The dark arts: Examples from the Harris-Adams conversation

post by Stabilizer · 2017-07-20T23:42:03.562Z · score: 17 (16 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 73 comments

Recently, James_Miller posted a conversation between Sam Harris and Scott Adams about Donald Trump. James_Miller titled it "a model rationalist disagreement". While I agree that the tone in which the conversation was conducted was helpful, I think Scott Adams is a top practitioner of the Dark Arts. Indeed, he often prides himself on his persuasion ability. To me, he is very far from a model for a rationalist, and he is the kind of figure we rationalists should know how to fight against.

 

Here are some techniques that Adams uses:

 

  1. Changing the subject: (a) Harris says Trump is unethical and cites the example of Trump gate-crashing a charity event to falsely get credit for himself. Adams responds by saying that others are equally bad—that all politicians do morally dubious things. When Harris points out that Obama would never do such a thing, Adams says Trump is a very public figure and hence people have lots of dirt on him. (b) When Harris points out that almost all climate scientists agree that climate change is happening and that it is wrong for Trump to have called climate change a hoax, Adams changes the subject to how it is unclear what economic policies one ought to pursue if climate change is true.
  2. Motte-and-bailey: When Harris points out that the Trump University scandal and Trump's response to it means Trump is unethical, Adams says that Trump was not responsible for the university because it was only a licensing deal. Then Harris points out that Trump is unethical because he shortchanged his contractors. Adams says that that’s what happens with big construction projects. Harris tries to argue that it’s the entirety of Trump’s behavior that makes it clear that he is unethical—i.e., Trump University, his non-payment to contractors, his charity gate-crashing, and so on. At this points Adams says we ought to stop expecting ethical behavior from our Presidents. This is a classic motte-and-bailey defense. Try to defend an indefensible position (the bailey) for a while, but then once it becomes untenable to defend it, then go to the motte (something much more defensible).
  3. Euphemisation: (a) When Harris tells Adams that Trump lies constantly and has a dangerous disregard for the truth, Adams says, I agree that Trump doesn’t pass fact checks. Indeed, throughout the conversation Adams never refers to Trump as lying or as making false statements. Instead, Adams always says, Trump “doesn’t pass the fact checks”. This move essentially makes it sound as if there’s some organization whose arbitrary and biased standards are what Trump doesn’t pass and so downplays the much more important fact that Trump lies. (b) When Harris call Trump's actions morally wrong, Adams makes it seem as if he is agreeing with Harris but then rephrases it as: “he does things that you or I may not do in the same situation”. Indeed, that's Adams's constant euphemism for a morally wrong action. This is a very different statement compared to saying that what Trump did was wrong, and makes it seem as if Trump is just a normal person doing what normal people do. 
  4. Diagnosis: Rather than debate the substance of Harris’s claims, Adams will often embark on a diagnosis of Harris’s beliefs or of someone else who has that belief. For example, when Harris says that Trump is not persuasive and does not seem to have any coherent views, Adams says that that's Harris's "tell" and that Harris is "triggered" by Trump's speeches. Adams constantly diagnoses Trump critics as seeing a different movie, or as being hypnotized by the mainstream media. By doing this, he moves away from the substance of the criticisms.
  5. Excusing: (a) When Harris says that it is wrong to not condemn, and wrong to support, the intervention of Russia in America’s election, Adams says that the US would extract revenge via its intelligence agencies and we would never know about it. He provides no evidence for the claim that Trump is indeed extracting revenge via the CIA. He also says America interferes in other elections too. (b) When Harris says that Trump degraded democratic institutions by promising to lock up his political opponent after the election, Adams says that was just a joke. (c) When Harris says Trump is using the office of the President for personal gain, Adams tries to spin the narrative as Trump trying to give as much as possible late in his life for his country. 
  6. Cherry-picking evidence: (a) When Harris points out that seventeen different intelligence agencies agreed that Russia’s government interfered in the US elections, Adams says that the intelligence agencies have been known to be wrong before. (b) When Harris points out that almost all climate scientists agree on climate change, Adams points to some point in the 1970s where (he claims) climate scientists got something wrong, and therefore we should be skeptical about the claims of climate scientists.

Overall, I think what Adams is doing is wrong. He is an ethical and epistemological relativist: he does not seem to believe in truth or in morality. At the very least, he does not care about what is true and false and what is right and wrong. He exploits his relativism to push his agenda, which is blindingly clear: support Trump.

 

(Note: I wanted to work on this essay more carefully, and find out all the different ways in which Adams subverts the truth and sound reasoning. I also wanted to cite more clearly the problematic passages from the conversations. But I don't have the time. So I relied on memory and highlighted the Dark Arts moves that struck me immediately. So please, contribute in the comments with your own observations about the Dark Arts involved here.)

73 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by James_Miller · 2017-07-21T01:52:25.139Z · score: 13 (12 votes) · LW · GW

(1a) Adams never claims that Trump is a good person, and consequently this wasn't a point of disagreement between him and Harris and thus not relevant to their conversation.

(1b) Yes, that's my opinion as well. What's relevant is what we should do about climate change, and as Adams pointed out even if all the climate change stuff is true, the economics doesn't necessarily support taking immediate action.

(2) This is more two conditions have to be true than Motte and Bailey. It's like a legal argument that my client didn't do X, but even if he did do X it wouldn't have been a crime.

