Tuesday, April 13, 2010
A news story about Greg Ackelrod, an events promoter who very nearly got hired as a player by a major professional football club got me thinking about con men this morning...
Every time I hear about some particularly clever crime, my next thought is always something like, "If he'd only put half this much imagination into actual work, he'd have found real, lasting success and avoided trouble completely." The movie, Catch Me if You Can, based on the life of Frank Abagnale, Jr., perfectly illustrates what I mean, but success did not come to young Mr. Abagnale until he'd been caught and made to pay the price for what he did. Why?
In part, it's because Abagnale had to learn the hard way that his own interests were best served by trading with others, versus fooling them long enough to steal from them. (And then, incidentally, hoping others he wanted to trade with later didn't know whom they were dealing with.) Among the many different ways a con man stacks the deck against himself, the problems his way of obtaining what he needs to survive pose in dealing with others are legion. These are easy enough to see, even for many altruists, and stem from the very nature of lying as a war on reality and the fact that doing so makes one dependent on the stupidity of others. The entire universe is quite a formidable adversary, especially when the supply of stupidity dries up at some inopportune time.
But that's not all. The analysis of most altruists would begin and end with the above paragraph, but a morality of egoism makes it easier to see just how badly the con man swindles himself. The above is bad enough, but what does a con man have to do to his own mind to become really effective at tricking other people?
He has to attempt to integrate his efforts every day around the man-made rather than the metaphysical. That is, his primary concern isn't, "How do I solve some real problem," but "How do I fool 'em this time?" This expedient attitude is an enemy of conceptual thought, long-range planning, and a mind-frame consonant with the trader principle, by which civilized men deal with one another. Other people have different weaknesses. Even if one con works, people catch on. There is no way to build a long-term relationship with anyone who has been fooled (or knows you've fooled someone else) nor is there a constructive end around which one integrates his thinking or skills. Imagine the kind of work someone like this will turn in were you to plop him down in a normal job and a problem crops up that requires concentration and teamwork. The con man thus cripples his own mind. Furthermore, since emotions are automatized reactions to deeply integrated value-judgments, the damage occurs both conceptually and psychologically.
Catch Me if You Can dramatized the psychological damage con men do to themselves quite well. Abagnale starts his work catching criminals like himself under very close supervison, and he is strongly tempted to return to the world he knew when the opportunity to do so presents itself. Psychologically, Frank Abagnale still craves the thrill of tricking people again as against such values as satisfaction with a job well done and friendship.
So what about Greg Ackelrod? He thinks his stunt will prove his value as a marketer. "In terms of marketing, I am someone very, very valuable." Sure. If only playing it loose with facts were any way to build a loyal customer base... Any potential employer who doesn't inspect this guy with a fine-toothed comb before taking him on is playing a stunt of his own.