A funny thing happened after my conversation with Sam Harris on the topic of President Trump. An avalanche of anti-Trumpers descended on my Twitter account and insisted I become their moral leader – sort of like their Pope. I have not accepted the job, but I can see the need.
Let me give you some context.
Sam Harris’ view on President Trump is that our new leader is a lying, unscrupulous, unethical con man. My view on President Trump is that he’s a skilled persuader who has offered to use his talents on behalf of the country. I have been silent on the ethics and morality questions because I trust people to make those decisions on their own. Personally, I would lie to a terrorist to save your child’s life. Some people would consider that immoral because lying is bad. I say every situation is unique, and we all have to make our own moral/ethical decisions as we go.
To me, that all seemed clear enough. I completely understand Sam’s criticisms of President Trump’s use of hyperbole and his casual relationship with the facts on the stuff that generally doesn’t matter. (As I like to say, President Trump is consistently “directionally accurate” even when he is playing loose with the facts. Persuasion looks exactly like that.
Anyway, my critics – who are also President Trump’s critics it seems – called out to me on Twitter to clarify the ethical and moral dimensions of this presidency. I didn’t think my opinion on that topic was useful because no one gets their ethical guidance from cartoonists. I figured people could work out the morality questions on their own. But I was wrong. The anti-Trumpers need a Pope. And apparently they want it to be me. I didn’t see this coming.
I will consider the job over the weekend and let them know my decision. If you see white smoke coming from the man-cave in my garage, it means I have accepted the position.
You might enjoy reading my book because I’m sort of like a Pope to my critics. But without the cool hat. (Not saying I won’t get one.)
We are making updates to the Dilbert blog (moving to the WordPress platform) that will result in an error message for many (example here).To minimize those affected, the site will be down starting Tuesday the 25th around midnight ET and be back online …
By popular demand, I had a two-hour conversation with Sam Harris (a prominent Trump critic) about our different “filters” on our new president. You can listen to it here.
The Haters of Imaginary Events are out in force already. They imagine I said objectionable things during my conversation with Sam and they tweet about their hallucinations in anger. So far, no one has accurately stated my opinion before criticizing it. That’s a tell for cognitive dissonance. I’ll be making those monkeys dance today on my Twitter feed here.
You might enjoy reading my book because monkeys are awesome.
Congress just proved something that we all suspected: They are the wrong tool for fixing health care. The topic is too complicated, the politics are too corrosive, and the money interests are too strong. That’s why citizens will step in and fill the gap with their own proposals. I expect to see a number of citizen-created health care proposals emerge soon. To that end, I thought I would get the ball rolling by framing the problem in this short 4-minute video. This is how any large business would approach the problem of spiraling healthcare costs. Here is the graphic from the video clip:
The advantage American citizens have in 2017, that we never had before, is a populist president who can sell the bejeezus out of a health care plan if someone could come up with one that makes sense. But for that to happen, Congress first had to do a hard faceplant in the asphalt, to show the country they are not the right tool for the job. That phase is complete. Time for the next phase.
You might enjoy reading my book because Congress is broken.
This Periscope livestream is more fun than most. Make sure you stay for the Kid Rock laughs toward the end.Follow me on Twitter at @ScottAdamsSays to get notified in real time when I start a livestream.
One of the most mind-boggling discoveries I made while becoming a professional humorist is that a large segment of the general public has no sense of humor. I mean that literally, in the same way that some people can’t tell the difference between good wine and bad, and some people are tone deaf. Humor appreciation is like every other human capacity. Some have it, some don’t.
My best estimate is that about a third of the public don’t possess the capacity to even recognize humor when they see it. But they pretend they do, for social reasons, the same way I used to pretend I liked expensive wine. The reality is that I couldn’t distinguish an ordinary wine from a great one. Both gave me the same type of headache. (I no longer drink alcohol. I see it as poison.)
I don’t mean this post to sound judgy. We all have different skills and different capacities for enjoying different things. I appreciate humor but I don’t get any joy whatsoever from drinking wine, and I don’t have much appreciation for music either. So let us not feel superior for having one type of appreciation that others do not. None of us have the full stack.
In support of my hypothesis that one-third of the public do not even recognize humor when they see it, I give you this satirical video as Exhibit A. On Twitter, lots of folks believed this was serious. Including the part where she mentions Morse Code via blinking.
I made a similarly satirical video yesterday that generated a lot of hate-tweets from Trump supporters who didn’t realize I was joking. To be fair, my video ended with technical difficulties before I could clarify to the audience that I was presenting satire. That made it worse. But the people who are not humor-challenged knew it was a joke from the title alone. See if you can tell I was joking. My video is here.
