Parsing the Scott Adams – Sam Harris Podcast for Persuasion, Part 8

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, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7. 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 @RolyPolyIsTaken and @MattMcCombs17 for this transcription!


Adams: So, let me ask you this. So you know that he tells us he uses hyperbole to make his point. You know that he, uh, says things during the campaign that are slightly different from the things he would say as president because we, we observe that to be true. [ Cialdini because, pacing, visual ] He’s –

Harris: I’m not so sure about that at this point, frankly, ‘cause he didn’t get saner as president.

Adams: Well, he did

Harris: Or much saner

Adams: Well, look he backed off waterboarding, he backed off deporting ten million people all at once. He backed off going after the families of the terrorists [ Supporting examples ]

Harris: But then he accused Obama as wiretapping him. He’s just as much the loose cannon, he’s just on to different topics. [ Counter example. Note that as of this writing, Trump has been proven correct that his communications were monitored during the campaign. ]

Adams: Well, even the wiretapping thing, the government is listening to all of our conversations all the time right, [ Reframe from notable exception to the norm ]

 Harris: Well no, well first of all no, and second of all, for the sitting president of the united states to accuse the previous president of having wire tapped him, I mean it’s a very specific claim. That is, one, on its face, crazy, but two, and crazy to allege without evidence—

Adams: But before you go on, would you acknowledge that when he says “taping” or “wiretapping”, he’s speaking in a, you know, a general sense about monitoring communication, you would agree that that’s – [ Pre-emptively denying Harris a way out via changing definitions, or what Adams calls “word-thinking” ]

Harris: I don’t even think he knows what he was saying, because he put –it wasn’t “wiretapping” in quotes? – I mean he’s talking about Trump tower being bugged, essentially.

Adams: Right, so, but I’m just, we’re trying to make sure that we’re on the same page here. You would agree that he meant that word to be generally, “monitoring communications.”

Harris: I’m just saying imagine, just imagine Obama coming into office and having immediately accused George Bush of having wiretapped him. I mean it would just – [ Visual, then Harris doesn’t agree to the definition but changes topics ]

Adams: Are you giving me an analogy? Because…

Harris: It’s more than an analogy. It’s still the US presidency. [ Semantically confusing construction here. ] We’re talking about the US presidency at two different time points. It’s such crazy uncivil behavior, it’s the new normal because of the chaos that he has introduced to our political system. You can’t even focus on it because there’s a hundred things like that. [ Harris literally can’t create focused images in his mind about it here. Also absurdity: “a hundred things” ] Scott, I see we’re getting to the two hour mark here and I’m, I’m mindful of your time and I’m also mindful of when I’m going to lose this studio. I want to just pivot just for a second to the Russia thing because I think we kind of blew past it, and I don’t think we’re going to get into it very deeply. Obviously, the news is moving away from us as quickly as a rocketship at the moment. I mean we’re having this conversation I think the day after the recent Donald Trump Jr. epiphanies with his, having given his emails to the public and everyone’s having their reaction to that. Who knows what things will look like when we release this. But I just want to bring you to your views on the Russia thing, because you wrote a blog post titled, “Russia Hacked Our Election, So What?” And you seem to believe – again this is somewhat apace with your relationship to the climate science topic. You seem to believe that there’s either some uncertainty about whether Russia did much of anything or whether it would even be wrong if they did, and you seem to doubt whether Russia is really all that hostile to our interests, and whether Putin is really that bad a guy, and whether there’s really anything here to be concerned about. And so I just want you to represent what in fact you think there.

Adams: Well, I think you have to look at this Russia thing in its individual parts, because they’re not all equal. [ Reframe to smaller chunk size ] To the extent that if Russia hacked into, uh, any American servers with the intent of influencing the election, that would be a topic of revenge. In other words, the appropriate response would be for our spook services to pay back, as soon as we can and in kind, and, you know, with proportional force, and the American public may never know what’s happening there. But we assume, I assume that that sort of stuff goes on. At the same time, it makes sense for the president not to be burning bridges unnecessarily. Because we’re always doing this poking back and forth below the hood, so you know, being nice with somebody who has similar interests to us, at least in terms of ISIS, at least in terms of NK to some extent, makes sense at the moment. So I think that in all likelihood, we don’t know what’s happening under the hood, with the, what our cyber people are doing, [ Pointing out that none of us have visibility into the cyber espionage world. Lessens the certainty. ] but I would be astonished, astonished if the man who’s most famous for revenge and never letting anybody get away with anything, is letting this slide. [laugh] You know, he may wait for his chance, but I don’t think he’s going to let this slide. [ Taking a trait that Harris has assigned to Trump and applying it against Harris’ argument. ]

Harris: So you’re not concerned that he has a double allegiance to either the Russians who have invested heavily in his properties, or that he’s in any way compromised by Russia so that [stumbling] that explains how soft he has been on them and how incredulous he has been about, this being a scandal and all, the fact that he would relate to this as fake news. [ Tell for cognitive dissonance: “so” plus an absurd absolute “double allegiance to Russia.” ] You think there’s just no “there” there.

