The following essay was originally published in The Comics Journal #306 (Summer-Fall 2020). Hyperlinks have been added by the website editors, with some formatting and textual edits. The text has not been updated in consideration of any subsequent statements or controversies involving its subject.
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The January 2, 2020 Episode of the Comic Strip Dilbert:
Engineer Alice complains to the “Pointy-Haired Boss” that their business is inefficient. The Boss responds that he intends to create a “multidisciplinary task force” to look into it. But then—get this!—Alice questions whether it is wise to use an “inefficient system to fix an inefficient system.” That’s probably why readers tune in to the strip - to see Dilbert stick it to “multidisciplinary task forces.”
There’s also a punch line: “It’s called fighting fire with fire.” But it’s hard for me to imagine anyone cares about Dilbert’s jokes - they’re probably just there for the resentment.
Dilbert is a comic strip about people trapped in a Kafkaesque world where sociopaths control the levers of power. Dilbert has been syndicated in newspapers since 1989, and has been massively successful, spawning cartoons, merchandise and branded Nonfiction books on business management.
For most of my life, if asked to picture the Dilbert audience, I imagined a jolly woman in a cubicle, surrounded by photos of her cats, supernaturally cheerful, dead-behind-the-eyes. I ask Marlene how the morning’s treating her. She pouts and squeals, “Mondays!” Haha, and we are both laughing because Mondays really are the worst.
Marlene is dead now, though.
November 21: Dilbert’s dog says that if he got everything he ever wanted, he’d “Gloat. Make everybody else feel like failures. Live a garish and decadent life.”
December 31: Dilbert’s dog promises to “show no tolerance for those less fortunate,” and to “[r]edefine morality to suit my short-term objectives.”
In 2020, this all reads like foreshadowing.
After his comic’s success, Dilbert creator Scott Adams became a blogger.
The tone of Adams’ blogs is usually that he’s employing “logic”—he knows about business! Math! Dilbert guy has a “talent stack”—but his “logic” usually relies on bizarre assumptions, cherry-picked data, mountains of fallacies, claims based on his “experience” oblivious to his unquestioned prejudices, unearned condescension and an anti-intellectual disdain for the expertise of anyone other than himself.
The early days of Adams’ blog: mostly unremarkable. There’s the June 2, 2008 blog where Adams sees Mario Lopez at an airport - seeing Mario Lopez is remarkable by definition. But after Mario Lopez, boy, things went downhill: Adams felt compelled to write about women.
Two 2011 blogs were flagged as creepy even by the standards of the fucking internet: (1) June 15’s “Pegs and Holes,” which is about society being “organized in such a way that the natural instincts of men are shameful and criminal.” And (2) March 27's "I'm a What?," a contemplation of Men's Rights (a post that Adams tried to delete) where Adams told Man-Activists to accept “the widespread suppression of men’s rights” because “women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently. It’s just easier this way for everyone. […] It’s called a strategy. Sometimes you sacrifice a pawn to nail the queen.”
Adams plays the victim and insists his opinions are misrepresented whenever he is merely quoted. Why he imagines that anyone would possibly be motivated to take down the Dilbert guy back in 2011, however, is fuzzy. In November 2013’s “The Future of Marriage,” Adams wonders if “marriage will someday be seen as a pre-Internet thing” because marriage is “an exchange for services” that “made sense when the world was inefficient.” Adams thinks the internet has changed romance in unusually specific ways: “You can find people willing to trade sex for travel experiences.”
Scott Adams separated from his wife in 2013; divorced in 2014.
In a better world, where he would be huffing Seeking Arrangements fumes, Adams’ blog would have transformed into an Eat, Pray, Love-style travelogue, Adams’ adventures as an international sex tourist, trading sex for Dilbert. But in our fallen world, Adams wasn’t done blogging about marriage:
September 2014’s “The Shit Sandwich Generation”: Marriage is “like adding shit mustard to a shit sandwich.”
February 2015’s “The Two Biggest Problems in the United States are Food and Marriage”: Marriage should be replaced with what sounds like an app-driven polyamorous commune (“I’m not talking about poorly engineered hippy communes. That’s like comparing a Model-T to a Tesla”).
Valentine’s Day 2016’s “Marriage: Civilization’s Biggest Mistake”: Adams states, “I mean this literally not satirically - marriage is the biggest contributor to mental health problems, crime, poverty, drug abuse, climate change, terrorism, violence, rape, incest, poor health, and ignorance. But you have been brainwashed to not see it.”
