On Fred

[I am reposting below a short essay by a friend of mine, who shall remain nameless. This was written shortly after the conclusion of the 2012 presidential election between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.]

I used to have a friend who was a con man. I don’t mean this metaphorically, I mean it literally. I’ll call him Fred, because I doubt he’d want me blabbing his actual name online. Fred used to run a bogus psychic hotline service that he advertised in supermarket tabloids (this was 20 years ago when such things still were popular) — the most gullible people he found from the hotline were then cultivated for bigger cons or were sold to other con men.

Fred was a really friendly, nice, charismatic kind of guy. I knew his secret but most people would never have guessed that he was a predator. I hung out with him because I thought he was fascinating, and he was. I was very careful never to have any business dealings with him, but even knowing what he was, it was very hard not to like him — though I knew that was the result of wiring defects in my brain that Fred was good at exploiting.

Later, Fred tired of the cons he was running and (I am not making this up) went into politics, not as a politician but as a back-room operator. He found it paid better, was safer, and for someone like him was really easy to do. (Really, I’m not making this up.) I lost track of him a couple of years after that — no doubt he’s still out there doing his thing.

Fred taught me something very valuable, which is that certain human beings are completely and totally unscrupulous. They don’t really operate the way you and I do. They can cry or laugh on command, they learn how people work, how to manipulate them, to become their friends instantly, and to pick their pockets literally or metaphorically without compunction.

The US is currently run by people like Fred. You might not like hearing this because perhaps in the last few days you’ve put up a nice picture of a politician hugging a child and captioned it “aw!” or put up a video of a politician showing emotion as he explained how much they had touched his life.

You might not like hearing this because no one wants to believe other human beings are capable of being such complete and thoroughgoing predators on their fellow men. You might especially not want to think you’ve fallen prey to such people — that you’ve been had. No one wants to think they’ve been had. We all imagine we’re better than that, that we, of all people, can judge a predator.

However, we’ve built a system that puts tremendous selection pressure on politicians and political operatives from the moment they enter the system. With a handful of possible (possible) exceptions that I can name, only the most ruthless and evil con men even get to the point where they are really in the running for high office. Only the truly most astonishing ones make it past all the selection barriers to the point where they make it to the Presidency. The system literally filters hundreds of millions of people to find the handful who are true and complete masters of the art of manipulating others.

It is not a coincidence that Bill Clinton called Barack Obama horrible things a few years ago during the primaries and a few months later was smiling and campaigning for him — and that people liked him throughout and never held it against him. It is not a coincidence that Barack Obama can order someone’s death one minute and the next minute be photographed with a paternal smile as he tousles the hair of a child during a photo opportunity, and that people say “aw!” when they see him do it. It is not a coincidence that people who have met George W. Bush generally say he is remarkably genial and likable in person even though he’s also personally responsible for a large fraction of the number of deaths that Pol Pot caused.

Fred is a real person. I don’t know for sure that Barack Obama or George W. Bush are exactly like him — they haven’t confided in me the way Fred did, and maybe they’re that even more dangerous sort of con man, the kind that believes his own lies while he’s telling them. It doesn’t matter though.

What does matter is this: out of hundreds of millions, a few such people will be found. Such people are all too real, and they are predators upon their fellow men. They are not your friends no matter how much you’ve seen them on television and feel you know their heart.

It doesn’t matter that they can weep on cue. I understand that they look sincere when they hug an injured person at a disaster site. However, normal people don’t arrive at a disaster site after a day of planning, with a phalanx of cameramen specifically to record them hugging someone and weep on camera on cue. Normal people don’t have a giant pool of advisers and managers finding such opportunities so they can then create such images so they can exploit the wiring flaws in the brains of millions of people. Normal people are not trained and honed to the peak of perfection this way and provided with a giant infrastructure specifically for exploiting other people’s weaknesses and emotions in order to engender trust in the face of obvious signs of danger.

Normal people evolved to deal in hunter-gatherer groups of a few dozen at most. Normal people do not have highly evolved defenses against sociopaths equipped with armies of press agents who are also often themselves sociopaths. If you are reading this, you are (probably) a normal person.

These people you see on television are not your friends. If they come out of the crowd and look you in the eye and hug you and say they feel your pain, your impulse is naturally to feel like here is a person who wants to be your friend and who feels your pain, but it is a cynical lie. No human being can care individually about thousands of people they meet in a week. They aren’t trying to help you, they are there to manipulate you, to get you to ignore reality, ignore reason, ignore thousands of lies small and large, and to say “aw, gee, he’s just a nice ordinary guy, I can trust him after all.”

In the contest that ended this week, Mitt Romney’s fangs showed just a little bit too much. It was just a touch too obvious that something wasn’t right about him, that he wanted something from you, that he didn’t really love all of you individually as though he was your own brother.

That does not mean that Barack Obama loves you either. He’s probably just as evil, or possibly a bit more evil or possibly a bit less. The difference was that he is better at the long con. The seams in the presentation show less, the smile is a better simulacrum of the real thing, his talking is smoother, his ear for language better, his flubs fewer, his tears more genuine seeming, his choice of team members on his long con superior.

We had a contest, and without a doubt Barack Obama is the better predator — he won, he gets unlimited power for another four years, he is our Emperor.

However, just because he’s that good doesn’t mean you have to fall for it.

Now quit with the postings showing me things like this, because you’re smarter than that, and even if you have to repeat “it’s all a lie” to yourself for two hours to overcome his charisma, you should learn how to do it already. Yah, I know he seems completely sincere here — that’s his job. He’s a professional. This is what he does for a living. (Remember the people who get Oscars every year? More to the point, remember Fred?)