Dilbert's Scott Adams on the Power of Alternative Explanations, Persuasion, and Capitalism


"You can defend an entirely different view of the world using the same data that's used to defend the standard model. So whenever I can do that, I'm so there," says Scott Adams. "Because as soon as you realize that the model you've been looking at maybe isn't so firm as you thought… Then you're free."

Adams is a man of many talents: Best-selling author behind books such as God's Debris and How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, serial entrepreneur and creator of the time-management system Calendar Tree, and, of course, the man behind Dilbert.

Reason TV's Zach Weissmueller sat down with Adams in his home office to discuss Adams' obsession with Donald Trump ("I see in Trump a level of persuasion technique that is probably invisible to the public"—1:18), his resistance to political labels ("As soon as I join a group, suddenly all those things that I thought were crazy, I start convincing myself…"—2:19), his political philosophy ("My preferred political process would be something like business"—3:08), what Dilbert can teach us about capitalism ("One of those ideas that's terribly flawed, but we haven't figured out anything better yet"—5:22), and the theme that runs through all of his work ("In all cases, I'm interested in the same thing: Is there a different way to look at the familiar?"—10:05).

Watch the full interview above. And don't miss Scott Adams' Trump Master Wizard Hypothesis. 

Approximately 15 minutes. Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Shot by Alex Manning and Justin Monticello. Music by Jahzzar.

Scroll down for downloadable versions. Subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube channel for daily content like this.

Originally posted on October 6, 2015.

NEXT: Stalin's Prosecutor

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. And the old gem of, “if you were lucky enough to be born into…” rears its head again. There was zero chance that you were going to have any other father or mother. That was a certainty, no luck involved. I hated Rawls when I first read him and still do.

      1. +1 telethon

    1. I hated Rawls when I first read him and still do.

      The same could be said for Adams. I mean, how many times can you retell the same fucking joke? On the funnies page, the shittiness of his strip is only surpassed by the utter hackery of Patrick McDonnell’s Mutts. Even the moribund state Garfield has lain in for the past 2 decades is a better read than Dilbert.

      1. Eh. Every once in a while he still throws the reader a bone.

      2. I have to admit to not reading the funny pages for years but I always liked Dilbert.

        1. I mean honestly most comic strips suck. Peanuts? That was never funny.

          1. Never? Have you seen any of its pre-1965 or so (maybe pre-1963) entries?

            1. I have not

              1. JB, you should check them out. A lot of the dark humor from the early strips was leavened out in later years as Schultz got older and his strips were turned into cartoons.

              2. This is the first Peanuts strip ever. It should give you an indication what early Peanuts was like. It changed a lot over time.

          2. Family Circus? It’s wholesome and hilarious.

            1. +1 Not Me

            2. But it can’t beat Dennis the Menace and The Far Side, especially when the two were mixed up.

          3. Peanuts was . . . never intended to be *funny*. And while its long outlived its relevance, and none of its authors have been willing or had the courage to either revamp the franchise or kill it, it was pretty damn good back in the day.

            1. I still think that one of the main themes of Peanuts (“Sometimes life sucks, just deal with it”) will always have some relevance, however dated the strips and shows may get.

              1. Yep. I saw a billboard for the new Peanuts movie. It was Snoopy and Charlie Brown, staring into a sunrise, with the tag line “Dream Big”. That’s fine to dream big. But Charlie Brown is a loser. He doesn’t kick the football. He doesn’t get the curly red-haired girl. He’s a loser. But that’s okay. He just deals with it.

                Hopefully the new movie won’t make Charlie Brown courageous, or the hero. Because he’s not.

                1. “He doesn’t get the curly red-haired girl

                  Was the pursuit of Peppermint Patty an attempt to reform her away from inevitable militant lesbianism?

                    1. Would (*hit her up on motherfucking myspace)

        2. Get Fuzzy is the only comic worth reading these days.

          And get off my lawn.

    2. There was zero chance that you were going to have any other father or mother. That was a certainty, no luck involved.

      That’s an interesting view of possibility, or at least of possibility as related to life or experience, that I don’t recall ever seeing before. It seems an extension or exaggeration of Alan Watts’s statement that there had to be a “you”, that there always was a “you” (“me” from your perspective). You’ve extended it to the point of there having to be a “you” particular enough to include your parentage, & I suppose also the time & place of your material existence.

