Parsing the Scott Adams – Sam Harris podcast for persuasion, Part 5

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

The podcast itself is called “Triggered!

Previous sections: Part 1, Part 2 , Part 3, and Part 4. You might notice some techniques I pointed out in those posts 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.

And thank @Subutai1175  and @ultrappowered for this transcription!

[ 1:00:33 ]

SA: Yeah, I would go even further and say that if you actually knew the secret life of any of our politicians, we would impeach all of them. [ Acknowledging and using the emotional power of Harris’ setup to fuel a reframe using Cialdini comparison principle. ] So the problem is that…

SH: …That’s not true…

SA: …the people tend to be fairly despicable when you drill down. [ Big picture reframe. Trump is not an outlier. ]

SH: Do you really think Obama is trailing things of this magnitude, character flaws, manifest character flaws of this magnitude? [ Trying to establish that Trump is indeed an outlier. ]

SA: Well I won’t name names but I would say it would be more common than not common for the, you know, especially the males have like sketchy, sketchy behavior with the opposite sex. [ Trump is not an outlier. Worded reasonably and hard to disagree with, while still getting the point across. ]

SH: Not this level of sketchy behavior. [ Trump is an outlier. ] I mean this is, again, I’m not gonna go to the Billy Bush groping tape which I think is appropriate to…

SA: Keep in mind that President Trump’s past is far more public than other people’s so you’re gonna see the warts as well as the good stuff, [ You can’t compare Trump to other Presidents because we haven’t seen the hidden lives of others like we have of Trump. Ends the outlier / not outlier frame fight without resolution by saying a valid comparison is not possible. ] but let me stop acting like I’m disagreeing with the general claim you’re making, that he has done things that you and I might not do in the same situation and would disapprove of. [ Agreeing ends the topic of discussion by “conceding” the point, while reducing the extremity of the viewpoint, and leaving that emotionally reduced summary as the last word. ] I would say that is common and would be shared by Trump supporters as well. [ More dismantling of the “virtuous, enlightened, educated us” vs “troglodytic, racist, ignorant them” frame. ]

SH: But then you seem to give it no ethical weight.

SA: Here’s the proposition: he came in and he said in these very words: “I’m no angel, but I’m gonna do these things for you.” Now he created a situation where for his self-interest – if you imagine he’s the most selfish, narcissistic, egoistical human who ever lived, [ pace ] he cares only about himself – he put himself in a position where there was exactly one way for any of those things to go right for him, which is to do a really, really fricking good job. And to imagine that he wants to do anything but the best job for the country now, now that he’s in the position, and probably also when he was running, is beyond ludicrous and I would say… [ Turning the ego / selfish criticism into an asset by aligning it with Trump’s desire to do what is best for the country. Introducing the “best advocate” frame. ]

SH: …Ok stop there, because I will grant you that he cares about his reputation to some degree and his reputation would be enhanced if at the end of four years, or at the end of eight years more likely, he was described as the greatest president we ever had. [ Harris’ consideration of this idea seems a big change from his starting position. ] I mean I think he would like that. If you could give him a magic wand and he could wave it at any direction he would want to leave being spoken of as the next Lincoln or the next Jefferson. So granted, in that sense his interests and the country’s interest would be aligned, [ Concedes the point partially. ] but there are two problems with that idea. One is, there are many ways in which his interests, his personal selfish interests and that of his family, are not aligned with those of the country and there’s real harm to our institutional norms on that basis. [ Trump presented as an outlier again, this time a threat to the norms ] I mean, so we have this family, functioning like that the ruling family in a banana republic now, they’re enriching themselves at every turn. There’s endless reports of the State Department and the Secret Service, paying tens of thousands of dollars to stay in Trump hotels. You’ve got Ivanka hawking her gold bracelet that she was wearing on the first 60 minutes interview, you know, 48 hours after the election. You’ve got the incessant pumping of Trump branded properties with taxpayer dollars, I mean there’s no end to this, right? [ Note that in Harris’ mind the list is literally endless, even if he doesn’t know all the details. Confirmation bias allows him to fill in the list on the fly with anything he encounters by interpreting new events in a way that follows the pattern he perceives. ] And they’re doing deals in dozens of countries. So there’s conflicts of interest that they won’t even acknowledge. We’ll get to Russia, there’s this Russia thing which is clearly not in the interest of the US and may very well be in Trump’s interest to, I would say, court a… again, I mean, I think the word ‘treason’, I’m not using the word ‘treason’ in the technical sense like I think he’ll be convicted of treason, but there’s a treasonous levels of disregard for the interests of our country in how he has been dealing with Russia thus far and the Russia scandal. [ Treason, ruling family, banana republic, “endless” reports, “incessant” pumping of properties – Harris is no longer speaking in reasonable or rational terms. These are all absolutes, absurd restatements, or both. ]

SA: Or he’s just being persuasive and practical. Both of those filters fit. [ Dismissed that whole section with a reframe. The prep work on two movies, etc made this more effective. ]

SH: There’s nothing persuasive about being the first president who will openly, without any caveat, just praise and align himself with a dictator of Putin’s quality, who has just maliciously targeted our country in a way that is totally unambiguous. [ Association to a known “evil.” ]

SA: First of all, I’m sure that we target other countries, so that you know the context is we’re all probably doing it to everybody else. [ Reframe through literal context change. ]

SH: Again this is a move into a kind of amoral equivalence, which doesn’t make any sense to me because of course we seek to influence other countries, but we do it because we actually have our values right? I mean we think our values are good. If we’re trying to influence an election in Iran say. The reason why we think that is legitimate is because we are the good guys there. Now and I mean that in a fairly deep sense, right? I mean we are fighting for democratic values and tolerance of minorities and you know. [ Argument of we need to be the “good guys” and Trump is not one of the “good guys.” This is Harris’ hangup: he believes that one’s values and interpretation of what is good give one the right to exercise power. Of course, the other side believes that their values and interpretation of what is good give them the right to exercise power. ]

