The peculiarity of Beau of the Fifth Column

If you want to persuade someone, generally you have to look a lot like someone you are trying to persuade.

You’d like to think that we’d be all Vulcan and clinically analyze the facts, but in general you need to be a scientist for this to work. Even a lot of scientists have their own biases. Which is why watching vlogger Beau of the Fifth Column at work is pretty interesting.

If you are trying to slip through someone’s radar, a bald white guy with a wild red beard and a baseball cap seemingly glued to his scalp is likely to do it. One look at Beau (real name Justin King) and you would be forgiven for typecasting him as a redneck.

And in a way, it’s true. Beau lives way out in the wilds of Northern Florida somewhere. He exhibits many of the attributes you would expect of rednecks. He owned guns until a few years ago. He’s a big believer in self-sufficiency. He’s not a fan of big government and believes that local community networks are the way to really change society, doing it from the ground up. He’s hardly pretentious. He never appears in a suit. He won’t trim his beard. He usually won’t change his Curious George patch Velcro-ed to his hat, other than to turn it upside down from time to time if he’s saying something in jest.

He almost always films his YouTube videos from what looks like a large shed adjacent to his house. The camera seems to be bolted into place. Behind him is a set of unadorned shelves. If you watch him enough (as he tends to put out a few videos a day) you almost get excited when a new item appears on the shelves, which almost never happens.

Beau slips around your defenses in other ways too. The going way to get attention online these days is to be self-righteous and yell a lot. Beau is just the opposite. He’s so low key and inoffensive that he sometimes comes across as a slovenly Mister Rogers. He often won’t tell you exactly what he wants to say. He alludes to current events but won’t explain them.

He doesn’t quite smile, but he doesn’t quite frown either. He never raises his voice, at least on camera. He doesn’t tell you what to think but does allow you to ponder his points, which comes from many years in military and security related businesses. I assume somewhere along the way he made a comfortable fortune because aside from any YouTube revenues he doesn’t seem to do anything for money and apparently he has a wife and five kids. Vlogging seems to be his full time occupation.

The general impression that Beau makes is that he’s deeply intellectual and grounded, but not anxious to advertise it. Unlike Mister Rogers, he treats his viewers as thinking adults, not like children. This tends to make him relatable. By avoiding pushing people’s buttons, it’s not hard to find him engaging and interesting. You might say he’s the anti-Alex Jones.

So Beau never appears pompous, at least on camera, and always seems inoffensive: factual but pleasant. His particular bent though appears to be foreign policy, a topic that puts most people to sleep. But Beau is likely to engage you on it, and he’s been particularly engaging since the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war as he takes you through a lot of grounded research on intelligence, foreign policy, how militaries work and the power games played among larger and minor powers.

If you watch Beau for a while you might figure he’s actually a closet liberal. Really, it’s hard to tell. By some accounts, he’s an anarchist. If so he’s a very peculiar anarchist because for all his beliefs in local change and building power from the ground up, he also grasps the larger meta issues.

It’s pretty clear, for example, that he doesn’t think a free market is going to bring us affordable health care and that capitalism is going to save us. He seems to be a peculiar hybrid of liberal and libertarian. It’s just that one look at that face and you can’t help but think “redneck”. But after watching Beau for a while you realize you’ve opened a really interesting box, just not a Pandora’s kind of box. Beau is who he is and believes in being respectful, honest and grounded. He’s very clearly not a racist and is deeply troubled by the racism, sexism, classism and other-isms rife in our country today.

With 700,000 followers and growing he’s built perhaps the most unique niche on YouTube. While there are some things he says I don’t agree with, he’s pretty much impossible to dislike.

I don’t think he’s on the radar of the Alex Joneses of the world. Perhaps he should be because he’s a direct threat to their viewers, if they stumble upon him. In his own way, Beau is persuading a lot of people, and his followers are donating a lot of money to his charitable causes. If anyone can change the toxicity rife in our nation, it may be Beau, one video at a time, posted from the back of his shed.

There is little about this election that is amusing, but there is Scott Adams

Scott Adams, the force behind the phenomenally popular comic strip Dilbert has a blog and too much time on his hands. One thing I like about Scott is his Machiavellian detachment, which comes across in his comic strip, principally in the character Dilbert. Dilbert sees the systems around him for what they are: full of chaotic forces that make little sense and are frequently evil. Dilbert is rarely shown with a mouth in the comic strip, but he sure has one. He feels free to say whatever is on his mind. These are usually thoughts that you would not utter in the workplace. They are also frequently contrary to conventional opinion.