(3) Yes, but Adams was honest about this. I think Adams takes a consequentialist view of morality and so, for example, thinks it would be OK for Trump to lie if it helped our economy or harm ISIS. Adams wants his audience to understand the worldview of a master persuader, and from this worldview facts are often not relevant. Also, it's too simple to say that Trump lies when Trump says something that Trump knows is false, but which Trump also knows that his audience knows is false. This is more emotional signaling.

(4) Disagree. I love Sam Harris's podcasts but I think Harris has a case of Trump derange syndrome, and it was fantastic of Adams to point this out. Getting Harris to make Hitler / exorcist comparisons was very telling. Rationalist should point out when they think others are suffering from confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance.

(5a) Yes Adams makes an unfalseafiable claim, but a claim that seems theoretical reasonable.

(5b) Since Trump has made no apparent effort to lock Hillary up, this seems right. But I admit Trump's pre-election call to lock Hillary up greatly troubled me.

(5c) Trump has sacrificed a lot of time, and knowingly accepted a lot of insults to become president and at age in which he seems unlikely to be able to personally benefit much from having been president. Lots of Americans really do think that Trump is saving American civilization, and it seems reasonable that Trump is one of those people.

(6a) It's know known that the 17 agency figure was an error. I think even the NYT has admitted this.

(6b) Yes, and this seems relevant.

"He is an ethical and epistemological relativist: he does not seem to believe in truth or in morality."

Adams doesn't think that true and morality play much of a role in political persuasion. Adams thinks that most people greatly overestimate how much their own personal opinions are influenced by truth and morality. Adams is trying to correct this massive flaw in human nature by giving his readers/viewers/listeners some of the secrets of master persuaders.

This is an example of Adams using the dark arts.

It might have worked.

comment by Viliam · 2017-07-21T10:17:05.644Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This seems to me like another instance of... not sure how to call it precisely, but switching between two different (actually contradictory) positions:

  • We should pay attention to Adams because he explains truthfully what Trump does.

  • We should pay attention to Adams because he uses the same kind of lies Trump does, thus illustrating what Trump does.

So, which one is it? Should we pay attention to what Adams says, or what Adams does? When Adams say "X" should we interpret it as "Adams believes that X is true" or "Adams believes that X is false, and that saying 'X is true' is a good example of what a master liar would say"?

Because it can't be both at the same time.

comment by James_Miller · 2017-07-21T17:59:32.783Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think I ever claimed "We should pay attention to Adams because he uses the same kind of lies Trump does, thus illustrating what Trump does."

comment by Viliam · 2017-07-25T10:05:51.172Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

LawrenceC said it much better then me. Trump-style "master persuasion" is not the same as "model rationalist disagreement". Unless perhaps that is exactly the point you were trying to make, in which case it would help to make it explicit.

comment by jimmy · 2017-07-21T19:49:39.855Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why do you use the term "master liar" over the term "master persuader" which is the one that Adams and Miller use and also the one that makes better sense the things Adams and Miller say? There is very obviously no contradiction unless you use the term and framing that you're trying to place on them.

comment by ChristianKl · 2017-07-21T12:43:28.258Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

(1b) Yes, that's my opinion as well. What's relevant is what we should do about climate change, and as Adams pointed out even if all the climate change stuff is true, the economics doesn't necessarily support taking immediate action.

As far as motte-and-bailey goes, Adams make it appear as if "immediate action" means paying for more solar panels. He argues that it's okay to wait for technology improvement. If your strategy happens to be to want technology improvement than your immediate action would be to increase R&D funding. Trump decreased clean tech R&D funding.

comment by James_Miller · 2017-07-21T17:57:26.761Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not necessarily. It could be that the government is spending too much on clean tech R&D and that even without government help clean tech will improve enough so that it's worth waiting. If (as I think Harris said but I'm not sure) China is making a big push for clean tech then it would seem optimal for the U.S. to wait and to spend less on clean tech R&D.

comment by Bound_up · 2017-08-11T17:55:30.754Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The dialogue about Trump on climate change is a perfect example of how most people think in opposition to how careful, abstract nerdy-types think.

To a nerd, it's a crucial distinction to say something like while we may not, based on economic models, want to do anything about it, it is an entirely separate question whether or not global warming is actually occurring.

A great many people will not make that "fine" distinction. All they can hear is "yay my tribe" and "boo my tribe." If that's all they can understand, then is it really a lie to say something that you know will be interpreted as "yay you guys?"

I would say it's a lie to say something you know the other person will misinterpret in a way that leads them to a wrong conclusion, even if the way you would interpret it is true. The counterpart is that it's not a lie to say something that you know will be interpreted an acceptably true way ("yay you guys" is not true or false per se) even if the way you would interpret it is false.

Scott Adams understands the folly of trying to make fine distinctions about political issues when talking to most people, so he, just like them, interprets Trump's statement as a partisan rallying cry, and excuses it on the basis of consequentialism (he seems to think it's okay not to do anything about global warming). As far as he and they are concerned, there's nothing about that statement that CAN be "true" or "false;" it has all the informational density of a hearty "yay!"

comment by James_Miller · 2017-08-12T05:46:46.552Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2017-07-21T13:34:57.994Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Trump derangement syndrome," eh. What a lovely floating signifier.


