Time was, anyone with a high school diploma could be relied upon to know at least a little about mathematical progressions: arithmetic (additive), geometric (multiplicative), and others. If you had a little awareness of limits, you might even be able to work out how an open-form progression can be reduced to a closed-form expression. And with that sentence, I’ve probably lost half my audience, for such things are no longer included in the typical high-school education.
There are other kinds of progressions than the purely mathematical, of course. Some of them have been at work on us for some time now.
I’ve written about the loss of trust on several previous occasions. It’s a melancholy subject, as the cited essay demonstrates. What makes it so bleak is our awareness that trust is built gradually, over years, decades, and generations, but is infinitely fragile regardless of its longevity. It can be shattered by a single betrayal, and often is.
The progression toward trust and the cataclysm that can follow its sundering are worthy of contemplation all by themselves. However, there’s an aspect of that progression that deserves particular mention on this rainy Saturday morning in the Year of Our Lord 2022.
The accumulation of social trust — i.e., trust in the honesty and / or fidelity of an individual, group, or organization – progresses by statement-plus-confirmation. That’s one of those things that impels me to use the “obvious” word…but please do remember that in the practical sense, obvious means overlooked.
What’s also all too frequently overlooked is that the con men and swindlers of our species know it, too. A snippet from Steven Brust’s novel Phoenix comes to mind:
“Why did you arrange to have those Easterners arrested?”
A sneer began to appear on his face but he put it away. “Is there some reason I should answer you?”
“I’ll kill you if you don’t.”
“You’d never make it out of here alive.”
He stared at me. At last he said, “You’re lying.”
I shook my head. “No, I don’t lie. I’m cultivating a reputation for honesty so I can blow it when something big comes along. This ain’t it.”
(Apropos of nothing, Brust’s Vlad Taltos novels are a master class in the writing of effective dialogue. Aspiring novelists can learn more from them about the paired arts of characterization and dialogue than from nearly any other works of contemporary fiction. Highly recommended.)
The con artist learns to inculcate trust of him in his target by this simple, pedestrian method. He simply cultivates the relationship for as long as necessary, giving the target ample opportunities to witness his reliability in word and deed. Generally speaking, the bigger the score he’s aiming at, the longer and more complex the cultivation of trust must be, each event coaxing the target to increment his trust in the con artist. When the time is ripe, he “spends” that accumulated trust to pull off his con. Afterward, of course, the trust has dissipated…but the target has been shorn of his life savings, or his company, or what have you. David Mamet’s brilliant movie House of Games illustrates the procedure, with some clever twists thrown in for lagniappe.
Some of the above is undoubtedly familiar to my older Gentle Readers from life experience. Nearly everyone near to my age has been conned at some time in his life. Only the perfectly sheltered manage to avoid it. Our species’ con artists are many, skilled, and widely distributed.
There are maxims about how not to be conned. One of them is that the ripest target is the man who’s looking to score big himself. Another is that the desire to get something for nothing is a target’s prime qualification. Both are valid. Combine them and see what you get.
What has this subject on my mind is a startling, even frightening article about election fraud. Please, please read it in its entirety, including the linked material. My thoughts this morning center on a clash between two loci of trust: Catherine Engelbrecht of True the Vote, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
We’ve been assured, in many and varied ways, that the FBI is an institutional paragon of trustworthiness. Recent events have called that notion into severe question, such that the public’s willingness and ability to trust the FBI has cratered almost completely. At this time, the FBI can no longer be regarded as reliable, neither in word nor in deed.
Catherine Engelbrecht has accumulated a lot of trust from those who’ve watched her these past few years. For my part, I take her at her word. The events chronicled by the linked piece put her and her colleague Gregg Phillips in direct, absolute opposition to the institutional veracity of the FBI. She can substantiate all the developments in the 15-month adventure with no difficulty. The FBI, on the other hand, has gone silent.
Where does that leave us, trust-wise?
“Be careful not to fool yourself with your own tools. A map is a useful thing, but it hides details that can change the whole complexion of a campaign. Look here.” Malcolm pointed to green-shaded bands labeled Alsace and Lorraine. “It doesn’t look any different from the areas around it, does it?”
“From which I infer that it was different.”
“Very different. Heavy forestation, few major roads, and uphill going east. An attacker’s logistical nightmare, especially from the western side. Probably the best defender’s territory anywhere in Europe. The French thought they could penetrate the German defenses here before the Germans swept down on Paris. The path from Paris to Berlin through Alsace and Lorraine is visibly shorter than the path from Berlin to Paris through Belgium. They were very, very wrong.”
“How long did it take them to figure out that they’d been had?”
He grinned without humor. “One month. By which time they had lost the northern quarter of their territory and were committed to a four-year war that cost them two million men.”
“Didn’t anyone know about this beforehand?”
He nodded. “Yes. Schlieffen and the Germans. They knew that the French emphasis would be on reclaiming the provinces they’d lost in 1870. It was a motive burned deeply into the French General Staff, and it worked entirely in the Germans’ favor.” He snorted. “Of course, the Germans eventually forgot what they were doing, too.”
[From On Broken Wings]
It’s possible, though unlikely, that the FBI’s public history has been a conscious attempt by persons in power to con the American people. It’s more likely that recent con artists in the corridors of power, having noted how successful the campaign has been to promote the FBI as the ultimately trustworthy law-enforcement agency, decided to infiltrate, colonize, and corrupt it as the Left has done to the education, entertainment, and communications industries. There can be no doubt that “something big” – the absolute, permanent subornation of the American electoral process – is in play.
The progression of the FBI from a relatively minor anti-bootlegging agency to a virtually unrestrained organization for investigation and “law enforcement” illustrates something everyone should keep in mind at all times:
The map is not the terrain. The reputation is not the person, or organization. The image is not the reality. Yet over a sufficiently long time, populated by a sufficient number of confirmations, we can cease to think of the image and the reality as distinct. We can co-identify them so deeply that the identification becomes subconscious. Persuading oneself to doubt the probity of the reality becomes almost as hard as doubting oneself: an undertaking of singular difficulty, to say nothing of the danger involved.
But sometimes it’s a matter of preserving our sanity…or our Republic.
Have a nice day.