      Does that mean that if any of the other particulars leading to your material existence were altered even in the slightest (say, for instance, your parents had conceived you a day earlier or later), there would not have been a “you” at all? That your experience would not have begun, but someone else’s in its place? Hard for me to swallow that, when all this material is cycling thru my body, yet my experience remains.

      1. You are a product of *tendencies* encoded in your genes and expressed in and by the structures of your mind *and* a product of your upbringing.

        So, yes – every change in the particulars of your creation, including changes that happened before even your parents existed, would create an individual different than you to some degree.

        Being conceived a day earlier might produce a new being with a *negligible* change – but a change nevertheless. The more dramatic the change in circumstances, the more dramatic the difference in the possible versions.

          1. You got your Buddhism in my tranhumanism.

              1. You know, I was talking about it to a guy I worked with, and he said a lot of the concepts sounded Buddhist.

                I can live with that, as long as I can sideline the supernatural stuff.

        1. To me, one is one’s POV, one’s stream of consciousness, of experience (inclucing dreams & any non-bodily experience you may have or have had). It’s odd to think that that stream would not have existed had the body it’s connected to had some tiny alter’n at its formation.

          Being conceived a day earlier might produce a new being with a *negligible* change – but a change nevertheless.

          Meaning the experiences would’ve been had by a different consciousness, and your own would’ve never come into existence?

          You are a product of *tendencies* encoded in your genes and expressed in and by the structures of your mind *and* a product of your upbringing.

          What about identical twins? Are you saying that until they’ve had some upbringing, they share 1 awareness, 1 set of thoughts?

          1. A different egg or sperm would have generated your sibling. Not “you”.

            I find this whole line of discussion to be epic naval gazing that deliberately ignores the point of the observation that so much of “you” is the luck of your circumstance. “You” would not be a brilliant reason commenter under 99.5% or alternate roles of the dice.

          2. Meaning the experiences would’ve been had by a different consciousness, and your own would’ve never come into existence?


            What about identical twins? Are you saying that until they’ve had some upbringing, they share 1 awareness, 1 set of thoughts?

            What? No. They don’t *share* anything – even if (theoretically, assuming both that they are *completely* identical physically and had the same set of experiences from the same POV) they may have identical thoughts at the exact same time.

            I set up two computers, configured the same way, give them the same input, I’m going to get the same output – even though there’s no communication between them.

            It’s odd to think that that stream would not have existed had the body it’s connected to had some tiny alter’n at its formation.

            Why? There’s nothing immutable about ‘you’. As even you say – you are a product of your influences. And that includes both your physical structure and the events you experienced. If you’re a product of those experiences, it would seem perfectly logical that if those experiences had been different, the ‘you’ that exists now would never have come into being and there’d be a different person. Just as you’re a completely different person than you were 10 years ago.

            1. But I have a stream of experience (with periods of non-dreaming unconsciousness) going back 10 yrs. connecting w that different me. There seems to be a single identity there.

              What I’m trying to get at is that if there was no possibility that you’d’ve come into existence w different parents or other physical characteristics, that means there would’ve never been a “you” POV. Your consciousness would never have existed. I don’t understand how everything could’ve been so rigged. If it was possible for you to have either a dog or a cat wag its tail to you today, if it was possible for you to have any of various things happen to you, why were there not also various possibilities at your generation, such as having a different set of parents?

              1. What I mean is, why couldn’t it’ve been possible for you to have been someone next door & vice versa? How was it rigged that whatever consciousness would be developed was this particular one? I understand how you’d keep it once you got it, but not how it was attached to you in the 1st place.

    3. Isn’t that what luck is?

  2. I find that the only way Dilbert makes sense is to pretend the entity he works for is a government bureaucracy. No private corporation could survive with the disfunctionality that is portrayed but plenty of (i.e. almost all) government agencies can and do.

    1. I’m wondering if you’ve ever worked for a really large corporation, because there you can have all sorts of niches of crazy and not have the entire enterprise fail, or at least not fail immediately.