You might enjoy reading my book because of all the ways you will appreciate it.
In the year 2017, most of our national problems are information problems. And by that I mean having the right information would allow us to solve most problems.
Consider the nuclear threat from North Korea. That’s an information problem disguised as a military problem.
I hope that statement seems wrong to you, so you will be extra-impressed when I change your mind in the next hundred seconds.
If the U.S. government tries to strongarm China to control North Korea’s nuclear program, that might cause more problems than it solves. No one likes a government-to-government confrontation of that type. China would have to push back. It could get ugly fast.
But imagine what would happen if American consumers knew which American companies were doing the most business with China.
And imagine American consumers understanding that China can turn off the economy of North Korea, like a switch, any time it wants, thus controlling North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Now connect the dots.
If you treat the North Korean nuclear threat as a military problem, it becomes one. If you treat it as an information problem, with an economic variable, it becomes that instead.
I’m in favor of my government trying to negotiate an agreement with China, Russia, and North Korea. But if our leaders can’t get it done, I ask the government to get out of the way. Citizens can take care of this one directly.
All we need is some information.
I think that took me less than a hundred seconds.
You might enjoy reading my book while enjoying a delicious beverage because it is hot outside.
In olden days, if a neighboring kingdom was prosperous and capable, it was a risk to your security. A rich neighbor can assemble powerful armies to capture your resources and enslave your people. In those primitive times, any powerful empire was a real enemy, and you had to treat them as such.
Fast-forward to 2017, and some of those old rules have changed. A rich country with nuclear weapons won’t attack a weak country with nuclear weapons. Economics and national defense are somewhat disconnected in modern times. Nukes changed everything.
Our weapons have improved since the time of kings, but our way of thinking has not fully evolved. Consider Russia. We have every reason to cooperate for mutual economic benefit, and for fighting ISIS. And we have no real reasons for trying to screw each other at every turn. Our “reasons” are entirely in our heads.
The fancy word for that is cognitive dissonance.
We believe Russia is our adversary, because they were in the past, so we act as if they are now as well. Russia does the same, for the same reason. When they poke us, we poke back. When we imagine they might poke us, we poke them first, or prepare to be poked. But none of the poking helps either side in any meaningful way. It just feels as if it should. It is more reflex than reason.
President Trump came to power at an interesting time for civilization. He has exactly the right skillset (persuasion) to reframe our relationships with our traditional “adversaries” to something more productive. You might think prior presidents tried the same thing and failed. But unilaterally acting nice and talking nice isn’t enough. To sell the new frame you need real-world actions that shove all of us out of the old way of thinking. And it has to be a hard shove, mentally.
The “bad version” of this idea might include (as an example only) a treaty partnering NATO with both Russia and China to act against terrorism and against nuclear proliferation. In the year 2017, why do any of the big three military powers point their weapons at each other? No one has any intention of starting that sort of war. Why act as if we do?
If Russia wants a warm-weather port, or China wants to extend its military reach to some islands off their shores, those situations feel like problems for the U.S., so long as we regard them as military adversaries. But if we’re on the same team, it doesn’t mean as much.
This sort of reframing – from military adversaries to friendly competitors who are on a mission to improve life on Earth – wouldn’t work if limited to speeches and punditry. It would need real-world treaties and actions so everyone can see something physical changing. Words wouldn’t get it done.
In the modern world, the real enemies of the rich countries are some of the poor countries, with their nukes and their terrorists. Rich countries are not much risk to other rich countries in modern times. I think we would all do better if we recognized that reality.
This would be a good time to remind you that cartoonists are not good sources of geopolitical wisdom. I present ideas such as this for entertainment, and to educate you on the finer points of persuasion when it applies. If anything I write here turns out to be useful in the bigger world, that would be a lucky benefit.
You might enjoy reading my book because people keep telling me they got fitter and got wealthier after they learned the difference between systems and goals. (I literally hear that every day now.)
I have some spare time this morning so I thought I would solve the North Korean nuclear threat problem.
The current frame on how all sides are approaching the problem is a win-lose setup. Either North Korea wins – and develops nukes that can reach the mainland USA – or the United States wins, and North Korea abandons its nuclear plans, loses face, loses leverage, and loses security. Our current framing of the situation doesn’t have a path to success.
So how do you fix that situation?
First we must acknowledge that a win-lose model has no chance of success in this specific case because North Korea responds to threats by working harder to build nukes. That’s no good. You need some form of a win-win setup to make any kind of deal. That’s what I’m about to suggest. And by winning, I mean both sides get what they need, even if it isn’t exactly what they said they want.
