My Scam Meter

This topic does not relate just to politics, and could be equally applied to religion, business and many other areas of our lives. I am introducing a not-so-new concept, the Scam-Meter. It is this little alarm system that most of us have; we use it to tell us when a scam is afoot. All I am doing here is giving this particular form of alarm some definition, and then seeing how it relates to the current happenings.

The Scam-Meter starts to wake up when we are informed by someone that we have a need, that we didn’t already know of. This heretofore unknown need could be in the form of something we want (like being cool) or it could be in the form of something we want to avoid (like dorkiness). A classical marketing technique at the start of the sales cycle is for the salesman to “create the need”.

The Scam-Meter gets more active when, after having a new need created, the person who created it now has the solution (like buy Nike shoes). Again, this is classical marketing technique, “create then need, and then solve it”. The Scam-Meter gets working a little harder if I, even after having been informed of the need, still don’t feel my neediness.

The Scam-meter really starts working overtime when the solution involves giving the need-creator and need-resolver something of value (like money).

As we get older, we usually get more resistant to this scam. Marketers know this, so they focus on teens and young adults, where the technique is still effective. But in the political and religious arenas, it seems that our gullibility does not go away. Politicians, especially, are keenly aware of the power of this technique, and use it all the time. We can pretty much rate demagogues by how they make use of it. Many ministers use this technique also, and some major religious dogmas seem to meet the Scam-Meter criteria.

Here are some examples of what I’m talking about. N = the Need, S = the Solution, C = the Cost.

N) You have bad breath. S) Use Listerine. C) Money

N) Al-Quida will destroy us. S) Invade Iraq. C) Money, power.

N) You were born in sin. S) Accept Jesus Christ, he will forgive your sins. C) Money, status, power.

I could go on and on. I hope you get the idea. Note that the cost almost always involves me giving the Scammer some combination of money, status or power; the usual human desires.

I mention this only because we as a species don’t seem very resistant to it if the Scam is cleverly done, or if we have invested a great deal of trust in the would-be Scammer, or if the need can be made to sound plausible, or if the need touches some basic human need or fear. That’s why political and religious scams seem to be quite effective, even as we get older.

By any measure, both parties are guilty of this. Recently, the Republicans have been busier at it than the Democrats.

January 30, 2004

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