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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10 responses to “The Con

  1. A remark about the “loathsome” world of the pick up artist (PUA). I know about it,I practiced it, but I have not mastered it (I was over my 30’s and that’s an advanced age to overcome some of the barriers and fears you have to overcome); and you have some information wrong.

    It’s not about manipulation (or it could be, but in the sense that in every human interaction we manipulate each other, nothing more). It’s about communication. You can see, every woman would not sleep with every man who ask for it, even if she is attracted to him; she needs to know he is actually interested in her, not in every woman (actually any person, unless you are soliciting or a rapist, needs to know that). So the pick up artist first, overcomes his fear to talking to women (and there are lots of boys with that problem) and then learns to communicate a genuine interest and attraction for her, and if the two of them agree and are attracted they could end having sex. All this goes beyond a few tricks and lines to improve your success, the PUA should know that the best attraction trick is to be oneself attractive, but learning also what actually attracts women. In the process of seduction, a PUA will listen to a woman, will be fun, will make feel her comfortable, will even decide if he doesn’t want to have sex with her anymore if what he learns about her makes him decide so. Again, is a method of communication, not only to express his desires, but to grasp that of the woman. And in the end the PUA should know that a women will not do anything against her will anyway (if you don’t force her, of course, and that you should not do)

    The PUA, of course, does not insult the woman, even if most would-be PUAS would think so. The could use the neg, which is a remark about the woman that implies that she is not perfect to him, nobody is (you see, the man that only flatters the woman is actually manipulating her, as he is only trying to not disgust her, even if there’s something he does not like). With a neg you would not lie, you would notice something “not perfect” about her, and say so in the right moment so the woman would know that you respect her enough to notice that she is an actual woman, not some unreachable godess. In short, a PUA would never insult a woman ’cause he wants her to be comfortable with him, and an insult would be counterproductive.

    Of course, a PUA would never lie, he could play a little fantasy game about himself being this or that, he would not say he is an astronaut or a surgeon if he isn’t. He would play that game with the woman, not against her. And that would not be so much different to hair dress yourself, to shave, to put on a shirt or heels to have a look you don’t actually have. Remember that we are not talking to marry in two days, and that women like casual sex too, and the like and know how to play that game.

  2. Ian

    Jose, thanks for the comment. As I said, I have only read a little, and what little I have read has been characterized by a distinct lack of respect for the women, and a playbook of how to ‘get them’ to sleep with you. Coercion is not just about ‘force’, and can use hypnotics as easily as rohypnol. Euphemizing insults as ‘negging’ or lying as ‘playing a little fantasy game’, says it all I think. If you think that’s cool, and morally equivalent to having a shave, then I’m afraid we don’t share nearly the same moral compass.

  3. I see you are atacking an straw man, as you are no referring to the actual practice of the PUA. I don’t know what have you read, I know there’s lots of bad literature about sarging (which is what the PUA does) that simply tries to predate on the lack of a sex life of most males, practically saying that they can get women against their own desire, and that’s simply not posible without coercion.

    Well, in sarging theres simply no ‘coercion’ not by force, nor by hypnotics, and neggin is not a nice name for insult, it’s simply not an insult. I can say to a mate “look your hair” and it’s not an insult, and doesn’t become one by the simple fact that I say it to a woman. It’s not hard to understand, isn’t it? And you don’t get them to sleep with you more than they get you to sleep with them, in other words, you don’t get to sleep with women who wouldn’t sleep with you anyway by chance, you simply take away chance of the picture, and take control of your part of the seduction process, because attraction and therefore sex don’t happen by blind chance, they happen because certain factors, and the PUA learns to recognize and control them, better than trying his luck wit this girl and the next and the next and so on.

  4. Ian

    It could be a straw man. I have only the things I’ve read to go on. And they don’t give the impression that the PUA scene is out there to help shy guys talk constructively to women. It might be that ‘negging’ is not about making deliberately negative comments to play on a woman’s insecurities. It may be that it is all about mutual respect. It may be that the woman involved understand what the PUA is doing as much as they do. It may be that the scripting interactions are all just helpful handholding for socially awkward men. It may be. But if it is, then it has a bad PR problem, because its proponents, you included, sound malevolent to me.

