Parsing Part 2 of the Scott Adams – Sam Harris Podcast

Richard Bandler, who was one of the original codifiers of Milton Erickson’s techniques, still teaches seminars. At one seminar, a student asked him a question. “These hypnosis and persuasion techniques are powerful. What is a good way to make sure you don’t cause damage to other people when using them? How do we know we are using them ethically?” Bandler then told a story about a young hypnotherapist he taught. When this young therapist first started out, a client came to him with an issue. He knew he could solve it but the technique would be invasive and a difficult experience for the client. He asked the client if the approach would be acceptable to him. “Well,” said the client, “if you would do this to a family member or loved one in a similar situation, then that’s good enough for me. But if not, you need to take a different approach.” Once the young therapist took that attitude he felt much better about use cases, and he kept that guideline in place until he had much more experience with persuasion and hypnosis. Bandler ended his story by reassuring us that the young therapist successfully solved the client’s issue. And as the student at the seminar who had asked the question said, “Thank you for the answer” and sat down, I realized I might have just learned something useful.


Read my intro here and some background on belief structures here.

The podcast itself is called “Triggered!

Previous sections: Part 1. You might notice some techniques I pointed out in that post that I don’t point out below. That’s deliberate.

My notes in blue.

Note that there may be a difference between my own opinion and my parsing of what the persuasion is communicating.


Part 2: minutes 20 – 35.

Adams: So you see that process in a number of ways.[ Visual ] [20:20]You saw that when he talked about fighting ISIS. He said we’re going to go back to waterboarding and maybe kill the families of the terrorists, and a lot of people said “Oh my god, you can’t do that, that’s going too far,”[ PACE ]and there’s lots of, plenty of good, practical reasons why you don’t do those things.[ Beautiful pace. We don’t know what people’s reasons are; and we don’t care. Yet this still paces them all. ]Then he became president,[ PACE ]and what did he do? He got pretty tough on ISIS,[ Pace. Plus “Hey I like that.” ]and I would argue that civilian casualties probably have gone up, as a result of that extra toughness, but we’re not, you know we’re not seeing the big outcry, because he’s been successful apparently, against ISIS on the battlefield.[ Pacing the civilian casualties objection ahead of time, framing it as a necessary part of being tough on ISIS, and giving instruction to not object to it. Also giving a plausible “Cialdini because”: because we are winning. ] So we see this pattern which he has broadcasted for decades.[ Presenting a pattern with a long history that we can verify visually. ]He actually wrote a book on it, The Art of the Deal, in which he talks explicitly about using hyperbole – in other words things that don’t pass the fact checking – and making big first offers to give him lots of room to negotiate toward the middle.[ Reframing “lies” as “negotiating hyperbole.” Weakening the chaos and crazy narratives by showing how it’s part of a pattern. Weakening the fact-checking objection. ]So that the thing that his supporters believe that his critics do not, is that he is emotionally and intellectually on their side, and that he will work out the details when he needs to. So that’s what his supporters believe, [ Presenting a plausible, reasonable perspective of a Trump supporter. They are not racists, or insane, or monsters. This both weakens the hatred of Trump supporters and provides a possible path for listeners to agree and change sides. We will see more of this. ]and I think we’ve seen a pretty unbroken pattern of exactly that happening.[ More visual, to reach the majority of people. Most people are highly visual. Note that Harris is NOT primary visual – Harris is mostly auditory and kinesthetic. But Adams isn’t talking to just Harris. ]And I predicted this pattern long before he even got nominated because he has that skill set, he repeated that pattern often, and it was the was the only rational thing that I could see, unless he was, you know, unless you imagined he was actually, literally insane, [ Presenting the “Trump is insane” narrative as unreasonable.] it was the only thing I could imagine happening.[ In other words, inevitable. Working on breaking through the shock and denial here. ]And sure enough, it’s happening just as I predicted.[ Keep on building the master predictor narrative. We will see later why this is critical. ]