You say a bunch of amazing things I don't have time to get into like "70 year olds can't personally benefit from things / are thus immune to corruption, because they are ?too old?" But let me ask you this:

Have you ever seen Scott Adams publically update on evidence, re: Trump, ever?

comment by James_Miller · 2017-07-21T17:54:03.932Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, after the Access Hollywood tape came out Adams lowered his estimate of the chance of Trump winning.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2017-07-22T03:14:55.325Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

On Trump himself, I meant. His character/competence/etc.

Estimating the probability of "Trump winning" is estimating the probability of a binary event.

comment by James_Miller · 2017-07-22T04:40:18.551Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Adams deliberately avoids commenting on Trump's character. I'm unaware of Adams changing his estimate of Trump's persuasion competence. Adams often gives evidence of why Trump is a master persuader.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2017-07-22T20:02:33.689Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ok -- so he neither makes falsifiable claims, nor updates publically.

That's certainly something, but why is this rationality? Certainly not epistemic rationality.


If you want to make an argument for instrumental rationality, presumably we should look to self-made billionaires who were not obviously lucky, not cartoonists who are opportunistically shilling for a jackass without an obvious payoff in sight.

comment by James_Miller · 2017-07-22T20:34:27.003Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Adams makes lots of falsifiable claims, but not about Trump's character.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2017-07-22T22:27:42.486Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Right -- because he's a shill. What's the connection between shilling and rationality?

Rationality is supposed to bend in the winds of evidence. Shilling does not bend, shilling made its choice.

comment by James_Miller · 2017-07-23T02:00:56.555Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What is your evidence that he is a shill? Millions of Americans support Trump, are they all shills?

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2017-07-23T02:54:08.535Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I just told you, he never remarks or updates publically on Trump's character.

This means one of two things: (a) he's on board with it, or (b) he's not, but runs interference for it anyways.


It is not enough to support Trump unconditionally (which a lot of Trump supporters do *) to be a shill, you also need a megaphone. Supporting Trump unconditionally, but without a megaphone, merely makes one an idiot.

(*) Incidentally, I think something like 70% of polled Trump supporters said they think Trump should continue to lead even if we find out Russia helped get him elected.


The issue here isn't that he's a Trump supporter, the issue is he does not update on some aspects of Trump. Not updating + megaphone = the essence of shilldom, and the antithesis of rationality.


edit: In case still not clear, here is another shill: http://thememoryhole2.org/blog/scaramucci-tweets

Safe to ignore the commentary, just look at stuff he actually said.

edit: re: "no obvious payoff in sight for shilling", he's now gone. Food for thought for other shills.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2017-07-26T21:56:44.893Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Adams has stated why he doesn't make claims about Trump's character. Recent podcast.

He says his own moral views are such that if he went around shunning people for immorality, he'd be shunning everyone.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2017-07-26T21:53:35.058Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The claim that Trump is a Master Persuader is falsifiable.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2017-08-03T15:10:27.091Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"You cannot say that to the press," Trump said on the phone call. "The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that. You cannot say that to the press because I cannot negotiate under those circumstances."

-- Master Persuader in action, re: the wall with the President of Mexico.

comment by Lumifer · 2017-07-25T15:25:21.701Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

cartoonists who are opportunistically shilling for a jackass without an obvious payoff in sight

So, you came back to LW to argue politics?

comment by Stabilizer · 2017-07-21T19:55:12.822Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A general point: I fear Adams attributes positions and beliefs and intentions to Trump which, from Trump's actions and public statements, are not justifiably attributable to Trump.

comment by James_Miller · 2017-07-21T20:04:29.320Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Adams predicting that Trump would win at a time when nearly everyone else thought Trump was a joke candidate is evidence that Adams has special insight into Trump. And this wasn't a mere prediction. Adams essentially bet his entire reputation on this claim. Adams often makes falsifiable predictions such as when he said that Obamacare would essentially never be repealed and that Snapchat had a dim future.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2017-07-26T21:51:47.106Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The prediction of the win shows he has insights into Trump's capabilities, but not necessarily his intentions.

comment by James_Miller · 2017-07-26T23:44:38.041Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but Adams explains at length how Trump is a master persuader, as with, for example, this Tweet "The day President Trump made his critics compare The Boy Scouts of America to Hitler Youth." I lot of what Adams says is P vs NP stuff where it's hard to figure out yourself but once someone explains it to you it seems obvious.

comment by DanArmak · 2017-07-22T14:51:41.250Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't listened to the debate (I'd read it if it was transcribed), but I want to object to a part of your post on a meta level, namely the part where you say:

To me, he is very far from a model for a rationalist

Being able to effectively convince people, to reliably influence their behavior, is perhaps the biggest general-purpose power a human can have. Don't dismiss an effective arguer as "not rationalist". On the contrary, acknowledge them as a scary rationalist more powerful than you are.

The word "rationalist" means something fairly narrow. We shouldn't make it into an applause light, a near synonym of "people we like and admire and are allied with". Being reliably effective, on the other hand, is a near synonym of being rational(ist).

If Adams employed "dark arts" in his debate, the only thing that necessarily means is that he wasn't engaged in an honest effort to discover the truth. But that's not news - it was a public debate staged in order to convince the audience! So Adams used a time-honored technique of achieving this goal - how very rational of him. At least, it's rational if he succeeded, and I assume you think he did succeed in convincing some of the audience, otherwise you wouldn't bother to post a denunciation.

