Sunday, March 29, 2015

More on Swindle and Fraud

A few more thoughts as I read the spring edition of Laphams.

An essay from PT Barnum's Humbugs of the World, addressed the topic of the wide variety and seemingly endless supply of humbugs, Barnum's word for all those schemes and deceits that have been perpetuated on men by their fellow men.  From religion to medicine, business to literature, he cites example after example of ways in which men gain power, money and fame through trickery.  But, at the end, his final example, the biggest humbug of all, he saves for the "man who believes - or pretends to believe - that everything and everybody are humbugs." 

It is his opinion that while certainly there are schemers, plotters, and tricksters among us, and that some of the more successful of humans are those who have schemed, plotted and tricked better than most, it is the utmost fool who sees and expects the worst in everyone, sees wolves behind every tree, and casts doubt upon every plan and invention put forth by his fellow man. 

And this from a man who made his fame by rounding up all manner of the odd shaped, then embellished those unusual characteristics to create a circus of the macabre, all the while collecting money from those who preferred to believe the exaggerations.  It is as if he looked in the mirror, recognized the fake for who he was, but also believed that without the goodness of men, those like him would have no platform upon which to succeed.

What also strikes me about this essay, is that Barnum calls himself out, but also separates himself from those who pretend to believe in the evil of men, and those who actually believe.  I fear the former more than the latter, as the former know the truth but use the continuation of the lie to further his agenda, while latter may some day learn the truth and perhaps alter his perceptions.  Sorry to point a finger here, but it reminds me of the so successful Fox propaganda machine that is controlled by people who are certainly smarter than the fiction disguised as news that they propagate, but purposefully hire those who do actually believe some of the nonsense, mixed with those that know the power of the lies and choose to perpetuate them for their own benefit. 

Another interesting thought came to me from an excerpt from The Secrets of the Great City, by James Dabney McCabe in which is described (2) methods of robbery employed by street walkers and an associate.  In the first, a girl brings a john to an apartment which has a fake wall with a sliding panel.  The pigeon's clothes are placed on a chair near the wall, and while the man is otherwise occupied, the associate slides open the panel and rifles his clothes for valuables.  The second method involves the street walker asking for the money up front, but before the act can be begun, her "husband" arrives home unexpectedly.  The poor girl begs the john to leave by a side exit promising to fulfill her side of the transaction the next night.  Of course, that meeting never happens. 

Each has their advantages.  The second scheme saves the girl some energy, but she must now avoid that victim in the future so it limits her opportunity for standard business going forward.  The first plan allows for future transactions, but probably not a future robbery.

Expanding that analogy, I imagine that the real experts at fooling mankind, have multiple level plans to address the various level of fools that they must victimize.  Those that can be fooled only once, must be approached differently than those who can be fooled over and over again.  When I see the same phrase used by various pundits to describe the same false perception, I wonder if they are addressing the first type or second.  Is it enough to repeat a lie over and over again to make it be true, or do you need a willing ear to believe it as well?  And, can you prime that ear enough, give it just enough small truths so that when the big lie is stated, it is unrecognized by that trained (or untrained) ear?

Ah, yes, indoctrination.

The process by which we are all trained to accept myths and half truths as facts.  Trained by our parents, our religion, our country.  Trained for our own good, trained to protect us, trained to keep us on the path that will lead to our happiness.

But this excerpt from "Secrets.." also inspired this thought.  While reporting on violence, mayhem and wrongdoing seem the basis for so much of our news, the reality is that crime has decreased in America.  Especially violent crime.  Of course, this could be a blip, and could be attributed statistically to any number of causes, but (as I have said before) I believe it is due to the continuing evolution of mankind's spiritual nature.   But what if crime is down because people who historically had to turn to crime, the poor, the homeless, the shunned, now have a modicum of security through the various social nets that have been created in the last 60 years?

Social security, medicare, welfare, unemployment, disability income, etc, are frequently portrayed as examples of the nanny state where people are no longer required to fend for themselves.  Cradle to grave security which suppresses creativity, persistence, self reliance.  Is that the yin and yang of those programs?  Less crime, less violence, less desperate acts, to the detriment of strength of character, self motivation, independence?

Survival of the fittest sounds good, makes a great sound bite, but what about those that are less fit?  And do we all not experience states of less fit multiple times throughout our lives?  Infancy?  Sickness?  Accident?  Old Age?  It is easy to scoff at death when one is 24 with perfect abs and a clean colon, but that time is fleeting.      

When I first saw the title Swindle and Fraud, on this edition of Laphams' Quarterly, I thought it was a strange choice.  Now that I am reading it, I find it one on the most interesting and thought provoking topics yet chosen.     

No comments:

Post a Comment