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. ]


10 thoughts on “Parsing the Scott Adams – Sam Harris podcast for persuasion, Part 5”

  1. 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. ]

    Exactly, Dismissed. There were serious points made none addressed, all dismissed with a Trumpian wave of the hand as if none of it matters or applies.

    Your comment on the paragraph:

    [ 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. ]

    Frankly it is hard not to call bullshit on the entire SA discussion.

    So, trying to come back from that brink, and trying to understand the point of view as a legitimate one in its own terms, here is the problem: There is no fact stated that does not get dismissed and/or restated in some benign way, or , as above, in some hyperbolic way , as being irrational or lacking insight or “everyone does it”, as if even if that were true it would excuse the issue/flaw under consideration.

    The exercise is in fact a hard one, to somehow reinterpret Trump on a daily basis, or more difficult, on a historical basis. The only defense seems to be, “that’s irrelevant”, or “lets reframe what you just said so it is not quite so bad”….

    If this is what it takes to justify Trump to the country, much less the world, then we are indeed in a very bad way.


    1. >> 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. ]

      > Exactly, Dismissed. There were serious points made none addressed, all dismissed with a Trumpian wave of the hand as if none of it matters or applies.

      It doesn’t matter or apply, when you realize that all those behaviors and actions make sense from a different frame, without having to make a litany of negative and emotionally convenient presuppositions about Trump.

      > The exercise is in fact a hard one, to somehow reinterpret Trump on a daily basis, or more difficult, on a historical basis. The only defense seems to
      > be, “that’s irrelevant”, or “lets reframe what you just said so it is not quite so bad”….

      You are still using only the literal / traditional frame of interpretation. A major theme of the podcast was for Adams to demonstrate that Trump operates from a different frame and mindset, namely what he calls the “master persuader filter.” If one insists on denying that frame, Trump’s words and actions looks like chaos, insanity, or malice. When one can use that frame as a filter for understanding, even temporarily, one can make sense of Trump’s words and behavior without having to assume negative traits or intentions.



  2. You are still using only the literal/traditional frame of interpretation. A major theme of the podcast was for Adams to demonstrate that Trump operates from a different frame and mindset, namely what he calls the “master persuader filter.” If one insists on denying that frame, Trump’s words and actions looks like chaos, insanity, or malice. When one can use that frame as a filter for understanding, even temporarily, one can make sense of Trump’s words and behavior without having to assume negative traits or intentions.

    > You have it right…The way Trump makes sense is to completely reframe the actual events in a way that makes him look better … I’d say different …than he actually is.

    > Now we are many months on after this debate and after all these points have been made. If there were a reframe, including these magnificently generous ones of SA, that applied we would start to see some of the consequences of those actual realities starting to bear fruit and manifestation in the real world. At least to some degree.
    In stark and powerful contradiction to the glow of these possible ‘reframes’ we have got an increasingly violent President threatening the pillars of the constitution – in terms of the freedom of the press; profoundly inappropriate meddling w the Justice Department, an unfiltered wish that he could function as an authoritarian and wondering why he cannot…. And etc. The list is very long… (even though you deride this “list” in the comments above).

    Here is the point hopefully expressed differently: It is not necessary for me, or I presume anybody who stands in strong opposition to Trump to require that every single thing he says or does is wrong. Such predetermined opposition would be in error. However, we have got to the point where Trump has lost the right to be presumed to be working for the benefit of the country in the first place. He may be. And in some particulars I am sure he means to be. I am not disputing policy here… That is a separate level of the discussion. But enough history has now transpired to demonstrate that this is not a foregone conclusion.

    He is indeed enriching himself as he works the office of the president. Is this a disputable proposition?

    He has repeatedly charged fake news, not as a fact, but as a dodge to attempt to get out of the spotlight and change the subject. As such he is casting aspersion on the entire enterprise just to save his skin… And this is an acceptable thing. I don’t think this is a disputable proposition.

    He routinely says he is the only one who is smart enough to fix a problem, yet has yet to offer anything like a master solution to any of the problems, always telling others to “get to work”. In fact the list of things he said he could fix on ‘day 1’ is long… Whether knowing more than the generals, or healthcare, or about China, or taxes, or infrastructure, or negotiating… every one of these self-described strengths has proven to be either non existent or weak. I don’t think that is a debatable proposition at this point.

    Trump has his supporters of course, and that for reasons of their own. But to continue the attempt to make Trump out as the master, superior to us all in his advanced thinking is starting to wear thin. Indeed it makes no sense.

