Posted by on August 5, 2017

As the creator of the Dilbert cartoon, it is perhaps not appropriate to give Scott Adams an Obscure Public Enemy award.  However, his political views, and his pretentious sophistries in support of the Trumpster, are probably insufficiently known to justify the “obscure.”  In any event, as this lengthy interview (over two hours) with Sam Harris shows, he is certainly vile enough to merit it.

The following is the comment that I posted to the interview.  Although this at least partially violates my “no more Trump” pledge, I am lazy enough to want to re-use it.  So, here it goes:

********

This was truly a dialogue of the deaf.  Although a very civil one.

On the one hand we have Scott Adams.  Adams is a truly evil person, in the same sense and for the same reason that someone like Lena Dunham is a truly evil person: they are both so wedded to their preposterous beliefs that, in order to maintain them, they are ultimately forced to deny the existence of objective reality and the ability of human reason to comprehend it.  And that is the ultimate evil.

Adams has anointed himself, with no evidence but plenty of pretension, an expert in the art of persuasion.  He throws around words like “confirmation bias” and “cognitive dissonance” so that his audience will think that he is immune to them.  But then he demonstrates powers of rationalization that prove the exact opposite.

In the course of this podcast, Adams demonstrated that there is absolutely nothing Trump could do or say that he wouldn’t rationalize as:

  • a joke;
  • a case of “pacing” and “leading” (which is nothing but a pseudo-scientific endorsement of good, old-fashioned demagoguery);
  • deliberately created chaos as a “brutally effective” tool of persuasion;
  • a case of Trump learning on the job (as if any reasonably informed, sane and intelligent person would not already known the broad issues – “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated” – or would not have had the humility to study them before aspiring to high office);
  • a case where, “under the hood” and on the basis of knowledge which cannot be known to us mere mortals, Trump is in fact doing something highly intelligent and sensible; or
  • just an example that Trump is human, because when you “drill down” we are all “despicable.”

Adams’ ultimate retort to any criticism of Trump is that you have to re-interpret his bizarre actions in the proper “context” to avoid the conclusion that Trump is truly insane.  Here Adams ignores the obvious: there is, in fact, a very good chance that Trump is insane (or at least very senile).  Trump’s seriously flawed grasp of reality, and his willingness to act even against his own interests simply because he cannot control himself, are both strong indications of mental illness.

But Harris also has blinders.  The first and the most obvious is his belief that Trump actually “appealed” to about half of the population, something which mystifies him.  There is no mystery here.  If you drill down into the Trump vote – something that I do in the section headed “Trump Voters” in this blog – you will find that, out of the roughly 50% of the voting population that pulled the handle for Trump, only about 20% actually voted for Trump, with the remainder voting for the Republican Party, voting against Clinton or voting against the Washington establishment in general (of which Clinton was the perfect representative).

In other words, the hard-core Trump vote, which propelled him through a fragmented field in the Republican primaries and which remains committed to him today, is roughly 10% of the population.  This is roughly equal in number, and probably in intelligence and knowledge, to the part of the population that thinks that the moon landings were faked.  This shows nothing except that every country has a lunatic fringe and that the process of democratic elections can be very flawed.

The failure to see this made it impossible for Harris to ask Adams the most blindingly obvious question:  If Trump is such a master persuader, whom exactly did he persuade?  Harris repeatedly says that Trump has been completely unsuccessful in winning him over, but he fails to realize that Trump has been unsuccessful in converting anyone except for a predisposed lunatic fringe sufficiently large and vocal to be impressive in a rally, but nowhere elseIn fact, the only persuasion – or, more accurately, dissuasion – was done by Hillary Clinton and a Democratic Party that got generally trounced in the election.

Harris is so willing to think badly of the Republicans that he is unable to see that this is equally true of the party’s officeholders.  Sure, there are a few true believers among the Republicans, but as the cases of Joe Manchin and Jim Justice show, there are also some benighted souls who wear a big “D” on their hats.  Certainly, there are a lot more principled opponents of Trump among the Republicans – people like Justin Amash, Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse, Thomas Massie, Rand Paul, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Jeb Bush, etc. – than there are true believers.

The great majority of Republicans, including party leaders like Ryan and McConnell, realize that Trump is a fait accompli with which they now have to do their best.  So, they are using Trump’s presence in the White House, and the fact that on most policy issues he is a know-nothing blank slate willing to sign anything that he can claim as a “win,” to accomplish policy goals that they genuinely believe are for the good of the country.  Things like tax reform, health care reform, deregulation, school choice, an originalist Supreme Court, etc.  You may disagree with these objectives, but you cannot claim that the willingness of the Republican Party to work with a complete imbecile in the White House to accomplish them is proof that they have been successfully conned or that they are particularly – at least by the standards of politics – craven or evil.