During the writing of this essay, Adams announced he was engaged. (Perhaps even Scott Adams knows not to take Scott Adams seriously.)
Adams also began arguing that women complain too much about sexism. There’s 2013’s “What’s the Difference Between a Sexist and a Regular Asshole?,” 2014’s “Is Feminism Sexist?,” and 2015’s “My Verdict on Gender Bias in the Workplace” - but my favorite is October 2014’s “Feedback for Feminists” (bell hooks had been waiting by the phone) which tells women in New York complaining about street harassment to “MOVE SOMEWHERE BETTER, YOU IDIOT! […] STOP MAKING IT MY PROBLEM!!!”
Adams doesn’t tell women where to move, but after all, women can just trade having sex for “travel experiences.” Pack sunscreen.
The idea that you’ve been brainwashed to not agree with Scott Adams comes up so often that he’s given it a name: “Moist Robot.” To Adams, people are “fundamentally irrational” and “animated meat,” easily programmed.
Personally, I agree. We’re programmed by culture, upbringing, biology, etc. But if that’s the case, the obvious conclusion is to be self-deprecating about your opinions, as they may result from programming you haven’t yet thought to question. Instead, Adams seems astonishingly thin-skinned. In fact, in October 10, 2015’s blog “Narcissistic Accuser Syndrome,” Adams admits that he is “often accused of being thin-skinned,” but he claims this is his “strategy”: “My explicit business model for this blog involves embarrassing myself publicly and inviting criticism of everything I write.”
An example of Adams’ “strategies” in action: Adams began responding to critics on Twitter by tweeting unsolicited photos of his naked torso at them - but when mocked, he claimed that he was marketing a book on fitness. After all, who wouldn’t learn fitness from a cartoonist trying to own strangers with photos of his elderly nipples? Adams’ “strategy” claims are unconvincing: He was caught in 2011 using the pseudonym “PlannedChaos” online to secretly attack critics, e.g., by posting, “you’re too dumb to understand what he’s saying. And he’s a certified genius. Just sayin’.” Does that sound like strategic marketing, or the ravings of a delicate fop with a selfie stick pointed at his areolas? Adams also famously tried to use a mass shooting in Gilroy, California, to promote a “blockchain app” - and when challenged, insisted that everyone upset was “fake” unless they also attacked Twitter and CNN for profiting off of “news gathering,” too. Does that sound like marketing or a demented callousness towards the existence of any other person on Earth besides himself?
No, my suspicion is that Adams’ robot is moist because he’s pissing-himself angry that people don’t take him seriously. Programmer, code thyself.
Adams’ arguments often show that he seems obsessed with insulating himself from criticism. Adams is especially fond of claiming that his critics suffer from cognitive dissonance: Readers mocking him are just upset that his opinions are too good and make them feel dumb, violating their “self-image as a person with smart opinions.”
Did you respond to Adams with sarcasm or insult Adams? That’s not because you think he’s a buffoon unworthy of respect - that’s a “tell” that Adams won an argument on Twitter, and you’re just angry because your brain is trying to protect your “self-image” as smart. Did you make slippery slope arguments? Cognitive dissonance! Can you conceive of more than one potential explanation for some event, even though Adams insists there is only one (usually ludicrous) explanation? Cognitive dissonance!
For all his man-of-science bluster, Adams ignores projection. Adams seemingly projects on other people his own deepest fear: that people will think he’s “not smart.” But again, if knowing you’re a “moist robot” requires self-deprecation, you would not fear that at all. I’m often not smart - I have been foolish, and I will be foolish (ladies). What have I given you by telling you this? What have you gained? Whatever you “win” has no value - I do not want it, and I pity you for your desire. Reading Adams is unpleasant not because of his opinions (who cares?) but his insecurity. Adams claims to possess confidence, but I don’t recognize confidence in him - only its deformed cousin, stubbornness.
November 23, 2013’s blog “I Hope My Father Dies Soon” is the sincerest writing I saw from Adams. Adams is raw, sharing the “living Hell” of helplessly watching his father dying: “If you’re a politician who has ever voted against doctor-assisted suicide, or you would vote against it in the future, I hate your fucking guts and I would like you to die a long, horrible death. I would be happy to kill you personally and watch you bleed out. I won’t do that, because I fear the consequences. But I’d enjoy it, because you motherfuckers are responsible for torturing my father.”