      1. That’s what I’ve seen. The parts often disserve the whole.

        1. “The parts often disserve the whole.”

          there’s a dick joke in there somewhere

      2. This has been my experience too

      3. This is where people get accused of “market fundamentalism”. Markets don’t produce ideal results. Just good enough results. Big companies have plenty of dysfunctionality and mindless bureaucracy.

        1. The internal dynamics of large corporations (almost all entities really) are not analogous to markets, instead they are command and control structures.

      4. I once worked for a billion dollar startup and there were only a few productive people.

        The rest went to meetings and sent emails to cover their asses.

        1. I’m sure. But the cost of the info needed for the people who could do something about that is greater than the cost of the nonproductive people. According to theory, this is why firms exist: reduction of info costs. Otherwise everything, all biz relaationships, would be on an as-needed basis. We know that part of the output of the firm will be useless, but that one needs to consider the sum of useless investig’n w everything else useless.

          1. The flaw in that analysis is the assumption that a firm, in its current form, was the result of rational planning rather than irrational human action.

            1. There’s enough experience w firms now that choices to form them are pretty well informed.

              1. Individual firms always evolve in unexpected directions, usually driven by the executive’s ambition and desire.

    2. “No private corporation could survive with the disfunctionality”

      Unless they’re too big to fail or propped up otherwise by the crony system. There it’s plenty dysfunctionality in private corps but at the end of the day you have a choice whether to invest in them, do business with them, or work for them. In government they have no competitive incentives, and you have no choice but to pay for their services, and they have real power over your life.

      1. The dysfunctionality costs private corps customers, employees, and investors. Sometimes enough to close their doors. In rhe government dysfunctionality just means they need to take more if your money.

    3. 1st, you’d better allow for exaggeration, because it’s a cartoon. 2nd, assume it’s a large enough firm. 3rd, allow for the possibility that the very few people portrayed in it are a subsidiary wing that’s stayed intact although it’s been shuffled around between or within firms. Then it becomes very believable.

      I worked in a place for 2 yrs. that was toxic to most of the people in it & definitely to the firm it was part of. It was part of a larger chunk that’d been traded back & forth many times between private & public corps. A lot of us left quickly, voluntarily or involuntarily. A yr. after I was gone, it was under a grand jury probe for false statements, & a yr. later its parent had been dismembered & it’d been bought by 1 of its main suppliers. The head of the dept., & I’m sure some key people above & below him, moved onward & upward into that firm.

    4. Dysfunctional companies can still be profitable

    5. You obviously don’t work for big pharma.

      1. Wally is fucking brilliant.

  3. OT: Ben Carson just endorsed Obamacare on George Stephanopolis.

    He wants government supplied funds to pay for private HSAs with a profit limit of 15% on regulated private insurance companies along with Medicaid expansion.

    Of course he is too stupid to know that he just described Obamacare.

    1. Free market solution for the win. You are a champ shreek.

    2. I wonder how he squares that ‘15% profit’ with *reality*?

      Considering the average medical insurance profit margin is approx 3-4%.



      And how he can square it with the court decisions that limit the government deciding how to *80% of a company’s funds can be spent before its considered ‘nationalized’.

    3. O-care forces people to “pay” for all sorts of mandated coverage they don’t want

      HSA’s allow people to pick what they spend their $ on.

      There is zero similarity.

      1. Tell progs that Obamacare is like Comcast and Time Warner while HSA’s are like having a Roku box.

  4. “Of course he is too stupid to know that he just described Obamacare.”

    As if you know what O-care is.

  5. OT from TepidPredisposition: Reasonable standards:


    A jury acquitted two former sheriff’s deputies of involuntary manslaughter on Friday after the death of a black college student inside a Savannah, Georgia jail holding cell on New Year’s Day.

    Matthew Ajibade, 22, died from blunt force trauma after he was tasered several times while strapped in a restraint chair.

    Inside the holding cell, Ajibade was stripped to his undergarments and handcuffed to a restraining chair. A camera attached to the police taser? which automatically records when the device is on ? showed Ajibade screaming as he was stunned multiple times in his genitals.

