Thursday, 31 August 2017

Sam Harris and Scott Adams in conversation: Triggered

Letter to a friend:
A while back you asked what I thought of "Triggered", the podcast of Sam Harris talking to Scott Adams. Sorry for taking so long!
First up, by the way, I do get Sam's podcast notifications direct as I'm a supporter (financially!).  I support a couple of other podcasts, like Dave Rubin.  I value them. They rely on users, not advertisers and they're doing a great job of speaking to a wide variety of people in a free and open way (no identity politics for these guys).
I enjoyed the talk Sam had with Scott.  It was a very polite exchange, which might have, in other hands, descended into acrimony.  You could feel them at times hauling in their frustration with each other's views. But they managed, so good on them, in these days of instant offense-taking.
Sam said in his intro that the person his Trump-supporting listeners ("Trumpkins") most wanted Sam to interview was Scott Adams.  
Having heard the podcast I wonder why. Why did they want Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert?
After all, Scott didn't really say anything supportive of Trump, let alone his policies, such as they are.  Instead, what the talk amounted to was Scott saying that Trump was a great "persuader".  Perhaps the greatest he'd seen.  Another term for "persuasion" is "deception" or "con".  Whether persuading or deceiving or conning, it seems odd to me that Trump supporters would want this to be the thing that is talked about.  After all, is it good to be seen as someone who is persuadable, let alone someone who will swallow a con, allows oneself to be deceived? 
I listened to the podcast soon after it was posted, and read some of the early comments.  Here are some of the ones I noted.  Last I saw there were over 1,000 comments, mostly, interestingly, on Sam's side.  Very few of his Trumpkins seem to have joined in the discussion.  Wandering around the comments for a bit may be worthwhile.
I thought Sam won the debate, even though it wasn't strictly speaking a debate.  But some of the commenters thought the other way. Some faulted Sam for missing some opportunities to make a point, and I agree.  Eg, not calling out Adams for criticising Sam's use of analogy, when Scott's main point (in the campaign people were watching two different movies in the same theater) is an analogy!
Adams talks of "pacing and leading", as the key technique of persuasion. It appears this is a part of Neuro Linguistic Programming, which is a controversial subject, some saying that it's been debunked by scientists.  Here's an interesting take on NLP by a young philosopher.
I remember my main impression when I first heard the podcast was to think: "OK, Trump may be a great persuader (though I never thought him so, neither does Sam).  But so was Mao a great persuader, so was Stalin a great persuader, so is Derren Brown".  (I didn't want to mention —even in my mind — that most infamous mustachio'd persuader, not wanting to invoke Godwin's law).
Some while ago I stopped reading Dilbert, Scott Adams' cartoon and for which he has made his main name.  I liked it for a while. Then I got tired of its incessant cynicism.  That's pretty much Adams, I think.  A cynic.  And doing anything, saying anything, to win power is ok, by him.  Persuasion it is, and ethics be damned. 
And that's what Trump did and still does. The man who is not just a con-man (oh… sorry, "a persuader"…), but also, kinda crazy.

All for now: there's much more in the comments.

(We may have very different views about Trump, you and I, but I do enjoy exchanges with you. That was the theme of a recent Harry's Place post, "Friendship across the political divide " which I sent to you earlier. Again the comments are the interesting part in that post)