In December 3, 2013’s “Moving On,” Adams writes again on the topic but concludes: “My book’s sales rank has dropped since I started hammering on this topic, so I will take that as my guide to back off and let the 1% of the public who are on the other side have their victory.”
Why does Scott Adams want to blog? He has fame, money and, as featured in a May 2017 YouTube video, a house shaped like Dilbert’s head. But instead of enjoying those things, Adams seems constantly desperate to be right online. I see that desperation in so many people, sucked into Facebook squabbles, stupid tweets, the gamification of our political discourse - so many people obsessed with defeating invisible strangers existing only on their phones.
In 2011, Adams deleted what he’d written about Men’s Rights. But the Adams Who Self-Censors disappeared - the Adams Who Calls Marriage “Shit Mustard” festered. Adams didn’t get better at bringing people together on his blog - he only became more alienating. Adams’ story resembles a greater Story, a Story spoken of often amongst friends who grew up alongside the internet, a Story I see many people online struggle to understand. Sing along if you know the words: The internet was a quirky place to be weird while you were bored at work; but then it got dark; it stopped being fun; and then, a darkness descended.
Adams’ early blog: Enter Mario Lopez! We love him! America!
Adams’ late blog: Enter Donald Trump… America?
January 5: Dilbert’s co-workers discuss rigging machines to kill their co-workers.
February 8: An employee beats himself “senseless” on a table, while his co-workers watch.
March 23: A hammer-shaped employee stalks an intern and then attacks him while the intern sobs.
August 7: A doctor recommends that his patient commit suicide.
August 13: Dilbert helps a co-worker kill herself.
At the height of Dilbert’s success, the hatred is everywhere; the unending hostility of the universe is Dilbert’s true main character, a hostility no love or deeper calling can survive.
Before 2016, Adams is not aggressively political. As far as I know - some of Adams’ early blog posts have been deleted (though saved by the Internet Archive). A deleted October 2006 blog wondering whether certain numbers about the Holocaust were reliable suggests that the decision to delete those entries was wise - though it should be noted that Adams concedes that the Holocaust happened, as late as an April 2018 tweet.
An April 2008 post predicts that John McCain will defeat Barack Obama since Adams imagined racists rushing to vote for McCain. But in 2008, Adams doesn’t like McCain (or Obama), and the thought of racists descending on a polling place in order to vote for the Republican doesn’t give 2008 Adams a visible erection.
The 2016 Adams is a different story. Donald Trump changes the boner-narrative.
Starting with August 13, 2015’s “Clown Genius,” Adams began praising Trump, soon calling him a “wizard.” Adams insisted that Trump was buddies with “the most powerful wizard alive, Tony Robbins,” and would be elected President of the United States - except if Hillary Clinton had “some wizard training,” and America got to see two wizards “going toe-to-toe.”
Adams became clearer when he started using the term “master persuader” instead (“Wizard” becomes dicey after your preferred candidate gets endorsed by David Duke). Adams believed that Trump was supernaturally persuasive, but utilizing methods of persuasion non-traditional to politics that the media was ignorant of.
Adams thought that Trump avoided facts and policies, not because he was an ignorant, old, rape-y, racist game-show host whose only source of news was FOX & Friends, but as a strategy. (And Adams loves convenient “strategies.”) Some people heard “Make America Great Again,” and thought, “Oh shit, Octavia Butler!” In Trump’s fragmentary ravings, Adams heard music: “linguistic kill shots,” phrases that spoke to people’s reptilian brains in a way that fact-checkers could not defeat. Trump didn’t tell the truth - but Adams posited the question: Who cares as long as the lies feel true?
Trump lied that he saw New Jersey Muslims cheering the 9/11 attacks? Adams said it “sounds like it is probably true-ish,” and that makes it good persuasion. He just didn’t say who it felt true to (racists) or why (because they’re racist), or sympathize with the countless Americans cast under suspicion in their own country by Trump’s propaganda. Adams refused to see their suffering. Adams wanted to see only a country of moist robots and Trump as its Grand Wizard of Oz, adjusting their dials. There was nothing in Trump’s noxious history that Adams couldn’t excuse, justify, forgive. Scott Adams had made a fortune thanks to America projecting their resentments into the outline of his badly drawn cartoons - and when Trump’s badly drawn cartoon of a President descended onto the political stage, Adams predicted a landslide.
