Episode 693 Scott Adams: Coup-By-Hypnosis, Kurds and Fog of War, The Kingsmen Video


My new book LOSERTHINK goes on sale 11/5. Pre-order: https://bit.ly/2NRammu

Content:

  • Kingsmen video and political outrage theater
    • Kathy Griffin complains it might incite violence
  • Syria and the Kurds
    • Things we know and things we do NOT know
  • ISIS prisoners escaped…did they really?
    • ISIS prisoner family members escaped…family members?
  • One Turkey objective is returning 2,000,000 Syrian refugees
    • Were the Kurds preventing Syrian refugees from returning?
  • The concept of “sunk costs”, a Loserthink topic
  • Matt Taibbi’s article says we’re in a coup…
    • …and the coup is a bigger problem than President Trump
  • A “coup-by-hypnosis” is happening
    • Psychological tricks are helping make the coup invisible
    • Professionally trained liars and their media allies
    • Influence hypnotized Example: Fareed Zakaria
  • Naval’s question: How can the unarmed overthrow the armed?
    • Answer: Convince the armed that a coup didn’t happen
  • Impeachment 18 months (or less) from an election?
    • Is there some unknown immediate danger?
    • Or is impeachment just political theater to win election?
  • How can we prevent the coup?
    •  The Senate has prevented the coup…so far
    • My coup result prediction

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Most Problems are Information Problems

I have a hypothesis that nearly all solvable problems in the modern world are information problems in disguise. For example, unemployment is largely (but not entirely) a problem of people not knowing where to find jobs, as opposed to no jobs existing. I could give you lots of other examples where information would solve a major problem, but today I want to focus on one: Stopping terrorism.

Terrorism is an information problem in the sense that if we knew where to find the terrorists, we could stop them. But it is also an information problem in a few other ways. Take this example:

image

Imagine having the information about which Imams in Britain WOULD do a funeral prayer for a terrorist who murdered British citizens. Call me an optimist, but I think that information would help the British public sort things out.

We’re almost there.

You might enjoy reading my book because most problems are information problems.

I’m also on…

Twitter (includes Periscope): @scottadamssays​

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Goodbye ISIS, Hello Losers

President Trump just gave ISIS its new name: Losers. (Short for Evil Losers).

If you think that’s no big deal, you’re wrong. It’s a big deal. This is – literally – weapons-grade persuasion from the most powerful Master Persuader of our time.

As I have taught you in this blog, President Trump’s clever nicknames for people are not random. They are deeply engineered for visual impact and future confirmation bias.

In this case, the visuals will be provided by future terror attacks. That reinforces the “evil” part, obviously. But more importantly, the Losers will be doing nothing but losing on the battlefield from now until “annihilation.” They are surrounded, and the clock is ticking. Oh, and the press isn’t allowed to watch the final battles. In other words, we won’t need to build new holding cells on Guantanamo Bay this time. No press means no prisoners, if you know what I mean. (American soldiers won’t be shooting the prisoners. We have allies for that sort of thing.)

As you know, “annihilation” of the Losers in Loserdom won’t stop the loser’s ideas from spreading. You still have to kill the ideas. And that takes persuasion, not bullets. President Trump just mapped out the persuasion solution: Evil Losers.

Quickly, name one other way you could label/insult the Losers that would be as powerful as the word Loser. You can’t do it with any other name or insult that is also repeatable in polite company.

What kinds of people join the Losers? Mostly young males. And you know what brand young males do not want on them? Right: Losers.

If you call them monsters, they like it. If you call them ISIS or ISIL they put it on a flag and wave it around. If you call them non-Muslim, it just rolls off their backs because they have Korans and stuff. Almost any other “brand” you can imagine is either inert or beneficial to Loser recruitment.

Loser is different. No one joins the Loser movement. Try at home, with your family or friends, to concoct a more effective brand poisoning than Loser. You probably can’t. Remember, your brand has to fit with future confirmation evidence. The Losers on the battlefield will continue to be losing, so the brand is engineered to get stickier over time. Your alternative idea for a brand solution has to have that quality of future confirmation too. Good luck finding a better persuasion brand.

This is not accidental. President Trump does (laugh if you will) have the best words, at least for this sort of thing. He’s proven it over and over. Just ask Jeb, Ted, and HIllary. 