What the U.S. wants is a nuclear-free North Korea. That would be our win.
What North Korea wants is an ironclad national defense, prestige, prosperity, and maybe even reunification of the Koreas on their terms. So let me describe a way to get there.
The main principle to keep in mind is that you can almost always reach a deal when two parties want different things. If we frame the situation as North Korea wanting nuclear weapons, and the U.S. not wanting them to have those nukes, no deal can be reached. There is no way for North Korea to simultaneously have nukes while having no nukes.
So you need to reframe the situation. The following deal structure does that.
Proposed North Korean Peace Deal
China, Russia, and U.S. sign a military security agreement to protect
North Korea and South Korea from attack
for 100 years, in return for North Korea suspending its ICBM and nuclear weapons programs and allowing inspectors to confirm they are sticking to the deal.
At the end of a hundred years, North Korea and South Korea agree to unify under one rule. No other details on how that happens will be in the agreement. North Korea will be free to tell its people that the Kim dynasty negotiated to be the rulers of the unified country in a hundred years. South Korea will be free to announce that unification is a goal with no details attached. We will all be dead in 100 years, so we can agree to anything today. (That’s the key to making this work – all players will be dead before the end of it.)
The U.S. withdraws military assets from South Korea.
South Korea and North Korea reduce their non-nuclear military assets that point at each other.
Over the course of the 100-year deal, there could be a number of confidence-building steps in the agreement. For example, in ten years you might have a robust tourist arrangement. In twenty years, perhaps you can do business across borders. In fifty years, perhaps a unified currency (by then digital).
A hundred years is plenty of time for the Kim family to make their fortunes and move to Switzerland, or wherever, before unification is an issue. The deal might require some sort of International amnesty agreement for any North Korean leaders looking to get out of the country before unification.
Under this proposed deal structure all sides get what they want. North Korea’s leader can tell his people that their nuclear program was a big success because it resulted in the United States withdrawing forces, and it led to an eventual Korean unification on his terms. There is no opposition press in North Korea to dispute that framing. This looks like total victory to North Korea. That’s a win.
For the United States, a credible deal to get rid of North Korean nukes is a win. China and Russia would look like the adults in the room. They win too.
South Korea wins too, obviously.
And this deal would probably result in Nobel Peace Prizes for the leaders of all countries involved.
Students of history will recall that Great Britain agreed to lease Hong Kong from China for 99 years to avoid any risk of China taking Hong Kong militarily. The long lease period allowed both countries to agree to a deal that could not have been reached for a shorter time period. And it gave everyone time to plan for the peaceful transfer. No two situations are alike, but you can see how a hundred-year deal makes it easy to agree to difficult things today. We’ll all be dead before any of it matters. And if you work toward a common goal for a hundred years, the odds are good that it can happen. One way or another.
This is the sort of deal that would have been impossible in prior years. But the Trump administration understands the structure of dealmaking. This solution is available for the taking.
Update: President Trump tweeted that trade between China and North Korea is up 40% in the first quarter. Look at how he frames it:
This is what I have been describing as Trump’s go-to strategy of creating two ways to win and no way to lose. In this case, China either clamped down on North Korea (we win), or we can say we tried to get them to help and they refused.
That’s a free pass to do whatever we need to do, no matter how much China dislikes it. Hey, we tried it the other way. Clearly it didn’t work.
And it sets the table for all sides to get more serious about solving this non-militarily. Would you want President Trump to have a free pass to kill you?
My suggested deal structure is the only non-military option, as far as I can tell.
You might enjoy reading my book because I should get the Nobel Peace Prize for unifying North and South Korea with my excellent ideas.
My viewer traffic on Periscope (streaming video) exploded this week. I experimented with performance-humor in a few cases and those videos went viral. You might want to check out a few of them on your holiday road trips. Here are the topics of interest:
If you only watch one of them, start with the last one on the list. Many of the people who viewed it believed I was being serious. It is my most-watched video of all time.
Yes, yes, I know you prefer written blogs over videos. But my writing muscles are worn out from completing my upcoming book, and I needed a writing break. Will get back to blogging soon. I just finished writing my book and sent it off for copyediting. Look for it by end of October. (It will make you tingle.)
The OPCW did not say who was responsible for the Sarin exposure. That wasn’t their job.
Ambassador Nikki Haley put out a press release saying the OPCW report is “… concluding that the chemical weapon sarin or a sarin-like substance was used in the attack.”
Notice Haley’s replacement of “sarin” from the OPCW report with “sarin or a sarin-like substance” for her press release. That’s a tell. It means Haley has some reason to be skeptical that sarin was involved. If the OPCW is willing to call it sarin, why hedge?