SA: I agree, I agree, I agree with all that, I’m just saying that in the in the real world if a country pokes you, you poke them back the same way, that’s just going to happen. [ Reframe from idealism to practicality. Establishes that countries ]

SH: Ok but we have a president now who says nothing but good things about a dictator, who we know jails and kills his political opponents and jails and kills journalists. [ More association of Trump and Putin. ]

SA: Let me, let me, let me refer you to… There was some CIA analysts recently, who said – retired ones I guess – who said that they were worried that Trump could be easily manipulated by his ego through flattery, and that foreign leaders are looking at his tweets and his personality and saying, “Hey we can totally persuade this guy to do what we want, by using this flattery thing.” [ Pace ] Now we’re watching president Trump flatter not only the North Korean dictator by calling him a smart cookie for staying in power, but also Putin and also the Chinese leadership. You’ve seen him flatter the 3 leaders that we’d most want to persuade. [ Presents Trump as someone who turned the tables on all the foreign leaders who thought they could manipulate him, by manipulating them. Reframes the Putin association from admiration to persuasive flattery. Simultaneously counters another common fear that Trump is a crazy manipulatable chump out of his depth. ]

SH: But I’ve seen him play both sides. I mean in one Tweet he’ll bash the Chinese leadership and he was bashing the Chinese leadership throughout the campaign and he’ll bash Kim Jong-Un in another Tweet. He’s both sides of it. It’s not one thing or the other, it’s the chaos of his own personality and his problems with impulse control made manifest. [ The “Trump is chaotic, scary, has no impulse control, he’s gonna get us all killed” narrative. ]

SA: Is it, has he bashed them since he was President? Cause there are things that he did on the campaign trail. Which case are you talking about? [ Separating the contexts. Reducing the objection by the amount of incidents that can be explained by a context that naturally makes them appropriate. ]

SH: Well just tweets about how obviously we can’t count on China anymore and warning Kim Jong-Un that there’s gonna be a massive penalty to be paid for.

SA: Ok those. Let me explain both of those things. Warning Kim Jong-Un that there’s going to be a massive penalty is not saying something about the individual. Right, he’s just saying the same thing that any president would say in that situation. The situation with China which I wrote about extensively, is that the smartest persuasion that he could do in that situation is to set China up as the adult in their neighborhood who for some reason can’t control their own backyard. So that’s the setup he gave them. He said, “You guys are great! You know, why don’t you take care of this North Korea stuff, we’ll take a step back. Get this done.” Then, when it didn’t get done, he didn’t say “You guys are assholes,” ‘cause that would have been a big mistake. He said, “Well we tried, you know, China’s great. They didn’t get it done, you know. Maybe next time.” That is exactly the right persuasion, and exactly how I would have played it, because that gave him a free pass to do something that China doesn’t want him to do, if he needs to do that, ‘cause he said publicly, “We trust you guys, you guys can take care of this.” Then he waited and in fact they increased, apparently they increased trade with North Korea and so he pointed it out factually – correctly – and said “Well I guess that didn’t work.” And that gives him a moral free pass because he just gave them the opportunity to fix it themselves first. [ Pointing out the strategy and intelligence of Trump’s approach. The strategy is coherent and again counters the Trump as crazy / incompetent / chaotic narrative. There is more to this as well; do you recognize it? ]

SH: Well I’m not claiming that that was the wrong communication at that point, it’s just that, it all has the character of a haphazard ejaculation of whatever he’s thinking [ OMG what a visual ] or the product of the last conversation he had. So when he met with the China’s leader, he said after ten minutes he was convinced that, you know, the trade thing is not what he thought it was, right? Meanwhile he’d campaigned on the trade thing being one way for months and so there’s something about the fact that he pretends to have it all worked out until the next moment where he has to reverse course completely without ever acknowledging that he’s reversed course. Without ever giving an intelligent account of why it happened. And you’re attributing this to some kind of real method to his madness but in most cases it just looks like madness or it just looks like a lack of understanding of what he was gonna have to think anyway. [ Good summary of the interaction. ]

SA: Yeah I think there are probably several things going on. One of them is a learning process and the people who supported him and voted for him, I think everybody had their eyes open that you plump a non-politician into this job whether it’s, you know, Barack Obama with a little bit of experience or Trump, they’re going to be learning and evolving fairly quickly on the job, so there’s some of that, you know, genuine changing of opinion. There is some: the situation changes so he pivots, but he also says clearly and often that he likes being unpredictable, and he likes setting his adversaries off balance. You know. Are you my friend? Are you my enemy? Are you gonna slap a tariff on me? Are we, do we have a treaty? And persuasion-wise that is brutally effective, because it makes everybody search for, you know, the one thing they can depend on, and if he offers it, they’re gonna grab it. So keeping people off balance until you offer them your solution is actually pretty standard persuasion. [ 1: Outsider quickly learning on the job, which we expected. 2: changing his approach based on changing circumstances. 3: using an unpredictable persona as a negotiating tool. Combined, they provide a set of effective explanations of strategy underlying what on the surface can appear to be madness. ]

