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Jordan Peterson VS Sam Harris - power dynamics & power moves

The topic is complex and rather abstract.

But it's a very interesting debate among two top thought leaders.

Mostly, I was interested in power dynamics, and who would pulled more power moves -and nasty power moves-.

Overall, it was a rather fair debate.

But Jordan Peterson came across as "higher quality" and more eagle-like.

Harris couldn't resist defending or pulling some power moves at times.

For example:

Crowd: (cheering for Peterson)
Sam: (...) I just heard from your audience there

Sam is defending.

He felt on the backfoot with Peterson's case and the audience uproar, and he felt pressured to frame the uproar as "Peterson's supporters".
It was unneeded.
Especially considering that the audience also cheered him when he made good points -and of course it didn't cross his mind to say "that was my audience"-.

Understandable, but he lost some points.

In the beginning, also:

Sam: (...) 90% of what he said struck me as really wise, and useful, and well-intentioned

"Well-intentioned" frames Peterson as naive.

"He is well-intentioned, but he doesn't know any better", is the subtext.

Again, unneeded.
A very straight "I disagree with some important things" would have been much higher power and higher quality.

Very worth noting that Peterson had not a single power move from what as I've seen so far (4/5 in).
Class act.

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Ali ScarlettMatthew WhitewoodTransitionedBel
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Thanks for sharing this discussion and analysis.
I watched the segment which you included.

He felt on the backfoot with Peterson's case and the audience uproar, and he felt pressured to frame the uproar as "Peterson's supporters".

Doesn't framing the uproar as "Peterson's supporters" give more power to Jordan Peterson?
It means that more people in the audience support Peterson in general.

On the other hand, I suppose it also frames the uproar as biased so supporting Peterson is natural, and it's not because Peterson made good points.
In this regard, it takes away the credibility of the uproar and hence the support by the uproar for Peterson's points.

However, I'm unsure if I'm understanding the dynamics correctly.

I am also unsure if I understand the dynamics here well:

In the beginning, also:

Sam: (...) 90% of what he said struck me as really wise, and useful, and well-intentioned

"Well-intentioned" frames Peterson as naive.

"He is well-intentioned, but he doesn't know any better", is the subtext.

How do we know when "well-intentioned" is a back-handed compliment (if I'm using the right term)?
Meaning when is it

  • He is well-intentioned, but he doesn't know any better.
  • He is well-intentioned. He works hard to provide value to society.

My guess is that, in a debate, facts and sound arguments take precedence over good intentions.
Or at least the perception of using facts and sound arguments well.

If someone makes good points during a debate, one won't label him as "well-intentioned".
You would label him as an authority, expert, etc.

If this was an opening ceremony at a charity drive, then well-intentioned would be positive.
For example, a hypothetical example would be

Master of Ceremony: Jordan Peterson is raising a lot of money to help under-privileged individuals get access to education.
On behalf of everyone, I would like to congratulate him on his well intentions and magnanimity.

Some rapid answers on this:

  1. The uproar: Sam says that the audiences they both have, have no overlap. The frame is that both have their own supporters, and the uproar was from Peterson's supporters (in that case, implied that in other cases, he might have his supporters uproaring). So it's implied Sam also has his own supporters.
    But Even if Sam didn't say preface about his own supporters, implying the audience is biased is still be a power move as you also correctly noticed (Trump did it a few times during his campaign)
  2. He is well-intentioned: keep in mind the specifics of this case. The two are already pre-framed as disagreeing. Actually, the whole debate was somewhat preframed as a little "battle of thoughts" from two very different camps.
    Also, when people first talk of someone else, the general expectation is for effusive compliments, not "he's good" type of compliments. That is even truer for people who've attained high level of success and fame -as Peterson did-.
    Finally, what he decided to say against what he could have said. If one wanted to Peterson has a positive effect on the world, then he'd say "he's making the world a better place", rather than "he has good intentions (of making the world a better place)". The latter casts doubt on the second, non-expressed part of the sentence (people subconsciously wonder "are those good intentions turning into positive effects"?)
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Matthew WhitewoodBel
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Thanks a lot Lucio!

Also, when people first talk of someone else, the general expectation is for effusive compliments, not "he's good" type of compliments. That is even truer for people who've attained high level of success and fame -as Peterson did-.

If you don't mind, let me clarify with examples.

Effusive Compliments

  • He's world-class and has led groundbreaking research in clinical psychology
  • He is an exceptional leader in the field of psychology
  • His contribution has been critical towards advancing the field

"He's" Good Type of Compliments

  • He's well-intentioned
  • He's good at psychology
  • He has worked hard in this area

So the "he's good" type of compliments can come across as the person is not living up to his potential.
It's a backhanded compliment.

