When you live in a time where social popularity, which mostly consists of running away from fears and toward illusions, rules the show, almost everything offered to you is a grift or at least an expensive but only partial solution.
How do you know you are getting grifted? Look for the pathology of the scam: it offers you a single solution that is both goal and method, a single enemy instead of many pitfalls, and a simple narrative that explains the two.
For example, your average weight-loss scam a few years back involved something called the açai berry. Obesity was caused by an inability to purge sugar, the berry would do this, and only a lack of the berry held you back from being thin.
Contrast that with the more complex reality, which is not a single good/bad pair. Obesity is caused by consuming many more calories than you expend, so the solution is to eat less and possibly exercise.
If you take a fat person and feed them 1500 calories a day while making them walk a half mile to the mailbox daily, pretty soon you have a thinner person. Give them magic berries and change nothing else, and you have a fat person who spent a bunch of money on a gimmick.
All grifts take the form of a closed-circuit feedback loop that makes a detail into a whole theory of existence.
They state that paradise is near, but is held back by this one detail which is kept from you by this one evil force, so if you fight the evil and attain the detail, it makes everything better magically.
With the açai berry, the idea was that public ignorance held us back from the miracle cure, so if we defied the ignorance and bought the gimmick, our obesity would be cured and implicitly, we would become sexy and successful.
Grifts of this nature apply not just to snake oil and weight-loss products, but are the foundations of all self-help books and all egalitarian politics.
The closed-circuit feedback loop is the key. It says that the method of achieving solution and the goal are the same, so all we need is to adopt that method, and then the bad is removed and only good remains.
This pattern repeats again and again. Let us look at grifts common among us now:
The grift works time and again because people when confronted with a problem tend to look for a singular source to it, instead of understanding problems as a result of lack of a whole consistent order.
For example, I might be unable to find the gadget I am looking for. What did me wrong here? Did someone hide it? Did some other person screw me over by unintentionally moving it?
In reality, the problem here is a lack of organization compounded by a lack of space, itself in turn compounded by my habit of keeping a lot of older gadgets around because “we might need this someday.”
In other words, the problem is a lack of organization/order to my world, but I am looking for something that went wrong instead of a lack of right.
The scapegoat — even if it just flickers in the mind, momentarily — is whoever or whatever moved my gadget. Did a family member (oh horror) put it away somewhere? A wandering midget or worse, leprechaun, hid it from me?
Humans operate through scapegoats and talismans or idols because we are fundamentally superstitious. In the moment of thought, we think that one thing must be responsible for our plight, or one thing will solve all problems.
This kind of cult-like, religious, and ultimately social thinking pervades all human behavior. If something goes wrong to a friend, someone other than them must be to blame, in human logic.
It reminds me of a quotation from one of the few good movies ever made:
Nancy: Have you ever heard of invoking the spirit? It’s when you call him… Manon. It’s like… it’s like you take him into you. It’s like he fills you. He takes everything that’s gone wrong in your life and makes it all better again.
Sarah: Nothing makes everything all better again.
Once you accept that “nothing makes everything all better again” the beginning of wisdom is yours. Until then, you will move from grift to grift, looking for the magic answer to dispel evil and bring back Utopia.
Tags: scapegoat, superstition, talisman, utopia