Things got messianic fast: Trump became a hammer Adams would use to knock down the walls of reality - Adams insisted that readers had never before had the mundane thought that politics didn’t have to rely on facts, and that he was blowing their minds, thrusting readers from the “2D” world of facts into the “3D” world of persuasion. Joe McGinniss’ The Selling of the President 1968 had come out 47 years earlier, George Bush Sr.’s Willie Horton ad 28 years earlier, and John Kerry was Swift-Boated 12 years earlier. So, none of what Dilbert guy was saying was noteworthy - but I myself was an occasional reader of his blog in 2016. Two reasons: (1) I seek out people who I don’t agree with, in order to hear opinions outside my bubble, and (2) Adams was talking about persuading voters in an election where the very idea of doing that was under attack.
In the alienating 2016 Democratic Primary, Clinton used media surrogates to claim her opponent’s supporters were all “Bernie Bros,” and their criticisms of her motivated by sexism. (Clinton had the same strategy in 2008, with the “Obama Boys.”) A Clinton-ite’s (since-deleted) March 2016 tweet: “You can get, not just a majority, but a COMMANDING majority, pretty much without white guys. […] What this means—and what we’re not saying—is that you never have to give a shit about a white progressive man’s opinions again.”
This was mathematical stupidity, but it got worse: leaked emails revealed that the Democrats decided to crazily say that “Trump is much worse than regular Republicans” and not “tie Trump to other Republicans,” even if that hurt down-ballot races. In July 2016, Senator Chuck Schumer suicidally fantasized, “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia.”
Even if his blog trafficked in woo-woo and a sociopathic disregard for other people, Adams at least saw that politics included persuasion. In 2016, Democrats didn’t care about that, at all.
In 2016, media conservatives ran away from Trump, thinking he’d ruin their scam that the Republican ideology is some intellectual endeavor. The Never Trump Republicans: effete nerds falsely portrayed as a major demographic, despite speaking for 0.0001% of the base. Even Glenn Beck scurried from Trump.
Adams filled a vacuum too distasteful for the worst of his peers.
I was by a computer on Election Night 2016. Here is part of what I wrote (jokingly) that night: “We’re doing this [Republican] shit again holy shit! AND THIS TIME WE GET TO LIVE WITH THE DILBERT GUY BEING RIGHT OH NOOOOOOOO.”
In 2017, Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter is published, an Adams how-to persuasion manual focusing on the 2016 election. (My personal rule: “Don’t consult a persuasion guru who has to tell people that contrary to what they’ve heard, he believes the Holocaust is real.” But it’s a bestseller.) Well, the book dabbles with being a persuasion manual, but at a certain point just becomes a memoir of Adams’ journey to election night 2016 - Adams describes his girlfriend leaving him alone that night to smoke marijuana by himself, happy that he’d won at posting on the internet, as “one of the best days of my life.”
Adams repurposes old blogs with new material, and lavishes praise on Trump more than ever before: praising his height; what Adams describes as his you-have-to-be-from-New-York-to-get-it sense of humor (note: Trump lost New York); and his “discipline” (ahhh, the discipline of the Twitter President who paid hush money to porno-folk he raw-dogged).
It’s a weird book.
While expounding on the 2016 election’s lessons in persuasion tactics (lessons I would guess are entirely unusable for most readers), Adams repeatedly claims that Trump could easily persuade America that he’s not a racist by taking photos hugging black people - “Real racists don't hug the ones they dislike. They just don't.” Adams ignores that Trump’s a racist con artist, not the fucking Wicked Witch of the West. There’s a part where Scott Adams writes about using hypnosis to give a woman “twenty or so screaming orgasms.” I read that part, and now you know about it, too. It’s inside of you. Forever.
In his earlier book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, Adams claimed that personal affirmations (aka The Secret) helped him achieve success, adding “like most of you, I have experienced several events in my life that are indistinguishable from magic.” In Win Bigly, Adams explains that those events apparently include having prophetic visions, including a vision of Trump winning that he saw like a movie in his head called “Scott’s-Destiny Movie”: “they have a distinct character that feels like neither memory nor imagination. […] I’ve had this sensation of seeing glimpses of the future perhaps a dozen times.” (Immediately after describing “seeing glimpses of the future,” Adams adds, “I don’t believe people can see the future.”)