    It would be interesting for a redux of this conversation. I suspect it would not go as well. Now there are too many actual historical factual points that when accumulated simply do not add up to the assessment that Trump is the brilliant mind we have been told we should be so amazed to be witness to, no matter how hard the attempt is made to reframe them one by one. You can only reframe a blatent lie so many ways and so many times before it is exposed for what it is. (And in Trump’s defense, what he is exceedingly good at is having so many of these things going that by the time one finally lands – like the lie he would release his taxes – a promise made even more relevant by the tax cut proposals currently happening – that when it finally is revealed so much more drama is going on about other things, it doesn’t seems to matter any more. )

    So, back to the original point… The more you actually take Trump’s words, and increasingly his deeds and look at them he does indeed, as you say, look chaotic, insane and malicious by turns. If any more “proof” were needed, when ever has a president been so roundly rebuked in each of these terms by members of the Senate of his own party? Never. (Unless you want to go to Nixon…a very different case).

    As always. Thanks for the work. It helps me understand and have, at least a little, window into the structures of the Trump Supporters mind.


  3. I think I do understand Trump Supporters at the level of any particular detail. The despair over the political system, the ralley call to some version of patriotism, the various promises he has made that they hope and still believe he will keep ( in the face of every fact and action to the contrary), His framing of the state of America, and his stand up languaing to the rest of the world that “We won’t take it anymore”…along w the appeal to power “We have the best military in the world… All that sort of thing.
    I think there is another level of supporter who has no use for Trump whatsoever, except that he has “The Pen”, and can implement their agenda (if they could only get their own act together). This I think is the basis of Ryan and others in the leadership of the GOP , who has said as much, as well as the majority of the GOP congress.

    That is a thumbnail of what I think I understand about Trump and why he has supporters. What am I missing?

    What I find difficult to understand is how all this unravels in the face of reality. The reality of who Trump is, what he says verses what he does. At the level of character he seems to be completely void. The assaults on basic constitutional principles (free press and etc) as well as polticial & social norms that are part of our deep substrate of culture that he (and his people) simply sweep away with out seeming a thought would seem to me to affect everyone who has claimed a deep patriotism and devotion to the country. Thinking particularly of the Tea Party, Evangelical Christians, and others of the Right Wing.

    As far as the text of this podcast, for which I restate my appreciation for your efforts, I don’t believe the SA position of “Trumps big brain”. It certainly hasn’t panned out.

    So I put it back to you. What am I missing?


    1. Michael, you still insist on maintaining the illusion that you have access to an objective reality that Trump supporters lack. I think what you are missing is that you don’t.

      Consider the multiple movies analogy. Your movie is the “objective reality” movie and Trump supporters are watching the “sad deluded dupes” movie, *only in your movie*. In their movie, you are watching the “hilariously triggered” movie and they are watching the “American Renaissance” movie.

      See, humans continually fill in the gaps of their mental models with extrapolations that align with their worldview. You can acknowledge that so much of what we think are facts, are actually such extrapolations, and that others have entirely different extrapolations that they call facts. And vice versa. And that is why Adams says things like “I agree entirely with your interpretation of your hallucination of what happened.” Because so little of what we experience is actual fact, and so much is extrapolation.

      That is, I think, the “missing piece” to reconcile your (and so many others’) understanding with that of Trump supporters.


  4. I can see how we could reenact the entire Harris-Adams discussion again. As I note in prior posts, my red flags started waving wildly about the time Adams said “let me reframe that for you” in response to Harris trying to nail down a simple fact. In the specific case a statement made later contradicted that constituted, definitionally, a lie.

    You, and of course Adams, call this an “illusion” or “hallucination”. I deeply understand the notion of frames of reference, lens, points of view, experience, and the notion of models, mental, axiomatic, as well as contexts. Within each of these, there are ways to understand a thing… and a way to understand how another POV understands a thing. It is an attribute of an advanced consciousness to be able to, in fact, put oneself in another’s position and understand how they see and experience the world…without blame, judgment or condescending.

    But that is not what is at issue – in this exchange at least. I do not expect we can do any better than SA/SH on this point, but I’ll at least try to say it for the record:
    I am not, in the first place, concerned w Trump supporters. To have any meaningful discussion about that would require that we get past all this opaque reframing. Let us take the abstract issue of facts first. Are there any? Is anything said, in our case by the President, able to be legitimately assayed on its own terms, in its own language without resorting to “reframing”?
    Lets take a very simple case. Trump says “I will release my taxes when the IRS is done with them.”. This is a simple assertion. It can be held as true or false on its own terms. Of course there are any number of motives, actual or possible that could have prompted such a statement. But standing on its own it can be determined to be either True or False depending on what happens next.
    And of course what happened next was a categorical refusal that tax returns were ever going to be released.
    So the statement is false. That it was said knowing that they would never be released elevates the falsehood to the level of a lie. It was an intent to deceive in order to gain some advantage or outcome. And it did so.
    Has nothing to do w “supporters” and what they think about it. Or trying to justify it by some Machiavellian reframing about how it was a play in a 3D chess game, beyond the ability of normal mortals to understand.