Adams: Umm, I think it’s not a one variable world. I think that everyone is influenced by all of those big factors. [ Pace, big picture. ] So he’s influenced by wanting to do a good job, he’s influenced by wanting to lose face, not wanting to lose to Putin, he’s influenced by, I’m sure, the fate of the Trump empire. But it’s one of many variables that are swirling around. [ Big picture reframe, or as Adams calls it, a “higher ground” reframe. ]

Harris: But what do you make of all the, like all the contacts with Russia, that were all lied about until they were revealed. So you’ve got, and now the most recent one is, Don Jr. We’ve got him on camera on CNN or wherever it was having to respond to the charge that they’ve had all kinds of contacts with Russia, and representatives of Russia, and he says, “This is an absolute lie, it just shows that you know, my father’s opponents will stoop to anything,” and we know that he did that interview like, hours, after he just met with this Russian lawyer, right? So it’s just like, we have him lying…

Adams: Wait a minute. But we also know that what they talked about was trivial. [ Irrelevance ]

Harris: Oh uh, okay, but everyone in this campaign has been misrepresenting their level of contact with Russia, and it’s only dribbling out… [ Harris chunks up to “everyone” in the campaign. Another absurd absolute ]

Adams: No, you just misrepresented his level of contact. [ Adams calls it out ]

Harris: Yeah, well his, I mean

[both talking at once]

Adams: Wait hold on, I can’t let that go. You suggested that that meeting had something to do with the Russian government, and it turns out it didn’t.

Harris: Well no, it did, it did because he believed that it did. I mean the email trail was him showing his absolute willingness to collaborate with the Russian government to get some dirt on Clinton. I mean that, that’s…

Adams: Well, collaborate and collusion, you know there’s…

Harris: Well I’m not even focused on the technicality of whether or not he’s guilty of a crime.

Scott: Let me ask this.

Harris: I’m just saying this

Scott: Let me ask this.

Harris: Everyone’s talking to Russia over there and they’re lying about it. [ Absurd absolute “everyone,” a tell for cognitive dissonance. ] Again, the starting position from Trump and everyone on down was, “There has been zero contact.” That’s their position. And yet they’ve had all this contact.

Adams: Wait, wait, did they say they had not talked with anyone who is a Russian citizen, or did they have no contact with Russia as a, you know, their intelligence or their government? [ Moving to a smaller chunk size to de-conflate Russian citizens and Russian government. ]

Harris: It has been every possible permutation [ Absurd absolute ] of, “I’ve got nothing to do with Russia. I’ve got no investments in Russia, I’ve got no connection with Russia, I don’t know anything about Russia, no one on my campaign has talked to Russia, or anyone representing Russia.” I mean anything like that.

Adams: And do you think that twenty minute conversation that was about adoption or something… [ Providing missing information – topic and length of meeting. Relevance. ]

Harris: [increasingly distressed for the past minute] Well no it wasn’t about adoption. The set-up in the email was, “We’ve got dirt on Clinton, do you want to meet with us?” and he said, “I love it, I’ll be there in five seconds!”

Adams: I gotta ask you this Sam: how would you have handled the situation? [ Thought train interrupt on Harris. Also Cialdini comparison principle – Harris is comparing Trump Jr.’s behavior to the ideal behavior with the benefit of hindsight; Adams changes it to comparing Trump Jr.’s behavior to Harris’ ideal. Then from the Cialdini reciprocity principle, after giving his version, Harris is obliged to give Adams a chance to offer one, and Adams’ version will be a reframed comparison. ]

Harris: Okay no but that’s a change of topic. [ Correct ] I would have, I would have called the FBI is the short answer.