    1. ” stunned multiple times in his genitals.”

      NOT OKAY

    2. Of course, Think “Progress” only care because the victim was black and they can scream RACISM!!!!!!!!!

  6. Feminism Will Win When Everyone Makes Less Money

    I blame susan for making me link to Tee-Pee’s bottomless well of derpitude

    1. It is wise to know the derp of one’s enemy…

      1. Thank goodness they don’t allow comments on that story. Can you just imagine?

        1. “Robin Winning
          Did you read the article? He’s not going to pay his co-stars the difference out of his own pocket (how patronizing would that be?) He is going to work to make sure the salary negotiation ensures parity with his co-stars up front.”



    2. Shorter Bradley Cooper:
      Women can’t negotiate without the help of men.

    3. equal pay for attractive actresses we like who are already rich!!1

      feminists sure know how to pick sympathetic figureheads

    4. Or, you know, he could tell these chicks to harden the fuck up.

      You know I just can’t imagine that Madonna is getting underpaid because she cant negotiate well enough. If nothing else – that’s what your fucking agent is for. Hire a dude if you have to. Better if you do – let him be the dick and you can pretend to be nice.

      Worked for CO/XO management teams for . . . ever.

      *Aaaaaand* – maybe consider that there’s a reason you’re not getting offered as much as your male costar for reasons other than ‘I’m too nice’.

      1. Just because you’re *billed* equally, doesn’t mean you both have the same box office draw. Chicks will pay well to see Bradley Cooper. Dudes couldn’t give a fuck who Jennifer Lawrence is because . . .

      2. You may have a lot of competition in who can do the job as well as you and are willing to do it for less.

      1. “You may have a lot of competition in who can do the job as well as you “

        There you go.

        In any film, one actor may be called upon to “make concerned faces“, while the other has to play the part of a deranged serial killer who eats his victims while listening to classical music and lecturing on Byzantine architecture. Some roles are more demanding and require specific talent. Others require tits. Pay seeks out talent.

    1. We need new gun laws to keep guns out of the hands of the undead! If you’ve ever been a vampire, zombie, wight, mummy, ghost, ghoul, wraith, skeleton, or lich, no guns for you! Common sense undead gun control now!

        1. “”Rebuke Undead””


          1. LARP seems like team sports for fat kids who aren’t good at sports.

            Although i think it would be pretty awesome if a linebacker sacked a QB while screaming “LIGHTNING BOLT!! LIGHTNING BOLT!! DOUBLE-CHAOS STEALTH ATTACK!!”

            1. I’m pretty sure Kam Chancellor does that, it just makes him even scarier to whoever he’s coming after.

            2. Sports are RPGs for people who aren’t good at . . . sitting around a table all night eating pizza?


    2. Won’t somebody think of the undead children!

  7. Speaking of a new way of looking at the familiar: A conservationist looks a little closer at his faith in Al Gore and decides maybe a little skepticism is in order. It’s a good read – a ten-point summary of where he says the science really is on global warming, and it’s not where he thought it was..

    1. Nice try but that will be wasted on the vast majority of true believers.

      Anytime you hear someone say ‘the science is settled’ you can be confident that they have no idea what science is and that it certainly isnt settled.

      1. most people will not even address the premise of his piece, and instead pretend he’s saying something different

        there probably is no climate crisis and that the focus on CO2 takes funding and attention from critical environmental problems

        – He’s not even ‘denying’ climate change, he’s not alleging any conspiracy, he’s not even questioning the basic mechanisms of AGW … he’s just saying,

        a) Even accepting most of the basic data and claims of the climate change-mongering crowd= IT ISN’T A ‘CRISIS’*

        (especially in the sense that anyone can presume to know what consequences it will have, when they will come, and that they won’t be things we should be able to easily deal with unless we become as retarded as the people who run California)


        b) The massive over-blowing of the importance of Climate Change draws attention & resources from ‘other more important environmental issues’

        (and one can probably agree with this point without agreeing on what any of the other issues are)

        I’m convinced that within my lifetime that the Climate Change panic will transform into some other imminent-doomsday-scenario, as it becomes clearer and clearer than the AGW threat is effectively non-existent

    2. This is a very good summary of climate skepticism, but I see at leat one faulty part. The faulty part is where he says that the global “average” temperature anomaly graph has a total range of one degree C and then compares it to the 20 deg C range that one location might experience in one day. That’s apples and oranges.

