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#87- Triggered A Conversation with Scott Adams

 
Indeterminist
 
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Indeterminist
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19 July 2017 11:03
 

This was two different conversations, Scott was not having the same conversation as Sam, in that Scott was talking about a tactic, and the degree two which he was “making a point” was more like performance art than argument. If anything, he was demonstrating a type of manipulation similar to the kind that Trump exhibits. Demonstrating through his words.

A quote that comes to my mind a lot lately is that “the frame is more important to the picture”. Trump excels at defining the frame. Scott does it here:

G Cento - 19 July 2017 07:15 AM

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.”
<snip>

Theory of Mind is something that people develop when we are toddlers. When you realize that your friend likes chocolate ice cream while you like vanilla, that doesn’t mean your relationship with your friend is characterized by cognitive dissonance. I see Scott’s quote as framing the argument so that any time you discuss another person’s motivation, he had pre-emptively discredited you. When you engage in the conversation about whether you are doing it, or if Scott is doing it, you’ve still given Scott control over the frame. He wins.

Instead of trying to refute Scott’s points, though, I consider them a gift. I think Scott’s points go a long way toward explaining why Trump is president. He doesn’t have exclusive insight into why, but if you take the time to understanding what Scott is saying, then I think you will have a better understanding of what is going on. Understanding what Scott says doesn’t require that you accept his conclusions, of course.

 
Theseus
 
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Theseus
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19 July 2017 11:06
 

Would highly recommend Matt Ridley as potential Climate Science guest

http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/my-life-as-a-climate-lukewarmer.aspx

 
tommythecat42
 
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19 July 2017 11:08
 

Sam said at the outset that he’s trying to understand how an intelligent, well-informed person—someone who sees the same news items he does—could possibly still support Trump. In that regard, I think this conversation WAS pretty revealing. What it looks like happens, at least in Scott Adams’ case, is that no matter what crazy thing Trump says or does, his rationalization always begins with the premise that Trump is secretly a genius with only the saintliest of motives. So if what he’s said is awful, he must not really mean it. If he’s done something apparently dim-witted, it’s part of a clever gambit to make his opponents think he’s stupid and then catch them with their pants down when they underestimate him. With this general outlook in place, Scott runs through a series of rationalizing strategies to explain outrageous statements by Trump:

1) If he’s promised to do something horrifying, it was just part of a “big opening bid” so that he has room to negotiate. While many of his supporters might love the idea, he himself never intended to go through with it so it’s OK. (A bonus is that when Trump fails to accomplish his stated goals Scott gets to see this as a victory rather than a defeat.)

2) If he’s said something that’s clearly false, there was still “emotional truth” to it. For instance, if he said thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheered in the streets on 9/11 and this was broadcast on TV, that’s just a way of saying that there are some Muslims who weren’t as upset about 9/11 as they should have been. If he said that Jews capture Christian children and use their blood in religious rituals, that’s just a totally normal way of expressing that there’s been some tension between the Jewish and Christian communities. That was really the issue after all, so basically he was right!

3) If he promised to do something that would destabilize our political system if he actually did it, it was just a joke. People laughed! Well, maybe they cheered. Either way, if something plays well at your rallies but then your advisers tell you you would probably end up in prison if you followed through, well, it was a joke.

4) If Trump seems to support nutty far-right projects, he’s just “pacing” so he can later “lead” later. Just you wait—any day now we’ll find out he was a conservationist in disguise all along.

5) If his behavior or lies seem too nakedly self-serving for these excuses to work, well, protecting his power is in the public interest! How can he do all the wonderful things Scott imagines he has in his head if he gets thrown out of office? Even being shown to have been wrong about anything would compromise his ability to lead. So part of being a good leader is never admitting fault or backing down on anything—you need to constantly be lying about and covering up things you’ve said and done in the past. If someone points out a contradiction between your statements, just go on the offensive: attack that person’s character, attack journalism in general, blame your political opponents for the thing you said. Blame everyone in the world but yourself—this is not only psychologically healthy behavior but the best thing for everyone.

6) Finally, if the thing Trump said or tried to do is so transparently moronic that he himself was bullied by his advisers into recanting within hours, that’s really a sign of his genius as well. He’s just “A/B testing”: how was he to know the idea was stupid without publicly proposing it as part of his campaign platform? This also shows how concerned Trump is with accountability and transparency—under Obama, you’d never find out so much about the way government works because every dumb thought that crossed his mind wouldn’t get announced as a new policy decision. So in a way, even though we’re not going to do the thing Trump said because everyone in both parties agrees it’s crazy, our whole culture is richer and more politically informed thanks to his savvy choice to tweet it out at 3 in the morning.

