On Religion, Con Artists and how Tragedy can restore Human Dignity

“Religion began when the first scoundrel met the first fool.” – Voltaire

Maria Porpova’s fascinating and thought provoking review of  “The Confidence Game” by Maria Kornikova sheds light on  psychology behind how con artists work (storytelling in reality manipulation, the paradox of truth, the paradox of trust, human solipsism (I had to google it!), and ego-centric anchoring.)

Parallels can be drawn to local anti-LGBT activists Lawrence Khong (FCBC) Lawrence Khong) who are opportunistically exploiting the Orlando tragedy to their advantage.

“There’s nothing a con artist likes better than exploiting the sense of unease we feel when it appears that the world as we know it is about to change.”

Yet she reminds us that “we all perform micro-cons on a daily basis. White lies are the ink of the social contract” and that “tricks of the con artist’s exploitive game are different only by degree rather than the kind from the everyday micro-deceptions of which our social fabric is woven.”

“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.”

In this brilliant post, and in light of the Orlando tragedy, there is also hope. She cites philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s work on agency and victimhood.

“The victim shows us something about our own lives: we see that we too are vulnerable to misfortune, that we are not any different from the people whose fate we are watching.”

Tragedy forces us to “confront this dual nature of the human experience: we are at once agents of our own fate and vulnerable to the whims of a larger system over much of which we have no control.” Understanding tragedy, she says, holds our greatest opportunity for goodness, if it can help us begin to foster the societal foundations for human dignity.

“If we understand that injustice can strike its roots into the personality itself, producing rage and resentment and the roots of bad character, we have even deeper incentives to commit ourselves to giving each child the material and social support that human dignity requires. A compassionate society … is one that takes the full measure of the harms that can befall citizens beyond their own doing; compassion thus provides a motive to secure to all the basic support that will undergird and protect human dignity.”

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