My rating: 2 of 5 stars
(I had way too much to say, apparently…) I chose this book because I thought the title humorous and the subtitle true. I had no idea that Scott Adams was anything other than a sometimes funny cartoonist. I had no idea that he let himself be persuaded. I had no idea he was irrational until I read this. Of course, as a trained hypnotist, he wants the reader to believe that he has insights no one else had, and that he might have even influenced an election. Interesting… given that he’s irrelevant, I still can’t fathom his chutzpah in that claim (oh, he deprecates, but …not really). I finished this last week and I just need to be done with this… There are too many problems here to enumerate: Form a hypothesis/thesis…find the evidence to support; near Dunning-Kruger Effect; Fundamental Attribution Fallacy; Identity Fallacy (“you’d understand if you knew what I know”); snark; Argumentum ad Baculum (he uses a narrative that intimates discussion, but is really one-sided); endorsement of the Pars pro Toto Fallacy; a little Post Hoc Fallacy; Third Person Effect; touch of Hindsight Bias, touch of Egocentric Bias; not inconsiderable Bias blind spot; and the big one… Fundamental Attribution Error. Among others… He says near the end of his book that “I had become hard to ignore.” I was pretty aware of a lot of the subject things in 2016 and I ignored, in ignorance to be sure, but the only analyst/pundit claiming Adams had any influence is Adams.
Adams presents an interesting fantasy: that T is a Master Persuader because of his persuasion skills (Adams’ assessment). He then tries to persuade the reader he is right. What he did was determine a conclusion and then go find the evidence to support it, no matter how tenuous or…stretched. One thing Adams certainly excels at…he can sure laud himself. He’s got skills! He can see things no one else can! Did I mention he’s a trained hypnotist? He did. Adams drops that he is a “trained hypnotist” nine times, “hypnotist” another 40, “hypnosis” six times. He can see things others don’t. His skills insulate him, allowing him to see the powers of the Great Persuader. He’s the smartest person in the room. He’s so smart that he self-deprecates right after a trumpet to try to fool the reader into thinking he’s not. That he’s just an ordinary, everyday, trained hypnotist. He thinks he’s some kind of Jedi, waving his words around like that. I’m a critical thinker. Mind tricks don’t work on me. (Apologies to Watto.) And neither does hypnotism. Adams says “…an experienced hypnotist can hypnotize anyone, so long as the subject is willing.” No. Science disagrees – (in addition to a superior mind that rejects the attempts) there are physical brain structures that inhibit hypnotism. Odd that someone touting his field doesn’t know that. I know for a fact that I cannot be hypnotized.
Adams says, “I saw a skilled persuader who knew what mattered and what didn’t.” I say that “knew” is the wrong word; “decided” is better…connotes his choice irrespective of what really matters. But then, the only thing that matters to us are the things that matter to us…which we chose. Adams says that T “is the best persuader I have ever seen.” There’s his conclusion. Despite a few hundred pages and I have no idea how many blog posts, Adams simply doesn’t not understand persuasion. (BTW irrespective of whether or not T is a persuader. (BTW, I’d submit that Bill Clinton is truly one and far better. LBJ…jeez, even Reagan.)
He would have you believe that the populace has been persuaded by the Master Persuader. Well, he clearly can’t see that he – along with a saddening large lower denominator – is highly susceptible to a particular form of bombastic behavior that is not persuasion at all; rather, charging bullying. It’s not even good negotiation, but Adams has fallen in lust and blinded himself into rationalizing an unfathomable turn in voting lunacy.
There’s a certain religion which has as it sacred text a mishmash of stories millennia old and a curated selection of other stories that were chosen to align specifically with a particular theological view. It is internally inconsistent and also inconsistent with the natural world on many levels. On top of all that, it is vague in so many areas. As such those areas are open to wild interpretations (wildly different). For the last 2000 years there has been a cottage industry of people writing to make excuses for these inconsistencies and interpretation differences… Apologetics. Adams is book is sometimes spot on with certain content, but so very off in other areas and it comes off clearly as an apologetic to me.
Adams says, “As far as I can tell, T[…] is far smarter than the average citizen.” That, sadly, may actually be true. And that says volumes about how low our average has dropped.
Chris Voss, former FBI and current private negotiator and author of the excellent book “Never Split the Difference” has a ton of data and experience that you shouldn’t be the first to offer numbers, yet the trained hypnotist says you should always be first. You decide.
On mass delusions, Adams’ definition is too bizarre to repeat. He clearly doesn’t understand them as well as he claims.
He continually makes liberal use of snark, which will likely pass right over the heads of his fans” likes to say that in the 2D world, things are one way, but in the 3D world (of his creation), reality sets in and the truth is free. He says “President Obama was a Master Persuader (or was advised by one.)” – never a suggestion that T was “being advised.” He tries his own shots at persuasion when he says things like “Your illusion of being a rational person is supported by the fact that sometimes you do act rationally.”, disparaging his detractors, which unfortunately, too many of his or T’s fans will buy hook, line and sinker.