    This may not be the best example. There are literally hundreds of others that could be cited. We can quibble over minor details, and doing so is itself a dodge of plain meaning and responsibility. Regardless, the larger point remains. It seems to me that getting anything like basic agreement on this exceedingly primary definition is central to being able to communicate anything between anybody.
    This is, as I understand it, the proposition that was essentially proposed by Harris, and rejected by Adams and is being replayed in our exchanges here.

    I suppose we are engaging over the long debated question of what is reality. I think unless we can find some solid ground somewhere about the basic meaning of sentences it will always be possible to rearrange the meaning so there never is anything that means anything. Like Humpty Dumpty words mean whatever you need them to mean right now.

    All this reframing seems to me so much cynical use of the Memory Hole. Whatever happens to be inconvenient now…whoosh… down it goes, rewrite the story in light of today’s needs and hope no one notices. You’ll never catch me in a lie because nothing I ever say means what it appears to mean.

    But we do notice. And this is the crux of the disagreement, as I see it. 2+2 =4, or is it 5? Who gets to say?


    1. Epistemology is tricky. When it really comes down to it, so much of what we “know” is taking someone else’s word for it. And whose word do we take? Normally the one whose opinion aligns with our biases.

      I’ve never met Trump or talked to him. I’ve seen other people who have never met him telling me what Trump said or what he meant or who he is. I’ve read things by still more people who have never met with him. And they all have biases and agendas. So we can agree that 2+2=4, but it’s harder to agree that the equation really is: what is 2+2.

      Personally, I don’t trust the media. They see Trump as an existential threat and will lie to save their careers and jobs and their sense that they are somehow a righteous crusade for truth. That doesn’t leave us with much to go on, but thanks to social media we can read his own words. And as someone who can “reverse engineer” Trump’s use of persuasion, I can see things from a different perspective than most can. Part of what I’m trying to do is show other people what I can see.


      1. ? You don’t trust the media. Do you trust Trump? As you say, we don’t have to even read what someone reported him to have said…we can “roll the tape”. He says things. Then he says other things that directly contradict the first things. Things that have consequences for being said one way, and then another.

        There is no bias, nor agenda. Or are you so invested in making Trump right that you have to contort all of reality in order to make his statements line up?

        I’ll give you ‘persuasion’. That was never at issue. Demagogues are great persuaders. They are great at shape shifting. They are great at never being able to be tied down to anything like a principle.

        So I attempted to example a simple equation…not complicated, clear, concise and only one level deep. A thing was said, and then was contradicted. How much more simple does it have to be to agree that something happened.

        Yours saying “harder to agree what the equation is: what is 2+2” is,at this level, sophistry. If you can answer your own question with a relevant answer, or address the particulars of mine in terms of your question then there is a hand hold upon which to make progress.

        I’ll note that the answer is in your text:
        You have predetermined, in spite of all evidence, that Trump is doing persuasion, that for some unaccountable reason excuses him from normal semantics, normal morality, and normal rules of governance, and communication.
        However, you have an equal and opposite assumption, again, in the face of all evidence, that you don’t trust the Media. A statement that demands examples & clarification in order to avoid the simple & clear observation that you are simply stateing a few basic premises of your own POV. And within that POV all that you say makes sense. It all lines up in some way. Its not unlike the premises of the flat earth society: sure, take their basic premises and there seems to be something there. Take them out and line them up against the body of knowledge, and poof, they evaporate.

        All of this reminds me of the old line “it is very hard for a man to see the truth of a thing when his X (livelihood, beliefs, self identity, …) depends upon him not seeing it. ”

        I don’t know exactly what your X is, but your roundabout defense of Trump in spite of all evidence, whether directly from his own mouth, or reported and fact-checked by others is hard to understand except by this strange, but an understandable proposition.

        another example?, ripped from the headlines:
        Trump said “I will not raise taxes on the middle class” and then went on to say “I will not profit in any way from this tax code rewrite”.
        Both of these sentences…statements of fact made simply and without qualification are proven to be false.
        Now one can attempt to surmise motive, and come up with any number of viable options. But before going there, can you agree that these sentences are in fact in direct contradiction to the next set of facts?

        In terms of the post: Can you agree that this is an example of the simple equation 2+2=4, but we are being sold and told the answer is 5?


  5. Coda: You could say in response to the obvious, “Yes, Trump is lying, but it is for the greater good… His lying is a necessary part of his ability to persuade and this enable his agenda”…. Then we are at least agreed on one basic idea, and can address more important and debatable things. But to go round and round w Humpty Dumpty, making words and posts mean whatever they need to mean in order to make the leader look good, is to force the conversation onto this narrow point.
    Which, I think, is what the original SA/SH discussion ended up being.

    So a corollary question is : What about Trump and his ideas & policies are attractive to you? And why? Do you see any of the danger to the country that Trump, and his GOP supporters (speaking only of Congress ) are doing? Do you see any of the demagoguery that others see and are terrified of?


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