Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Flim Flam

Test everything. Hold on to the good.  Reject every kind of evil. First Thessalonians 5:21-22

There’s a sucker born every minute. 

However terse, this truism is packed with wisdom and has been attributed to numerous people, including P.T. Barnum and Mark Twain. Regardless who said it first, it is and has been ever so. But there is a secondary truth left unstated though. For every sucker born, there’s two con men in the waiting. 

There doesn’t seem to be a discernible difference between the gullible of any era in human history. Intelligence, education, status, whether rich or poor, no one is exempt from the threat of being scammed by the intuitive skills of a flim-flam man, who knows exactly how to tap into humanity’s weakest emotions, needs and desires. Thus, anyone can be made to believe anything, on the short term, so long as one is able to create the perfect illusion where by common knowledge, belief and reason can be suspended until the con has succeeded and the con artist is long gone. It works every time, in all areas of life, from the heights of politics and religion, down to individual relationships. The con game happens over and over, each time fresh-faced and unrecognizable (until too late) as though it had just been invented.

Why is that? Why are we so exploitable? There must be a reason why we never learn how to see it coming. Is it merely that we are simply dumber than we realize? Or, perhaps con men are just that much smarter? Again, it seems to boil down to the basest of human weaknesses, desire and greed. We desire to be able to lose twenty pounds in two weeks without doing anything but sprinkle powder on our hot dog and ice cream. We desire to believe what we see, even though we are well aware that modern technology is more than able to create images that are not even close to real. Either we desire to believe that all advertising is honest or we choose to expect that all advertising is a lie and we don’t care. We know politicians always lie but we vote for them anyway, hoping the lies won’t hurt us personally. And we blindly accept that any word or language that sounds Biblical must be from God. 

But regardless how many times we are duped, we always desire to believe that one day we will defeat the odds and we’ll be able to get something for nothing. As easy as conning has been through-out history, high speed communication, via the internet, has made cheating and deceiving people even easier. I still receive emails inviting me to help a dying prince to fulfill his last wish by sharing in millions of dollars with him. After all these years of the Nigerian Email Scam circling the globe on digital wings and the common knowledge that it is indeed a scam, people must still be falling for it or it would have died out with the poor prince. Apparently, new suckers launch online every day and all good con men know that the siren call of greed always trumps reason. 

Works and works again and again.

Besides desire and greed there is one other weakness in humans that overrides reason and leaves us vulnerable to those who understand this about us and that is the fear of looking cynical. No one likes a doubter, someone who is forever pointing out the flaws, deficits and fallacies in the human condition. We prefer positive attitudes. Look to the bright side, we are admonished.

Well, to this I say, I’d rather be called a cynic than be a fool. Where is the downside to questioning things before buying in? If something is true it will remain true, even after copious amounts of testing. Time heals all wounds and wounds all heels but some scars can be completely avoided with the exercise of a modicum of cynicism and one small question:

Is it too good to be true?

"It ain't so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. It’s the things we know that ain’t so."- Artemus Ward 

The most successful modern day cons tap into our ingrained belief in the potential that technology is unstoppable, sort of magic, and therefore capable of anything. We desire to believe that all things are possible (so long as it doesn’t involve belief in God) so the next miraculous break-through is just a few buzz words in a website or TV commercial away. New! Amazing! Miracle! Super! Revolutionary! Bio-Tech! Really Works! Nine out of Ten Doctors Recommend! Clinically Proven! All You Need Is This One Weird Trick! Must See Video Before it is Taken Off Web! 

Apparently most folks have no idea how easy it is to make a commercial or create a website. Yes, it looks all mysteriously high tech doesn’t it. High tech and fraught with dazzling tools for a new generation of flim-flam men. The latest twist in the modern web-based con? You simply claim to be an unbiased reviewer and put your product at the top. Five stars! Who can argue with FIVE STARS? Holy Cow! This is irrefutable! This guy is legit because he says he is, honest! 

When I see these types of websites my first question is: who are you and what are your credentials?  But then, that’s just me, I’m a serious cynic. There is a narrow path down the middle of mindless trust and hardcore mistrust however. It’s called skepticism and it serves as a useful way station on the treacherous road of life. It’s not a bad habit to cultivate. 

A reasonable amount of skepticism can be used to challenge all manner of psychological scams, including those defined as religious and political. There is no end to the applications for fleecing sheep. New religious cults and political ideologies are born from nothing more than the charismatic ability of a con-man to zero in on the deepest human need of all, to feel the self-satisfaction of believing one is plugged into the inner circle–the elite few who know the real TRUTH, the place where one is absolutely RIGHT. Thus the adoring members willingly turn off their reason and logic and turn over their trust to nothing more than the one who knows the mesmerizing key words and when and how to use them. Sometimes the goal is money but often it’s just psychopathic desire for power over others. Nevertheless, flim-flam is flim-flam in whatever form it takes or whatever era it appears. It nets nothing for the ones scammed. Nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada.

So, call me a cynic, skeptic or heretic. I do pay attention to the man behind the curtain, further I want to know who pays that man and/or what his agenda is. I want to know the whys and the wherefores, and my questions almost always lead to a single conclusion: 

Too good to be true is just not good enough for me. 

For Christ,

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. First John 4:1

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