Similarly, the name "Dark Arts" is misleading. They are (if I may channel Professor Quirrell for a moment) extremely powerful Arts everyone should cultivate if they can, and use where appropriate: not when honestly conversing with a fellow rationalist to discover the truth, but when aiming to convince people who are not themselves trained in rationality, and who (in your estimation) will not come by their beliefs rationally, whether or not they end up believing the truth.

This is a near cousin of politics (in the social sense, not the government sense). Politics is a mind-killer and it's important to keep politics-free spaces for various purposes including the pursuit of truth. But we should not say "rationalists should not engage in politics", any more than "rationalists should never try to convince non-rationalists of anything".

ETA: I'm not claiming Adam is a rationalist or is good at being a rationalist; I'm not familiar enough with him to tell. I'm only claiming that the fact he is or tries to be a good persuader in a debate and uses Dark Arts isn't evidence that he isn't.

comment by LawrenceC · 2017-07-23T06:20:40.834Z · score: 8 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I think the term "Dark Arts" is used by many in the community to refer to generic, truth-agnostic ways of getting people to change their mind. I agree that Scott Adams demonstrates mastery of persuasion techniques, and that this is indeed not necessarily evidence that he is not a "rationalist".

However, the specific claim made by James_Miller is that it is a "model rationalist disagreement". I think that since Adams used the persuasion techniques that Stabilizer mentioned above, it's pretty clear that it isn't a model rationalist disagreement.

comment by DanArmak · 2017-07-23T11:21:41.302Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I agree, and I didn't mean to imply otherwise.

comment by WalterL · 2017-07-21T15:10:18.852Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I dunno man. I feel like 'practitioner of Dark Arts' is a sneaky way to describe 'rationalist who disagrees with me'.

Surely, as a rationalist, you are also a relativist, yeah? Like, you get that there is no giant stone block with the One True Morality on it somewhere? Like, when you say that Adams doesn't believe in morality...you agree with him, right?

comment by Stabilizer · 2017-07-21T19:43:53.660Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't necessarily disagree with all Dark Arts practitioners. By a Dark Arts practitioner, I just mean someone who uses rhetorical techniques to win debate points, without particular regard for the truth. What they're defending may or may not be true.

In the case of Scott Adams, in my view, most of what he is defending is false. But that's a different debate. In this post, I just wanted to highlight the techniques he uses. I try not take a particular position with respect to his claims; I probably don't succeed.

I'm neither a moral relativist nor an epistemological relativist. I suspect you probably reject epistemological relativism—i.e., you probably believe there are statements (e.g., 2+2=4) that are unambiguously true or false.

Not being a moral relativist does not mean I believe there is a giant stone block with the One True Morality on it. Indeed, the existence of such a stone block is a poor account of the nature of morality for the reasons highlighted by Socrates in the Euthyphro. The nature of morality is a contentious issue, and I won't pretend to be an expert. But having heard several arguments, I think moral relativism is untenable, mainly because it's an unlivable thesis. Sometimes you just need to say something is straightforwardly wrong: e.g., if you torture an innocent person for hours to alleviate your boredom. Here is an argument I'm convinced by.

comment by Lumifer · 2017-07-21T20:12:25.063Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

By a Dark Arts practitioner, I just mean someone who uses rhetorical techniques to win debate points, without particular regard for the truth.

So whether a rhetorical technique should be classified as Dark Arts is determined by the intent of the speaker?

Sometimes you just need to say something is straightforwardly wrong

That's not a problem, you can say whatever you want. The issue is whether you should attempt to impose your morality, by force if necessary, on another human who doesn't agree with it. In the case of conflicting moralities, which one wins? Historically, the answer to that is "the one with the bigger guns" which is... an interesting observation.

comment by jimmy · 2017-07-22T19:20:16.300Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So whether a rhetorical technique should be classified as Dark Arts is determined by the intent of the speaker?

I'd agree with that for the right definition of "intent". It's hard to have much "art" on accident, and without the optimization for persuasion over/against truth it starts to look a lot more like "bad reasoning that isn't necessarily obviously bad to people who also reason bad"

Besides, I really wouldn't want to fall in the trap of saying "well yeah, everyone finds your arguments more persuasive, but you're using Dark Arts, so it doesn't count!". I'd rather keep the onus on me to actually be more persuasive by calling out the flaws in the "Dark" arguments.

comment by Lumifer · 2017-07-24T00:45:11.540Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd agree with that for the right definition of "intent".

I disagree. Treating the degree of darkness as a function of intent leads to bad places.

comment by jimmy · 2017-07-26T00:24:21.016Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd be curious to hear why, and how you distinguish "dark arts" from merely "fallacious arguments".

comment by Lumifer · 2017-07-26T00:49:50.326Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As "deliberate manipulation" vs "honest confusion".

comment by jimmy · 2017-07-26T01:16:09.208Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But you don't see "honest confusion" and "dark arts" as mutually exclusive??

comment by Lumifer · 2017-07-26T01:43:52.532Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, I see. You're saying Dark Arts is a subtype of fallacious arguments. I am not so sure -- you can engage in Dark Arts without using fallacious arguments at all.