SH: I mean he’s persuaded something like half the country to vote for him. [ Harris has stated this multiple times now. He has completely accepted Trump as effective persuader for at least some people. ] As I’ve said I’ve never found him persuasive even for a moment and he’s clearly not persuaded the other half of the country and now his approval ratings are whatever they are. You know they’re as low as things can get, [ Counter-example: if he’s persuasive, why are his approval ratings so low? ] given that there’s a certainly a quorum of republicans who will never disapprove of him even, as he said, if he shoots someone in Times Square. I get that he’s President right? He got elected, so his persuasion, or whatever it was, got him that far. I think that it says less about him frankly than about the state of the country, and our relationship to fame and reality television and an advertisement of wealth as opposed to, you know, the reality of being wealthy. Obviously the fact that the con worked I’ll grant you means something. It doesn’t mean something great about him. It means something that I perceive as a symptom of a problem in our relationship to politics and our relationship to facts in this case. [ Changed the argument. Now the argument is: OK Trump is persuasive to half the country, and that’s a bad thing, and the people who were persuaded are bad, and our country is bad for allowing that situation to occur. ]

SA: But don’t you think we are, or at least maybe we want to be, or should be past the point where the President is the role model for our children, and he’s more like the lawyer that you hire because he’s the best lawyer, even though the last job he did was to represent the mob or something? You know, don’t you want the best lawyer, the best plumber? [ Moving out of the role model frame and into the “best advocate” frame. If you accept the framing, the obvious answer is yes. ]

SH: But it’s so far beyond this. [ Harris again presenting the frame that Trump is a uniquely bad person in all regards. ] I don’t have any illusions about how good the person needs to be to be President and I don’t have any illusions about how the system as it’s set currently setup sort of selects against many of the people we would want. [ Now it’s the system’s fault. ] I mean it’s just such a hassle, to try to become President and you have to slog through so much dirt to get there, that it seems to be selecting for people who are a little bit more narcissistic than we would want, a bit less principled than we would want, a little bit too eager to sell themselves to other interests than we would want. [ By “people” he means Trump. Effective indirect association. ] But still, he’s a unique case [ Pushing the Trump as outlier frame again. ] of someone, again based on everything that he advertised about himself before he ever mentioned that he wanted to be President going back twenty years, he’s a unique case of somebody who, to my eye does not have the ethical core, the intellectual interest, the experience, no, really nothing that would suggest that he would be a good representative of this country or model for our children as you put it. [ Harris conflates the “role model” frame with the “best advocate” frame. To him, they are the same thing. ]

SA: Let me describe what I call my “perfect life arc.” And that would be: you’re born as a little baby and you’re helpless and you’re completely selfish, because you have to be, that’s the only way you can survive. Other people got to do it for you. As you’re a kid you maybe you help out with some chores but you’re still mostly selfish. By the time you’re an adult, especially if you’ve had children, you end up giving more than you’re taking. And if you have done everything right and you’ve taken care of yourself and your family and you’re old and you’re seventy one years old, the last thing that you should be doing is giving back more, and the very last thing you do on, at the moment of your death, is transfer 100% of your assets to other people. [ Everyone can validate the logic of this with their own observations. It’s not universal but it fits many cases. ] So the perfect life is perfectly selfish and trying to improve every year until you’re perfectly giving. If you look at Trump’s arc, you can see the perfectly selfish part and it was really part of his brand – through his primary working years, the Trump University years and all that – and we see especially with a young son and a new wife [ New transformational life events ] he’s reached a certain point in his career, he’s turned over his company and in my opinion – and again this would be making the mistake of, you know, imagining I can tell his inner thoughts – but I have talked to people who know him and have talked to him personally about this stuff, and the reports I get, is that he’s actually doing this for his son and for the country. And, to your point, he knew – he’s not a neophyte to, you know, the public life – he knew that running for President, as a Republican especially, was gonna get his reputation just destroyed. The amount of arrows this guy signed up to take, is hard to explain in selfishness. You know, if you put the selfishness filter on that, then he’s crazy too because he did something that clearly would be awfully painful for him and his family. They’re risking physical death. [ Another new frame / paradigm. Presents Trump as following a natural, observable human pattern of becoming less selfish over time. Presents all the bad stuff Harris brought up, particularly the Trump University stuff, as part of the past, in a more selfish stage of life that Trump is now past. Creates double binds on Trump being selfish given what he knew would be done to him and his family. ]


Parsing the Scott Adams – Sam Harris podcast for persuasion, Part 4

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

The podcast itself is called “Triggered!

Previous sections: Part 1, Part 2 , and Part 3. You might notice some techniques I pointed out in those posts that I don’t point out below. That’s deliberate.

My notes in blue. The green is for you to fill in, if you want to learn even more.

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

And thank @Subutai1175  and @ultrappowered for the transcription!



SA: I agree that analogies are excellent for explaining a concept for the first time. So if you say, a zebra if you have never heard of a zebra, it’s like a horse but imagine it has some stripes on it. So, I don’t, you know, there are lots of cases where it…

SH: Yeah that gets me a long way [ ] to a zebra.

SA: Right, but it doesn’t make a zebra a horse, right, and never can. So that’s my only point. [ Explaining analogies and when they are appropriate to use. This inoculates the discussion from devolving into debates over the merits of the analogy itself. ]

So back to whether it’s bad that we’re all talking about politics. I’ve actually been screaming and talking and blogging about this very point. That we have collectively as a society, learned more about each other, the nature of you know truth, reality, persuasion in particular, you’ll see lots of people talking now about cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, persuasion. [ Cialdini social proof. ] These are important concepts for people’s happiness and understanding of their condition, that we never had before. And in fact before the election, I had said several times publicly, [ Skin in the game means credibility ] that what Trump was going to do was not just change politics, which he did – I mean, he changed everything – but that he would rip a hole in the fabric of reality and let us peek through. [ Trump has a strategy, and part of it is to change how we think. Interesting visual here. More trance via overload: what does that mean to rip a hole in the fabric of reality? ] And that hole is what, is what we’re peeking through right now, which is that two, that people can sit in the same theater watching a different movie, and that there’s a reason for it, we know what the reason is, it’s confirmation bias, it’s cognitive dissonance. [ Some people, often those who work in science-related fields, need to know how something works before they can believe it. Explaining cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias provides a “how.” ] And that, you know, that understanding goes a lot farther than, “Hey your facts are wrong, you lied about this, you didn’t pass my fact checking.” You know, if you’re locked in that smaller, less aware world, where you think that people make decisions on logic and facts, because you think they should, you’re missing the biggest part of life, which is that people don’t. [ Fear of missing out, creating strong negative associations to not accepting the idea of perceptual subjectivity. ] Yeah I would agree with you, if you said to me, “Scott, I think we should use reason and facts, that we should never depart from that.” I would say “Sure, that’s great!” We should, but we can’t, ’cause we’re not built that way. We humans don’t have that capacity, in general. We can in very constrained ways, like science, but in general no. [ Pacing objection. Acknowledging one exception and showing its irrelevance for this context. Working on opening minds to the new frame / paradigm by creating different ways of understanding for different contexts. ]