As a mental experiment, imagine the CEOs of the major browser companies, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, and the open source products getting together to stop the spread of Loser propaganda. They could collectively decide to program their browsers to auto-convert ISIS or Al-Quaeda or other cool terror names to Evil Losers. If all the browser products agree, that’s all your teenager in Europe will see as he tries to self-radicalize. That would, in time, end recruitment for Losers.

An hour ago you believed there was no way to stop the spread of the ideas behind terrorism. I just told you how to do it by the end of the week. While I don’t expect the browser companies to take my suggestion, I do expect some of you will realize for the first time how winnable the war of ideas is.

So long as your Commander in Chief is also a Master Persuader.

Otherwise you’re out of luck.

America, as it turns out, has lots of luck left in it.

You haven’t seen anything yet. We’re just getting started.

You might enjoy reading my book because you are a winner.

I’m also on…

Twitter (includes Periscope): @scottadamssays​

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Trusting Your Government in a Time of War

President Trump’s critics and supporters agree on one thing: Our new president has a history of “stretching” the truth whenever there is some advantage in doing so, and sometimes even when there is not. You might say he is famous for playing loose with the facts. We all expect a high degree of “hyperbole” from President Trump, to put it kindly. He gets away with it because barely-enough Americans believe his intentions are in line with America’s best interests.

The odd exception to our universal understanding of President Trump’s mode of operation is his claim that he is totally certain Assad was responsible for the chemical attack on his own people last week. The President’s critics and most of his supporters believe President Trump when he suggests that our military can track any plane in Syria and know what that plane did to whom.

Do you believe that?

I have it on good authority that the United States can track and identify aircraft in Syria. But does that mean we are watching (or recording) every plane at every minute, and we also know what ordinance they dropped?

Do you believe, for example, that our military can identify Syrian jets doing a normal bombing run at the same time as a hobby-sized ISIS drone drops some sarin gas in the blast zone? Can our satellites see that?

Or suppose rebels lobbed an artillery shell with sarin into a village that was being bombed at the same time. Would our satellites and drones and AWACS pick up the incoming round?

Maybe.

But my experience of life is that literally nothing works that well.

Or to put it another way, if we could do shit like that, the war would be over in a week. We’d know who every player on the ground was, and what they were doing, at all times. Heck, if we can detect a hobby-sized drone with a gas canister strapped to its belly from outer space, we don’t need boots-on-the-ground to beat ISIS. We can kill everyone who needs killing from the sky.

Generally speaking, the information you get from a war zone is fiction. You wouldn’t want it any other way. The Commander-in-Chief has to simultaneously manage public opinion and a military conflict. In the context of war, misinformation can be a useful tool. History would give a free pass to any president who misled the public in the interest of national security. 

My view is that the public will never know for sure who was behind the Syrian gas attack. But I also think it doesn’t matter because most of the world believes Assad was behind it. And that created options for Trump to get an advantage in Syria while simultaneously “negotiating” with China, North Korea, Russia, Congress, the American public, world opinion, Iran, Israel, and anyone else who is watching.

Some critics have pointed out that launching 59 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles is expensive. But it is starting to look like a good investment, at least so far. That could change, of course.

It is entirely possible that Assad launched the gas attacks to test for a U.S. reaction. Perhaps our military does have 100% certainty about the source of the attack. All I’m saying is that war-related claims have no credibility by their very nature. And in this specific case, the truth is irrelevant. What matters is that the allegation of Assad’s guilt opened new strategic options at a reasonable cost, and President Trump jumped on them.

That’s all we know for sure.


You might enjoy reading my book because a hobby-sized drone could lift it.

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Could Cognitive Scientists Eliminate ISIS?

In a word, yes, assuming they had lots of help from the CIA to deliver their persuasion.

I would not have said this was possible five years ago. But in 2017, cognitive scientists know how to reprogram a human brain fairly effectively. They have weaponized what hypnotists have been doing for decades. 

As luck would have it (sort of) we can test persuasion ideas at Guantanamo Bay without any cruelty whatsoever. There would be no hardcore “brainwashing,” just a series of pleasant experiences engineered to get a certain outcome.

The key to making all of this work is what businesses call A/B testing. The idea is that you rapidly test one approach after another until you get the best result.

I believe that current facial recognition technology can tell us how a subject is responding to a suggestion. When one approach works well, we don’t stop – we keep testing until we find the one that works best. And different approaches would work with different personality types. So we need a number of persuasion approaches. The A/B testing would be perpetual by design, so our results would improve over time. Once we can reliably reprogram the Guantanamo Bay prisoners, we take that weaponized persuasion to ISIS. 