comment by jimmy · 2017-07-26T19:13:48.826Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Something like that. I agree that you can engage in Dark Arts without ever doing something that can get you called out for using fallacious arguments, but I think the underlying structure is usually if not always the same. You do things that can be somewhat correlated with the truth in ways that will predictably lead to them being moved by it when in reality they shouldn't. For example, wearing a fake lab coat while speaking may not be an explicit "logical fallacy" but the effect is still "appeal to authority".

comment by Lumifer · 2017-07-26T20:16:53.683Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know -- a typical Dark Arts technique would be to carefully select the facts/evidence to present (plus the facts NOT to mention) and this is not a fallacy, this is just a straight-up attempt to mislead.

comment by jimmy · 2017-07-27T02:30:19.255Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Simply seeing that there exist facts/evidence that support one side isn't enough to support the conclusion that it's actually right. To get there you have to make the jump "there exists this set of evidence for, therefore it is true", which is fallacious, in general, since sometimes there's more compelling facts/evidence in the other direction and you have to check for those too.

I don't really like the "fallacy" framework itself too much given the whole "logical fallacies as weak Bayesian evidence" thing, but I think there's an important point to be made in that you influence people through their (perhaps implicit) reasoning processes. The idea that there is this "separate" backchannel where you can influence people with things that have nothing to do with truth (in the target's frame) isn't a real thing, so any framing of "Dark Arts" as "using the Dark Channel [which is dark regardless of how it's used or what the underlying intent is]" is mistaken, and Dark Arts has to be recognized as the optimization of a message to pass through and be validated by the targets reasoning process even when it "shouldn't".

comment by Lumifer · 2017-07-27T16:50:24.988Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

you have to make the jump "there exists this set of evidence for, therefore it is true", which is fallacious

It's not fallacious. You can check for counter-arguments, but proving a negative is pretty hard, so you can never be sure that there are no facts anywhere which overturn your theory. That is not a good reason to never come to any conclusions.

you influence people through their (perhaps implicit) reasoning processes

No, I don't think so. There is the entire highly successful field of marketing/advertising which disagrees.

comment by jimmy · 2017-07-28T19:12:39.762Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's not fallacious. You can check for counter-arguments, but proving a negative is pretty hard, so you can never be sure that there are no facts anywhere which overturn your theory. That is not a good reason to never come to any conclusions.

And someone wearing a lab coat is generally more credible than someone dressed like a homeless person, so if you lack the ability to evaluate the arguments yourself then you go with what you've got. Fallacies don't come from nowhere, they're Bayesian evidence, even if they're sometimes used in ways that don't make for great reasoning.

No, I don't think so. There is the entire highly successful field of marketing/advertising which disagrees.

I'm saying this from the perspective of someone who has used hypnosis to get people to download and run a (benign) program called "virus.exe", among many other things. The success of marketing/advertising is the weak version of this challenge.

The claim isn't that marketing/advertising "doesn't work", it's that Ads Don't Work That Way. Any framing that ignores/denies that they're dealing with a reasoning process and looks only at the individual blocks is missing the forest for the trees. Yes, you can do stuff at the tree level sometimes, but that does not negate the forest level view, and including the bigger picture is not just more complete but also more powerful.

comment by Lumifer · 2017-07-31T14:55:30.405Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How do you define "reasoning process", then?

comment by jimmy · 2017-08-08T17:34:32.933Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

what do you mean by “reasoning processes”? [quoted by memory]

The processes which take in information from the world and output [usually implicit] the models of the world that they act on.

For example, if someone cites statistics on how safe airplanes are but feels fear and then won’t get on the airplane, then I’m not just looking at whatever made them say “airplanes are safe” but also what made them feel fear and what made them choose to side with the fear instead of the verbal reasoning.

comment by Lumifer · 2017-08-08T18:14:32.386Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, so a "reasoning process" is basically everything that the mind does?

If you suddenly notice a spider near you and jump away, that was the result of a "reasoning process" because the output (the jump) implied that in your model of the world spiders are scary?

If so, your original quote

you influence people through their (perhaps implicit) reasoning processes

looks quite trivial: you influence people though changing what's happening inside their mind -- well, of course.

comment by jimmy · 2017-08-10T07:21:14.547Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It is nearly tautological, yes, but it's also true, and people seem to forget that. "The Dark Arts" do not belong in the same category as involuntary drug/hormone injections. If you treat tautologies as if they're false then you're gonna end up making mistakes.

For example, with the spider thing, this "trivial" insight implies that if you make up your mind about whether spiders are dangerous and conclude that they are not, then you stop jumping from spiders. This is indeed what I find, and I also find that most people don't find this to be "obvious" and are rather surprised instead when they see it happen.

comment by Lumifer · 2017-08-10T14:52:25.628Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Tautologies are trivially true, I don't know why you think that people forget that.

if you make up your mind about whether spiders are dangerous and conclude that they are not, then you stop jumping from spiders

So, the easy way to treat any phobia is merely to "make up your mind"? Methinks it's considerably more complicated than that.

comment by jimmy · 2017-08-11T17:57:39.874Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

People don’t forget “tautologies are trivially true”, they forget the “persuasion works through your reasoning process, not around it” because the logically necessary implications sometimes seem “absurd”. ("So, the easy way to treat any phobia is merely to "make up your mind"? Methinks it's considerably more complicated than that.")

While tautological statements can’t rule out any logical possibilities, they’re important because they do rule out logical impossibilities. If you try to say “that’s tautological, therefore it’s trivial and meaningless” then you’re gonna end up saying silly stuff like “So, you’re a bachelor. Are you also married?”, for example.

