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Confidence game 欺骗

中国日报网 2022-06-14 17:10


Reader question:

Please explain “confidence game”, as in this sentence: To politicians, the economy is a confidence game.

My comments:

To politicians, the economy is a game, a confidence game – as long as a confident and optimistic view of the economy can be sold to the public, everything will be okay.

Even though, in reality, everything is not okay.

That’s essentially what the economy being a confidence game means to politicians, who often play politics for the sake of it.

Well, politics being politics, let’s quit bothering about politicians and focus only on “confidence game”.

Confidence game?

Confidence game is, in short, the game of a confidence man, or con man in short, otherwise known as a cheat, a swindler and a grifter.

Pickpockets, gamblers and financial scammers can all be lumped together and called confidence men.

Big financial scammers, especially, are confidence men playing the confidence game.

Take the Ponzi scheme or pyramid selling for example. Both are fraudulent scams which promise investors vast returns with little or no risk. In reality, the so-called returns are just the money raised from earlier investors. So long as people keep buying in, the selling will continue.

So long as, that is, people’s confidence in the scheme is maintained.

Confidence, yes, means the feeling of trust in the con men’s abilities, qualities or judgment.

To maintain that trust is the confidence men’s main job. And they’re tricky and good at it.

That’s why they’re called confidence men, or con artists, presumably for perfecting the game and elevating it into an art form.

Anyways, confidence is at the center, the be-all and end-all of this game.

All right, here are media examples of “confidence game”:

1. Reading post-2012-election news reports can be hazardous to one’s mental health, particularly for the sanity-challenged among us. But perhaps the singularly most prescient comments come from long ago – from the pen of America’s most profound novelist, Herman Melville, whose words in his powerful novel of deception and intrigue, “The Confidence Man: His Masquerade,” echo across the decades: “Any philosophy that, being in operation contradictory to the ways of the world, tends to produce a character at odds with it, such a philosophy must necessarily be but a cheat and a dream.”

Welcome to the 21st century, Herman, because little did you know that your observations of the 1850s actually define a new stage in the growth of American democracy; call it the “Era of the Confidence Game.” In terms of historical development, this stage fits somewhere between representative democracy and fascism. Consider representative democracy first, which emphasizes the role of bargaining among various parties in the political arena for the purposes of achieving the most suitable tradeoffs in terms of policy results that redound to the public good, or at least to as many people as the interests in question represent. In short, representative democracy at its best is rational, utilitarian, and respectful of the private sector and ordinary citizens.

At the other end of the scale one finds fascism, which is anti-utilitarian in that its major goal is power acquisition by the ruling elite that has contempt for the private sector and ordinary citizens. Leaning in the same direction but logically prior to it is a system dominated by the confidence game, which is based on public officials seeking to gain the trust of enough citizens in order to swindle them into believing some “cheat and a dream” about a public policy. Wikipedia’s list of synonyms is instructive: con game, con, scam, grift, hustle, bunko, swindle, flimflam, gaffle, bamboozle – you get the point. Power, of course, lurks beneath everything a con artist does, but largely a swindler strives for self-aggrandizement. It’s a psychological, ego-stroking thing. Indeed, as John le Carre, the famous British spy novelist, once pointed out, con artists are like traitors in that they relish seeing what they can get away with.

And American con artists have gotten away with a lot in recent years. Consider healthcare reform, for instance, which was supposed to save ordinary Americans from paying ever higher premiums for their health insurance. However, as Sally Pipes has pointed out, a program that was sold on the premise that it would save families $2,500 per year has, in fact, done the exact opposite, costing families about $2,000 per year since the Affordable Care Act was passed, a $4,500 difference that will only get worse as the years go by. It’s a classic case of a con trick that worked long enough to get the legislation passed and that now will become entrenched in federal bureaucracy indefinitely, costing hugely in the decades to come.

- American Politics as a Confidence Game, FaithAndFreedom.com, December 13, 2012.

2. “Reality is what we take to be true,” physicist David Bohm observed in a 1977 lecture. “What we take to be true is what we believe… What we believe determines what we take to be true.” That’s why nothing is more reality-warping than the shock of having come to believe something untrue — an experience so disorienting yet so universal that it doesn’t spare even the most intelligent and self-aware of us, for it springs from the most elemental tendencies of human psychology. “The confidence people have in their beliefs is not a measure of the quality of evidence,” Nobel-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman asserted in examining how our minds mislead us, “but of the coherence of the story that the mind has managed to construct.”

The machinery of that construction is what New Yorker columnist and science writer extraordinaire Maria Konnikova explores in The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It … Every Time – a thrilling psychological detective story investigating how con artists, the supreme masterminds of malevolent reality-manipulation, prey on our propensity for believing what we wish were true and how this illuminates the inner workings of trust and deception in our everyday lives.

“Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours,” Carl Sagan urged in his excellent Baloney Detection Kit – and yet our tendency is to do just that, becoming increasingly attached to what we’ve come to believe because the belief has sprung from our own glorious, brilliant, fool-proof minds. Through a tapestry of riveting real-life con artist profiles interwoven with decades of psychology experiments, Konnikova demonstrates that a con artist simply takes advantage of this hubris by finding the beliefs in which we are most confident – those we’re least likely to question – and enlisting them in advancing his or her agenda.

To be sure, we all perform micro-cons on a daily basis. White lies are the ink of the social contract – the insincere compliment to a friend who needs a confidence boost, the unaddressed email that “somehow went to spam,” the affinity fib that gives you common ground with a stranger at a party even though you aren’t really a “huge Leonard Cohen fan too.”

We even con ourselves. Every act of falling in love requires a necessary self-con – as Adam Phillips has written in his terrific piece on the paradox of romance, “the person you fall in love with really is the man or woman of your dreams”; we dream the lover up, we construct a fantasy of who she is based on the paltry morsels of information seeded by early impressions, we fall for that fantasy and then, as we immerse ourselves in a real relationship with a real person, we must convince ourselves that the reality corresponds to enough of the fantasy to feel satisfying.

But what sets the con artist apart from the mundane white-liar is the nefarious intent and the deliberate deftness with which he or she goes about executing that reality-manipulation.

- The Confidence Game: What Con Artists Reveal About the Psychology of Trust and Why Even the Most Rational of Us Are Susceptible to Deception, TheMarginalian.org, January 12, 2016.

3. A media consensus has quickly emerged around the Biden administration’s Afghanistan withdrawal, and it goes like this: Whatever its merits in the abstract, the whole thing has been a chaotic debacle in its execution. On this week’s Deconstructed, Ryan Grim talks to journalist and author Anand Gopal and to politician and former U.S. Army Maj. Richard Ojeda. They discuss what the media are missing and why the Afghanistan exit was long overdue.

Brian Williams: The Biden administration racing to put out the firestorm ignited by the debacle of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Tonight …

Ryan Grim: Across the cable news spectrum, talking heads have relentlessly bashed the Biden Administration for the chaotic evacuation of Kabul last weekend.

Anderson Cooper: We begin with the final fiasco. The images we’ve been getting all day tell the chaotic story.

Rachel Maddow: The U.S. continues its chaotic exodus out of Afghanistan.

Sean Hannity: The withdrawal from Afghanistan is a poorly planned debacle.

Laura Ingraham: The collapse of Afghanistan represents another catastrophic failure of our political establishment.

Greg Gutfeld: President Biden is apparently delusional about the disaster in Afghanistan.

RG: But at the heart of the criticism is a contradiction that nobody in the American media or foreign policy “Blob” wants to grapple with, and it’s this: the only way for there to have been an orderly transfer of power in the wake of the U.S. departure was for the process to have been negotiated as a transfer of power. And to negotiate a transfer of power required acknowledging – and here’s the hard part for the U.S. – that power was actually transferring.

Therein lies the contradiction: An orderly exit required admitting defeat and negotiating the unthinkable: surrender to the Taliban.

Instead, the U.S. preferred to maintain the fiction that it was handing over power to the Afghan government, whatever that was, and to former President Ashraf Ghani. We would rather risk the chaos we witnessed than admit defeat. After all, it’s mostly not our lives on the line anymore, but rather the lives of Afghans who helped us over the past 20 years.

And focusing on the chaotic scenes at Hamid Karzai Airport also lets commentators avoid asking the bigger questions: How is it that 20 straight years of U.S. lies about progress in Afghanistan could be so starkly exposed in a single weekend, and there be so little interrogation of that failure?

Biden has been criticized for letting weapons fall into Taliban hands, and also criticized for not evacuating Americans and their allies sooner. But he was turning supplies and weapons over to the Afghan National Army, and was pretending to turn power over to the Afghan government. Had he instead shipped all the people and weapons home, the army would have cried foul, and that would have sent a signal that things were falling apart. The same with the refugee evacuation situation: Shipping out refugees in droves would signal that the U.S. had lost complete confidence in the government, which would then hasten its downfall. Maintaining the fiction that the Afghan government was a real and going concern required treating it like one. Like any confidence game, it lasts only as long as people believe in it.

- Anand Gopal And Richard Ojeda On Afghanistan, TheIntercept.com, August 21, 2021.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣   编辑:丹妮)


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