Harris: OK well there’s a lot in there that strikes me as fairly strange ethically. For instance, this idea that he’s making this first offer that is extreme, that then he walks back to something more reasonable, and that this is a technique for which he pays no penalty, is just an unambiguously good technique that his fans recognize[ Harris starts reasonably, then ends with absurd absolutes before Adams cuts him off. ]

Adams: Let me interrupt you. I would never say he doesn’t pay a penalty.[ Calling out Harris on a complexly worded absurd absolute here. ]This is a technique that absolutely by design has a penalty. So in other words he’s saying “This is going to cost me because the fact checkers are going to be over me, and blah blah blah, I’m going to do it anyway.”

Harris: I guess I’m emphasizing something else here.[ Switches the argument. Classic tell for belief change. ]It’s not so much the lying part, or the failing the reality testing part, it’s more like: if I’m going to say to you, “You know what I think we should do?” – let’s just say this on the podcast – “You know I think we should round up those 12 million people and deport them.” If I commit to that position that’s my position.[ Harris frames the stating of hyperbolic statements as committing to a position, which is in contrast to Adams framing them as an opening offer in a negotiation. Harris’ ethics argument right here depends on them being committed positions. Remember, he hasn’t been given time to process everything, given the live format, so he’s working from an internal model that now has contradictions still needing to be resolved. ]Well, when you unpack that position, that commits me to some things which I really must have thought about or at least am pretending to have thought about, which are fairly unethical. It gets much worse than what you describe. It’s not just the fellow gang member or very close to being a gang member who gets deported along with the convicted killer. It’s the mom of you know an 8 year old kid who is an American citizen, right, so you have these just, just families broken apart.[ Powerful visual –> kinesthetic persuasion here by Harris. Great reframe, elicits a lot of feelings. His best persuasive moment so far. ]And so if I’m going to pretend to be so callous as to happily absorb[ kino ]those facts like, “Yeah send them all back. You know, they don’t belong here in the first place” or if I’m going to take the ISIS case I’m going to say “Yeah we’ll torture their kids we’ll kill their kids. Doesn’t matter, right? Whatever works.” If that’s going to be my opening negotiation I am advertising, I’m going to advertise a level of callousness and a level of unconcern for the reality of human suffering all around me that will follow upon[ kino ]my actions that should I get what I ostensibly want it’s like in these 2 cases a nearly psychopathic ethics that I’m advertising as my strong suit, right? So how this becomes attractive to people, how thisresonates[ Auditory ]with their values… I mean I get[ kino ]what you said about people are worried about immigration, they’re worried about jihadism. I share those concerns. But when you cross the line with this opening overture that has these extreme consequences on its face – I mean you don’t have to think deeply on this, right, these are the things that get pointed out in 30 seconds when he, whenever he opens his mouth on a topic like this – I don’t understand how that works for him with anyone.[ Presenting anyone who agrees with Trump as someone who likes breaking up families with kids, someone who must also have psychopathic ethics. Conflation. Very effective with Harris’ supporters. ]

Adams: Let me give you a little thought experiment here. Uh we’ve got people who are on the far right, we’ve got people on the left. In your perfect world would it be better to move the people who are on the far right toward the middle, or the people on the far left toward the middle? Which would be a preferred world for you?

Harris: Oh I don’t know. Now things have gotten so crazy on the left that that is actually is a genuinely hard question to answer. But I think moving everyone toward the middle certainly on most points would be a very good thing.

