The Hippo


May 29, 2020








Win Bigly, by Scott Adams
(Portfolio/Penguin, 273 pages)


 It’s been well over a year since the election of President Donald Trump, and large swaths of the American population can’t wrap their minds around those three words and how they came to be.

Amid common explanations, such as Russian interference and angry white men in flyover states, is a more bizarre one: that a popular cartoonist trained in hypnosis affected the outcome by leading his followers, and even the candidate, with crafty persuasion tactics. Sounds daft, but let Scott Adams explain. 
His new book, Win Bigly, is an entertaining, if occasionally nutty, exposition on how the Dilbert creator interfered in the 2016 election.
Adams predicted Trump’s win a year ahead of the election, when everyone else was still laughing at the candidacy. Over the course of campaign, Adams blogged admiringly about the man he calls “a master persuader,” and his social media following, grown thick with Trump supporters, came to include Donald Trump Jr. and Trump advisor Newt Gingrich.
Although Adams finds it “spooky” that candidate Trump seemed to do things he advised within days after he made suggestions on his blog, he doesn’t forthrightly claim that he’s the reason we have President Trump. It’s just one possibility, one movie playing in his head, as the cartoonist considers multiple versions of reality.
Adams believes that the human brain isn’t capable of understanding reality (evolution doesn’t demand it), and that instead we each create filters — the movies in our heads — that help us to navigate our lives. The best filters, he says, are the ones that make us happy and help us to predict the future. He also believes that human beings are 90 percent irrational, and contrary to prevailing beliefs, we don’t bother with facts when we make decisions — we employ facts later to justify our beliefs, a strategy that psychologists call confirmation bias.
In this version of reality, electing Trump makes perfect sense. If facts — such as whether or not the Access Hollywood tapes are real — don’t matter, what matters most is technique. 
And here Adams, who has previously argued that humans are merely “moist robots” and might possibly be simulations created by an advanced species, puts forth persuasion as the greatest technique. 
Cynics might point out that “master persuaders” might also be described in less flattering terms, such as “shyster,” “charlatan” and “fraud.”
The “persuasion tips” that Adams sprinkles throughout Win Bigly include using a “fake because” — giving people a reason, however crazy, to accept what you’re saying — and embedding an intentional error in your message to attract attention.
Cynics might also roll their eyes at Adams’ slavish endorsement of hypnotism. He repeatedly calls himself a “trained hypnotist” whose interest in the field began during his childhood in upstate New York. His family doctor was a hypnotist, and his mother claimed to have delivered Adams’ sister without painkillers through hypnotism.
He also considers democracy an illusion, “more a mental condition than a political system,” and admits to routinely lip-syncing the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem, moving his lips while thinking “blah, blah, blah.”
Couple that with Adams’ admission that he doesn’t vote, even though he endorsed three candidates during the course of the campaign, and on paper Adams seems an accidentally successful, anti-America kook. (Though to be fair, his “endorsement” of Hillary Clinton was more a sly joke than a political statement. After attracting the brickbats of what he termed “Hillbullies,” Adams wrote that he was endorsing Clinton for his own personal safety. An endorsement of Gary Johnson was also short-lived.)
But Win Bigly, like Adams’ 2013 book How To Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, is surprisingly sensible and engaging, and a refreshing take on how Trump smashed through the second dimension to operate in a world where facts are irrelevant. “If you watched the entire election cycle and concluded that Trump was nothing but a lucky clown, you missed one of the most important perceptual shifts in the history of humankind,” Adams writes in the opening of the book. 
By its close, you’ll understand what happened — at least, what happened in the movies playing in Adams’ head. You may not agree with him — that’s the beauty of realities we create ourselves — and may find his worldview deeply unsettling, but as in his signature comic strip, Adams reliably makes us laugh as he nudges us to think. One might call him a master persuader. B
— Jennifer Graham 

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