Scott claims to be apolitical and doesn’t plan to vote in the upcoming election. However, this hasn’t kept him from “endorsing” candidates for president. First he endorsed Donald Trump, a man he obviously greatly admires. I suspect his admiration for Trump comes from (like Dilbert) Trump feeling free to tell people what he really thinks, even if it comes off as crazy and abrasive most of the time. When you have Trump’s fortune and lawyers you have pretty much free speech without consequence, as long as you don’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Scott’s fortune is smaller than Trump’s, but he is obviously very successful and likely has a fortune in the hundreds of millions of dollars. So Scott can say what he thinks too without much fear of consequence.

Scott of course has a right to his opinions. If he wants to support Donald Trump, more power to him. He discovered in the Bay area where he lives that it has some downsides, as in he is losing friends. So some months back he unendorsed Trump and endorsed Hillary Clinton instead. He did so because (as he said) he fears for his personal safety, not because he actually likes Clinton or her policies. The Bay area is obviously a liberal hotbed. Maybe he imagines hordes of liberals coming at him with hot pitch and pitchforks. While he was “endorsing” Clinton though he continued to plug for Trump, praising him as a “master persuader”. Based on his attending a hypnosis course, he was noting what he perceived to be Trump’s meta-messages that were persuading our hidden brains somehow. He felt certain that Trump would win the election. At one point he gave Trump’s odds of winning at 99%.

But as I noted back in June he seemed to have grasped the reality of Trump’s situation and conceded that Clinton was likely to win. And then there came the presidential debates. Most of us saw an unhinged Donald Trump but Scott saw a master persuader at work. Against conventional wisdom he said that Trump had “won” the first debate because of Trump’s master persuader power. It would be like a snowball going downhill and turn into a Trump avalanche at the end. Also around this time he decided that maybe he could endure the pitch and pitchforks and he decided to endorse Trump again. Those of us reading his blog breathed a sigh of relief. It was obvious that his endorsement of Clinton was insincere and that he was very much rooting for Trump, just not officially.

So Trump the master persuader continued to spin his magic by going completely off the rails by insulting pretty much anyone who was not a white male, leaving Scott to figure out whether to continue to support Trump’s losing campaign or unendorse him again before his face was completely covered in egg. Shortly after the first debate and particularly as the Alicia Machado debacle unfolded, Scott’s Machiavellian brain reasserted itself. However much a “master persuader” Trump was, it apparently was only with his base. Trump obviously had no clue how to persuade the rest of us, plus he ran the most ineffective and unorthodox campaign ever, eclipsing even George Wallace’s veiled-racist 1968 campaign. Woken to cold reality again, Scott withdrew his endorsement and endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson instead. Yes, that Gary Johnson who when asked did not know what Aleppo was and could not think of any foreign leaders that he admired. (At least Trump knows and admires Vladimir Putin.)

And so it will go probably through the remainder of this strange campaign. But with Scott you never know for sure whom he will endorse next, not that it matters in the least because no one is persuaded by his arguments. You do know though whom he would vote for, if he elected to vote and it would be Donald Trump. It’s transparent to all of us.

Meanwhile, to get away from all the flack he is receiving, he had “temporarily disabled” comments on his blog. Scott is at least consistent in being unorthodox. It does come at a price though since his income from paid speeches is declining, even though he gets the occasional TV interview to talk about Trump and his “master persuader” thesis.

While I am not surprised by Scott’s choice, I do think he would be better served by staying away from politics altogether. It’s not easy to be taken seriously in this arena. Even the highly polarized ones are at least wonkish policy nerds steeped in this subject. He would be much more persuasive if he had a degree in political science.

Scott’s opinions don’t matter at all as he is persuading no one at all. He is needlessly pissing people off who might like other stuff he blogs about and undercutting his brand. Since he already made his fortune, maybe it doesn’t matter. Stepping so forcefully out in an area where his knowledge is keenly lacking though is kind of amusing and sometimes hilarious. It’s like watching a slow moving train wreck so sometimes you just have to look away.

I hope Scott changes his mind and actually votes. If he does I’m sure he’ll be voting for Trump, not Johnson. As appalling as Trump is he is at least better informed than Gary Johnson, although not by much. Trump needs all the votes he can get in California, and it won’t be many. Meanwhile, I can at least take some schadenfreude observing the way Scott so badly and repeatedly misses the mark.