Adams: So what you’ve observed [ Visual evidence in the past. Hard to object to. Also a pace. ] with President Trump through his pacing and emotional compatibility with his base, is that prior to inauguration day there were a lot of people in this country who were saying, “Yeah yeah round them all up! Send all 12 million back tomorrow.” When was the last time you heard anyone on the right complaining about that? Because what happened was, immigration went down 50-70 percent, whatever the number is[ Not letting anyone object on pedantic number grounds ], just based on the fact that we would get tough on immigration. And the right says, “Oh ok, we’re, you know, we didn’t get nearly what we asked for but our leader, who we trust, whom we love, has backed off of that and we’re going to kind of go with that because he’s kind of doing some good things that we like. And we don’t like the alternative either.” [ Now the audience has experienced what it’s like to be a Trump supporter. Harder to hate or despise someone once you’ve been in their shoes for a moment. Powerful neutralization of the “righteous, intelligent, educated us vs. racist, stupid, ignorant them. Note that the description makes sense and includes positive words like “love,” “trust,” “good things.” ] So this monster we elected – this Hitler/dictator/crazy guy – he managed to be the only person who could have – and I would argue always intended to – move the far right towards them middle. You saw it, right? [ You might have seen it in the news. But more important, you just saw it in your mind as I just described it. ] You know we can observe it with our own eyes. We don’t see the right saying, “No no I hate President Trump. He’s got to round up those undocumented people like he said in the early campaign or else I’m bailing on him.” None of that happened. He paced them and then he led them towards a reasonable situation, which I would say we’re in.

Harris: Well, I don’t know that I would notice if they were complaining about it. I got to think I’m in kind of an echo chamber. You might notice more than I would. [ This is the exact point where Harris’ concept of Trump is broken. 1) This is completely new to Harris – the first plausible explanation of a new concept of Trump – and this caught him off guard. He and the audience are trying to reconcile this plausible explanation of an incredibly brilliant technique and strategy with their notions of Trump as Hitler/crazy/unethical/psychopath. 2) Harris (and the audience) are afraid of the idea that Trump is actually competent, and even more afraid that the man they had thought was a buffoon has fooled them. It contradicts their “I am smart” self-concept. 3) Harris is also trying to object to Adams telling Harris he saw it with his own eyes. Note that Harris uses mostly auditory and kinesthetic language, while Adams uses visual, so Harris has to translate highly visual language into his preferred auditory/kino terms to fully understand. He might be objecting more because he doesn’t “see” things so well in his mind – he feels and hears them – and is objecting to the literal description because it doesn’t match what is going on in his head. Or, he could be objecting to this new concept of Trump as brilliant communicator and strategist. Or both. He begs off rather weakly here to mentally regroup. Watch in the next section as Harris jumps from subject to subject.

Adams of course knows Harris’ sensory language preference, but remember, Adams is not talking to Harris, he’s talking to the audience, the majority of which will be primarily visual, which is the most common.]

Adams: I promise you I would notice it because I am totally, I’ve got one foot in both sides and the number of people who are talking about that – even just talking about rounding up everybody and just sending them back, just stopped. It’s completely done.[ Commands for each listener to stop talking about mass deportation (internally and externally) and put that argument to rest permanently. Note how “…just stopped – it’s completely done” sounds suspiciously like “just STOP! It’s completely done!” And, on another level, these are also commands for people to stop fighting the change in their concept of Trump and accept it. ] And by the way, that’s a big deal. He brought a lot of people to his positions.[ People like you, the listener. Cialdini social proof. Lots of people are now thinking of Trump this way, so it’s ok for you to do so too. When you break their beliefs, people often get scared and angry. This gives them a sense of safety. ]

[ Harris is now internally flustered. Note the retreat into exclusively kinesthetic thinking and how his words could plausibly line up with his own internal objections to the new Trump concept: chaos, giving up one’s own values, Putin. ]

Harris: Again, whether that was his intent or in fact the effect his actions I don’t know. I mean, there’s so much other chaos for people to be complaining about and worrying about [ literal description of Harris’ internal experience at that moment ] but I take [ kino ] a related point here which you could be making which is that there is something else going on there is the fact that people will follow onto terrain [ kino ] that is quite different from the terrain they claim to want to occupy [ kino ] and so they will kind of run roughshod over [ kino ] their own stated principles and I’m noticing this with establishment Republicans who once they grab[ kino ] his coattails it seems they are willing to follow him anywhere even into something that looks like treasonous level of fandom of Vladimir Putin. I’m sure we’ll talk about that. Before we continue down this line I want you to describe this analogy which you’ve made [ kino ] which I think is very useful. You have this “two different movies” analogy and I just want to put that in play [ kino ] for listeners because I think it’s a good framing.