SH: Ok, let’s plant a flag there, [ ] cause that’s an interesting topic, that is obviously bigger and deeper [ ] than this political topic and maybe we’ll get to it and that’s actually the topic in some measure of your first book or your last book that I have been reading, I mean if we have time I’d love to touch that [ ] but, I just want to come back, I mean again, I have this creeping feeling [ ] of confusion or bewilderment [ This aligns with what we see in his rambling words, and what we would expect from the belief changes. ] that I want you to sort out for me, and it comes down to this two movie analogy because I don’t see [ ] how they’re actually different movies. I get [ ] that in the other theatre, the fans of Trump don’t care about certain things that are appearing on the screen and I care very strongly about those things, but I don’t get [ ] how they’re actually not seeing [ ] these things or that they’re see them differently. I want to take you back just to what you said before when I when I went full exorcist on you. [ Is it at all surprising that Harris doesn’t GET what others SEE? ]

SA: Well can I, can I, can I interrupt ‘cause I think,

SH: Sure.

SA: there’s been some news reports recently, that said that Trump, Trump supporters know exactly what’s true and what isn’t, and there isn’t much difference between the two sides. [ Trump supporters are not delusional. You can’t use that explanation to keep your old mindset. ]

SH: I’ll give you an example, this is what, the kind of thing that’s in my movie. There’s literally a hundred things I can mention here, but I’ll just mention a couple. [ Another exaggeration. ] So, just so I… It seems to me that everything you need to know about Trump’s ethics, were revealed in the whole Trump University scandal right? So this is a guy who’s having his employees pressure poor elderly people to max out their credit cards in exchange for fake knowledge. [ Harris takes the most extreme case and presents it as the typical case. Worded for maximum emotional impact. Sounds very bad. ] And as unseemly…

SA: Well hold on, now you understood that to be a licensed deal right?

SH: Well yeah, but I understand that to be the kind of thing that he would have to know enough about, to know what he was doing. If he only found out about it after the fact, it’s not the kind of thing that you would defend; it’s the kind of thing that you would be mortified about and you would apologize for and you would pay reparations for, if you’re this rich guy who has all the money you claim to have. [ Double bind setup by Harris: either Trump isn’t rich like he says, or he’s ethically unacceptable. ] I mean it’s like…

SA: Unless, unless you were a master persuader who knew that if you ever back down from anything, people would expect you to back down in the future from other things. [ There is a legitimate alternative explanation for Trump’s behavior, when you consider it in the master persuader frame. ]

SH: But what you are describing is a totally unethical person, [ “Totally” borders on absurd absolute. ] right? I mean, this is the problem for me. [ Harris tells us where he is at the moment. He tells us exactly how to persuade him. ] So let me just give you a little more, a couple of more points here. But I would say to you that they’re false equivalencies around this kind of thing, so that… I mean… people will say that all politicians are liars, or all politicians have something weird in their back story but, there are very few politicians walking around, with something THAT ugly in their back story that they haven’t repaired [ Harris is pacing an objection and neutralizing it using Cialdini comparison principle. Also framing other politicians’ dirty laundry as “weird” and Trump’s as “ugly,” two different categories. ] and…

SA: Let me, let me just clarify [ ] though, when I said it was a license deal as opposed to a business that he was actively running. [ Creating the distinction that matters. ] In the Dilbert world I do a lot of license deals, [ credibility ] and have in the past [ history of performance – setting up a pattern ] and the nature of those is that you’re sort of giving your brand and your name, and then you’re not really paying attention to the actual management of the company. So if, there are, so there are two possibilities here. One is the one you described, which is he knew the details, and he was ok with it, which would be problematic for me and I’m positive it would be problematic for 100% of Trump supporters. [ Pace ] If that was the case. Now if it was a typical license deal where you don’t really know exactly what people are doing and you’re not paying attention ‘cause you got, in his case I think 400 companies with his name on them. [ Good argument for Trump not being aware of the details. ]

SH: Well yeah [ agrees ] his whole life is a license deal for the most part, even his real estate empire is a licensed deal. 

SA: Yeah, so if it were the case that he was treating it like every other license deal, there is a high likelihood, far more likely than not, that he didn’t know about the details until it was too late. Now, once he found out the details, how he handled it in court or whatever is yet another separate case. [ Compartmentalize and dismiss ]

SH: But as a separate case, even granting you that it’s a separate case, that says everything about the man’s ethics. [ Absolute ] I’ll give you two more examples.