Regular readers of this blog have seen me discuss lots of examples of persuasion at work. But you haven’t seen anything yet. Your opinion of free will will evaporate in the next few years. I had that experience when I trained to be a hypnotist. Once you see a subject’s brain get reprogrammed in real time, you never believe in free will again. That’ll happen to you within five years – you will see examples of brains being reprogrammed right in front of you. The science on how to do it is super strong now. It will be everywhere. And it is totally legal. We used to call it “marketing” when it didn’t work that well. This new stuff is something else. It works so well it makes your ethical alarms go off. 

I’ll make a prediction, just for fun: If President Trump orders the release of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners in 2-3 years, it won’t be as risky as you think.

You might enjoy reading my current book because I’m writing a new book and you never want to read the second book first.

Trump’s Foreign Policy Speech

Let’s talk about Trump’s foreign policy speech from a persuasion standpoint. 

Trump read from the teleprompter and acted more “presidential,” whatever that means. And he softened his position on Muslim immigration to “extreme vetting.” That was a good strategy for rebranding himself as less scary, but I doubt many people will watch that speech, so it won’t have much impact. 

Anyway, let’s talk about what else Trump got right – or wrong – persuasion-wise.

I thought it was a big mistake for Trump to use the word “vicious” when talking about the search for potential terrorists in the homeland. That only makes Trump look scarier. And scariness is his biggest problem right now.

It was also a big mistake to talk about taking the oil from Iraq to pay for the wounded soldiers and their families. Trump could have sold his “take the oil” idea by clarifying that the funds would pay for our military presence to keep Iraq secure, for the benefit of Iraqis. And part of that budget could go to wounded vets and military families. That would sound better.

I watched Clinton surrogates on CNN criticize Trump’s speech, and their criticisms were mostly these two:

1. All of Trump’s foreign policy ideas are crazy and uninformed.

2. Obama is already wisely doing all of those same things.

That would seem absurd in any other context. But keep in mind that we voters believe we can assess foreign policy ideas by listening to biased liars talk on television. So the entire situation is ridiculous, but we play along.

Trump talked about cutting off ISIS from the Internet. Pundits scoffed at this idea because the Internet is everywhere and you can’t really turn it off for some people. Trump could have headed-off that criticism by explaining that we can turn off the Internet in selected areas, such as within the ISIS Caliphate, where it matters most. I blogged about doing exactly that in this post, so we could A-B test “historical Islam” within the Caliphate and compare it to the heathen world elsewhere. Let young folks see both experiments and choose for themselves. That should take care of recruitment.

Trump seemed to emphasize the use of persuasion to end ISIS recruitment. I think he called their version of persuasion propaganda. I assume the Obama administration is already doing plenty in this realm, but I also assume that Trump, The Master Persuader, would put even more emphasis on persuasion. Persuasion is the only sensible path for ending ISIS. Trump is right on that, although the details obviously matter.

When Trump talks of “extreme vetting” of Muslim immigrants, that sounds a lot like using technology to detect bad intentions. I blogged about that here. It seems feasible to me.

The genius of “extreme vetting” is that it means whatever you want it to mean. Clinton supporters will say we are already doing it. Trump supporters will say it’s a clever trick to block all Muslim immigrants. No one can disagree with “extreme vetting” because it has no specific meaning. Perfect.

I liked the clarity of Trump’s idea that anyone who wants to fight ISIS is our ally. Agree or disagree, the clarity of that thought is stunning. In the real world, things are never that simple. But as a message for the voting public, it is extraordinary in its persuasive simplicity. Your brain reflexively interprets the simplest explanation as the smartest one, even if it is not. Trump’s super-simple formula for picking allies is persuasion genius even if you think it is impractical in the real world. It sure sounds good. And it sounds like it came from someone who has a clear vision.

People keep asking me if it is a mistake for Trump to act so friendly to Russia. I keep asking in return who in America hates Russia in 2016? On an intellectual level, we recognize Russia as a rival. But on an emotional level, Americans seem to have some affection for Russia, and vice-versa. Once again, Trump’s policies are compatible with emotion, where all persuasion lives.

Trump never mentioned the wall with Mexico. You could argue that the wall is a domestic issue, not a foreign affair. But in any case, it was smart to leave it out of a speech that was designed to show Trump is even-tempered and reasonable.