It’s a little strange to hear about ESP more than three-quarters of a way through a book otherwise about Adams’ thoughts on logic, cognitive science and evolutionary biology. “Dilbert Guy has ESP” should go in chapter 2, or chapter 1 - or on the cover, next to an erotic photograph of Frank Gorshin, dressed from the waist up as the Riddler, naked from the waist down.
Win Bigly fails to reckon with what Trump’s “persuasion” has meant. For Adams, everything is just about “prediction” - but Adams ignores that some persuasion is more polarizing than others. And if persuasion increases the polarization of the discourse, then that persuasion is likely immoral, regardless of its success.
If your candidate wins, but leaves behind an electoral system where it’s now normal to brag about your penis size while surrounded by White Supremacists monkey-howling that your opponents should be jailed, then what have you won? “Buh-buh-Buh my predictions were right” is just gambler’s logic. FBI data shows that since Trump’s election, hate crimes spiked in counties Trump won by large margins - the second-largest uptick in the 25 years for which data is available. A victory in “persuasion,” indeed, but not one you want to brag about. (Coincidentally, Adams tells his readers to ignore data to avoid “confirmation bias.”)
Fran Lebowitz on the 2016 election: “Donald Trump didn’t win because he did something right; he won because he did something wrong. We always knew you could win that way - appealing to the worst. You’re just not supposed to win the presidency that way.”
In video blogs and his next book, Loserthink, Adams came out against the conspiracy theory QAnon that Trump supporters flocked to after the election, and complained that “Q hoax” supporters were making Trump supporters look like a bunch of idiots. But if QAnon is persuasive and facts don’t matter, what’s the problem? Adams should celebrate QAnon - it’s persuaded countless people (e.g., QAnon-mad murderer Anthony Comello). QAnon’s not factual, but to many people it feels true - and in Win Bigly’s worldview, that’s what matters. QAnon is the realization of Adams’ political project, and yet he runs from it. Sad!
Maybe it’s not that we are fooled by persuasion, but that we want to be. Maybe we want to matter enough that someone somewhere wants to persuade us. Adams flatters himself that he can see beyond the veil. But what American doesn’t know that we’re surrounded by bullshit? We all know. We carry on anyways. Adams doesn’t seem to grasp that. But if enough people see beyond the veil, it’s not a veil anymore - it’s just lingerie the powerful wear when fucking us.
Central to Adams’ marketing is that he’s an expert on persuasion because he’s a “trained hypnotist” - he took some classes decades earlier, ergo, persuasion expert. Well, I’m a lawyer - we do persuasion, too, and I didn’t just take some classes. Let me tell you something every lawyer knows: clients come and go; cases come, go; sometimes you have great facts, sometimes not; sometimes the law is on your side, sometimes not; laws change; morals change; underwear changes (hopefully).
So, all you truly have is your credibility.
Adams says in Win Bigly in passing that “you need credibility to persuade.” But he doesn’t seem to have the faintest idea what building that credibility involves: not getting rushed by hysteria nor distracted by flash, but being reliable in the long-term, offering advice unfazed by the moment’s panic. If you celebrate lies without hesitation, brag that facts don’t matter and gloat that nothing matters but a single day’s conquest, then you’ve discarded your credibility, cheaply, foolishly. That is not counsel - it’s excuses, an incitement to the simple-minded to revel in irrationality. And so, Adams crows that during the election, he disingenuously endorsed Hillary Clinton “for my personal safety,” and this jackass gamesmanship helped win his little games of persuasion - but ignoring the cost in the only currency that matters.
By September 2019, Adams was making headlines for threatening to sue a journalist describing him as “basically the Louis Farrakhan of incel white nationalists.” That was the state of Adams’ credibility, evidence of how little he understood true persuasion. Adams often cites Warren Buffett, oblivious to Buffett’s greatest advice - that many people can win a coin flip, or two, or five, but in the long term, real players are always buying the business, not buying the stock.
I don’t try to be credible where comics are concerned.
I believe everyone should carve part of their life where they can be honest, embarrassing, idiotic, without guile, unconcerned by “reputation” or popularity. For me, that’s comics (and pole-dancing). I’m not a “journalist” or “pundit.” I certainly didn’t write this essay for the “money.” I don’t care about Dilbert. And I especially don’t care about you, dear reader. None of this means anything to me. None of this is important.