 
LawClerk
 
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LawClerk
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19 July 2017 11:44
 

I echo what many others have said here. Adams decries post hoc rationalizations, hindsight bias, and motivated reasoning, but his “persuasion filter” model of the president appears to derive from all of these methods. Moreover, Trump’s propensity to lie about and deny observable facts and the chaos that behavior engenders makes the perfect clay for Adams’s brand of rhetorical artistry.  Trump’s failures are “planned” or “A/B testing” or “opening bids,” rather than the result of a broken mind devoid of ethic. 

In the mold of Adams I have a prediction of my own:  If the US achieves some measure of success on whatever vector since Trump’s election, Adams will proclaim it evidence that his optimistic model of Trump was correct. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

[ Edited: 19 July 2017 11:54 by LawClerk]
 
John Madden
 
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19 July 2017 11:45
 

Gosh, what a remarkably vacuous guy this Scott Adams seems to be. Is his act just an enormous put-on? As a cogent defense of the Trump administration, he sure failed for me. Could you find an alternate guest to fill this role?

 
Staggerlee63
 
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19 July 2017 11:58
 

Wow. Scott Adams reveals himself to be completely indifferent to all of the ethical problems Sam raises. And nearly all of Adams’ ‘defense’ of Trump amounts to his imagining that what looks like incompetence, buffoonery, ego, narcissism, nepotism, greed, stupidity, is really some grand strategy, designed to appear otherwise, but that will ultimately achieve Trump’s ends (but so far in any case, hasn’t). Adams’ arguments, if we can call them that, hypocritically rely on speculating on Trumps inner thoughts and plans, or rely on analagy, two things Adams refuses to accept as legitimate conversational tools when someone else uses them. And finally his only other way of responding to all of Trump’s faults is evasion. Subtly (or not so subtly) change the topic.

I knew of Dilbert, without knowing much of the man behind the comic. Now I know to avoid this guy at all costs. He’s completely immoral, and either profoundly stupid about Trump or profoundly dishonest.

 
Wanderer
 
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19 July 2017 12:01
 
After_The_Jump - 19 July 2017 10:27 AM

I think it’s probably more accurate to say that Trump gave ignorance a microphone at a time when ignorance is having a renaissance.

Because yeah, he persuaded a lot of people, and they are objectively the least educated people in the country on aggregate.The issue here isn’t one of Trump having some kind of other worldly persuasive skill set. Rather, it’s the exact opposite - it’s that his skill set is remedial in nature, and it played to a throng of people operating on equally remedial intellectual levels.

Hypothetical: if, at the moment Trump turned 18, he could have been functionally partitioned from his father’s money, his father’s name, and his father’s political influences, does anyone actually think Trump’s “skill set” makes him a billionaire? Does anyone actually think Trump ‘persuades’ anybody without the mountains of cash standing behind him? Is he ever in a position to use his wealth as his number 1 qualification to be President?

 

 

I’ll agree with this - I think it’s important not to discount his ability to persuade, even if it’s persuading the “easily persuaded.” In hindsight I suppose it says far more about the state of our electorate, as you alluded to with your ignorance microphone comment. Indeed, I agree.

But I suppose the real question becomes “what of it?” If a quarter of the voting base can be swindled, it’s only a matter of convincing the next quarter that your opponent is equally as bad as you. The averages play out for political home teams and we end up with a deformed citrus fondling Russia’s metaphorical balls.

 
 
Wanderer
 
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19 July 2017 12:05
 
Staggerlee63 - 19 July 2017 11:58 AM

Wow. Scott Adams reveals himself to be completely indifferent to all of the ethical problems Sam raises.

For some latitude, it helps to know that most “elite” businessmen consider ethics to be “pie in the sky” utopian nonsense. I wish I were kidding. It’s one of the most draining environments you will ever find yourself in.

This is not a defense *of anything*. Merely a grounding point for their perspective.

 
 
Wigeon
 
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19 July 2017 12:24
 

It appears that Scott Adams doesn’t get into a conversation like this often, or at all. His faux-laconic and annoyingly patronising ‘contextualising’ of his own and even Harris’s points make it clear that he is accustomed to engaging with impressionable and less disciplined minds. Adam’s characterisation of Trump as a master of manipulation and persuasion is laughable. I’ve seldom heard a better example of petitio principii. His absurd arguments were exposed by Harris’s persistent probing.  Of course Trump is fucking persuasive - the embarrassing asshole is the President of the United States, for christ sake. Disagree with him and, you know, you’re fired. Trump didn’t win the election, Clinton lost it, and Trump’s Republican opponents were a joke. God, anybody, help America.