Finally, what he decided to say against what he could have said. If one wanted to Peterson has a positive effect on the world, then he'd say "he's making the world a better place", rather than "he has good intentions (of making the world a better place)". The latter casts doubt on the second, non-expressed part of the sentence (people subconsciously wonder "are those good intentions turning into positive effects"?)

I see how this phrase is applicable in the discourse between Elon Musk and UN director David Beasley on Twitter.

Beasley: Elon, to celebrate I'm offering you a once in a lifetime opportunity: help us save 42M people from starvation for just $6.6B!!
Offer expires soon.. and lives do too.

Musk: Beasley is well-intentioned. ... (elaborates how he focuses his resources on his own priorities) ...

"Well-intentioned" here potentially can save face while due to the somewhat "positive" connotation questioning the efficacy of Beasley's proposal and demands.

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Lucio Buffalmano
Quote from Matthew Whitewood on November 14, 2021, 1:44 pm

Thanks a lot Lucio!

Effusive Compliments

  • He's world-class and has led groundbreaking research in clinical psychology
  • He is an exceptional leader in the field of psychology
  • His contribution has been critical towards advancing the field

"He's" Good Type of Compliments

  • He's well-intentioned
  • He's good at psychology
  • He has worked hard in this area

So the "he's good" type of compliments can come across as the person is not living up to his potential.
It's a backhanded compliment.

Yes, correct.

The dictionary lists it as a "backhanded compliment" for now, but I'm not yet sure if a new name might be in order.

Basically, it's:

Anything that sounds like a compliment but understates the true level of someone.

One might not like Jordan Peterson, but he might be the #1 world philosopher, the #1 most popular figure backing religion, and probably the #1 thought leader of general conservative thought (albeit he might reject that definition).
Plus, you hear him speak, and should be obvious he's got genius-level thinking.
Calling him "well-intentioned" sounds quite an understatement compared to anything else one might have said of him (plus, the "naive" connotation that it implies).


The example in the dictionary (I paraphrase) is:

“ThePowerMoves.com is a good website on power dynamics” might be interpreted as a 20% compliment and 80% offense if one considers ThePowerMoves.com to be the first, only, and so far best website dedicated to power dynamics.

Another example was a guy who had a thing against Valentino Rossi and said in a press conference "he's a good rider".
The guy has more championships than anyone else in the grid and he's a legend, calling him a "good rider" was an attempt to diminish him.

Edit: typos

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Matthew WhitewoodBel
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?
Quote from Matthew Whitewood on November 14, 2021, 1:44 pm

I see how this phrase is applicable in the discourse between Elon Musk and UN director David Beasley on Twitter.

Beasley: Elon, to celebrate I'm offering you a once in a lifetime opportunity: help us save 42M people from starvation for just $6.6B!!
Offer expires soon.. and lives do too.

Musk: Beasley is well-intentioned. ... (elaborates how he focuses his resources on his own priorities) ...

"Well-intentioned" here potentially can save face while due to the somewhat "positive" connotation questioning the efficacy of Beasley's proposal and demands.

Yes, good one, it could have worked really well there.

Even more obvious and powerful if he used "BUT" right after:

He's well-intentioned, but unluckily giving money away rarely solved anything -and make things worse-. There's a reason people talk about giving fishes VS teaching how to fish

Matthew Whitewood and Bel have reacted to this post.
Matthew WhitewoodBel
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Thanks a lot for the advice.

I was indeed referring to your dictionary definition of backhanded compliment.
Thanks for quoting the examples there over here too.

In the following thread, I think your suggestion also touches on this dynamic:
CEO Says to Another CEO: "Basically, I gave him shit" in Front of Me

Some other option would have been a simple reframing:

CEO 1: Basically, I was giving him shit
You: Yeah, challenging my ideas and plans. He was alright

Three power moves:

  1. Judge role in your reply
  2. Lukewarm compliment: lukewarm compliments are a hidden way of saying "he wasn't that helpful"
  3. You interject to put your own positive spin: you don't allow him to disempower without at least jumping in, shows resolve/power, social awareness

But also something less one-upping like:

You: Yeah, he was asking the tough questions. It's good to be challenged

Or:

You: Yeah, he was asking the tough questions. You need someone to challenge you sometimes

The lukewarm compliment "He was alright" here has the same effect as "He was well-intentioned".
It draws the effect that the advice by the CEO wasn't as helpful as the CEO espouses.
(Him asking "What's the problem you're trying to solve" at my venture)\

A variation here would be

CEO 1: Basically, I was giving him shit
You: Yeah, he was well-intentioned in challenging my ideas and plans.

I think I see some uses for this type of compliments as a

  • power move or
  • counter power move to disempowering remarks
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Lucio BuffalmanoBel

Yes exactly, very similar.

Except that there, since he's no known legend Jordan Peterson-style, we said "he's alright" instead of "he's good", just to make sure the message was cristal clear.

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Matthew Whitewood
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?
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