Adams: Yeah there are 2 concepts that people need to understand to have any idea what is happening in the past 2 years. One is confirmation bias – I’m sure you’ve talked about this a number of times on your podcasts and your books – which is the tendency for humans to see all evidence as supporting their side even if it doesn’t. We’re all in confirmation bias pretty much all the time. Nobody’s immune from it. Nobody’s smart enough to see past it. It’s just the human condition. [ Even the smartest people can be wrong due to this. Including the audience. ] The other part that people have to understand is this thing called cognitive dissonance, which I’m sure you’ve also talked about, and that’s the idea that if our mind is set towards a specific reality, especially if it involves ourselves, you know, some self-image, and then we find ourselves doing something or learning something that violates what we’re sure had to be true, we just reinterpret what we saw and spontaneously create essentially an illusion, an imaginary world that explains all the things that wouldn’t have been explained without that hallucination. So what happened was, on Nov 8, 2016 there were a handful of people, including me, who saw things going just the way they imagined they would go. Now, that creates no trigger for cognitive dissonance, because everything was consistent: I thought I was pretty smart, I thought I could predict what was going to happen, I did predict what was going to happen. But for a lot of the country, they thought this was an impossible outcome. They’ve been in their echo chambers and they saw that there was just no way that this could happen. There are people who have never even met a Trump supporter, much less imagined that he could be elected. They looked at the polls. They saw that it was 98% likely that Hillary Clinton would win and then the results didn’t go that way. That’s a perfect trigger for cognitive dissonance. And I described that election as a cognitive dissonance cluster bomb and what it did was it split the United States and some extent the rest of the world into what I call two movies that are running simultaneously on one screen. So if you imagine we’re all in the audience, but half of the audience is looking at the same screen that you and I are and half of them are seeing one movie, and the other half are watching an entirely different movie. And one of the movies we had just elected Hitler or something like it and people were taking to the streets to day, “Oh my god!” you know, “The world is going to be on fire” and the other half of the country were going “Hey we got a guy who’s probably going to be pretty good on jobs and maybe he’ll tighten up the borders and, you know, do some business like systems in government that we like” and that’s all they saw.[ Another “Trump supporters are reasonable people” example. Same points as before: pace and lead to a Trump supporter point of view, not appropriate to hate them, now you see their side and possibly agree with some of it. More of Adams the predictor. ]And the other side saw something completely different, an entirely different movie. Now I had predicted prior to the inauguration that because of that setup, which I could see coming from a mile away, that we would experience the following arc. We would the first of all there would be huge protests because people thought that some Hitler character got elected but after a few months of President Trump acting like a normal president who was using the normal mechanisms of power and is getting some stuff done, and moderating his positions as presidents do, that the Hitler illusion would start to dissipate and that it would eventually give way by Summer. That was my prediction. And it has, largely. The Hitler stuff is largely dissipated for a lack of confirming evidence and it was replaced with, “Well he’s not a Hitler but he’s definitely incompetent. He’s so incompetent. There’s chaos in the White House that he can’t get anything done.” And I predicted that by the end of the summer he would in fact get things done. But the criticisms don’t stop because that’s just not the way it works. People don’t change positions like that. They simply change the reasons that they oppose them. And I predicted that the reasons would change from, you know, “he’s Hitler” to “he’s incompetent” to “alright, he did get a lot of things done and they were the things he said he was going to get done, and they do match, you know, Republican positions, but we don’t like it,” alright. “He is competent, he does get things done, he’s effective, but we don’t like what he’s doing.” So I think that’s where he, where it’s going to be by year end. And it seems to be heading that way. [ This whole section was a giant pace and lead. Adams as predictor extraordinaire. And here we see one of the most valuable aspects of this narrative: now he’s telling the audience what to think next, and they believe him because they accept that he was right about so many other predictions. ]