 
Zen Person
 
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19 July 2017 12:39
 

My main complaint is that Scott Adams provided Trump with a moveable goal post due to his wealth and fame. What he might hold against any other person who is not rich or famous, he allows Trump to do as “a big first offer.” This is essentially a manufactured free pass to do or say anything on the sole basis that it gets attention. The interview was interesting only for its revelation of Adams’s circuitous justification of Trump’s primitive appeal. It’s also very easy to challenge Adams on Trump’s effectiveness. Aside of Neil Gorsuch (who was handed to him) and some EO’s, he really is not very effective beyond pointing back to what happened last November and having the daily inertia of being President working in his favor. I’ve had enough of looking at Trump through a “persuasion filter” from which only he and a select few may benefit.

[ Edited: 19 July 2017 12:45 by Zen Person]
 
Reaction
 
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19 July 2017 12:40
 

I see parallels between Scotts stance on persuasion and the Sophists, the rhetorics teachers of ancient greece, who some may condemn for their lack of morality and absent want for truth.
But persuasion is not a value system. It’s a tool. I am very glad that someone is simply reflecting about a skill, while leaving the development of ethical standpoint entirely to the individual.
Which is also my response to @1, @13, @ 18, @21 and others.: Correct, Scott does not base his assessment of Trump on morality and truth. Does that make Scott an immoral person? No. He’s simply focusing on the tool. Fair enough. Does it make Scott a bad person that he is also not continually pointing out Trump’s weaknesses? No. There are so many people out there doing so, so why add another redundant voice to the many. I actually find it refreshing and liberating that Scott stays clear of taking on the role of yet another preacher (which isn’t a role cut out for everyone anyway).

@ 10
Well, Scott would agree with you. He never excluded himself from his “two movies” model. He totally recognizes that his image of Trump might be wrong.
So far though, it is the movie of the “Trump=Hitler”-crowd that has imploded, while reality did not yet clearly disprove Scotts movie.
Next, we will find out whether Scotts movie is more correct than the one of the people who say “Trump=Incompetent”.

@ 20
Well, as per Scott’s account his well-paid speaker engagements have dried up since he started writing positively about Trumps skill as a persuader, even though he rigorously stayed clear of any Trump policy assessments (only between the lines you can feel that he largely approves).
Which tells me a lot about the narrow-minded climate in which the people who otherwise would have hired Scott operate: “It cannot be that this much-despised non-person Trump actually has an ability worth pointing out. The man who dares to do so shall be shunned, as associating with him publicly is toxic for our brand.” That’s bad.

@ 28
How does one get as far as Trump got with so many opposing forces and handicaps? As a candidate, Trump had less funding than his opponents, while all the leading media outlets, hollywood etc. were directing all their firepower against Trump for months prior to the election. He still came out on top.
He must have had something going for him. If it wasn’t external (money, media support, celebrity support) nor his own persuasion skill, intelligence, nor a particular articulateness, what’s your hypothesis?

 
UMN Roller
 
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19 July 2017 12:51
 
RedSeed - 19 July 2017 05:18 AM

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.

No doubt.  Multiple times during this conversation, I found myself wondering whether Sam noticed that Adams was talking out of both sides of his mouth and seemingly taking a similar approach to Trump—admit nothing, deny everything.

Adams: “Sam, you can’t know what’s in someone’s head.”  Later: “Trump didn’t win the popular vote b/c that’s not the game he was playing.”  Really?  Wouldn’t we have to be in Trump’s head to know what game he’s playing.

Bullshit artists, both.  Birds of a feather, I suppose.

[ Edited: 20 July 2017 06:54 by UMN Roller]
 
JayKor
 
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19 July 2017 12:52
 

Adams made a lot of interesting points and did a great job of keeping his cool and debating in a level headed way.  Kudos to him. 

He did a really nice job of describing why Trump was able to be elected.  He’s clearly impressed with Trump’s ability to persuade but, strangely, seems to put the value of that ability above any ethical concerns that might come from your methods of persuasion.  He then framed everything he has done around this assumption that he a master negotiator.  He correctly describes his tactic of making outlandish opening offers but doesn’t allow that this actually hinders and often ends negotiations.  It’s a poor negotiation tactic that only works when the entity on the other side of the table can’t walk away.  It’s more or less a bullying tactic used when the other side is captive to the negotiation.  Perhaps Sam’s lack of experience in business negotiations kept him from jumping on this point, but it’s a very obvious one from where I sit.  Trump’s relative failings as a business person are not surprising in this light.  Large-scale business dealings are generally done with very intelligent and savvy people.  They won’t be swayed by schoolyard negotiation tactics.  If you can walk away from the table why would you negotiate with someone you feel is unreasonable?  This doesn’t even touch on the ethics of publicly negotiating with the livelihoods of other people as your negotiating tender.