  5. So from what you say I infer that you think that almost any women could be forced, without a physical act, to go against his owns principles, desires and consistency. ‘Cause that would be sarging if it was as you depict it. Oh man, you have a very strange concept of women.

    Anyway well, instead of your last response, a better way to say “I don’t have any interest in the subject, nor in knowing more about it, I have my mind already made” would be “I don’t have any interest in the subject, nor in knowing more about it, I have my mind already made”, and this exchange would have been shorter . But then I would wonder why did you bring it up then

  6. Oh yes, sincerely sorry ’cause I forgot one thing. A deep religious person who thinks atheism is devil, would hear any explanation from an atheist about it as devilish. Sure you have met the case. Obviously if you already think sarging it’s all malevolent, any explanation of it would sound malevolent to you. So the bad PR thing (me included) does not say much.

  7. Ian

    I’m akin to a conservative christian prejudging atheism? Yes, probably.

    If you hold a conservative christian worldview, then any atheist content *is* devilish, by definition. A conservative christian is (to their own worldview) at mortal peril by entertaining atheism at any level. If I give a spirited defense of why atheism is right, then they are right to see it as a malevolent attack on their worldview. It is. We can’t both be right.

    The situation is perfectly fitting with a defense of this scene. I hold a particular moral worldview about how people should relate to one another, how respect is shown, and the proper role of power in sex. It is a morality based on lots of exposure to women’s experience of their own sexuality and social safety.

    As such I read the rhetoric (as propounded by books, websites, youtube videos) of the PUA scene and it is at best ignorant of that and more commonly in violation of what I consider to be equitable and responsible behavior. Something in opposition to what I hold to be moral *is* malevolent to me, yes. My problem isn’t a lack of knowledge, any more than a fundamentalists problem with my atheism is a lack of knowledge.

    I get that a proportion of PUA guys just want the confidence to be able to talk to an unfamiliar woman. But two minutes with any PUA website will show you the kind of crap that goes with this: negging, BHRR, cat stringing, compliance testing, and so on. The community might be out there to help the AFC, but the poison it does it with makes it vile to me.

  8. Well. that’s better explained, sure. It’s only that I don’t know what “a morality based on lots of exposure to women’s experience of their own sexuality and social safety” is for you or how it becomes so.

    And by the way, I’m still not clear if you actually believe that almost any women could be forced, without a physical act, to go against his owns principles, desires and consistency.

    I don’t want to center the comments in the PUA world, but of course is your blog and your house and will not continue at it if you don’t.

  9. Ian

    “I don’t want to center the comments in the PUA world”

    I don’t blog to revel in my own words: its all about the comments for me. And often they go in directions I didn’t expect. I’m *more* than happy to discuss this, even if that wasn’t the main thrust of the post. Because talking about it means that I have to go and read about it, which is also fun!

    So, the way I see it (to bring it roughly back to the post) is this.

    Dating in general (long term, one night, whatever) is basically a sales job. Like any sales job there are a range of ways you can do it. The best is clearly selling to someone who really needs what you have, and you want to give it to them. Some sales is like that.

    At other times, the person you’re selling to is reticent of doing business with you. They don’t know you, they don’t trust you, you seem to expensive, or they aren’t convinced the product will work for them. In that case you have some persuading to do. And there are certain techniques that help you do that. Basic sales advice like: ask questions, provide guarantees, and so on.

    Then there are some sales which are about getting people to buy stuff they don’t need and don’t much want. There *are* techniques to do this. You can get someone to buy stuff they don’t want to.

    Then there are fraudulent sales techniques that con people into buying stuff. Again there *are* ways to do this. And most of them are illegal when it comes to financial transactions.

    Now, in a long term commercial relationship, categories 3 and 4 are just plain useless. You can’t force a sale through, and expect to still be selling to someone in a year’s time. But in one-off sales they are rife (particularly 3 in my experience), a seller will do and say what it takes to make the sale, without any consideration for long-term buyer satisfaction. They don’t need to worry about that, because they know the buyer won’t be buying from them in a year’s time.

