Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

What Trump Can Teach Reason-Loving Smart Folks

Many smart folk need to relearn what Trump knows, and Aristotle taught, about persuasion. Logic and facts alone often don't persuade. 


1. Like him or loathe him, Trump can teach us much. Especially smart folk enthralled by an unempirical faith in logic.

2. Simon Schama calls Trump’s “war against knowledge” the “Enlightenment's nightmare.” But many Enlightenment fans use “reason” to resist reality (consistently rejecting knowledge about choosing).

3. Covering Democracy for Realists, George Monbiot calls Enlightenment-inspired “rational choice” notions a “folk theory of democracy.” But “rational choice” is a reality-starved elite (not folk) theory.

4. The vast majority of voters can’t rationally choose policy (lacking skills, facts, time, inclination). Providing more facts won’t help—behavioral economists are (re)learning, choosing doesn't work that way.

5. Trump instinctively gets the “behavioral” gist. Salespeople and marketers were doing behavioral economics long before that field’s arrival (e.g., Rory Sutherland’s interview, + Mark Thompson’s book).

6. Classic rhetoric long taught “behavioral” skills (modelling human nature better than “rational choice”). Rhetoric isn’t the paintwork, it’s also the engine.

7. Aristotle described 3 keys of persuasion: logos, ethos, and pathos (argument, persona, attuned emotions).

8. As Sam Leith notes logos isn’t ironclad logical deduction, but life’s “fuzzy logic.” Heidegger used a “musical tuning" term for pathos (playing audiences like unruly orchestras).

9. Those who prefer logos-only approaches have lost the plot. Pathologizing appeals to pathos and ethos, abandons all but the weakest persuader.

10. Trump knows that logic alone often won’t sell (and often isn’t needed). Facts often don’t change minds.

11. A logos-driven approach is an empirical error (a logic-intoxicated aspirational “reality-denying” doctrine). It’s self-evident (+measurable) that feelings and prior beliefs shape thinking about new “facts.”

12. Hume’s “Reason Is… the Slave of the Passions,” should enlighten (updated here, here). Passions precede and feed and frame following reason (launching local script logic, often lacking global coherence).

13. However distasteful to reason-seduced logic-lovers, Trump’s politically atypical contradictory ethos helps him orchestrate different pathos-playing tunes (cacophonous coalition).

14. Aren’t we all contradiction-filled? Aren’t many accepted premises contradictory?

15. Smartness confers no immunity (many are educated into “rationalist idiocy”). Elites just play “higher” rhetoric games—e.g., in economics see McCloskey, and Romer.

16. For arguments, as for products, it’s not the best, but the best marketed, with the best rhetoric, that wins. (E.g. "policy formulation has moved from…prose to bullet point and graphic…argument to story").

17. All brains are biased. Geniuses included. We’re all confirmation seekers and disconfirmation resisters. (Housman called truth seeking “the faintest of all human passions”).

18. Confirmation bias beautifully illustrates a key Enlightenment error. It worsens solo thinking, but can improve collective thinking (see Mercier’s persuasive/“argumentative theory of reasoning”). That collectiveness is vital, our minds evolved for self-deficient, relationally rational, survival.

19. Like its individualism, and rationalism, Enlightenment hedonism is overplayed. Orwell called causes demanding self-sacrifice “psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic” worldview.  

20. The Enlightenment’s flight from the supernatural has generated a sub-natural (sub-empirical) view of human nature (our odd mix...hedonistic + self-sacrificing, individual + social, rational + emotional).

21. Such unempirical errors of the Enlightenment now threaten its gifts. Unrealistic reason-intoxicated mind-models enable Trump-like irrational self-maximizers.

 

Illustration by Julia Suits, author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions, and The New Yorker cartoonist.

LIVE ON MONDAY | "Lights, camera, activism!" with Judith Light

Join multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Judith Light live on Big Think at 2 pm ET on Monday.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo

Keep reading Show less

Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

Credit: Neom
Technology & Innovation
  • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
  • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
  • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
Keep reading Show less

Study details the negative environmental impact of online shopping

Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.

A truck pulls out of a large Walmart regional distribution center on June 6, 2019 in Washington, Utah.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
  • Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
  • Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
Keep reading Show less

Childhood sleeping problems may signal mental disorders later in life

Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.

A girl and her mother take an afternoon nap in bed.

Personal Growth
  • We spend 40 percent of our childhoods asleep, a time for cognitive growth and development.
  • A recent study found an association between irregular sleep patterns in childhood and either psychotic experiences or borderline personality disorder during teenage years.
  • The researchers hope their findings can help identify at-risk youth to improve early intervention.
  • Keep reading Show less
    Videos

    Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?

    Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?

    Scroll down to load more…
    Quantcast