The OPCW does not offer an opinion on who was responsible for the exposure, or even that it came from an “attack.” Yet somehow Nikki Haley knows the chemicals came from a “chemical weapons attack.” Russia claims an airstrike on a nearby storage facility accidentally released deadly gas. But Russia is less credible than CNN, so that doesn’t mean anything.
Perhaps the United States has reliable evidence connecting the gas on the ground to an actual attack, but we citizens haven’t seen it. We did learn that a Syrian jet bombed the area at the time of the chemical exposure. But I don’t believe anyone found bomb fragments with sarin, or anything that conclusive. If so, we haven’t seen that evidence.
We are also asked to believe that Syria is planning “another” attack from the same place as the last one, while we watch every step of the way, using drones and whatnot. Does that sound like something a dictator does when he is on the brink of winningand – this is the best part – the only way he can lose from this strong position is by senselessly using chemical weapons?
Well, maybe. But Syria’s Assad and his Russian mentors don’t seem crazy to me. Brutal, sure. Liars, sure. But crazy? I haven’t seen evidence of that yet.
Apparently Assad has used chemical weapons in the past. If the event that leads to his demise is a manufactured story about his continued use of chemical weapons, I won’t feel any moral outrage. He has it coming. And I assume there is some military/strategic/negotiating advantage for the United States that comes from labelling Assad a repeat user of chemical weapons. So I still have confidence in the United States military leadership.
But I automatically doubt any claim that comes from a war zone. This one is less credible than most.
You might enjoy reading my book because it is book-like.
Our system of government has been amazingly robust for hundreds of years, but it fails when you have these two conditions:
1. An issue is too complicated for the public to understand.
2. Big companies are willing to distort the system for profits.
That situation describes the healthcare debate going on in the United States right now. Our undersized brains can’t grasp all the nuances and implications of any particular healthcare plan. And when our brains are confused, we default to our biases (usually party loyalty) or to whatever metric is simple enough to understand. With healthcare, the one metric that matters is how many people will be covered compared to Obamacare. If the Republican plan covers more people, it will pass. If not, it will fail.
Sure, Republicans will argue that the CBO projections are inaccurate. They will argue that comparing a mandatory plan with an optional one is comparing apples to oranges. They will be right about all of that, but it is irrelevant to the outcome. People will look at the number of people covered and stop there. So any Republican bill that covers fewer people than Obamacare is dead on arrival. That’s where we are now. And we don’t have a system of government that can fix this situation.
But what we do have is an active citizenry and social media. That’s a better system for designing a healthcare system. I’ll describe one way to go about it.
Some of you are aware of Github, a company that lets software developers contribute bits of code that are made available to all other Github users. Github is a big deal, and software developers almost can’t live without it. Perhaps it is time to build a similar system for fixing health insurance in the U.S.
Imagine a website where any interested party can contribute suggestions for improving any individual element of healthcare in the United States, with a focus on lowering costs while improving outcomes. Perhaps you have an idea about lowering drug prices, and I have an idea about online doctors. We submit our ideas, and the Github-for-healthcare users gets to improve on them or ignore them. The system would allow users to rank the ideas. In time, citizens could develop multiple ideas for every element of healthcare. Citizen volunteers could eventually create up to three plans and present them to Congress for a vote.
I’ll get the ball rolling here by framing the problem as an innovation challenge, not a cost issue.
I think Congress can pass a bill that overspends in the short run so long as it comes with a plan (or path) to greater coverage than Obamacare. In my picture above, you see the growing gap between future health care costs and tax revenue. That growing gap can only be closed by some combination of innovation, cutting regulations, improving competition, and improving prevention. Let’s call that a “moon shot” challenge. We don’t know how to get there right now, but Americans are good at figuring out this sort of thing.
My suggestion for getting a healthcare bill passed is for Republicans to create a credible story for how they will cover more people than Obamacare, at a reasonable cost. And the best way to make that case is with visual persuasion, starting with this sort of simple graph and extending to images of startups that promise to lower medical costs.
At the moment, Paul Ryan and the Republicans are trying to sell their plan with facts, concepts, details, and logical arguments. That won’t work. You need an aspirational story about how to get to better coverage than Obamacare via American ingenuity. Everything else is just noise.
I don’t mind letting Congress take its best shot at improving healthcare. But realistically, they can’t. They are not the right form of government for this sort of complexity.
Perhaps citizens can do what congress could not.
You might enjoy reading my book because it will make you healthier. (True story, according to my readers.)