Harris: One thing I want to point out that strikes me as a strange emphasis that I’ve heard from you here, but I’ve also heard this just quite frequently from other Trump supporters so I just want to flag it.[ kino ]I don’t know what, if much turns on it.[ kino ]But for instance in your description of what created the cognitive dissonance, you talk about the failure of people who don’t like Trump to predict that he would win the election, so that everyone was just blindsided by the fact that he won and this put them into this “the other movie theater” where they are seeing just civilization unravel. I mean, for me it was never a matter of being sure that Hillary Clinton was going to win. In fact, the last poll I looked at that I thought was actually informative, Trump had a 20 or 25 % chance of winning and I, you know, I’m statistically educated. I know how often a 20% chance of winning comes up. It’s not a tiny probability, so it’s not the surprise that is worth emphasizing here, it’s the horror at the fact that we have elected someone so obviously wrong for the job. This two movies analysis still works whether you predicted anything or whether anyone else predicted anything. Even if everyone thought it was a horse race until the last second and there was a 50% chance of either candidate winning, I think you would have the exact same outcome in terms of a repudiation of this choice that our nation made.[ Another good argument by Harris against the argument as stated. He tries to undermine the cognitive dissonance explanation by saying it wasn’t the surprise but the horror. The way Adams explained it here, the surprise was the big factor with the “unwanted” aspect implied, but in practice horror is an equally effective trigger for cognitive dissonance. You generally don’t go into cognitive dissonance when you get surprised with a very positive situation. ]

23 thoughts on “Parsing Part 2 of the Scott Adams – Sam Harris Podcast”

  1. I think this would be way more interesting if you approached it from a neutral point of view, rather than one aimed at confirmation bias towards Adams and/or his fanbase. The idea that Harris’ mind gets blown once Adams explains that Trump really doesn’t mean what he says seems like a massive fallacy, in my opinion. Poll after poll shows that Trump supporters really do want the wall, they really do want mass deportations, Hillary in jail, etc. etc. I don’t think very many Trump supporters would say they “knew” he was lying to them all along, nor would they be okay with him if he straight up said that he was. It also blurs the line between “persuasion” and straight-up propaganda, a concept I don’t really see touched on here. I don’t think we are seeing any real evidence of the “far right” moving towards the middle at all (in fact, in the months since this podcast, we’ve seen them move ever further to the right).

    I also take issue with calling Scott a “predictor extraordinaire” for predicting the “Hitler” stuff would largely go away over the Summer. Not only did it not really go away, it got measurably worse upon his reaction to Charlottesville. Regardless of whether or not you thought his reaction was appropriate, it played very poorly to the country as a whole, and in my opinion massively deflated the “master persuader” narrative. Adams has defended the reaction, but he has not been able to explain why someone so adept at “hypnotizing” the public would bungle such a layup; THIS was his big chance at taking the air out of the Hitler narrative, and he shanked it about as badly as possible. Adams has a skill in making generic, non-specific predictions which he can then tout when he feels he got it right enough, but I think if we are looking at this objectively, there is really very little that Adams actually DID get right (feel free to argue otherwise). I would argue that most of the country did NOT see a few months of Trump “acting like a normal president” – he spun up needless controversy nearly every week, and polling data reflects the majority of this county still does not think he’s qualified for the job. For example, this week we’ve seen parts of the country in legitimate crisis, and Trump’s main course of action has been attacking the NFL. This plays well with his base, but not amongst any segment of the country he’ll need to win over if he wants to actually get something done. Likewise, Adams seems to be good at hypnotizing Trump supporters, but he comes across poorly to everyone else.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think you are missing a critical distinction. What I am parsing is the narrative, intent, and technique, not necessarily my own opinion. For example, I did not call Adams a “predictor extraordinaire”; I revealed that as the intent and effect of his persuasion. The distinction may be subtle but it is very important to understanding both the podcast and the parsing.