Adams: Well hold on, hold on. So if you called the FBI and let’s say its June, and the election is coming up. Suppose it was something vital, like it was important. Suppose it (H: Oh please) was something that the voters (H: please) wanted to know. [ Stripping away the benefits of hindsight from the decision making process and showing how Trump Jr. did not have them at the time of decision. ]

Harris: Please. To take the actual, a relevant example, although probably a harder case was, I believe this happened in 2000 with Gore where, some, I don’t know hack, or just stolen material from the Bush campaign was brought to the Gore campaign. And they, without looking at it, called the FBI, right? So like, cause, “No, we’re not going to use this because this is illegal, and this is unethical, and we’re not going to be part of this.” [ Precedent as a comparison reference point ] I’m not imagining that everyone who does opposition research for presidential candidates has to be held to an ethical standard that I would hold myself to in my daily life. I don’t have too many illusions about how dirty all of that gets, [ Pacing objection ] but here you have a known hostile foreign power intruding into our process, and that puts it, that puts it completely out for normal opposition research.

Adams: Let me tell you how I would have handled it in that same situation. I would have first gone to the meeting and found out what they had. I would expect that it would be nothing because it’s the sort of offer that you expect to be exaggerated. So I would go there because my contact said I should, and you know I’m just, it’s a personal connection of some sort. I would go there, I would listen. If it turned out to be important and something that law enforcement needed to know about, I would let them know, [ Reasonable alternative ] but I would also know what the information is first. Cause here’s the thing. If you turned it over to the FBI and it was something big – and I’m not saying it’s likely that that would be the case – but if it was something big, ’cause that’s how it was alleged, you would have put the decision for who became president into the hands of James Comey. Because he would decide – well he would decide whether he’s leaking it or announcing it. That would be his decision. ‘Cause you have given (Sam interrupting) Let me just finish. If you also knew the information, because you obtained it first, and then you said, “Oh my god, there’s something fishy here, FBI get involved.” Then you have also maintained the option of letting the American public know this information if it was important. And I can’t imagine as a voter that I wouldn’t want to know important information – [ This is one of the best reframes of the entire podcast. Adams shows how Harris’ answer is actually worse for Harris’ own point than what actually happened. Namely, calling the FBI right away would potentially be worse for a free democratic election because it would potentially take the election out of the hands of the American people and into the hands of the FBI director, if the “dirt” would have changed the course of the election had it been disseminated. This is particularly effective because one of Harris’ repeated arguments has been that Trump is bad for democracy, is autocratic and authoritarian. Turning Harris’ own argument against him is effective. ]

Harris: The important information here is that there is concerted effort by Russia to influence our election in, in every conceivable way. [ Big picture; chunking up ] Through hacking, through propaganda, through… Those are quite distinct actions I would grant you, but there’s been a full court press to influence it to one end: to install president Trump. I mean clearly none of this has been in favor of Clinton. And what we have is a Trump campaign and now a Trump presidency that has stonewalled this at every opportunity, that has not tried to get all the facts out to put them in the hands of the American people, but to brand this as fake news, to brand this as a hoax, to brand this as scaremongering that will lead to a war with Russia, right? There’s all this talk about, “What do you want, World War Three?” You can’t be pressing on this door… [ More absurd absolutes: full court press, install, none, every. Ends with a kino. ]


ADAMS:      How much time should a president spend delegitimizing his own administration? [ Reframes what Harris calls “stonewalling” to a reasonable refusal to avoid weakening his own administration. ]

HARRIS:      It’s not a matter of delegitimizing his own administration. I can tell you what he should have said before being president, as a candidate. Rather than saying “I hope Russia hacks Hillary’s e-mails, because I’d like to read them…”

ADAMS:      You took that as a joke, didn’t you? [ Reframe ]

HARRIS:      Did you take “lock her up” as a joke too? [ Counter example ]

ADAMS:      Of course. [ Adams remains consistent ]

HARRIS:      So when he said “When I become president, I’m going to get together some lawyers to look into your situation”, you didn’t take that as an actual threat?

ADAMS:      I did not.

HARRIS:      You thought that was a joke?

ADAMS:      Not a joke – well yeah, it was a joke because it got a laugh – but it was clearly hyperbole because…

HARRIS:      It didn’t get a laugh. It got cheers from people who would want to see that happen. It got cheers from his partisans.

ADAMS:      It was a crowd-pleaser. [ Larger chunk size. Joke is a subset of crowd-pleaser here. ]

HARRIS:      Yeah, but again, I would score this as a significant harm to our political conversation, and you would score it as just something that pleased his base. [ Chunking up ]

ADAMS:      Your assumption is that she was not guilty of anything that was worthy of… [ Another reframe. Makes people consider the case if she were guilty of something substantial. Also Cialdini comparison. ]

HARRIS:      Well no – leave that aside – yes, I assume she’s not guilty of something worthy of prison time, certainly on that score. But violating the norm in our democracy, threatening that if you win the presidency, you are going to lock up your opponent – that is in disastrously bad taste at a minimum, for what it is to have to function as a stable democracy and a peaceful transition of power. That’s just way beyond the pale. [ Chunk up: Trump as threat to democracy itself. ]