Trump created for Democrats the same type of persuasion trap that the Democrats created with the Khan speech at their convention. Any criticism of the Khans was a criticism of their fallen hero son. Using a similar trap structure, Trump has tied his “extreme vetting” policy to the idea of protecting women and the LGBTQ community. If you don’t like Trump’s immigration ideas, you have to explain why you would be willing to put women and LGBTQ folks in mortal danger. That framing is strong persuasion, and Democrats don’t yet have a direct counter to it.

If you’re a woman and/or a member of the LGBTQ community, you’d have to be uninformed or deeply in cognitive dissonance to support the mass importation of those who want to subjugate and kill you. Trump took the highest ground on that topic. And he brought the GOP along for the ride. That’s a big deal.

Overall, I would say Trump’s speech had major flaws, but it did accomplish several important things:

1. The speech made Trump seem less scary. His Muslim ban idea became “extreme vetting,” and the rest of his plans to fight ISIS looked a lot like current policies. Not so scary.

2. We witnessed clear evidence that Trump listens to advisors. The shift to using a teleprompter and moving to “extreme vetting” are two examples. And I doubt it was Trump’s idea to leave out any mention of the Mexican wall.

2. Trump took the high ground on protecting women and LGBTQ folks even at the risk to his own political fortunes. He can legitimately claim to own that issue now.

In past blog posts I have explained how the biggest fear is always the most persuasive. Trump got a good headstart in this election by scaring the public about immigration. But Clinton later responded by framing the scare as Trump himself. That was a strong play because voters don’t think a terrorist will kill them personally, but if Trump destroys the entire world in a nuclear fireball, that’s a bad day for all. So Clinton is currently ahead in the persuasion-by-fear department.

If Trump wants to win by taking our collective fears to a new and higher level, he already set the stage by suggesting that immigration will lead to Sharia law and abuse of women and LGBTQ folks. If that concept is made visual, and tied to Clinton’s policies, it would be strong persuasion. (But doing it wrong would look racist. So it’s big risk.)

If you like drinking coffee on a beautiful summer morning, you might like reading my book.

Newt’s Plan to Defeat ISIS

Newt Gingrich has a plan to defeat ISIS by destroying the technology in ISIS-held territory. I described a similar approach in this post.

The interesting part of this approach is that it frames the enemy as something from the past. This is more about persuasion than death. All we’d be doing is destroying the technology (and anyone standing near it) that did not originate within Islam. That seems fair to me.

Read Newt’s idea and mine. Some version of this kind of thinking is the answer.

If you think Newt’s idea is similar in some ways to mine, you should read my book. Everything in that book is similar to the way I write.

Reframing Our Problems

ISIS Reframing

The United States treats ISIS like a military problem, which it is. But I’ve written in this blog that it might be more useful to think of ISIS, and terrorism in general, as a persuasion problem with a military component. Framed this way, the military is just one element of persuading the other side to stop trying to kill us. 

Trump says that our allies and frenemies in the Middle East are the only ones who should be putting boots on the ground to fight ISIS. That approach is good persuasion compared to using U.S. troops, with a tradeoff of being less effective militarily. 

Evidently the world is no longer at risk of running out of oil, so the Middle East doesn’t have the same hold over us that it once had. Trump suggests it is almost time to slip out the back door and let memories of the United States fade. That is a persuasion approach because it is targeted at memory and perception. A military framing of ISIS, on the other hand, would involve permanent U.S. military bases in the region and ongoing operations that keep the U.S. at the top of the terrorist target list.

Economy Reframing

Governments tend to treat their economies like incentive problems, which they are to some degree. With that type of framing, the best a government can do is tweak tax rates. That tool seems brutish and antiquated in today’s world.

A better way to reframe the economy is as an information problem. Imagine how well the economy would operate if everyone knew where to go for a job, how to get there, and how to prepare. Unemployment is mostly an information problem in disguise. 

At the moment, most people are only capable of seeking and obtaining local jobs. Highly-paid professionals are semi-mobile, but the middle class and lower are not. So imagine the government sponsoring an app that fixes the job-seeking problem – really an information problem – for distance. The app could pair mentors across the country with job-seekers in a way that solves the distance problem via better information.

For example, if one carpenter in Alabama wants to get a job in another state, he has to figure out how to get there. For people at the low end of the economy, that task is daunting and probably cost-prohibitive. But imagine a network of mentors who can arrange for ride-sharing to another state as well as temporary housing at the destination. And imagine the mentors helping job-seekers find the right job training too. If you connect mentors who know how to navigate the world with the people who need jobs, good things can happen. 