      If you have issues with Adams, you might prefer to take them up with him directly on Twitter.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The issue is that you’re getting into the same sort of post-hoc arguments that do little but appeal to one’s confirmation bias. Pointing this stuff out is like…”circle every word with the letter ‘e’ in it” – you can see what you want to see. I found the podcast fascinating, and after I heard it I took a look around online to see what other people’s reactions to it were. I don’t think anyone who wasn’t already a fan of Scott Adams found him very persuasive; in fact the overwhelming opinion seemed to be that he was disingenuous and argued mostly in bad faith. For example, it’s easy to parse the persuasive effect of a statement like “failing the fact checkers” instead of calling it was it is – “lying”. To anyone not explicitly on Adams’ side, he comes off like a budget Kellyanne Conway. Hence the rub with all this – “persuasion” is whatever you say it is, and apparently it does zilch to persuade those not already on that side. So what’s the point?

        Liked by 2 people

      2. It might seem arbitrary to those who have not been trained or who do not have extensive experience with persuasion and hypnosis. I have identified the use of well-known techniques that have been highly vetted through trial and error for at least 40 years in their current form, and for thousands of years in various other forms.

        How would you feel if you discovered that you *had* been persuaded by Adams or myself? Do you have any emotional resistance to that idea? Many have resolved that resistance and realized they have even more clarity than before.


      3. Not doubting that such techniques exist and can be effective. But to deflect and make intellectually dishonest arguments so transparently has consequences. Much as Harris remarks that Trump is incredibly unpersuasive, I think most of the listeners of the podcast found Adams to be a hack. If Adams’ intent was to prove that Trump and his supporters are rational, intelligent people, what he instead seemed to prove is that an “honest” defense of Trump winds up being anything but; I could not help but notice how much of the podcast was Harris correcting very simple things that Adams got wrong. If you want to double back and say “actually this means Adams persuaded you”, well then I guess I’d be curious to hear that argument.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I think we are making similar points…This point about reframing lying as exaggerations and a negotiating technique is key to what you are saying… The point seems to be ‘how to substantiate my belief that Trump is the greatest…” which requires a Lot of reframing and ignoring of the straightforward meaning of sentences.

      When you move to subjective “here is what I want this sentence to mean” you are well in the territory of confirmation bias…as you point out.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. and Trump’s main course of action has been attacking the NFL.

      And playing golf. And dedicating golf trophies to hurricane victims.

      Your point about missing the “layup” is spot on. It makes one think that that maybe Trump is not the jedi master he is held to be.


  2. Trump seemed to be on the Scott Adams trajectory of moderation- but, especially in light of the Alabama special election, I think there’s a wrinkle in the plot:

    Enter the Bannon.

    Bannon and Breitbart seem to have successfully interposed themselves between Trump and his base. What would Scott’s assessment be of a Bannon vs Trump persuasion war?


    1. Good question. Much of our internal experience is made of the 5 senses. Kino is short for kinesthetic – that is, using the sense of feel. This includes emotions, tactile sensations, and 3d arrangements of things.


  3. Hi,
    I’m a fan of Scott Adams from Malaysia; found this through his tweet. Excellent writing. Trying to reconcile all these persuasion subjects with how we do things locally.


    1. In my experience, persuasion has universal structure and principles, with local customs, tone, and associations. I’ve said before that if you understand how people work, you can move mountains with basic techniques; and without that understanding, even the best techniques won’t serve you as well. Doing the “translation” from American style and culture to Malaysian (or to any other culture) will be a very profitable exercise. I’m working on another blog post down the line on that topic.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great work here! There are few podcasts I would apply this label to – but this was a culturally significant podcast, which should be referenced for years to come.


  5. “Adams: So you see that process in a number of ways.[ Visual ] [20:20]You saw that when he talked about fighting ISIS.” — Isn’t this more pacing and leading? I don’t really visualize anything just because Scott tells me I see something. Processes and numbers are not very visual.


    1. Yes, it’s also pacing. At the top I mention how I called out some things in the first post that I didn’t in this one, because it got too dense and people were still learning just fine (as you apparently are too)!


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