In early 2017 noted rationalist, atheist, and Trump hater Sam Harris invited Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert and persuasionist extraordinaire, to come on his show and debate about Donald Trump. Adams accepted and on July 18, 2017 they engaged in a two-hour discussion. In the resulting twitter discussions Harris supporters generally seemed angry; Adams supporters seemed to have had a good bit of fun calling out the Harris supporters for cognitive dissonance.
This was a great event for students of persuasion for a number of reasons. First, it provided a beautiful contrast between super smart, super rational, scientist Sam Harris (and his followers of similar brains and bent) with super smart, super persuasive Scott Adams and his followers. Second, it provided us with a master class in belief change work, if we are willing to dig into it and work out the techniques.
Because Harris debated Adams, but Adams didn’t debate Harris. Adams used the debate as a vehicle to destroy anti-Trump beliefs, as conveniently presented by Harris, for a large audience of listeners.
So let’s dig into what went on. I’ll parse out some of the techniques used and we can learn some useful stuff.
Some notes before we begin:
- I’ll be posting the transcript in sections, along with notes on the persuasion and structure, as I finish them
- I will only be publicly parsing out what I will call Level 1 techniques. Even so, you might be surprised at how deep the crafting goes into persuasion, even in live conversations
- If you are on twitter, send out thanks to @rolypolyistaken for writing out the transcript for the first section
- It will help greatly to be familiar with some of Adams’ persuasion reading list, particularly Cialdini
- The next post will be on beliefs and how to use the new information we will be learning. After that I’ll post the first section of the transcript with notes