Throughout this book, he gives far too much credit to T – not for winning, but for actually thinking things through. Take the wall theme for example: make an outrageous statement, prime the opponents to settle on closer to his position than theirs (he correctly identifies that as high/low balling). Adams makes the ludicrous statement “Consider how much discipline it took for him to avoid continually clarifying that his ‘wall’ was really a patchwork of solutions that depend on the terrain. In order to pull off this type of weapon-grade persuasion, he had to be willing to endure brutal criticism about how dumb he was to think he could secure the border with a solid wall.” Ummm, discipline? has Adams not seen the complete lack of discipline on T’s part in every other aspect of his life?
Adams uses that trained hypnotist shield to demonstrate that he is not susceptible to that persuasion he says everyone else is. Or maybe he does acknowledge that he is susceptible. To his trained hypnotist mind, he can see things others don’t. Well, to my skeptical mind, I she think she does it. Trump is not a persuader. He may or may not be a good negotiator. There are many ways to negotiate, and one that works for many people is bombastic bullying. I think he’s very good at that. But anyone with a healthy skeptical mind and the critical thinking skills to a company that skepticism sees through the charlatan easily. Adams, does it. He can be a supporter all he wants. Such is his prerogative. And but he also needs to see that he’s wrong.
The fanboy crush is so bad that Adams litters his book with excuses for his demigod. Example: with respect to McCain and the offensive POW comment, Adams says, “I think some people didn’t even realize it as a joke.” (He was crowing about T’s masterful disarming.) Joke? It wasn’t and Adams embarrasses himself for saying so.
Another excuse: “But T’s critics characterized him as being disrespectful to women…” Clearly blind here. The preponderance of evidence indicating just that is intuitively obvious to the most casual observer when looking at the mouth and bleats of T. The excuses masquerading as support for Adams’ thesis get really tiring.
Adams is an admitted atheist. I wonder if he’s heard of Duane Gish. Gish “debates” on the side of creation “science” and never deviates from his pattern; he throws out so much crap that his usual opponents can’t beat everything and lose time and position trying (Michael Shermer studied Gish before his debate), and Gish has never been able to answer a critical question about any of his points. T vomits a continuous stream of crap that no one can tackle, or should even bother trying. But Adams doesn’t see that. He thinks T is deliberate in his content. In virtually every unscripted talk/interview/presser, T betrays that he has little clue about whatever he says.
There is slick writing here – a sign of intelligence – contradicting himself often (hedging a bet?) Example: says as a [trained…implied here] hypnotist he recognizes “tells”, his training allowed him to see a pattern of questionable health tells, yet when he blogged about it, he said “to my untrained eyes and ears.” (My italics.) See? Slick.
There is one glaring omission in this book… Never does Adams talk about character (he only uses the word in the actor/player context). A sin of omission, in his world it seems to mean nothing. By all appearances, Adams is intelligent. He can be funny and intelligence is a requirement for humor. He’s educated. He claims early and throughout that people are 90% irrational. His irrationality allowed him, the trained hypnotist with a cache of skills, to be persuaded. His intelligence betrayed him. It is one thing to admire the skills of someone…T is clearly good at bully negotiation, good at authoritarian temper, good at attacking his sycophants, good at bouncing back from numerous bankruptcies that belie his businessman image, good at gaming the system, good at appealing to the lowest common denominator. BUT…an intelligent person acknowledges that someone can be good at bad things and intelligently evaluate and determine that regardless of how well someone fits one’s personal definition for best in show persuader, that someone would be a horrendous mistake over someone else who did not fit one’s definition. Adams went beyond admiration. The fanboy crush endorsed the heinous character, and that is deplorable.
Here’s the truth: T doesn’t persuade. He appealed to those predisposed to him. Those naturally drawn to or conditioned to accept (think a predominant religion…) an authoritarian were primed. There was no persuasion necessary. T’s approach likens to that of a cruel dog owner: treat that dog badly, instill fear, dole out an occasional “benevolent” pat and the dog feels for a brief moment, loved. He surrounds himself with scared dogs. He cultivates packs of scared dog followers.
And that is Adams’ flaw. That is his fundamental attribution error. He gives sole credit to his definition of persuasion. Not what really happened.
Don’t misunderstand me… Adams makes a lot of really good points in this book. Points that are applicable across many continua of critical thinking. Unfortunately, he neglects to apply them. I admit that we have an excellent point of agreement between us with respect to the Pledge of Allegiance.
(One “by the way”…in the appendices, a citation to the serial liar O’Keefe’s company Project Veritas really undermined essentially any credibility Adams had.)