Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Con

Ten years or so ago I lost a small amount of money to a fraudulent retailer. Call it a con, if you like. It was a small enough amount that I didn’t particularly mind, especially as I learned a huge amount from the experience. If you’ve also been a victim of a similar thing, let me know how much your experience chimes with mine.

The con I fell for was a short con. It was started and ended in one ten minute period. I went into a store to buy one product, and was sold an essentially worthless one at twice the price of the good one. When people talk about cons they talk about victims ‘falling for’ them, or being ‘gullible’. My experience was that something altogether different was going on.

The con started when the person I was talking to threw me. I had a degree of nervousness about buying the product (since I hadn’t before), but I’d read *lots* about it. He immediately started by telling me I’d misunderstood (very pleasantly, and with the air of trying to help). This tripped a mental state in me where I felt confused, a state he then filled by talking to me. As this was happening, I was aware that I was detached, something wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t focus on anything particular.

What particularly impressed me about those ten minutes was that my lie-detection circuitry was completely disabled. I don’t mean that I was taken in by lies I that I could have been more skeptical about: I mean that the guy was saying things that were blatantly untrue to me, and I understood they weren’t true, but that didn’t feel odd. For example, at one point he pointed to a completely blank wall behind the counter and told me to look at all the postcards from satisfied customers they’d received. Another example, he turned over the product and pointed to the number below the barcode – the EAN number, and said something like ‘you can see what amazing deals we can do here, check out the RRP': pointing at a 13 digit number. I remember looking at the number, and recognizing it wasn’t a price, but that didn’t seem odd. I firmly believe he could have called me ‘John’ and told me we were old friends, or told me black was white, and I wouldn’t have noticed he was wrong.

Anyway, I bought the product, and lost a hundred dollars or so. The experience has stayed with me since, not for any hurt for having been swindled, but because that mental state was just so bloody fascinating.

The thing that was most fascinating was the process of realizing, over the period of another hour or two, what had happened; of my brain finally noticing the lies. And wondering how the lie detector could have been so thoroughly switched off.

I didn’t have the same sensation of detachment when I was involved in religion, but I have the same kind of puzzlement looking back. I can’t figure out how I could have possibly believed what I would have claimed to believe. I can’t figure out how I didn’t notice it was all rubbish. It seems so obvious now.

I’ve read a little on the loathsome world of the ‘pickup artist': men who manipulate women to take sexual advantage of them. In the little I’ve read it seems that a very similar process is at work. The man starts with a regular flirting exchange (which means the woman is probably a little nervous, but has a good mental grasp of what’s what) then he suddenly insults her, which the woman struggles to assimilate, and then follows up with a full-bandwidth patter where he can say any lie he chooses, and she is unlikely to notice. Until finally he claims that he is going to be totally worth sleeping with and she acquiesces, despite knowing full well he is a total shit.

Any other examples of the same process?

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Ten to One

My wife took my son to a science activity center today. The kind of place with hands-on experiments and interactive museum exhibits. They both had a blast. The favorite item was a rocket where you could blast off through orders of magnitude to see the earth, galaxy and whole universe, then zoom back down through a cell to an atom.

My wife counted the children there. There were ten boys for every girl.

Is that because parents don’t think to take their girls to do science? Or is it because girls would rather do something else with their activity days?

Either way, if you care about gender issues in science (and I do), it is a depressing omen for the future.

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