SA: Wait, Wait, but it, it, it says everything about his ethics, IF he was aware of it at the time. [ Forcing Harris’ global conclusion into a conditional conclusion. ]

SH: Well no, no, if you’re aware of it, in the aftermath, I mean if I created some deal – if I created you know, Sam Harris, you know, Waking Up Podcast University and I licensed it – I mean first of all, the fact that he would license it, license it out to other con men, right, who were unscrupulous and not do proper vetting there but claim you had, I mean there’s a whole commercial of him talking about how these are the geniuses that, that will be instructing you in this incredibly expensive but profitable enterprise. If you did all that, you’re already a schmuck, right? But imagine I had done that, but I’m so busy, I’ve got 400 different businesses, and I just didn’t really understand, I got lured, I got conned, say, and I, I got lured into doing this with people I didn’t totally vet. [ More double binds by Harris: Trump is either unethical, or incompetent for not vetting, or a sucker who got conned. ] In the aftermath, I would be horrified, if I found out that someone, you know, had their life savings ripped [ ] from them by con men who I had licensed. Right? And I’m this billionaire, I would atone for that as much as could possibly be done. I mean that’s just like a, you have to do that. [ Harris made a huge credibility mistake in this paragraph. What was it? ]

SA: Now say, when you say you would atone for it. Let’s talk about the financial part of that atoning. [ Paces Harris by offering to address part of his argument. ]

SH: Yep.

SA: Would you then negotiate with the people who are complaining to figure out, you know, what was an appropriate payment? Would you do that?

SH: It would be obviously indefensible and I would immediately pay back everything that was lost and probably more because there’s just all the pain and suffering [ ] associated with it. You have, you have to make people whole. [ ]

SA: But, but would you give them whatever they asked for? Just like, “Hey give me 10 million dollars.”, “Ok.” [ Pointing out the nonviability of Harris’ first take on how to make it right. ]

SH: Well. No, there has to be some, you know, rational consideration of what the actual cost is. [ Walks back ] But again you know the spirit in which he defended this. Right? He’s hasn’t admitted that this was a sham. It’s of a piece of everything else that he’s represented about himself. He’s a genius who’s done nothing but help the world, and the world is so ungrateful they can’t recognize it, and all the rest is fake news. I mean, it’s just, he’s 

SA: But let me ask you this again – and by the way I wanna be very clear [ ] that there’s nothing about Trump University that I defend. [ Making himself non-targetable ]

SH: But that should mean something to you. [ Presupposition that it doesn’t, presupposition that that’s bad. ]

SA: …Hold on, hold on. But I also think it needs to be put into its clearest [ ] context. And the clearest context is, there were people who used the legal system for their complaints, and Trump used the legal system the way it is used: to negotiate. And part of that negotiation is: “Hey, I’m taking you to court.” “Well, go ahead, I’ll take you to court.” So that’s how you negotiate in the legal context. When it was done, he paid them back as the legal process probably was gonna come out that way no matter whether he got elected president or not. [ Reframing the legal fight as negotiation, not avoidance of responsibility. Noting that he did pay them back. ]

SH: It shouldn’t have had to have gone to court. The fact that it had to go to court is a sign of his litigiousness, his defensiveness, his not owning the problem. [ Harris counters the reframe by presenting the lawsuits as evidence of Trump having character flaws. ] And who knows how many other scandals like this are in his past where the people couldn’t afford to go to court, right? [ Reveals his confirmation bias. ] We actually know a lot about the way he build buildings and in so far as he actually built them and he screwed hundreds if not thousands of people. These are people who couldn’t afford to take him to court. This guy’s reputation is so well known!

SA: Have you ever been involved in a big construction project? Because I’ve done a few [ credibility ] and what do you do when a subcontractor doesn’t perform the way you want them to perform? [ Reframe to lawsuits as a reasonable approach based on what is typical in the industry. ]

SH: That’s one description of what has happened, but again, you’re ignoring the fact that he has a unique reputation for screwing people, [ More painting Trump as an egregious outlier ] and this is something that journalism didn’t do its job before the election to get this out…

SA: Weeeell but yet I would agree he has a reputation but what is the source of that reputation? It’s the people who didn’t get paid, right? [ Effective credibility attack. ]

SH: But again, the fact that Trump University exists and the fact that he handled it the way he did, tells me everything I need to know about him, literally everything, Scott. [ More absolutes. This boils down to “despite what we’ve talked about, I still think the same thing, even though I don’t have any arguments at hand to explain why.” Absolutes plus no argument is a tell for belief change. ]

SA: Did you just change the subject? [ Harris gave a summary, not a subject change. Yet this was absolutely deliberate by Adams. What for? ]

SH: No, no. I’m just saying that I can see his real estate career through the lens of Trump University. [ That was very powerful persuasion. The change of perspective, made plausible and understandable by a familiar action, is literally what people will do in their minds in order to understand Harris’ words. ] If you give me Trump University I can tell you what kind of developer he’s gonna be and how he’s gonna treat his subs.

SA: Well that’s another analogy problem, that Trump University is an analogy. [ Not the most effective reframe here, but it does tie in to his previous setup on analogies. ]

SH: No, it’s because people’s ethics tend to cohere. If you think you can screw someone mercilessly when they’re under your power in one context, you’re the kind of person, I will predict, will be screwing people who are under your power in other contexts. Unless you’ve got some kind of multiple personality disorder. [ Double bind. ]

SA: Are there no stories, which you’re aware of, in which President Trump has done things which he was not required to do which were considered a kindness? [ Counter-example. Working against the pattern and confirmation bias setup. The question format gets the audience themselves searching for any stories. ]

SH: Well let me tell, I’ll give you two other points which I think aren’t entangled with these wrinkles which kind of make the same point to remind people why we’re here. I’m talking about what it’s like for me to see my movie and how I don’t understand people who are watching the other movie find a charitable way to see these things as they hit [ ] the screen.