It should also be perfectly obvious, as was just demonstrated with the vote on Russian sanctions and the repeated warnings against firing Robert Mueller, that the Republican Party does not trust Trump and will check and balance his more destructive impulses.  The Republicans in Congress will work with Trump when possible, just as the Democrats in Congress would have worked with a more conventionally but equally looney Bernie Sanders had he been elected, but this does not mean that anyone has been “persuaded.”

Neither Adams nor Harris can see this truth.  Which makes them both deaf and blind.

Roger Barris

Weybridge, United Kingdom

 

I Wish That I Had Said That…

“The difference between Communists and Nazis is that, when you point out the horrors of Nazism, the Nazis don’t say: ‘Well, real Nazism has never been tried'” from a tweet

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Posted in: Politics

Comments

  1. Anonymous
    August 17, 2017

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    I could not agree more with your comments, Roger. It presents us with one of the truly fascinating phenomena of recent times that, strangely, no-one seems to care to comment on all that much these days.

    At the risk of drawing unfortunate comparisons with Adams, it is not “cognitive dissonance” or “confirmation bias” but something more along the lines of “suspension of disbelief” that seems at work here. It goes back to the early days after Trump’s election, when quite a few highly educated people I know were saying exactly the same thing Adams is saying here: “things are not what they seem”, “he’s got a master plan that will be revealed in good time” wink-wink, “you’ll see, he’s smarter than you think”, “he’s intentionally exaggerating for effect”, etc along with excuses that he’s “only human” whenever he disgraces himself. They are the psychological immune strategies of the highly educated: they just cannot, for the life of them, face the painful truth that the man that was elected to head up the most powerful country in the world, a democracy, their own country, is in-sane. Has nothing whatsoever up his sleeve. Has an exceptionally low IQ and no demonstrable experience, let alone competence for the job, and is making an ominous farce of their country, i.e. of them. Adams is a man who has lived off his personal need for psychological immune strategies and made good money out of it: giggling about the corporate world for 24 hours a day, year after year, for decades. However funny that may be on occasion, it qualifies as a mental disorder that grew out of an inability to deal with the way things are, out of what probably was only a mild form of chronic discomfort when he was still an engineer. My experience with people like that is that they grow more quiet as time goes on and the accumulated body of appalling anecdotes and incidents is no longer funny, and end up making themselves forget they ever said such things, believed those things, and get very angry with those who point out they clearly did.

    Harris has a similar but different immune strategy that is representative of another group of highly educated people. Although he is meant to be a philosopher, of sorts, he is one of that other camp of immune strategists who deliberately refuse to answer the legitimate question he asked about how Trump came to power. He will pretend to ask the question, i.e. pretend to be interested in an answer, but sneakily turns it into a rhetorical question that leaves his questioning, i.e. his critical credentials intact, which gets him quietly off the hook for not having a strong enough brain to face the desperately painful truth of a proper answer, perpetuating the rhetorical question. That, by the way, is why I called him “a derivative thinker”, in response to one of your earlier posts.

    And please don’t blame yourself for returning to the Trump issue, as this is finally looking at something more interesting than Trump himself: the phenomenon of an intellectual ‘class’ and media that do not have the courage, cannot for the life of them face up to the ugly truth that their democracy has failed in the most disgraceful way, even though technically speaking, it functioned just fine. The truth that the US has always been, at heart, a populist regime that just wants a “regular, working class guy” who made a buck or two, help “the people” make a buck too, by talking straight and oversimplifying things, and looking like them. And I don’t buy the 20% story: you vote for someone or you do not vote for that person. There is no “I voted for him but what I really meant was ….”. The republican party stands by, uncomfortably, cowardly, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, looking at its imminent demise when it all ends with a bang.

    I predict there will be much more of this behaviour to come: two forms of disbelief and a press that will continue to focus on the Trump anecdote du jour (“Look at what he did to-day! What do we make of it?” … ). God forbid someone points the finger at “the people”, including the highly educated, the bankrupt press, etc, because contrary to popular opinion, and as Trump himself proves, there are no more elites, there are just equally ordinary people who just happened to make a buck more than the rest. The true legacy of economic man’s Church of the Dismal Religion.

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