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 ]

4 thoughts on “Parsing the Scott Adams – Sam Harris podcast for persuasion, Part 4”

  1. I appreciate that you continue your yeoman efforts to make Adams, and this entire interview make sense from the “I am not trying to debate details but change the way you believe about these things” (a paraphrase from one of your prior posts).

    So you say

    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. ]

    And I cant understand why you don’t understand that the “confusion” is not because of the material, but because of the endless & obviously intentional changing the point of a point, never addressing the point made, always “reframing”. As you have it above, trying to mute or blunt the power of a point made, but rarely addressing it on its own terms.

    As I noted prior, it is a “Tar Baby” exercise you have well documented in your posts. If this were not a SH podcast he was hosting he would have been in his rights to call bullshit. And, if you happened to listen to one of his after this one, he did just that. Saying he felt constrained in this one by the function of being host, trying to give Adam’s the opportunity to make his points.

    Here is the last example from the text above, and then done, because really, what is the point?

    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…

    Your commentary on this is the absurdity.
    After the rest of the conversation is laid out and the dodging and weaving of Adams is complete, he says

    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 ]

    After all he does to deflect the point, de facto making himself Trump’s apologist…he goes to this contrary statement as a way to somehow disassociate himself from his entire argument. It is the sort of thing that if you don’t acknowledge & address it out in the moment it would be bewildering. You never know what you are actually talking about.

    The facts of this case (Trump University) are in Harris’s favor, not all the “well it could be this or that” counterfactuals Adams tosses up like so much flak. (Can we at least accommodate the fact that Trump called on his racism to attempt to delegitimize the judge in the case? There is no persuasion there, certainly he is not trying to do justly, as was presented in the text above. Trump was trying to skew the results by impugning the judge. As he always does: Change the subject, deflect from the point, accuse others of what you do. No master, except, perhaps, a master of being an egoist. A venal man. Contrary to Adam’s conclusion on this point, Trump was trying hard not to pay any restitution, and would not have if he saw any way out of it. Do you doubt it? )

    I think there are legitimately debatable points that might have been surfaced in this discussion. Perhaps it is the case that, as you say elsewhere, Adam’s was not trying to debate the particulars but somehow change the way Harris, and by extension, others, think, or frame the subject that is Trump.

    If you filter out all the foggery in this discussion you find, as quoted above, that Adam’s routinely says “I agree with you”. But as you point out in your commentary, when he says this he doesn’t so much mean that, but it is a tactic to either immunize him from agreeing with w Trump and thus having to answer for the point, or as a different tactic to confuse the discussion, perhaps just to blunt the force of a point made – so he can introduce some more “persuasion”. When looked at this way it is easy to see why Adam’s enjoys Trump so much. They have a lot in common.

    Anyway… I’ll leave off here unless there is any appetite to debate any of these or other points in particular. I have listened to this podcast 2+ times now, once w your notes in mind…and read through your notes a couple of times trying to find how Adam’s defense of Trump makes sense. Not only in the moment of the conversation but in light of all that has transpired since.
    In short, what you call exaggeration by SH above, is barely adequate to describe the range of Trump’s actual actions, statements and behaviors since. Adam’s defense of Trump crumbles in the light of actual facts. Including & especially the well known, well worn, topics of hurricanes, N. Korea, war mongering, Niger, now “tax reform”, the flipping on Health Care, the boast “I am the only one who understands the system and can fix it”, which daily becomes more laughable as he flounders around, demonstrating that he understands next to nothing about what he is doing, and has no idea whatsoever, other than personal interest, in how to solve any of the problems presented to him… and just the daily outrageous, but effective in changing the subject, lying. And now today, his regressive policies towards women wanting to reinstantiate the calendar birth control system… and on and on…
    Tomorrow it will be something else.

    Trump is his own hyperbole.


    1. At the top of my posts I have a disclaimer that my opinion might be the same or might be different from what I parse the persuasion as communicating. In the same way, I believe Adams can personally not defend, for example, Trump University, while still pointing out different filters and perspectives from which to understand it. The common theme throughout all of Adams’ work in the podcast is that Trump is operating from a Master Persuader mindset, and that we can understand his words and actions much better by using that filter, than we can by using standard, literal, traditional filters that have been used in the past. So there is no contradiction in saying he (or I) don’t personally defend something while explaining a filter through which it makes sense. Making himself non-targetable is necessary to prevent the cognitive dissonance hallucination that the bearer of the message is somehow at fault for the argument.

      I stand by my assessment that Harris’ confusion is nearly all due to the resetting of his beliefs about Trump as done by Adams, because I’ve been working with these techniques a long time.

      I think the rest of what you are writing about is a set of disagreements you have with Adams’ arguments or Adams himself. Those you will have to ask him directly, because my viewpoints don’t always match his so I can’t speak for him. I’m not parsing this to defend Adams – I’m parsing this to explain the persuasion techniques used.



    1. Thank you!

      Most of the [ ] brackets are sensory language. Fill in the sensory modality used.

      The “change the subject” part at first sounded to me like a direction to Harris to change the subject, but now that I listen again I’m not sure if that was Adams’ intention.

      The big mistake Harris made is that he used himself as an example of a parallel negative case when he talks about if he made Sam Harris University, etc.

      Why was that a mistake? Because he induced the audience to imagine him doing bad things. And not just once but twice!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s