Persuasion Fixation and Optics Obsession

There is a recent Dilbert comic written by Scott Adams wherein the titular character speaks with his boss who says:

  1. Boss: I don’t like the optics of your plan.
  2. Dilbert: Its the only plan that can work. Should I change it to something that looks good but won’t work?
  3. Boss: Excellent idea, you might have more management potential than I’d thought.

Now this is a very incisive parody of office politics but it is also a panel which runs counter to a great deal of the ideas which Adams himself expresses and champions. If you want a example of just what I’m talking about all one has to do is listen to one of the cartoonists’ periscope broadcasts or read one of his blogs. Here is a good sample from Adam’s blog to illustrate my point (bold-face mine):

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.


He is right, of course, that persuasion can easily be achieved by “playing loose with the facts,” and by continuously maintaining a “casual relationship” to them. Yet, sacrificing forthright speech, honesty and factual accuracy for Adam’s opaque notion of “directional accuracy” is inherently and fundamentally championing dishonesty. There is just no other way to spin it.

Adams’ condescending response which is, itself, a evasion of the points raised.

Additionally, what is “the stuff that generally doesn’t matter,” that Adams speaks of so blithely? More to the point, it doesn’t matter whether or not one’s falsehoods come back to bite them or anyone else, what matters is that said individual lied in the the first place. Extenuating circumstances aside, lying is almost always bad, for everyone, including the liar in the long run and what Adams is doing is re-framing every conversation about truth, honesty and fact as one that is instead about looking good, sounding good and being persuasive, what is generally referred to in political parlance as “optics.”

The quickest way to lose a argument is to evade response and simply declare by fiat that your opponent is spouting “nonsense” especially since that “nonsense” were, verbatim, things that Adams had previously said.

Obviously, optics are exceedingly important but – as Adam’s own creation Dilbert tells us – they aren’t everything and should never be placed about the truth. Yet Adams regularly does this when he talks of Trump’s “directional accuracy.” He is, in essence, contradicting himself in the strongest of possible terms as all direction accuracy means is “That guy accomplished his goals, he just had to bury a lot of inconvenient facts along the way to do so.”

Adamsites vs rogue feminists

I should like to here take a moment to preempt some predictable criticism, criticism which Adams and his followers have vigorously rehearsed, namely that anyone who would criticize Adam’s for what Sam Harris criticizes him for must be a “anti-Trumper.” Now it does appear true (from what I have seen via social media outlets) that Adam’s primary detractors over the question of honesty-and-integrity-vs.-optics-and-illusion are the kind of hysterical leftists who have hashtags like #resist in their bios, but this denotation is completely unfitting for me. Not only am I not a leftist, nor an anti-Trumper, I’m far more Right-wing in any traditional or classical sense than Scott Adams. Naturally, this is wholly irrelevant to the previous points but all too many Adamsites, if we can call them that, seem to think this is very, very relevant – such people take political paradigm as argumentation.

It should also be noted that this isn’t about Trump or Harris, but rather about Adam’s message and those who gobble it up – for he is, in no uncertain terms, praising trickery and untruth of one’s enemies and friends alike as one of the highest expressions of statecraft. Whilst it is obvious that governments should keep secrets, that you don’t need to know everything about what they are doing and in many cases, shouldn’t (as it could cost lives, ect) it should also be just as obvious that a preferable system is one wherein the governmental officials tell you what they are not going to tell you, where they strive ever to be upright and honest and principled; where they never place optics and persuasion above the truth. 

A flailing Adamsite

3 thoughts on “Persuasion Fixation and Optics Obsession”

  1. You claim that lying is almost always bad.


    However, what are the circumstances in which lying is not bad?

    Have you read Sam Harris on Lying? We have.

    In his book, he lists that one of the circumstances in which lying is morally acceptable is when you are no longer in a cooperative relationship with someone but in conflict.

    Now, what is war and what is politics?



    Have you seen Dark Reformation101 on Trump?


    1. Yes, I had read Harris’ book on lying, thought it was quite good. I hadn’t seen the article you had listed – I’ll look into it. Lastly, I agree with your digression on conflict – if I seem as if I don’t agree in my article it is because I am addressing it towards those “on our side” as it were. Always appreciate the feedback, sir.

      Liked by 1 person

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