So the other example I would give you is… two, and these are so disparate but each say [ ] a lot about the man, they’re each something which if you and I did them, that’s more or less game over, right? So take [ ] his career as a beauty pageant host and owner and the stories well-attested, endlessly well-attested at this point of him being the creep who keeps barging into the dressing rooms so he can look at the beauty pageant contestants, right? These 18-year old girls who are essentially his employees, so that he can catch [ ] them naked. So there’s that moment, right? Doing that over and over again. And then at his career as a pseudo philanthropist, here’s a great example. There’s this ribbon cutting ceremony for a children’s school that was serving kids with AIDS back in the 90s and he pretending to be one of the big donors and just to get a photo op with the mayor of New York and I think the former mayor of New York and the real donors to this charity, he jumps on stage pretending that he belongs there at the ribbon-cutting. He never gave a dime to this charity, no one knew he was coming, he literally crashed the party [ ] to pretend that he was this big time philanthropist. Now you might say: “Well this is brilliant PR, right?” It’s completely immoral PR, [ Pacing objection and neutralizing it ] like if I have done this, you wouldn’t be on this podcast. If you found out these things about me: “Listen, Sam Harris pretends that he gives to charity when he doesn’t and he barges into the dressing rooms of his teenage employees so that he can catch them naked and he’s got this thing called Harris University that he had to get sued in order apologize for, in fact he never apologized for.” Those three things about me, you wouldn’t be on this podcast and for good reason. But yet you’re saying you would elect me President of the United States.  [ Selects emotionally powerful narrative-fitting events to create a pattern for confirmation bias. Great visuals: jumping on stage, barging in. Highly effective. Also creates a disjointed juxtaposition of two ideas that are presented as contradictory. 1:00:33 ]

Parsing the Scott Adams – Sam Harris podcast for persuasion, Part 3

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

The podcast itself is called “Triggered!

My notes in blue. You might notice some techniques I pointed out in Part 1 and Part 2 that I don’t point out below. That’s deliberate and it means you are learning, aren’t you?

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

And finally, thanks to Jayant Golchha (@GolchhaJ on Twitter) for the transcription!

Part 3: 34:42 – 47:20

Adams: But, Sam, let me ask you this, at what point in the process did you decide that he was incompetent to be President? [ Turning “he is” back into “I decided” for Sam. This changes the assertion from an objective fact to a subjective decision, which can be changed.Also brings back the idea that there does exist a time/state in Sam’s mind in which he did not think Trump was incompetent to be President. ]

Harris: That is a great question. That is – I love that question. That is my favorite question ever asked of me on this podcast. [ Seems a little extreme here. Potential sign of emotional upheaval. ] I guess let’s focus on the Master Persuader idea. [ Harris then answers a different question. ] Here’s the movie I’m in. [ Accepted Adams’ framing here. ] You’ve said that Trump is the greatest persuader you’ve ever seen – I think you actually you wrote – I think I saw this in a blog post of yours – you wrote that if Steve Jobs was a 10, Trump is a 15. OK, so, here’s the movie I’m in, and this predates this election by at least a decade. I find Trump one of the least persuasive people on Earth. Long before he ran as President, he struck me as nothing more than an odious con man. He strikes me as an absolutely despicable person.

Adams: Wait – wait a minute – wait a minute. Can I get a clarification? When you said he was odious con man, did you mean that he was good at being at conning people, or bad at conning people? [ Trump is good at something. Setting things up for a skill reframe from con to persuasion. If Harris says Trump is good at being a con man, Harris publicly declares Trump is good at something. ]

Harris: Well he was clearly conning some people, I’m saying that he’s not conning me. And so, the, the question is – the mismatch – [ Knowingly or not, Harris supplies the audience with a perfect self-reinforcing defense mechanism against the threatening belief that Trump is competent and effective: “Oh but he’s not conning ME. I’M too smart for that.” Harris (and his fans) has a self-concept of being intelligent so this will stick. We see this again and again in the Twitter conversations. ]

Adams: Can I interrupt you again? ‘Cause, this is just really important. He was conning, apparently, according to your frame of things, prior to the election, it seems probably to you, that he was conning enough people to do the things he needed to do. Which was, you know, build buildings, keep his fortune high, and become a reality TV star, and, all that stuff. [ Reframe from “insane” to “has successfully implemented a strategy before” ]

Harris: Yeah… But that, but that was it. He was a reality TV star, who had, I mean… I viewed him, actually I viewed him as, I mean, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about him, but I assumed that most people were in on the joke, right? That he was a kind of punchline. [ Ridicule: one way to internally defuse a mental threat without evaluating it or addressing it. ] It was like a punchline lived over the course of a profitable life. But he was, this was not somebody who was, as he was billing himself to be, a truly great business man, or anything else. [ Harris catches the reframe and tries to reframe it back to con by saying Trump misrepresents himself (not a “truly great businessman”). ]

Adams: Sam, there’s an important point here that I don’t wanna lose by going too far past… your understanding of him at the time was that he could con some people and apparently it was enough of the right people he was conning, to use your word [ Adams paces Harris’ viewpoint without entering it or agreeing to it], to effectively do the things he was trying to do. Would that accurately state your opinion? [ Setting up Harris for the public declaration of this opinion (Cialdini consistency principle). Also, subtly getting Harris to accept the frame that Trump has a strategy and is not “insane.” ]

Harris: Well, yeah, but the things he was trying to do, bore no relationship to becoming president, or becoming somebody who is actually shouldering significant responsibility… [ Adams secures Harris’ agreement ]

Adams: Right, right. I agree with that, [ effective dismissal of Harris’ other words here ] but we’re just talking about the tools of persuasion. And what you just said, if I heard it right, is that even early on, you realized he had the tools of persuasion, which you would characterize as a con man; just a different word for essentially the same set of tools. It has more to do with the intention I guess. [ Starts with a skill set which Harris has agreed Trump has (good at being a “con man”) and reframes it as persuasion, with the difference being intention. Note this idea. It will come up again soon. ]