    So dating…

    I agree that there are a reasonable number of men and women who, when it comes to dating, could use some help in the second category. Some advice about how to not sound like an egotist or a doormat, some extra confidence not to worry to much about crashing and burning.

    But there are ways to do 3 and 4 too. And, just like any sales, they are basically useless in a long-term relationship. But they can work for a one off.

    So I read PUA sites and they seem to be rhetorically highly focused on category 3 and 4 techniques. Stuff that is designed to maximize the chance of a buy without consideration of long-term buyer satisfaction. Because rhetorically the PUA-scene is not focused on providing long-term buyer-satisfaction (though I’m sure, like in business, some folks are).

    When you measure success by whether you get laid, you immediately set up a power relationship that is rife for abuse. Just like in commercial sales, a category 4 seller will out-sell a category 2 seller every time. Because it is *always* easier to win by abuse (c.f. prisoner’s dilemma), and the abuser only looses when the game is extended (c.f. iterated prisoner’s dilemma).


    My comment about women’s experience is drawn from my female friends, who repeatedly make it clear that they detest guys who’ll say anything to get into their bed, or who game them generally, and who find that a large proportion of guys are like that. Whether they are looking for long term love or quick fun, the basic idea behind PUA is repugnant to them.

    My moral sense also takes note that, in the vast majority of jurisdictions, category 4 dating isn’t illegal (where category 4 sales, is). You can essentially con someone into bed and the chances of you getting charged with rape is minimal. Any serious modern academic discussion of rape includes sex as a result of this kind of behavior, which is how some published rape statistics are as high as they are. While it might be morally rape, it isn’t legally in most places (in some it is, Sweden, for example, has done some great work over the last decade to make it illegal and actually charge perps).

    So when you run a role-reversal, or prizing, say, you are trying to seem like something you’re not. You are trying to con the other person, to “circumvent their ASD”, say. If when you do that, the person you’re seducing genuinely feels that they are basing their decision to sleep with you on what they think you’re implying, then as far as I’m concerned it is rape. Just as, by law, if a reasonable buyer would conclude something untrue about your product from your sales material, you are a fraudster.

    It is only the fact that in the west we have a shameful tolerance for rape that makes us think that a seller pretending the product was something it wasn’t is a crime, but a PUA doing the same is the gullibility of the seducee (or perhaps they really did want it, and it is just their Good Girl complex that regrets it later!).

    And as long as that massive imbalance exists, I think that the PUA scene which even for those who only need category 2 help, fills their vocabulary and their model of dating with stuff that is primarily category 3 and 4 (i.e. if you went looking for the same things in a sales book you’d find it in black-hat or short-term selling books), it is dangerous and misogynistic.

  10. You made an statement about selling something is the same as pursuing sex, implying that sex “is sold”. Well, that would be prostitution. Even if in form, selling some object is the same as “selling” one’s sex, or it seems the same toy you, it’s not hard to understand that the emotional commitment to each one would be so different that the comparison would be not valid, and more, selling is an asymmetric relation, sex is a symmetric one the man “sell” as much as women are “selling”, it’s only a matter of who makes the first move. For the sake of discussion, i will continue using (quoted) the concept of “selling” for sex. You talked about girls you know, well, ask them if when they pick up or are picked up, it’s equivalent to when the go to buy something or are offered some commercial offer.

    But hey! you made the statement, I suppose the burden of prof is on you, not me.

    Obviously, from this point I can’t agree in the consequences of the comparison you made (rape and so). From what I have learned, when women pick up (I mean, when they actively go after a guy for sex, and that would happen only a few times) or get picked up, they don’t want to buy simple getting laid. Even if it is for a one night stand, they want to “buy” a whole experience, and that’s what PUAs learn to do, they learn to play a game with them, not against them, they learn to “play” the whole experience most women want, and learn to enjoy themselves this whole experience. Just ask you friends if they see a man with they would have sex with, and if him approached them directly asking for and offering sex, would they say yes. I think you would find they would say no, they won’t, or try to not give a direct answer (to your question, not the boy’s) .

    Of course they won’t like the PUA seduction, I bet they won’t even admit it could work (as you seem to do, correct me if I’m wrong). it could make them look like easy girls, and would go against his good girl complex.

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