“Solving phobias is about making up your mind” is tautologically true. Nowhere did I say anything about the complexity of doing so, but it’s tautologically true. A phobia is “an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something”. This requires both a fear and conflicting judgement that the fear isn’t rational. If you fall in the lion cage, for example, fear is just a rational response to danger. If you don’t have a conflicted mind (i.e. you’ve “made up your mind”), you don’t have a phobia - just a rational fear or no fear.

If you let yourself believe false and logically impossible things like “solving phobias is not about making up one’s mind” then you’re going to end up fooling yourself into silly thing like failing to notice that “systematic desensitization” is merely an attempt to help someone makeup their mind by providing evidence a bit at a time in a safe context and hoping that it shows what you want it to show and convinces the part of the mind that perceives danger. If you fool yourself into thinking the logically impossible “not about making up your mind”, then you don’t notice the possibility of other ways of bringing about coherence, which are often better and quicker ways of doing things.

For example, a few months ago I was having this same conversation with a friend who also felt like “getting over irrational fears” was more than just “making up her mind”. Fortunately she also had what she considered to be an irrational fear of heights and I had a rock wall tall enough to scare her, so I could show her. I pointed out the holes in her “my mind is made up” logic until she could no longer hold that view, then helped her make up her mind by asking her what, exactly, she was afraid might happen and whether she could know she was safe from that outcome or whether she needed the fear. We spent a few minutes to go through a few possibilities and then covered the rest with a catch-all. After bouldering on her own later, she told me that she hadn’t realized that she was afraid even while bouldering, but that the difference jumped out at her now that the fear was gone. That was exactly “just making up her mind”, both from my perspective and hers. It was actually pretty damn simple too, even though “making up her mind” necessarily took more than an instant because there were several questions she had to think about and answer first.

In other cases it becomes even quicker and does look like a snap decision. I had another friend, for example, whose needle phobia spontaneously disappeared after having an unrelated experience with me that convinced her to accept that I’m right when I say things can be that easy. If we broaden to scope to other things you might find “more complicated than merely making up one’s mind”, then I can give a few other examples of things that felt like the inside like “just making a snap decision” and having results that match.

“Making up your mind” can be complicated sometimes, but it can also be simple. And remembering what it’s about helps keep it simple so you can end up the kind of person who doesn’t jump at [theoretically potentially poisonous creature who is nevertheless unlikely to hurt you] without ever working on that problem in particular.

comment by jimmy · 2017-07-26T01:56:07.980Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Huh

By a Dark Arts practitioner, I just mean someone who uses rhetorical techniques to win debate points, without particular regard for the truth.

So whether a rhetorical technique should be classified as Dark Arts is determined by the intent of the speaker?

I disagree. Treating the degree of darkness as a function of intent leads to bad places.

Dark Arts = deliberate manipulation

To me, that looks like you're starting out saying that whether or not they intend to manipulate people is irrelevant, but then ending with saying that if it's not deliberate manipulation it doesn't count as dark arts. Not sure what you're getting at, I guess.

comment by Lumifer · 2017-07-26T14:55:04.514Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I should have been clearer: in the quotes above replace "intent" with "intent with respect to the mentioned 'particular regard for the truth'".

comment by phonypapercut · 2017-07-21T22:23:28.071Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The issue is whether you should attempt to impose your morality, by force if necessary, on another human who doesn't agree with it.

The implication being moral absolutists think morality should be imposed by force? That seems far from being universally true, not least in rationalist circles.

Anyway, the point of contention isn't which moral ideas win or lose, but which, if any, are true.

comment by Lumifer · 2017-07-22T00:17:59.809Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

the point of contention isn't which moral ideas win or lose, but which, if any, are true.

Actually, the point of contention is whether calling moral ideas "true" or "false" is a category error.

comment by phonypapercut · 2017-07-22T01:52:06.125Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed. Hence "if any". So why start talking about imposing morals?

comment by Lumifer · 2017-07-22T03:20:10.993Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Basically, for objectivists (with respect to morals), having some other morality is wrong. For relativists it's merely different. The former is a much stronger cause for intervention than the latter.

Also, willingness to insist on your morality is generally a sign of taking it seriously.

comment by DanArmak · 2017-07-22T15:17:14.592Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The correlation between moral objectivism and interventionism is probably true, but I think it's historically contingent, and not a logical consequence of objectivism. Whether or not I think of my morality as objective (universal) or subjective (a property of myself), that's orthogonal to what I actually think is moral.

I'm a moral relativist. My morality is that torture and murder are wrong and I am justified and, indeed, sometimes enjoined to use force to stop them. I don't think this is an uncommon stand.

Other people are moral objectivists, but their actual morals may tell them to leave others alone except in self-defense.

comment by phonypapercut · 2017-07-22T05:01:58.333Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't disagree in any regard. I still fail to see how this is relevant to the admitted point of contention;

whether calling moral ideas "true" or "false" is a category error.

As an aside, I infer that you think imposing one's morals on another would be wrong. Is that not a moral absolute itself?

comment by Lumifer · 2017-07-24T00:21:21.650Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's relevant because it determines whether the question matters. If some dude somewhere finds my behaviour immoral, I couldn't care less. If the same dude decides he needs to do something about it, we'll have to solve this disagreement somehow.

imposing one's morals on another would be wrong

No, not wrong. But having a different set of consequences.

comment by phonypapercut · 2017-07-24T06:22:35.506Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's relevant because it determines whether the question matters.