Harris: But the crucial difference here, again I’m not… I’m just trying to describe what it’s like to watch my movie, as opposed to your movie, or the movie watched by half the country. [ Again uses Adams’ frame. Multiple ways for Adams to win here. ] I can see that he must be persuading somebody… I mean, he fully persuaded half the country to be president. [ This is another big turning point: Adams secures the admission that Trump is good at persuading. Humans generally take time to come to terms with a major belief change when the old belief had a lot of emotions tied into it. Look for them to come bursting out, now that they are no longer assuaged by his emotionally protective belief that Trump is incompetent and unpersuasive and is therefore not much of a threat. Side note: in a different context I would provide a mechanism or more time for them to process and integrate and have their emotional releases, but the live podcast format does not allow for that. ] But, there is never a moment where I find him persuasive. When I look at him… I see a man, I mean it’s really uncanny, it’s like a … I see a man without any inner life… I see the most superficial person on Earth, it’s like… it’s a guy who’s been totally hollowed out by greed, and self-regard, and just delusion. [ Harris is describing literally how he sees Trump in his mind. If he changed his internal images, he would change how he would think about Trump. Also – great example of someone going into their non-preferred system in trance ] I mean, the way he talks about himself, is so…. [ back to auditory ] It’s like, I mean, if I caught some sort of brain virus, and I started talking about myself the way Trump talks about himself, I would throw myself out a fucking window. I mean… it’s like, that barely overstates it, you remember that scene in the end of The Exorcist, where the priest finally… he’s driving out the devil from Linda Blair, and the devil comes into him, and he just hurls himself out the window to end all the madness. Well, it’d be like that. Right? [ Harris’ response is outsized in its intensity. The released emotions starting to come out. ]

Adams: Uhhhhh… Yeah, we’ve gone full exorcist on this. I’ll tell you, one of the things that I write about, and, Periscope about, is, the triggers, y’know, or the tells, for cognitive dissonance. How do you tell that you’re in it, versus somebody else is in it.

Harris: Did I just give you one of my tells? [ Harris assumes cognitive dissonance tells are personalized, like poker tells, but the tells and triggers Adams describes here are universal. ]

Adams: Yeah, you did. [Chuckles]  The most classic one is to imagine that you can know somebody’s inner mental processes. So, if you imagine that in his mind, he’s thinking this, or that in his mind he’s hollowed out, or in his mind there’s 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. And, by the way…

Harris: Well… no, it…. But it’s not…

Adams: Hold up, hold up. Let me finish the thought.

Harris: Sure…

Adams: And the trigger, so what I look for for confirmation is there’s gotta be a trigger, and then the second thing, which is the tell. So I just described the tell, which is describing somebody’s inner thoughts that you couldn’t possibly know, and, I mean, nobody could, and the trigger, you also described very clearly, the trigger was there’s something about his manner, the way he speaks, that bugs the fuck out of you, and, and, that’s your trigger. [ Paces Harris’ trigger. ]

Harris: You’re just misinterpreting a couple of things here. It’s not the way he speaks, and it’s not that I’m engaging in a mind-reading exercise, it’s based entirely on what he says. It is actually the thoughts that come out of his mouth. It’s not how he says it, it’s what he says!

Adams: But wait, you said 2 things that are in contradiction now. You said that he’s a con man and always has been, but that the things he said are a good reflection of what he’s thinking. You kinda have to pick one. [ Classic Socratic double bind. ]

Harris: Well, no, it’s just he is a… [ pause ] a liar, who will lie whenever it suits his interests, and even when it doesn’t suit his interests. He will lie with an alacrity that I have never seen before in a public person. [ This unreasonable statement (“even when it doesn’t suit his interests”), is an absurd absolute, and a tell for an emotionally palliative hallucination. ]

Adams: I think, yeah, I think you have to break that into 2 categories. The things you’re calling the lies… maybe 3. There are some things which probably he thinks are right and he just gets wrong, which would be typical of any… [ By chunking down, he can “de-generalize” the “Trump = liar” complex equivalence. ]

Harris: I’ll forgive him many of those things, yes. [ Gets one concession. Already the amount of “lies” has decreased. ]

Adams: There are some things which are clearly just hyperbole, which he knows are not exactly factual, but it works better, to, y’know, make the big first offer. [ 2nd category: negotiating hyperbole ] And then there’s another category which is the hardest for anybody to understand, and, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to sell this to anybody here, [ This is the hardest point of understanding for many people because it requires a paradigm shift, and Adams knows this. ] but if you are a trained persuader, you have such a low regard for some types of facts, that you just don’t care if they’re right or wrong, cos they really aren’t ever gonna matter to the outcome. They won’t matter to decisions, and they won’t matter to the outcome. Now, I believe, having been watching him through this filter now for a couple of years, that he can definitely tell the difference between all those categories, and that, I haven’t seen him tell the lie that, that causes, uh, y’know, the country to be harmed in any way. They all seem to be either trivial, and he just doesn’t care, and, y’know, and there’s no point apologizing, ‘cause that’s bad persuasion too in many cases, or, they’re… emotionally correct. So, there, my filter on this, that he’s actually a skilled persuader, and he knows exactly what he’s doing, and those things which are clearly just mistakes tend to be trivial, that is what I used to predict the outcome that got us exactly where we are.

