the discussion to that point, Adams had repeatedly made clear that Adams is doing exactly what he accused Harris of doing, i.e. Adams repeatedly imagines what is in Trump’s mind. Adams’ conclusion that Trump is some sort of persuasive genius is in fact entirely premised on what Adams believes is in Trump’s mind. In minute 16, Adams claims that some of Trump’s most outrageous policy positions and campaign pledges are really “pacing” for the purpose of eventually pulling people on the far right to the center. How can Adams possible know that this is what Trump is doing? He certainly can’t without claiming he knows Trump’s mind. He certainly can’t without assuming the existence of some level of depth within Trump’s mind. In minute 18, Adams describes the Trump pledge to deport 12 million undocumented people, recognizes that to people on the left the pledge is impossible, cruel, etc., and then expressly states at around 18:50: “But when I heard [the pledge], I said to myself (and I said publicly a lot of times) HE DOESN’T MEAN THAT.” Adams does not know whether Trump meant what Trump said or not. This is Adams fully attempting to imagine what was in Trump’s mind. Adams has effectively created Trump’s genius out of Adams’ own imagination about what might or might not be in Trump’s mind and what might or might not be motivating Trump.
@ G Cento
Great observation. That was bothering me too, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint why. You nailed it quite succinctly. Thanks for offering that commentary
Absolutely, there’s no evidence of Trump being a particularly clever man, nevermind a genius with a master plan. There are piles of first-hand evidence that point to him being an odd narcissist who makes brash decisions without having the facts, and lies indiscriminately and reflexively. All the hallmarks of a master strategist I’m sure. Then we have the climate denial, the White House nepotism, the Russia election ties and the dictatorial admiration which are all clear practical ways he is directly damaging and undermining America. He is irredeemable. I think you have to invent narratives to even begin to defend him in anything like a robust manner.
I would’ve liked Sam to be tougher with him too. Maybe he should’ve spent more time reading and assessing Scott’s opinions beforehand? It was a lot to unpack, presented by a calm and considered sounding chap and might explain why Sam seemed to wave him through in places.
Also, when we talk about ‘persuasion’ in the context of the Trump presidential campaign, we have to mean lying and contradicting yourself as the situation demands to get what you want (votes). Because that’s what he does. Then he is the master of persuasion for sure, we have never seen a politician like him but that is not something to admire him for. Is it telling that Scott seems to think himself a fellow in the same school of ‘persuasion’ as Trump.
I fully agree. It struck me that Adams is actually very similar to Trump in what he attempts to do when communicating, but is actually much more skilled in some ways. Scott used a lot of verbal jui jitsu to redirect the conversation and move the topic at hand to what he wants. While doing this, he often painted himself as always the one who always ‘saw everything coming’.
As a side note, I chuckle when Scott says how he confidently predicted Trump’s win - if you go through the archives you will see him clearly waffling/not taking a firm stand in several instances and and one point he even switched to predicting Hillary was going to win (From memory I think this was in Aug ‘16).
Finally, one thing that seems to be a glaring omission with him is the concept of ethics. Any time Sam tried to get him to discuss ethical ramifications of Trump’s behavior he quickly steered things away from this. This is definitely a strategy on his part but I’m not certain of the underlying reason, although a couple come to mind.
Perhaps he rejects ethics as nothing more than a hallucination of the mind or more likely just doesn’t want to have himself be quoted in a such a way that would impact future book sales or sully the Dilbert brand with a portion of his audience.
Either way I find listening to him quite frustrating because I feel he constantly tries to manipulate the conversation through debating tricks and doesn’t approach it in an honest way.
An interesting discussion, one in which Sam approaches from the perspective of Trump being a buffoon from the outset, his thoughts on Trump being very clear to us regular listeners of the Waking Up PodCast, of which I am a huge fan. However I’d like to add my thoughts to this discussion regarding potential Russian manipulation of the American election, I live in Scotland for reference and am hoping this, or any, presidency will have little impact on my existence, my point - to date I have seen no viable evidence of any interference, let alone interference that had meaningful influence on the outcome of the election. All parties suggesting this and trying to keep the, in my opinion the ‘fake news’ lens, focused on this, should very swiftly bring forward some evidence that supports the claim, currently this is just not news because it’s just an allegation, evidently an unfounded allegation, or just ‘fake news’. It was very clear to me that whole US media and corporate mechanisms were biased towards Hilary and yet she convincingly lost. Trump did not design the field of play that is the political circus known as American democracy, and I understand Scott’s sentiment regarding the number of arrows Trump chooses to take by putting himself forward, but the circus did put these two candidates forward, and from these two, the American public felt Trump was and is the better candidate. My own personal belief is that whatever Trump does it is probably better than Clinton dancing to the military industrial machines desire for increased warfare, noting that said ‘buffoon’ could easily take us there accidentally or unknowingly. We can, and should, dissect his words and the actions of his government, but we should judge on how successfully his administration performs, whether fantastically or diabolically, we should take into account that truth in the political sphere is in it’s own minority, and the levels of government subterfuge will remain wholly unknown to most people. I would openly laugh at anyone who suggested that America had never influenced, or attempted to influence, another nations elections. It should be taken into account that the administration has many checks and balances, to the degree that the use of ‘presidential decree’ becomes a problem because the congressional wheels turn to slowly for effective governance, people voted on ‘drain the swamp’ because the political landscape is a well known swamp. If Trump can reduce the size of the administration, walk American foreign aggression back a good few steps, reduce the deficit some and not accidentally start a world war then most of us will be happy. While we focus on suggestions of electoral interference and discuss his clumsy physical and vocal etiquette, we remain globally distracted from the more important issues of the islamification of europe, basic global human rights above any cultural religious degradation, and a great many other topics worthy of open honest debate. Trump is human, a well evidenced ‘show man’ who gets things right and wrong, each debatable from many perspectives, I hope that future media focus is relevant and based on actual events supported by evidence. I hope that future media discusses actual events, words and actions and debates both the implications and the possible alternatives. This last statement is important because it is easy to criticize, easy to destroy, it is harder to suggest a better viable alternative, harder to build and harder to lead the country and media narrative as a president under constant micro examination. I am a long way from saying Trump does not deserve scrutiny or criticism, just hoping that those that do criticize at length also offer some better solution of policy. On a final note whilst much is made of possible Russian interference and Trump poor twitter habits, the rest of humanity is wondering where, and with what purpose, the regime change cannon will point next and to what degree America or the CIA is funding and supporting islamic extremists and de-stabilizing the middle east, eastern europe and east asia.
- When Scott discounted analogy, Harris should of shut down all of his analogies (there were many);
- Any response to a question Scott starts with “let me tell you what I think”, “let me ask you this”, or “before you go on”, is him moving to his safe ground, and Sam respectfully let him do that throughout the entire conversation.
Fundamentally Harris got beaten in a non-debate debate because he gave his adversary too much respect, let him talk over him and change the basis of the conversation etc. Scott is an incredibly articulate but unreasonable person. You cannot reason with the unreasonable person, not matter how smart or respectful they appear to be!