ADAMS:      I believe that, for a different kind of candidate, I would definitely agree with you pretty strongly. [ Pace without an actual concession ] In the context of President Trump, who was well known by all observers to say stuff like this, it does come across differently to me. [ Using Trump’s reputation as hyperbolic in his favor. Social proof. ]

HARRIS:      Okay, so I just want to come back – and again, sorry I’m being motivated by time constraints now – I just want to come back to your point where you didn’t really answer my question about how you perceive all of this entanglement with Russia. He basically claims he’s got nothing to do with Russia, and none of his surrogates have anything to do with Russia. And then it just keeps coming out that his campaign had more contact with Russia in every conceivable way than anyone has ever seen from a campaign [ Absurd absolute: every conceivable way ]. There are clearly instances now where they have been lying about it. They made false declarations on their security forms, or most charitably, incomplete declarations on their security forms. They have to keep amending the story. I’m just wondering how you perceive this. [ Sets this frame: my frame is reality, but how do you subjectively perceive it? ] Is this just some kind of strange accident that doesn’t look good, or there’s just an entanglement with Russia that is potentially meaningful and undisclosed? [ Giving Adams 2 alternatives: agree with Harris, or present a weak argument. ]

ADAMS:      So I’ll give you the view from the right. [ Adams avoids the credibility hit from supporting a weak argument. He also sidesteps Harris’ bind and presents a third alternative. ] The view from the right is that the mainstream media has largely turned a lot of nothing into something. Because if you drill down into any one of these cases, they sound like they’re something, until you get to the bottom and you’re not so sure. [ Again, attacking certainty ] I’ll just give you a few examples. Let’s say we know that the IP addresses for the hackers of the DNC were Russia-based. So you say “oh my God, that’s pretty bad”. And then you hear an expert say “well, that’s how you hide where you’re really coming from, you just act like it’s over in Russia”. I have personally talked to somebody who has used that trick, to use an IP address in Russia, for a different project [ First hand knowledge enhances credibility ]. So technically that can be done. So I say to myself “okay, there might be something there, and we should definitely find out what that is, but on the surface it doesn’t mean anything.” [ Process language; how to interpret news about Russia ]

HARRIS:      Okay, but what should mean something – and again, this is analogous to what you’re tending to do with climate science. We have our full intelligence apparatus declaring – in a bipartisan way – this happened, it was Russia. You’re not privy to top secret information. You don’t know what they know. Why are you tempted to second guess how they have analyzed the IP addresses? [ Cialdini appeal to authority, credibility attack ]

ADAMS:      Well, just because we don’t know, and we know that there are…

HARRIS:      But they’re saying they know. I’ll give you an example of where you would just never do this. Just imagine if NASA announced today that there was an asteroid that was on an Earth-crossing orbit. They’re really worried about it. Their current calculations suggest that it could come within 5,000 miles of Earth, give or take 5,000 miles. JPL and the other labs come forward and say “Jesus Christ, this is the scariest thing we’ve ever seen. This is a serious problem. It’s all hands on deck. We’ve got to figure out what to do about this.” And you don’t even own a telescope. You would not be tempted to say “you know what, I haven’t seen those calculations, and I’m not so sure”. You have to outsource some of your reality testing to the people you’ve hired to do it for you. And in this case, we’ve got all these intelligence agencies looking at Russia.

ADAMS:      But would you also agree that we have notable examples where the intelligence agencies… [ Counter example ]

HARRIS:      Of course. Of course. But then the remedy for that is more and better intelligence. It’s not the next tweet from somebody who will say “I just talked to Putin and looked into his eyes, and he said he didn’t do it.” [ Comparison: intelligence community vs tweets ]

ADAMS:      Let me finish my point, because I think when you see the context, it will make more sense [ Future pace ]. So if the intelligence agencies know stuff we don’t know, and they’re right, and Russia and its government were behind hacking the servers, that’s important and I would expect that our administration would pay them back in kind, and we may never know what that is. But the trouble is that you start lumping the things that are real, or could be real, with the things that just sort of sound like they almost are kind of real. [ De-conflating ]  And then you start building this – “well, when there’s so much smoke, there must be fire.” So the things that are less real, like the Don Jr. meeting, that really I would have taken, frankly. I would have taken that meeting just to get the information in case it mattered, and then I would have turned it over if that was the right thing to do – turn it over to the FBI or whoever. So I would have handled it the same way, and I would think any seasoned businessperson would also handle it the same way.

