21.10.18

OPEN THE GARDEN OF INTELLECTUAL THINKERS.

Scott Adams's Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don't Matter elaborates on the thinking he used to anticipate Donald Trump's first securing the Republican nomination, then framing things in a way that even his gaffes and his crudity helped him nail down the necessary electoral votes.

"Persuasion" is a loaded term, I'll argue in Book Review No. 28, one that is in a bad odor in Intellectual Circles, this goes at least as far back as Vance Packard's Hidden Persuaders, and it might stink of hucksters and carny barkers.  It's a phenomenon that calls for broader understanding, though, particularly in light of all the vulgar behavioral economics work that gets Supposedly Intelligent People all huffy about the lousy decision-making propensities of everyone else.

First pro tip: an intellectual thinker might be more diplomatic than using a term like "deplorable."

There is, however, merit in understanding the logic of persuasion.  Mr Adams suggests that the craft of behavioral science, which may or may not include training hypnotists, has a lot to offer in understanding human motivation, and in influencing behavior.

Second pro tip:  a leader might be more effective at getting things done by focusing effort on the main prize, thus reducing caviling over niggling details, leading either to agreement on the substance, or on finding more than one way for things to do well.  Mr Adams sketches these ideas as "two ways to win, no way to lose" and "high ground maneuver," and perhaps he'd like to persuade you to buy his other business strategy books.

At the same time, some of the more effective persuasive techniques he details, and credits Our President with using, are really cleverly packaged logical fallacies.

Consider "many people are saying."  Our President uses that in campaign rallies.  Journalists like to trot it out as a way of being controversial without revealing their own biases.  That's the ad populum fallacy.  Your Mom had the perfect counter for that: "and if all the other kids decided to jump off bridges ..."  If there is one message people ought to take from Win Bigly, it is that complex, nuanced, and technically correct responses to simple errors put people to sleep.  Sorry, I might have just done that myself.

Third pro tip: a leader ought come up with a pithy and correct response.  OK, that's what Mr Adams sells as Persuasion Tips 28 and 29 (page 201).

Then consider "If you frequently hear that a thing is true, it biases you to think that there might be something to it" from page 199.  Catbert, may I introduce Herr Göbbels.  OK, that's a loser, Godwin at one remove.  Repetition is a technique anyone can use: perhaps the message of Win Bigly is that finding something simple, effective, and plausible to respond to something simple, effective, and implausible trumps any attempt to roll out complex, nuanced, and technically correct responses.  Plus it might keep people awake.

It gets more complicated.  Sometimes the easy way to persuade is to deflect and change the subject: for instance, when Chris Cuomo invited candidate Trump either to criticize the Pope or criticize capitalism, the candidate suggested the existence of Islamic State plans to sack Rome and behead the Pope, thus burying any complex, nuanced, and technically correct responses to the struggle between God and Mammon for the balance of the news cycle.  But that might not be as effective as granting part of the criticism, then noting that it's a learning opportunity.  Consider broken smart 'phones or Tylenol tampering or a search for improved practices.

But again, there's that balance between simple and convincing, contrasted with complex and technically correct.

Final pro tip: the intellectual thinkers, dear reader, might be too bogged down in the subtleties of their gardens -- whether as a pitchman for a product, or a politician stumping for votes, or as a scholar circulating a paper for peer review.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

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