Sam used way too much hyperbole here.  He missed on solid counterpoints.  I hesitate to say it, but it appeared his hatred for Trump was getting in his way of responding clearly to Adams’ more questionable points.  While you can frame much of what Trump has done in Adams’ ‘master negotiator’ framework, it all doesn’t fit.  It fits far better to a self-serving con man framework.  It was a good discussion but a swing and miss by Sam.

 
d0rkyd00d
 
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19 July 2017 12:56
 
Reaction - 19 July 2017 12:40 PM

@ 28
How does one get as far as Trump got with so many opposing forces and handicaps? As a candidate, Trump had less funding than his opponents, while all the leading media outlets, hollywood etc. were directing all their firepower against Trump for months prior to the election. He still came out on top.
He must have had something going for him. If it wasn’t external (money, media support, celebrity support) nor his own persuasion skill, intelligence, nor a particular articulateness, what’s your hypothesis?

Responding to your last question: I thought I remembered learning in political science that almost every election has been won by the person who spent the most campaign dollars.  Now, one could draw a direct correlation between campaign dollars spent and winning the election, but perhaps what one should focus on is what those campaign dollars afford you (airtime, name mentions, appearances, etc.).  In this situation, however, Trump didn’t have to spend money for unlimited media attention, name mentions, etc.  So, TLDR, Trump was more notorious due to his fame, wealth, and d-baggery than any other candidate.  Couple that with an obviously globally changing political landscape, signified by Brexit, and you have yourself a perfect storm.  It seems obviously possible that one could be elected president without any merit, completely attributing the results to outside circumstance.

 
Igawa
 
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19 July 2017 13:13
 

HI all. Longtime Harris fan here (back when there were still 4 living horsemen) and first time poster. It would be fair to characterize me as one of those Sam Harris supporters who disagree with his position on Trump. One of the ‘dislikes’ on those podcasts where Trump is the topic. Since about the spring of 2016, I would consider myself ‘persuaded’ by Adams to view Trump along similar lines, and I still do today. As an aside, I would give my primary motivation for voting/supporting Trump to be of an anti-Regressive nature. It was clear that unless a major upset happened, triggering enough cognitive dissonance in the left that they might evolve would become almost impossible. Also, a pre-apology for a long, potentially obvious post. These are ideas I’ve been kicking around for a long time but I think are critically relevant in this long overdue Sam Harris/Scott Adams intersection.

When one encounters cognitive dissonance, there are only two reactions. Double down on your current position and employ all thinking tools (logic, reason, confirmation bias, cherry-picking, faith, etc) to eliminate such dissonance, or employ logic, reason, confirmation bias, cherry-picking, faith, etc to analyze the cause of such emotional distress and evolve one’s own position to eliminate the dissonance. Other words to describe the former reaction might be ‘re-affirmation’, ‘disproving’, ‘refutation’, ‘defense’. Other words to describe the latter reaction might be ‘persuaded’, ‘reasoning’, ‘introspection’, ‘evolution’

What Scott Adams said about CD (cognitive dissonance) and CB (confirmation bias) affecting everyone is true. Even he is subject to this, as he admits. CB is a funny thing though in that it is a fully subjective experience. Two people can see the same movie and derive different ‘truths’ from it using their different confirmation biases. Sam sees Trump’s behavior such as in the Trump U case as reinforcing Trump as an unethical, sleazy slimeball BECAUSE he already views him as such. Note the word ‘Confirmation’ in CB. It’s an instinctual tendency to reinforce one’s own current position. I and Scott see his behavior differently, because we already see it differently at the start! What a mindfuck, eh?

To me there seem to be two critical ways people can break out of their own confirmation biases; The Scientific Method, and Cognitive Dissonance. The former’s overwhelming effectiveness in the realm of physical reality is obvious. If done right, you abjure your weak human psyche to a rigorous process of questioning and measurement, from which you can derive cold hard facts about the universe. However, Science is not universally applicable as a means to pursue truth. You can’t (yet) measure what other people are thinking. You can’t measure what ‘xir’, ‘xim’, ‘attack helicopter’ will do to society. From the human perspective that is the realm of CD, CB, persuasion, etc.