HARRIS:      You’re wandering off the actual thing I’m asking about, which is not so much evaluating the quality of the intelligence about Russia. It’s the fact that we have an administration, we have Trump and everyone below him [ absolute ], consistently representing the fact that they’ve had no contact with Russia, or no contact that they remember with Russia. It continually [absolute] gets found out that they’ve had meetings that they have, at the very least, not been forthcoming about, and which there’s no credible reason to think that they would have forgotten about. What do you make of the fact that there’s that level of dishonesty about a connection to Russia?

ADAMS:      So let’s take some of those examples where we know for a fact that there were contacts – you’re thinking about General Flynn? [ Chunking down ]

HARRIS:      I’m thinking about all of it. Sessions, Flynn, Don Jr., the investments that we know happened that Trump is lying about. Look at the son saying that they’ve got massive investment from Russia. And then we’ve got Trump saying that he never has Russian investors, got no loans from Russia, no business in Russia, all the rest.

ADAMS:      So the business stuff, I haven’t seen good reporting on that yet, but I’ll take your word for that. [ Pace ] But if we’re talking about the Sessions, and Flynn, and Don Jr. encounters with Russians, apparently once we drill down, they were fairly trivial. In other words, nobody is suggesting that those things that they left off their forms actually were material.

HARRIS:      I have to remind our listeners that we’re having this conversation 24-48 hours after the story broke. When you’re listening to this, there’s probably another week of reporting, so who knows what is true now. Don Jr.’s e-mail exchange makes it very clear what the purpose of the meeting is, and it was not the first thing that he represented when this was starting to leak out over the weekend. And you’ve got Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort also in that meeting, and also sent the e-mail. So it’s the three of them. These are the top level people in the administration now, going to a meeting that’s billed as with an emissary of the Russian government to get dirt on Clinton. This is one of the meetings that they never disclosed and claimed they never had. We’ve got Don Jr. being interviewed about this topic that night, and he’s saying that there’s no contact with Russia, and what a scurrilous lie this is to suggest that there could be any contact with Russia.

ADAMS:      I would have been tempted to leave that off of my form too…

HARRIS:      Well it’s illegal!

ADAMS:      Hold on, hold on, because it was trivial and it turned out to be nothing, and I was duped into going. So I’m not sure I would have put that on my form, or even remembered it frankly.

HARRIS:      [laughs] Okay. To watch this interview with Don Jr., which we know came immediately after this e-mail exchange and meeting, is to be in the presence of someone who is *absolutely* lying about something they *must* remember. There’s just no way. This is unforgettable. It’s like me just getting on television saying I’ve never spoken to Scott Adams in my life. There’s just no way to do it. [ Absolutes. Also mind-reading. ]

ADAMS:      Sam, he didn’t say – I didn’t watch whatever you saw – but I’m pretty sure he didn’t say “I haven’t talked to anybody from Russia.” [ Untangling the nuances to eliminate any straw man aspects. ]

HARRIS:      Well no, but it’s just the allegation was that the campaign has been in dialogue with the Russian government and there’s Russian influence here…

ADAMS:      And that example was him not being in dialogue with anybody. He was just fooled about the nature of a meeting.

HARRIS:      Please. Please. Alright. Unfortunately we are out of time. I will let our listeners adjudicate what sort of progress we made or didn’t make. The thing I most appreciate about this conversation is the tone and mutual goodwill, and the fact that you went down this rabbit hole with me. The goal here obviously is better understanding of ourselves and the world, and how we can get to a good place. I just think more of what are in fact very fraught and very hard conversations need to be had, in this spirit of being willing to meet with goodwill and just hashing it out. [ Higher ground ]

ADAMS:      I would say the same. I think you’re a force for good, and I’ve been a big fan for a very long time. I love what you do, and I love that you would have this conversation. [ Higher ground ]

HARRIS:      And I should say there are many things – I said this at the top – though we sound like we disagree about everything here, the moment we would make a lateral move onto other topics, we agree about so many things. Just having read enough of your book, I know we agree about things like free will, and the point you raised about goals versus systems. All of that is very interesting, and could be the topic of a very fruitful conversation. [ Higher ground ]

ADAMS:      And I would go so far as to say that when you read my new book Win Bigly about persuasion and about the election, that the gap between us will close substantially. [ Higher ground ]

HARRIS:      I look forward to that Scott, and I wish you all the best with what you’re doing. Just give people your Twitter feed or whatever else you want them to know about where to find you online. 

ADAMS:      That’s @ScottAdamsSays on Twitter.

HARRIS:      Thank you Scott. To be continued.

ADAMS:      Alright, thank you Sam. (2:17:12)

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