1. Exquisite Tweets from @drvox

    MSThrockCollected by MSThrock

    OK, y'all, time for some game theory. Ha ha, jk. It's actually time for some theory of mind! Gigantic tweetstorm to follow. Brace thyself.

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    drvox

    David Roberts

    1. I want to riff on the point I made here, which I still think is central to our current political...uh, situation. vox.com/2016/9/29/1308…

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    drvox

    David Roberts

    2. "Theory of mind" (ToM) is a concept in psychology. To have a ToM is to interpret the behavior of others as reflecting inner states.

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    drvox

    David Roberts

    3. It is to interpret behavior as issuing from, and evidence of, desires, beliefs, intentions, fears, etc.

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    David Roberts

    4. Humans typically develop ToM early, around 2-3. There are raging debates about whether various animals have ToM, or if so what kind.

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    David Roberts

    5. People on the autism spectrum have difficulty w/ ToM -- difficulty connecting behaviors to mental states, difficulty "reading" behavior.

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    David Roberts

    6. Autism-spectrum presents one kind of ToM problem: a rich text to be read, but a reader with difficulty reading.

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    David Roberts

    7. There is, however, another (I suspect) more rare ToM problem, namely: sophisticated readers over-interpreting a text.

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    David Roberts

    8. Typical adults are drawn almost irresistibly to see behaviors as indicators of complex mental states - persistent beliefs, desires, etc.

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    drvox

    David Roberts

    9. Here's the thing: Trump, by all indications, does not have beliefs, intentions, etc. that are stable, persistent across contexts.

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    drvox

    David Roberts

    10. He is attuned to who is dominating & who is submissive *in the situation he finds himself in*. It is 100% situational, 0% persistent.

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    David Roberts

    11. He seeks domination. That's all. He does not care about, or even seem cognizant of, lying, reversing himself, switching loyalties, etc.

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    drvox

    David Roberts

    12. He's like a goldfish. No beliefs, intentions, plans, or schemes are carried from place to place. Every situation is new.

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    drvox

    David Roberts

    13. There is, in a very real sense, no "mind" as such, only a set of animal impulses -- seek approbation, avoid blame, dominate, win.

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    drvox

    David Roberts

    14. Here's the problem: healthy adults are simply *not accustomed to dealing w/ someone like that*. It is a rare pathology ...

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    drvox

    David Roberts

    15. ... and even rarer for someone to be so protected by money/power/family that they can succeed in life despite the pathology.

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    David Roberts

    16. To find someone with that pathology in a central position of power in the US is simply unprecedented. Utterly novel.

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    David Roberts

    17. Normal people with normal ToM (including journalists) find it almost impossible to resist over-interpreting Trump's behavior ...

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    David Roberts

    18. ... to see it as reflective of stable, persistent beliefs, intentions, and plans. They read "mind" into his behavior. Can't help it.

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    drvox

    David Roberts

    19. And this describes the vast bulk of journalism & analysis on Trump: a desperate attempt to figure out what kind of "mind" ...

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    drvox

    David Roberts

    20. ... could possibly result in this bizarre set of statements & actions. Is there some long con? Is he distracting us? Secretly a genius?

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    David Roberts

    21. Firing Comey in the middle of the Russia investigation, for example, seems nigh inexplicable. Where's the "mind," the deeper rationale?

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    David Roberts

    22. Does this show he "actually" wants to become a dictator? That he "actually" has inside info on what Comey knew/intended?

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    drvox

    David Roberts

    23. That he's "actually" distracting attention from the Census thing (or all the other things)? "Actually" angling for revenge on Clinton?

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    drvox

    David Roberts

    24. All of these are (perfectly understandable) attempts to apply ToM. It's what we do, instinctively, *especially* in political analysis.

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    drvox

    David Roberts

    25. The mistake is not any particular one of these theories. The mistake is *applying conventional ToM at all*.

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    drvox

    David Roberts

    26. As I argued in the piece (linked way back in tweet 1), Trump is, by all indications, just a bundle of impulses. Nothing more.

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    drvox

    David Roberts

    27. Most likely explanation re: Russia is not some deep, secret plot, but ... DT saying yes to something that felt good in the moment ...

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    drvox

    David Roberts

    28. ... and then immediately forgetting about it, connecting it to nothing else. Thus the confusion why everyone keeps bringing it up.

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    David Roberts

    29. Most likely explanation re: Comey is not some Machiavellian tactic, but ... he kept seeing Comey on TV saying not-awesome things ...

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    David Roberts

    30. ... and that gave him bad feels, made him feel non-dominant. So he made Comey get off his TV. No "mind," just stimulus-response.

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    David Roberts

    31. Accepting this fact -- that ToM is useless, that Trump really is nothing more than amygdala -- is *absolutely terrifying*.

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    David Roberts

    32. It is more terrifying than any particular ToM as applied to Trump. Stable desires & intentions, even if evil, at least *make sense*.

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    David Roberts

    33. A Trump ToM gives us the comfort of knowing that at least someone's in charge, someone has a handle on things, even if malign.

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    David Roberts

    34. The idea that Trump is simply doing what produces good feels in a particular situation, that he is utterly unconstrained by ...

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    David Roberts

    35. ... consistency, by past commitments or statements, by laws or norms, by *anything* -- that's there's no "mind" as such -- is chilling.

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    David Roberts

    36. What if he finds himself in a position where North Korea is giving him bad feels? Will he be able to assess a response in light of ...

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    David Roberts

    37. ... past commitments, expectations, strategy, norms, or decency? Probably not! He will seek a feeling of dominance *in the moment*.

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    David Roberts

    38. A mindless Trump, acting purely on impulse, is far more dangerous than an evil Trump, acting on grand, secret schemes.

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    David Roberts

    39. As difficult as it is, journalists, analysts, & other political actors need to internalize this. Evil can be predicted, bargained w/ ...

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    David Roberts

    40. ... but there's no predicting or reasoning w/ pure animal impulse. ToM is useless. Only containment or removal will work. </fin>

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    drvox

    David Roberts