I think a good definition of meditation is a means to induce cognitive dissonance in oneself with the aim towards evolution or self analysis. This obviously requires a great deal of self control and dispassion, as emotion causes all humans to bias towards doubling down. You all know this is true. ‘Clear your mind of emotion’ or you’ll never be able to think past yourself.

So what is persuasion? It is the process by which minds are influenced by other minds. It is an impossibly broad field that everyone is constantly involved in, whether they are persuading others or persuading themselves. ‘But wait Igawa, I thought you said people could only change their minds by CD or Science!’ Yes, I know. Self persuasion is little more than succumbing to confirmation bias. Ever notice how any conclusion you reach ends up being majority ‘correct’ in your mind?  (with appropriate hedging against ignorance). Personally, I believe that the reason humans have a desire to share their decisions and reasons with others is a sort of built-in correction module. Without some external source of persuasion or cognitive dissonance to challenge us, we would have no real perspective on our own minds.

OK. Enough philosophy, lets bring this back to Trump, Sam, and Scott. Sam is a pillar of reason, calm, self-introspection. Scott is a very astute observer of human behavior. Trump is a delusional, unethical buffoon or a self-aware master persuader 50% better than Steve Jobs. Here’s a thought experiment: What if both movies are true? I share Sam’s repulsion towards Trump’s general conduct. I find him extremely difficult to listen to and frustratingly unconcerned with the truth. However, I also find such traits repulsive in general, and the trap in reasoning is connecting personal dislike of another person’s mannerisms and conduct (especially considering their role as a politician or celebrity, who has to maintain a public persona) with what else they ‘bring to the table’, so to speak. ‘But Trump doesn’t bring anything else to the table!’ Sorry, you are not looking hard enough. A septuagenarian author grandfather billionaire real estate mogul reality TV star President of the United States has WAY more to bring to the leadership table than you do, sunshine.

Quick note about the dislike. I think it’s just because Trump acts in ways that would just not compatible with my or Sam’s character and persona if we were to adopt the same behavior, and yet has considerable success doing so. It would come across to others COMLETELY differently if we adopted his style and likely completely negatively. In that way, it’s important to realize that Trump’s entire persona is vastly different from mine or Sam or Scott, and his behavior works in conjunction with that. Imagine if Trump did an interview in a calm, no hyperbole, logical, reasonable monotone (sorry Sam). You would immediately notice how out of character that is, and probably not appreciate it.

I, like Sam, viewed Trump as the delusional, unethical, incompetent buffoon. Scott provided a very different way (a different filter, if you will) to view his behavior. That could be characterized as a (mild) moment of CD. His interpretation made as much sense as Sam’s, so which one is more accurate? Since then I have hunted for evidence of each filter as an effective way to view Trump, and found Scott’s to make more sense. There are so many cases where the same anecdote can be used to support both views (hello confirmation bias!) but the few unambiguous ones (unambiguous meaning patterns of behavior that are consistent for at least 20 years) point toward’s Scott’s filter or away from Sam’s filter.

#1. He has been very successful, he likes ‘winning’, he likes being popular, he is by all accounts a workaholic, and he can do back-to-back rallies week after week all over the goddamn place. I’m sorry, but this just screams motivation and at least desire for competence. Now, what specifically that competence is in however, may not be what you think you want it to be. Same with ‘success’ Success in my life is an understanding and involvement in the field of quantum computing, not making millions of dollars in business or becoming POTUS. However, I’m probably in a very small minority there, as are you with whatever your definition of success is

#2. His behavior of ‘big first offer’ is extremely well documented, demonstrated, and even self admitted! (He tweeted about it during the campaign). I’m pretty sure the rest of the world leaders figured this out ages ago. White House staff and the executive branch in general seems to have figured this out within a few months of his inauguration. Republican congressmen at large are starting to figure it out. From their perspective, once they realilze this, he’s really nothing especially new as a type of person they need to work with.

#3 He has shown a consistent evidence of deeper thoughtfulness than people give him credit for. There are many many anecdotes about people actually meeting with him 1 on 1 and finding him to be intelligent and pleasant. He is teetotal since the death of his brother, which to me shows he’s wary of impairing his mental faculties or decision making, even as recreation (which is what drinking alcohol is, by the way. As an aside, rumor was that Hillary is a big fan of this). In my opinion one of his most important quotes is ‘The day I realized it can be smart to be shallow was, for me, a deep experience’. If you look at that quote from a context of someone trying to understand how people work, it makes a lot more sense.

I could go on, but there’s already enough, I think. I’m looking forward to the cognitive dissonance below.

 
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