(links and images still need to prettify’d, but the text is set)

“As Paul Newman explained in The Sting, the key to a great con is that the victim never realizes he was conned — indeed, he believes he is about to be a big winner right up until the last moment.” The Four, Scott Galloway


Infrastructure Report Card

“You have to keep this con even after you take his money. He can’t know you took him.” If you never heard the phrase “getting played” it should not take much effort to figure out its meaning. Certainly hearing it used in context a couple of times would be sufficient to getting the point across. Naturally, you have to be around people who use the term and whether you are too old, do not speak English as a first language, have never listened to hip hop or some other related reason you might not get the chance. To point out the obvious, in the absence of in person context, to get played is to be duped, made a fool of, taken advantage of or, as Malcolm famously put it, bamboozled (https://youtu.be/DV7yx2y3TtY) . In short, nobody wants to be played. Ironically something that can play into the hands of the person attempting the misleading.

Regardless of the phrase, the meaning of the expression almost certainly extends across cultures and history. Being taken and taking advantage of is something that crosses species (http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/science/edexcel/problems_in_environment/interdependencerev4.shtml) and if there are extraterrestrials most likely galaxies as well.

In this con (“confidence game”, notice the use of words related to make-believe, misdirection and pretending) there need to be at least two participants, usually one willing and the other unwitting. It is possible to play oneself, requiring no other parties but our own misinformed selves, and we may even play another without intending to do so as a result of ingrained lies, poor perspective, or insufficiently examined motives and actions. Nonetheless, when it happens, someone or some group embodies the role of dupe and the dancing partner (mis)leading the interaction is cast as the prankster (to use an innocent enough term for what could on occasion be criminal behavior).

The stakes and consequences determine the inappropriateness of phrases such as “dupe”, “prankster”, “fool”. Depending on the level of suffering words such as these are wholly inadequate to conveying the lies, and all too often theft involved. However, the diminutive words serve to show the victims as naive, silly, stupid and childish. Victims who are as much to be resented as pitied. They become a fable, part of a morality play that serves as a warning to the listener. The labels add insult to injury by smoothing over the wrong and yet this added insult seems appropriate to drive home still further the point to not get played.

What does it take to play someone? At the very least, and for the length of time required to pull off the deceit, it requires the agreement on both sides to a way of viewing the world. Taking the simple version where the rogue is fully aware of their deceit, this shared vision is believed at different levels or with different convictions. The mark/trick/fool takes the view as real and authentic. The information provided coincides with their best approximation of reality. The rascal takes this view as a show, a performance, a necessary diversion in order to get him the real object of desire, whether it be power, attention, status, money, resources, or protection. The one running the con need not be the dominant one based on objective parameters such as social status, income or education. The one being played is oblivious to their misconception or unwilling to shatter the illusion once revealed.

Getting played is ultimately about giving something away of your own choosing, however misguided. Because of bad information this giving away is of more than one realizes or bargained for. This happens in sports, relationships (romantic or otherwise), business, politics, etc. That “etc” is meant to suggest its universality and remind us of the essence of being played crossing cultural, historic, species, and most likely galactic boundaries But let us not be too general in our descriptions. Instead, we will highlight examples of such phenomena here, now, among citizens of our own country.

There are some in power, others in positions of deference, rich and poor, foreign and native born, male and female, black and white, religious and not. Across these admittedly simple dichotomies and more we have plenty to choose from in identifying those who hold beliefs that allow another group of people to benefit at the unwitting expense of themselves. This is not about people purposefully sacrificing for the greater good but rather being sacrificed as the greater fool.

http://www.1001fonts.com/dollar-bill-fonts.html Getting American Style Played 1001fonts We view the world through the stories we tell ourselves and each other. We are a narrative species that looks for patterns and meaning, often glomming onto disparate details and weaving them into an ordered perspective. Obviously actions in the world impede upon our understanding of it but just as frequently we bring along a predefined interpretation of how to approach the things we experience.

One of the longstanding ways in which Americans see themselves is through the lens of rugged individualism. We presume ourselves to be a bunch of honorable cowboys who will uphold the law and come to the assistance of those in distress, outside of the government’s purview mind you (we are cowboys after all), but we are loners and on our own in this cold frontier. We must rely only on our grit, hard work and ingenuity. This myth captures some elements of actual historical characteristics but like all myths it naturalizes the details and erases history (Barthes (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mythologies_(book)) ).

Our history is far more complicated than a simple narrative. We all know this but we do not all know our history and so we fall back on the familiar tales. But if it is not true, and all myths hold out false premises, why does it persist? There must be some profit that derives from its retelling and we can point at two clear benefits. It flatters and it empowers, but it does so asymmetrically. All who believe in the story are flattered but the true empowering goes to those who see past it.

The flattery is a cheap diversion. The narrative serves to divide us from our social environment. We look upon outsiders, neighbors and government included, as potential antagonists. We are left atomized and powerless but paid for this with adulation for our bootstrapping capabilities. Cold comfort when it comes to the rent, feeding the kids, or covering medical expenses.


“Rugged Individualism” metaphor taken to logical conclusion: “America is not a country, it’s just a business…”

Evidence Against/Symptom of Myth: Infrastructure and Its Neglect One of our recent presidents stood in front of a bridge and gestured toward it as a physical reminder of the many things no one person built but that we all benefit from. A later president ran on a basket of ridiculous proposals but the most realistic and sensible, the one most likely to receive bipartisan and public support, was related to building and fixing our infrastructure.

The built environment is both legacy and burden heaped upon us. It is an endowment we all benefit from, a pot we must pay into in order to sustain, pass along to the next generation, and prove worthy of. Much like the natural environment, it is not ours to do with as we please, without thought to consequences and the claims of others. We are the custodians of each and will be judged harshly for our negligence. As we should be.

Yet we allow things to deteriorate year after year because we do not really give a shit. We have no pride. Our individual neglect combines into a collective avoidance of reality. All the information about what in/actions are detrimental to our long term well-being are known. With neglect come higher costs, but only up to a point. Past a certain amount of degradation there is no return and we are faced with a mouthful of rotten teeth. The solution at this point, barring succumbing completely to resignation and defeat, is more painful, expensive and humiliating than if we had been adults about the situation and done our part.


Infrastructure Report Card

Is it just pride that is missing or are some “personhoods” no longer paying into the communal pot? We are in this together and no one is coming to rescue us. We are the ones to do it, if it is to be done at all. It is time for the will, backbone, and restraint needed to fund our infrastructure (http://blogs.worldbank.org/ppps/forecasting-infrastructure-investment-needs-50-countries-7-sectors-through-2040) and not build another fucking stadium.