Then it seems clear to me that the question shouldn't matter to you. Objectivists may be interventionists at a higher rate than relativists, but that bears no relation to which position is true.

No, not wrong. But having a different set of consequences.

That set of consequences being unpreferred, presumably. What is that if not an expression of (relative) wrongness?

comment by Lumifer · 2017-07-24T14:58:49.459Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That set of consequences being unpreferred, presumably. What is that if not an expression of (relative) wrongness?

If you prefer red wine over white, that is not an expression of white wine's wrongness.

comment by phonypapercut · 2017-07-24T18:53:09.201Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not wrongness as a property of the wine no. But given knowledge of my preference and all else being equal, would it not be wrong to give me white over red?

comment by Lumifer · 2017-07-24T19:09:48.145Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You are mixing up two meanings of wrong:

  • morally wrong (approximately = evil)
  • not suited to

Serving white wine with steak might well be wrong in the not appropriate sense, but it is not wrong in the moral sense.

comment by phonypapercut · 2017-07-24T19:21:19.102Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No. I assert that it would be (mildly) evil of you to give me white wine, given knowledge of my preference for red and equal availability.

comment by Lumifer · 2017-07-24T19:23:29.957Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It might be under certain moral systems. It's probably not under other moral systems. It almost certainly depends a lot on the context.

comment by username2 · 2017-07-22T15:47:36.272Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Empirically that is not so. There are major world religions based on the fact that everyone should hold the one true belief and accord with its god-given morality. Followers of such religions profess, and those of the evangelist variety follow through with imposing their morals on others and believing it is the right thing to do.

Somewhat more secular is, say, the belief in equal rights for women or minorities. Lots of people on both sides have strong views about forced wearing of the hajib in some muslim countries. Advocating for woman in Saudi Arabia to have the right to drive, when you don't live in or have any connection to that region of the world is trying to enforce one's morals on another, right?

comment by WalterL · 2017-07-21T20:24:41.656Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Like, a big part of our deal is that the 'just need to say something is straightforwardly wrong' is something you are making up. It is just in your mind. The Paperclip Maximizer would trade the human race for a paperclip, and that isn't 'wrong' in any absolute sense.

'Wrong' for you means something different than it does for Clippy. You can deny that that is relativism if you like, I'm not huge on labels. The key thing is that you get that there is no dif between you picking what is 'right' and Clippy picking what is 'clippiest'. They are both value judgements created by moral systems.

comment by Jiro · 2017-07-26T21:56:49.596Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

(a) Harris says Trump is unethical and cites the example of Trump gate-crashing a charity event to falsely get credit for himself. Adams responds by saying that others are equally bad—that all politicians do morally dubious things. When Harris points out that Obama would never do such a thing, Adams says Trump is a very public figure and hence people have lots of dirt on him.

There's nothing wrong with Adams here, because

1) Harris's implicit argument is that Trump is unethical compared to other politicians, even if he doesn't actually say it. Thus, pointing out that other politicians are unethical is a legitimate rebuttal.

2) As far as I can tell from your summary, the argument is not "Trump gets caught at more bad things than other politicians", the argument is "Trump does more bad things than other politicians". If someone brings up an example of another politician who doesn't get caught as much, it's entirely proper to point out that it's harder for that politician to get caught and that not getting caught doesn't mean not doing bad things.

Instead, Adams always says, Trump “doesn’t pass the fact checks”. This move essentially makes it sound as if there’s some organization whose arbitrary and biased standards are what Trump doesn’t pass and so downplays the much more important fact that Trump lies.

This has some of the same problems as #1. Pretty much nobody tells the truth 100% of the time; saying that a politician lies really means he lies more than other politicians. Just because nobody explicitly said "... more than other politicians" doesn't mean the implication is not there. It is entirely correct to rebut this by saying "actually, other politicians lie, they just don't get caught at it by fact checkers".

Furthermore, if you don't think there are organizations that use arbitrary and biased standards for Trump lies, you haven't been paying attention to the controversy over fact-checking sites. Generally those sites are correct when it comes to facts, but selective about which facts to check and whether a literally true or false statement counts as mostly false or mostly true.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2017-07-25T21:22:44.554Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The OP is an interesting twist on the usual "Dark Arts" political argument.

It is commonplace as an extended exercise in confirmation bias to poison the well.

I wanted to work on this essay more carefully, and find out all the different ways in which Adams subverts the truth and sound reasoning.

Seek, and ye shall find, o' confirmation bias.

But "the well" is not just Scott himself, but his epistemological method. This is much more powerful than just attacking the person, as it provides a fully general counterargument to dismiss anything Scott Adams has to say as "Dark Arts".

He is a bad person, for engaging in the Dark Arts, and all his arguments are bad, because they are Dark Arts.

comment by Stabilizer · 2017-07-25T21:43:47.230Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You're right: it was probably wrong of me to ask people to only find errors in his reasoning. It is indeed an invitation to fall under the spell of confirmation bias. It would've been better to also ask people to find places where he makes good arguments.