Adams runs a business. He has a strategy. His blog has monetized his thoughts. Adams thinks his blog is important. He thinks his speaking fees are important. He thinks he’s important (like Elmer Fudd, Ricky Bobby, Jacob Wohl and all of Comedy’s great buffoons). But if you are nothing but what is persuasive, profitable, salable, then what use is all the money in the world, when there’s nothing left which belongs to you that this world has not long ago purchased?
Trump’s first appointment for the Supreme Court was Neil Gorsuch, who wrote The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, the leading book arguing that physician-assisted suicide should remain outlawed.
The economy has collapsed and the Dilbert cast is screaming constantly, ready to eat each other to survive. Dilbert gets fired and his company steals his IP.
February 18: Dilbert is hitchhiking through the countryside with a serial killer.
March 5: Dilbert is meeting his doppelgänger.
April 16: “[T]he economy will collapse and the world will plunge into darkness. You will all be eaten by cannibals who will in turn die from the diseases that riddle your bodies.”
But Adams insists that he’s socially liberal. None of the ugliness of Trump’s political projects should matter to how we see Adams because Adams tells us he’s “left of Bernie.”
It’s easy to have opinions, though - especially when they can shield us from judgment.
Scott Adams heavily promotes his origin story as being that while a corporate employee, Adams claims he was twice told by his bosses “that they couldn’t promote a white male” - but ultimately, he triumphed by creating Dilbert. In a March 22, 2017 blog, Adams claims that anyone mentioning his oft-repeated tale of racial resentment while discussing his support of Donald Trump (what a co-inky-dink!) is leaving out “context”: that he is “ultra-liberal” on social issues. He supports reparations (meaninglessly - not through his taxes going up, which he angrily opposes).
But that March 22 blog itself leaves out context provided by Adams’ book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, where Adams admits that in the first job, “I was incompetent” and “never stayed in one job long enough to develop any legitimate competence.” In the second job, Adams admits that “[a]bout 60 percent of my job … involved trying to look busy” and recalls causing a controversy where he “expected to get fired.”
Adams wants you to believe that his is a surprising story of a social liberal who supports Donald Trump. But is it as surprising if a Donald Trump supporter thought he was entitled to promotions that minorities received - even though he was by his own account a terrible employee? Adams can claim that the racial aggrievement central to his marketing doesn’t motivate his Trump support - but if you agree we’re “robots,” you may also agree that robots might not know their own programming, and Adams’ proclamations about his motives are thus untrustworthy. This might especially be your opinion if you believe Adams’ thoughts about marriage being “shit mustard” were inspired by commonplace male fragility, discarded when no longer benefitting him, and Adams is thus a robot particularly oblivious about what controls him.
Adams is more believable screeching about his pocketbook. Win Bigly attacks Democratic support for the estate tax imposed only on high net-worth individuals after they die. Adams bellows that the estate tax is unfair and one of the key motives for Adams finally “endorsing” Trump. The tax is essential to avoiding the problem of dynastic wealth (a significant and negative force for inequality), but Adams claims it’s unfair - because he worked hard. Awww, he worked hard on Dilbert cartoons, guys - can’t we just let the problems of dynastic wealth and mass inequality slide?! The estate tax would be unfair to Scott Adams’ corpse, and Scott Adams’ ga-ga-ga-ghost would be upset by that unfairness. In Win Bigly, Adams sneers “fairness is an argument for idiots and children” - he can’t seem to care what’s fair to the Muslim Americans that Trump attacked because that unfairness felt right to him. But Adams insists we care what would be fair to him, him, him. Oh, but please be assured: of all the carcasses clutching money in their sarcophagi to keep that money away from the poors, Scott Adams’ carcass is the most socially liberal.
Little Orphan Annie’s Harold Gray despised FDR. Li’l Abner’s Al Capp was a sexual predator who embraced Richard Nixon. Dick Tracy’s Chester Gould hated the Supreme Court’s Miranda decision. I don’t know how Adams will be remembered - but I would guess that Al Capp would have been surprised to find out how he’s remembered, how little Capp’s respected now, how much we remember Capp’s victims instead.