I recently got involved with the UC Berkeley startup ecosystem. It is the largest startup environment in the country. Their biggest challenge is an information problem, which I have been working toward solving for the greater good. (You’ll hear more about that soon.) In Berkeley’s case, the information problem involves the need to connect the existing talent, knowledge, resources, and funding. All the pieces are there, but people can’t easily find what they need in all the noise, even in the same town. I recently provided seed funding to help fix Berkeley’s information problem. If our solution works, it can apply to other startup ecosystems. More on that later.

Just to put a size on this, Berkeley startups are solving for some of society’s biggest problems in the realms of healthcare, the environment, transportation, computing – you name it. Big, big stuff. 

Reframing Retirement

We tend to see retirement as a savings problem, and studies tell us that people are not saving enough. Not even close. So I think it makes more sense to reframe retirement as an expense reduction problem. Society’s goal should be to figure out how to create neighborhoods where the cost of living for retirees is cheap and the lifestyle is awesome. It would take hundreds of experts working together to design communities of that type. That’s an information problem.

Summary

Our approach to terrorism, the economy, and retirement are rooted in the past. There was a time when it made sense to see terror as a military problem, the economy as an incentive problem, and retirement as a savings problem. But in the age of the Internet, perhaps we should reframe those topics as persuasion and information problems. 

We have the tools to solve our problems if we frame them right. Otherwise we are fighting today’s wars with yesterday’s frameworks.

Speaking of reframing, my book has lots of it.

Cyberbombs and ISIS

According to the news, the United States is stepping up its use of cyber attacks and psychology against ISIS. For example, our cyber forces are creating fake messages to send ISIS fighters to the wrong places.

Update: Here’s more about current efforts.

But the funniest part is that the U.S. military is openly bragging about their cyber tricks. That’s because the bragging makes the tricks stronger. We want ISIS to distrust 100% of their communications. That way we can use a few fake messages to destroy the credibility of all.

The trained hypnotist in me wonders how much damage you can do with fake messages. Obviously it is useful to send fighters to the wrong place, and it helps our cause that ISIS can’t trust any of their digital communications. But how much deeper into the minds of ISIS fighters can we go?

For context, think about how many times you have created trouble for yourself by sending unclear text messages. Our military could study the classic texting errors and weaponize them.

For example, one of the biggest mistakes in texting involves showing insufficient affection for the situation. Let’s say you enjoy an evening of passionate love-making with a new person and you follow up in the morning with this as your first and only message:

“Did you find my sock?”

Now imagine the leader of an ISIS unit asking headquarters whether they should attack a well-defended position, and incur heavy losses, or wait for reinforcements. Imagine we intercept the communication and send back a message that is the equivalent of “Sure, go ahead and attack.” The words might be right, but the tone would be way off. It’s hard to go on a suicide mission when it sounds optional. 

Another way to make people crazy by text is to be unclear. For example, imagine ISIS getting a message that says: “It would be wise to retreat, but we know you will keep fighting for the cause.”

The message could be taken two ways. Did ISIS leaders just call the fighters stupid, or did they exhort them to fight against impossible odds for the good of the cause? It’s hard to tell.

Another big source of tension with our day-to-day text communications is timing. If you ask someone a sensitive question via text, you always pay attention to how long it takes for a reply. The time it takes to reply tells you something (right or wrong) about the intention of the message. For example, if you send a sexy message to a new lover, but you don’t get a reply for hours, you probably interpret that as a lack of sufficient interest.

We could do the same thing with ISIS. All we need to do is slow down the replies to messages that seem emotionally important. That introduces all sorts of doubt. The timing becomes part of the message, and undercuts it. 

Another way we get in trouble with text messaging in our normal lives involves sending a message to the wrong person and then trying to explain it away. Your explanations always sound like lies, even when they aren’t.

So imagine a fake ISIS message to a starving fighting unit that says their food and reinforcements will be there soon. Then quickly follow up by saying the message was meant for another group. That’ll cause some trouble.

You can play this game at home. Think about all the ways you have created trouble for yourself via text messaging or email and then think how that concept can be weaponized against ISIS. Let me know in the comments if you have some ideas.

You probably saw the news about Cruz and Kasich “colluding” to deny Trump the nomination. That probably helps Trump because it is exactly the sort of thing that makes the system look rigged. It plays to his story, somewhat perfectly.

If you think ISIS is dangerous, you should see my book.