Where I disagree with you is the claim that attacking someone's epistemological method is necessarily the same as attacking the positions they hold. (Though, I agree with you that it might be interpreted that way.) In a different comment, I try to make it clear that my goal was not necessarily to attack particular positions that Adams holds (though I disagree with him on many positions), but to point out the methods that he uses that might be persuasive to some folks, but ought not to be persuasive, because these methods are not truth-seeking.

Adams uses several techniques (listed in the post) that could be used to argue for any position—even one that I wholeheartedly agree with. I suspect that in such a case I might not be quite so enthusiastic to point out the flaws in the reasoning. But as someone trying to be more truth-seeking, I ought to be sensitive to bad argumentation in those cases as well.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2017-07-26T21:36:15.080Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Adams uses several techniques (listed in the post) that could be used to argue for any position—even one that I wholeheartedly agree with. I suspect that in such a case I might not be quite so enthusiastic to point out the flaws in the reasoning.

So that perhaps the following is not quite what you really did:

Where I disagree with you is the claim that attacking someone's epistemological method is necessarily the same as attacking the positions they hold.

Maybe some of that extra enthusiasm leaks over into actual opposition to the person, like:

and he is the kind of figure we rationalists should know how to fight against.

Was Adams v. Harris a convenient vehicle to discuss the dangers of Dark Arts to epistemic rationality, or was a Dark Arts analysis a convenient vehicle for you to advocate opposition to Trump and Adams?

So please, contribute in the comments with your own observations about the Dark Arts involved here.

Have you stopped beating your wife yet?

I note this as one of the prime methods of the Dark Arts that one sees in the media all the time - the presupposition. I think it's actually amazing effective. I simply can't stand watching most talking head news media because the discussions presuppose some propagandistic talking point.

But to be even handed about this, I'll give you an example of presupposition from Trump. It's genius Dark Arts.

We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning, you’re going to come to me and go ‘Please, please, we can’t win anymore.’ You’ve heard this one. You’ll say ‘Please, Mr. President, we beg you sir, we don’t want to win anymore. It’s too much. It’s not fair to everybody else.’”

From a dialectical standpoint, this is just absolute balderdash, silly and absurd. It's just goofy.

But from a Dark Arts perspective, it's amazing. The silliness disarms. Not only does he presuppose "winning", he has exactly the same silliness going on within the presuppositions themselves, that we'll all be begging to stop the winning, which again is rejected by the mind - "no, we won't get tired of winning!".

The dialectical mind thinks it is completely rejecting everything said, while underneath all that's left is the feeling of winning, winning, and more winning.

And this is not just analysis. This is empirical observation. It worked. It is yuge. Go search twitter for "not tired of winning yet" and #somuchwinning. They're basically "Hallelujah" for Trump supporters.

As a final note, I suggest that if you want to discuss the Dark Arts, find it in your side in politics. That way you can be sure you're not just using it as an avenue to attack an enemy, and will give them every benefit of the doubt before casting the accusing finger and proclaiming "I spy Dark Arts!" And you may learn some weaknesses in your side's arguments too.

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comment by buybuydandavis · 2017-07-25T21:42:12.628Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For my part, I found the interview itself as an exercise in Dark Arts by Sam. He wants to pretend that he has given Trump politics a fair hearing. But he doesn't have on someone who actually supports the politics in any conventional sense.

He has on a persuasion analyst who doesn't believe in that there is much utility in us having political opinions because of our lack of knowledge and ability to be objective, and will say that his political opinions are so outside the mainstream that there is no point in discussing them. Similarly, he doesn't argue morality because his he says that his own moral values are so outside the mainstream that he finds everyone immoral.

Not a guy who is going to defend Trump on policy or morality. He finds him an effective persuader, and thinks that an effective persuader will make a good president, and sees a number benefits accrued already.

Sam has him on, and then doesn't even talk policy, but spends the hour attacking Trump personally.

Now watch to see how many times Sam uses this interview as evidence of engaging with the ideas behind Trump's politics and finding them unconvincing.

comment by Bound_up · 2017-07-25T18:50:23.359Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I just posted a bit called "Beliefs as Body Language."

I explore the idea that most people basically do not have beliefs, and are essentially incapable of thinking in terms of beliefs. You cannot tell them what you want them to hear, because what you want them to hear is a proposition about reality, and they are only capable of hearing signals of tribal affiliation or personality traits.

I definitely see some flaws with Adams' methodology, but a few of the things he says that are identified as epistemologically unsound, I understand in terms of communicating with the average person, who is not a nerd and doesn't deal with propositions about reality much. It's implied that Adams should instead make a sentence the words in which symbolize a model about reality that matches the way reality really is, ie, say true things.

The problem is that he can say that, and we nerds can understand it and applaud him for it, but most people are incapable of receiving the message. At which point, it becomes a question of picking your poison. If you can't communicate accurate proposition about reality to people, what can you do?

This is where Adams' idea about Trump's statements being "emotionally true" comes in. The way that most people think, which can be very difficult for us nerds to understand, means that certain factually inaccurate statements communicate truth in the only or the best way they are able to receive it.

It's a mixed bag; some of this stuff is flat-out deceptive, whether viewed "emotionally" or epistemologically. But there are some parts here that are "accurate" in the emotional sense. I'm more fluent in epistemological thinking, and would prefer people talked that way. But for those who can't, I don't begrudge them trying to be honest in the way that they do think, even if that doesn't mean trading propositional statements about reality.