If I shouted at anything in Win Bigly, though, it’s when the book says Donald Trump won the 2016 election. I don’t believe that. I believe that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election and failed to beat Trump, just like she failed when she ran in 2008, like she failed the American people when voting for the Iraq War, like she failed in Libya and elsewhere as Secretary of State, like she failed when working on health care in the '90s, just like polls during the primaries said she would lose in a general election, polls that Democrats ignored to give her an opportunity she never should have been let near, polls that they pretended didn’t matter, nothing mattered, except that it was “her turn.”
While trying to kill news stories about Harvey Weinstein, while palling around with Jeffrey Epstein, while cuddling with Henry Kissinger, Hillary Clinton lost.
Many people predicted a Clinton loss - I’m a life-long Democratic voter and won two bets against her on election night 2016. Were we all moved by Trump’s persuasion? No, we were moved by knowing that the Democratic Party is a failed state. And if Adams needed ammo for his claims that all his political enemies suffered from “cognitive dissonance,” Clinton supporters certainly provided it after the election, descending into gibberish conspiracy theories and rehabilitating ghouls with alarming frequency. It wasn’t just Clinton who lost. So, too, did Remainers, voting on Brexit in the UK. So too are profound changes happening throughout the world.
What Adams dangerously trumpets invites political paralysis: If elections are about Persuaders and Personalities, why bother with organizing, protesting, canvassing? But Adams’ view, tragically, is closer to how Democrats think than Republicans. Republicans seize state legislatures and school boards; vote on off-cycle elections; wield power. Democrats wait for Superman.
Adams sneers the most tiresome fallacy - that people aren’t smart enough to understand issues or predict who’d be the best President. But voting is not a test of knowledge or prediction - it is a gauge of interests: Who represents your interests? Adams’ interests line up with those of any rich guy who cares about money more than people - he calls himself a “liberal,” but promoted the candidate who wouldn’t tax him (duhhhhh). So many people vote against their interests because of the propaganda Adams parrots, telling them that their interests don’t matter, that they don’t know enough, they’ll be never enough to count. Urge people to vote in their interests and they might listen - but the media will attack, liberal institutions will attack, shithead do-gooders will attack and you’ll be called a “Bro.”
I worry it’s too late to fix any of this.
January 16-17: Dilbert mocks young people. Young people made fun of Scott Adams. Dilbert has avenged him.
January 9, January 11, January 23, February 8-9, February 25, March 24: Dilbert mocks social media. Scott Adams gets made fun of on social media. Dilbert has avenged him.
Peanuts. Calvin and Hobbes. The Far Side. Bloom County. Garfield. Comic strip characters used to surround us - their stuffed animals in gift shops; their holiday specials on TV every Halloween. But the age of the newspaper strip is behind us - circulations rocket downward. And as that era ends, it dies with Dilbert’s whimper: Why are the idiots in charge? Why doesn’t the world follow my rules instead? Bitching, moaning that those in power aren’t good enough, without ideas as to how or with what to replace them.
It isn’t just a neoliberal order that’s collapsing - men are collapsing. As Adams’ blog on the “suppression of men’s rights” mentions, men are killing themselves. Suicide’s up 24% from 1999 to 2014, and men commit suicide between three to four times the rate of women. Statistics about men all seem pointed in the wrong direction.
And the internet responds by selling Huckster Masculinity.
There’s Jordan Peterson, a Muppet-voiced “academic” mixing dollar-store self-help with right-wing orthodoxy. Tim Ferriss, a fad-diet promoter whose sickening worship of money has him sucking up to “top performers” like Charles Koch. There’s the worlds of “passive income” and “entrepreneurship,” a motley collection of characters with nonsensical claims to fame, e.g. “The Ninth Employee Fired by Pets.Com.” There’s Alex Jones - wow, you’ll never guess what Comics King of Logic appeared on his show, InfoWars, America’s leading source of Sandy Hook conspiracies!
There’s Islamophobic meditation guru Sam Harris - Adams tried to debate Harris on Harris’ podcast. Adams was unpersuasive: Harris described the “persuasion techniques” Adams praises as psychopathic. A listener describing Adams on Reddit: “I found his personality to be draining.”
A menagerie of characters, all suddenly popular as young men drift around, looking for a reason not to blow their brains out in an America that makes less and less sense, whose Dreams seem emptier and emptier. One recalls the lyrics to Donald Trump’s favorite song - Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”:
I know what you must be saying to yourselves
“If that’s the way she feels about it, why doesn’t she just end it all?”