[ New topic follows. This section is another credibility enhancer. ] And, my starting point was, everybody can “hind-cast,” everybody can say, “Ohhhh, the way he won was, here’s my reasons…”. CNN listed 24 different reasons why the surprising result of his election happened. And, they’re all different reasons. So, as you know, confirmation bias, blah blah blah, allows you to explain what happened in the past with any number of stories, and they all fit. That’s why we have, y’know, trials and lawyers, and all their stories sound good, and the jury has to sort it out. But what I did early on is, I said, I’m so sure that these tools are real and consistent and he knows what he’s doing, that I’m gonna risk my entire fucking career to predict that he’s gonna win it all and win it big. [ Skin in the game means more credibility. ] And not only did he win it big, but y’know, he won in the Electoral College, he won the only way that it mattered, he played the only game that they were playing, and he won. Now, some people will say, “Well, he lost the popular vote.” And I would say, “You’re right! He did lose the game he wasn’t playing.” [ Pre-emptively reframe a common objection. ] He never played that game. So, if you look at the predictions, [ visual ] and if you see that they seem to be hitting all the right notes, [ auditory ] that is a little more persuasive than saying, “Well, I’m gonna look at it in the past, and apply these, y’know, 25 different filters that all pretty much work.” There’s lots of different explanations of how things work in the past.

Harris: But, Scott, the emphasis on him successfully persuading doesn’t deal with the fact that what he would be persuading someone toward, or the country toward, may not be a good thing. [Shifts argument to the effects of Trump’s persuasion, not whether he is or is not persuasive, showing acceptance of Trump as a persuasive person. Harris has now shown acceptance of the following Adams points: two movies analogy, Trump is competent, Trump has a strategy and is thus not insane, Trump is a successful persuader ] I mean, so, for instance, he is someone who is morbidly selfish, and again, this is not me with a crystal ball, this is me looking at how he’s lived his life – the kinds of things he’s done, the kinds of things he says about himself. He’s put himself first to such a pathological degree, that I think he’s capable of committing treason, or something like treason, without even noticing…

Adams: … but, but…

Harris: … there’s no sense at all that he has the public good in mind, when he’s acting. [ Harris probably thinks this was his own idea – that intention matters with persuasion –but this is exactly what Adams suggested to Harris just a couple of minutes ago. It’s unlikely that Harris came up with this independently because his adamant belief that Trump was unpersuasive leaves no room for conjectures about what would be the case if Trump WERE persuasive, because to conjecture those scenarios would force confrontation of the unpleasant emotions. Harris’ emotional outburst above revealed the high level of emotion he had tied into Trump being unpersuasive. ] So, the fact that he’s a good persuader, even if I were gonna grant you that, [ He has shown that he has already granted that, but hasn’t fully come to terms with it yet. ] and there’s one thing I wanna flag here that you just said that I think is manifestly not true, which is, that, none of his lies have harmed our society. I think all of his lies have harmed our society. I think the fact that we have a president who lies and everyone knows it, and no one can really trust what he has said until the facts come out, I think that has done immense harm to the world, frankly. [ This is a really good reframe by Harris: lack of transparency harms the entire society. ]

Adams: In, in, what quantitative way is it – would the stock market be at even higher record levels? [ Identifying the “convincer” ]

Harris: The stock market is the wrong metric here. [ Implies that he has accepted the use of metrics. ]

Adams: Well, would ISIS be reconstituting if he had been a little more forthcoming? Would North Korea have, not have launched that last nuke? [ Double bind. In order to address these points individually, Harris would have to admit that those positive developments did indeed occur since Trump became president. ] What exactly would be the evidence that something that he said has harmed the fabric of society? [ This would have been the point for Harris to use his previous reframe, but it seems to have been lost. ]

Harris: The fact that all of us are talking about politics – the fact that politics is so much a part of our lives now…is toxic, is a sign that something is wrong with our society. [ This is borderline nonsensical. He could not have meant the current extreme partisanship because that started long before Trump. ] If things were good we would not be talking about politics. We’re talking about politics 10 times more than we ever have in the lifetime of any person hearing this podcast. I could list a hundred other bad things but that’s one symptom. [Exaggeration and hyperbole. Harris is showing signs of reaching for evidence to keep his previous beliefs intact. ]

Adams: It’s a very good thing, and I’ll tell you why. So first of all, going back to the 2 movies on one screen. The people on the right, the people who are supporting Trump, are having the best 2 years of their lives. I mean, I have never seen such joy and happiness coming out of that segment of the public. [ It’s great to be a Trump supporter! It’s a good option, if you’re starting to realize your old beliefs aren’t viable. ]

Harris: But again, that’s an amoral claim. That would have been said of, to take the extreme example, the burgeoning enthusiasm for the Thousand Year Reich, you know, in 1938. I mean, it’s just like, you get nothing with that claim.

Adams: Did you go full Hitler analogy?

Harris: I went full Hitler analogy conscious of how it would be received.

Adams: [Laughing] Can I declare victory at this point? [ Referencing Godwin’s Law: The first one in an argument to bring up Hitler loses the argument. Humorously pointing out again how Harris is veering off the tracks of rationality. Also needling Harris a bit to add to the emotional triggering. ]

Harris: No, no, I think that’s actually a bad meme. Is that Godwin’s law? I think that’s a bad meme that we have to quash somehow.

Adams: I’ve actually been writing, I write this in my new book, that when somebody retreats to analogy, whether it’s a Hitler analogy or not, it’s because they’ve run out of reasons. Nobody uses an analogy if they have a reason because a reason is way better than an analogy. [ It isn’t the winning side who retreats. Also, since Harris used an analogy, he must be out of reasons. Great framing here. ]

Harris: No, no, well, ok that’s interesting, [ No. I mean yes. ] I think I disagree with that too, [ apparently I’m not sure] but we’ll, let’s move on. [ Doesn’t move on. ] Analogies are tools of communication. If you’re not getting what I’m saying but I know you’ll get this other test case that I think is actually isomorphic with what I’m talking about, well then I go to the analogy. It’s only bad if it’s a bad analogy. But nothing hinges on this. [ kino. Also note that given that Harris can’t take a break to integrate internally during the podcast, he is actually doing a pretty good job of recovering from some sizable changes. ]

Adams: No because all analogies are approximations by design, so you’re not talking about the same topic. Anyway. We can talk about analogies some more. [47:20]