  8. “You can defend an entirely different view of the world using the same data that’s used to defend the standard model. So whenever I can do that, I’m so there,” says Scott Adams.

    But models have to fit with other models that describe something different using different data. I don’t mean two competing models trying to explain the same data. I mean one model describes how X works and another describes how Y works, but X and Y interact. Both models need to be consistent with each other. This limits your choices.

    1. Adams seems to want to be liked and as such, he seems unwilling to make a statement of what he believes. So long as he can ride that fence (and his ass must hurt by now), and toss out occasionally humorous bon mots, he’s golden.
      Note the Penn Teller thread earlier this week; when called on his ‘support’ for Sanders, he admitted it was a mistake and a result of his ‘weakness’ for sincerity. I doubt Adams has ever made a statement clear enough that it would require a walk-back if it were shown wrong.

  9. BTW Zach, I thought you did a nice job. I liked your questions.

  10. OT – Chris Penner, a bar owner, asked some transsexuals not to come back to his establishment – he thought they were hurting business. In 2013, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industrist fined the bar $400,000 for “discrimination” under the Oregon Equality Act of 2007.

    Now the state Court of Appeals sides with the Bureau against Penner, upholding the penalty.

    “The complaint against Penner and his company, Blachana LLC, was the first brought by Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian under the Equality Act and the first to result in a damages award….

    “Avakian cited the same statute [the Oregon Equality Act] earlier this year in ordering the owners of a Gresham bakery to pay $135,000 in damages after they refused service to a lesbian couple who wanted to buy a cake for their same-sex wedding….

    “Penner closed the Twilight Room Annex in April 2014 and laid off five employees after his bank accounts were seized in connection with the $400,000 judgment. The state also imposed $3,000 in civil penalties on Blachana and $2,000 on Penner….

    “Avakian said that while “it’s never the goal to have a business shut down,” he believed the damages were fair based on the evidence presented.

    “”He’s got a responsibility to take care of his debts,” he said of Penner. “Now that the Court of Appeals has ruled, I hope he does.””

    1. Oops, link –


      1. In an entirely unrelated development, *Salon* talks to prog economist Robert Reich about the problems small businesses seem to be suffering today. It’s because of “growing competitive pressures from big corporations.” Though the article acknowledges that some of this pressure consists of getting anticompetitive laws enacted, it also blames deregulation and unfair franchise contracts.

        What to do? Small businesses should “ally themselves with consumer, labor, and community groups” to press for campaign finance reform and stronger antitrust enforcement.

        That’s the ticket.

    2. $400,000? Did he kill somebody?

      1. Don’t worry, the Labor Commissioner assures us the damages are fair

    3. “customers complained that the T-Girls left the stall doors open and seats up in the women’s restrooms”

      Tolerant Oregon!

    4. I get the sentiment behind the “we can’t tolerate discrimination because it makes me sad” point of view, what I don’t get is that they apparently think it’s preferential for there to be NO businesses with owners who hold yucky views than any businesses that don’t cater to certain groups

      The result for both outcomes is that these particular groups can’t go to this particular establishment. The ONLY difference is that someone’s livelihood is ruined and the establishment can’t be used by anyone. Fining mean businesses to the point of them closing down doesn’t actually help the people it’s supposed to.

      1. Fines & other penalties never help anybody. They’re just to be deterrents, acknowledging that when deterrence fails & the penalty must be exercised, everyone pays the price. People were said to be willing to nearly blow up the world on that acc’t.

  11. OT: 6 year old shoots 3 year old in Chicago after finding loaded pistol on top of the fridge.

    I have no truck with gun grabbers, but as responsible gun owners we need to work on purging the idiots from our ranks.

    1. The comments on that story were a lot better than I expected them to be.

    2. Hillary would prefer to hold the gun maker liable rather then the dipshit who left a loaded gun around a 6 year old.

  12. Every fucking comment in this place seems like i need to be searching for mummies.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.