Oh, no, not me
I’m not ready for that final disappointment
'Cause I know, just as well as I’m standing here talking to you
And when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my last breath
I’ll be saying to myself
Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
Adams dwells a lot on the arguments he gets into on Twitter. And it strikes you - oh God, he believes that social media is an arena of persuasion. But that’s the lie of social media, the marketing. The people who Adams claims have “cognitive dissonance” don’t go on social media to “debate” Scott Adams - they go to laugh at him; they want anger, to feel something, feel anything. The anger is not from cognitive dissonance - the anger is the product that Twitter sells its users. Social media is a carnival, and Scott Adams is one of the circus freaks; but so are you; so am I.
These technologies are isolating. The internet stopped being fun - the alone of it all sunk in: the entire world is connected but you are still infinitely disconnected. There’s so much fucking loneliness online. But do any of these philosopher-kings sold by the internet offer connection? No, they sell enemies, conspiracy theories, investment advice. Adams offers to teach “persuasion” - why connect when you can persuade, mislead, swindle, deceive? Oh, such things have their appeal. They’re alluring; they tantalize. But if loneliness is the problem, I don’t think the solution could possibly be more loneliness.
And the environment is collapsing, too. Not just with climate change - problems abound with how we grow food, fish, breathe. Adams ends Win Bigly promising to turn his “talent stack” next towards convincing an America worried about climate change to think more about the economics of finding solutions. Get ready to see a photo of Scott Adams with his shirt off, Greenpeace!
It’s no great secret that Dilbert is loved as much by CEOs and managers as the employees it pretends to sympathize with. And if you read Dilbert, it doesn’t take long to see why: Adams is incapable of imagining those employees caring about one another, sympathizing with one another, fighting for each other. The oligarchs and decrepit power structures that Adams promotes (whether political, gender-based or take-your-pick), all those tyrants want us to believe what Adams seemingly tells people incessantly: that we can’t trust our eyes as our world crumbles (Confirmation bias!), we can’t believe our thoughts or even be sarcastic when we hear bullshit (Cognitive dissonance much?), that wanting better lives not just for ourselves but the people around us isn’t possible (You’re all robots! Free will is an illusion! Master Persuaders are your programmers!).
Scott Adams has spent his life imagining helpless people trapped in square boxes, wage slaves unable to imagine ever being free from the lines that creepy, cold men like him have drawn. But I need to believe there’s a better world when you throw that shit away, and find other people who have, too.
The January 2, 2020 Episode of the Comic Strip Dilbert - Redux:
In the late hours of January 2, 2020 (or the early morning hours of January 3, 2020, depending on where you were in the world), while on Iraqi soil, Iranian General Qasem Soleimani is killed in a rocket attack ordered by President Trump.
Iran retaliates, on or about January 7, by firing 15 ballistic missiles at Iraqi air bases, causing traumatic brain injuries to 50 U.S. Service Members (though fortunately, no deaths). Adams celebrates the theater of persuasion. But persuasion is only a beginning. Ultimately, there is power. And there are our service members risking life and limb, men, women, families - and not just them, but immigrants, students, the sick, the disabled, all the many lives irrevocably changed by the exercise of power, wherever it takes place, however it takes place. Celebrating the theater without caring about the people is decadence. And empires that become decadent all fall. The Pied Piper of ancient myth was persuasive - but the result was a generation of kidnapped, lost children. Our mythology is not accidental.
The title of his book is correct. Scott Adams won. He won at comics - but with comics that abandon the whimsy or sadness of the great strips, and embrace resentment and isolation. He won at politics - thanks to a coarse grifter appealing to desperate people’s most racist instincts. He won at getting into arguments on the internet - an internet clogged with helpless people begging, pleading, crying that you GoFund their health care. He won at having money in a country that values nothing besides that. He’s a darling of a media too impotent and untrusted to even convince Americans that Donald Trump is a con man. He’s won in a game too grotesque for any decent person to still want to play. It’s the American Dream, if enough’s missing inside of you to want it.
Zoom out far enough and you die. And I die. The Earth reclaims what it can from our bodies, but the rest of us goes away and we become nothing. And everyone we love dies. And everyone they’ve loved dies. And then our societies die. And as with most species, we go extinct. And our cathedrals, our art, it all turns to dust, and then the seas begin to boil. And the sun explodes, and burns our Earth. And then all that we can’t imagine begins to collapse into itself, and it all ends, it all ends, all of existence, everything, until time itself dies.