The Con

Lately con artists have woefully figured rather vividly in the morning news, stories about real estate developers who swindle one group of people to pay off another, something along the lines of a pyramid scheme. There are always two perceptible features to these inventions: one, there is inevitably a loser (the sine qua non for the success of all the other players); and two, it is a non-sustainable business model that promises participants money for enrolling others into the scheme without supplying any real product or service. These stratagems have at least the curious (though perhaps demonic) attraction of being elaborate and systematic plans of action even though fraught with artifice and ruse. They make for some delicious reading as well. No doubt you are familiar with the plots and deception which formed the foundation of the novel “The Way We Live Now” by Sir Anthony Trollope published in London in 1875. The proposal to construct a railway from Salt Lake City to Veracruz turns out to be nothing more than a front to ramp up the share price without paying any money into the scheme itself. The novel was inspired by the financial scandals of the early 1870s and was a rebuke to the greed and dishonesty which infested that era.

One does not however imagine that in the less public theater of one’s intimate personal relationships the same connivance can either exist or thrive. It is after all so much more convenient and less disruptive to presume to limit such activity to either Victorian novels, antiquity or at the very least the common forum of the masses. In fact it appears that the very intimacy of our personal relationships – whether amicable, familial or romantic – spawns and nurtures the same corruption even if less notorious. Its discovery is frequently shocking because it involves the unfolding of out-and-out dedication to culpability which is a trance quite foreign to most of us.

It may help to absorb what I am saying if one knocks the matter down a notch. Rather than aggrandize the theft as a scheme, label it merely as being taken advantage of. It is no doubt part of the success of these underhanded plans that they are seemingly buoyed by more favourable and distracting attributes. Under the guise of friendship, affection, family connection or any other less than exploitative attraction, the truly manipulative nature of the con is sufficiently veiled from detection until it is too late. Normally in these closely-knit fabrications, the victim of the scam is a willing (and admittedly at times a vain) participant without any view whatsoever to gain other than the normal rewards of human satisfaction which flow from charity and generosity.

Upon the revelation of the deception, strict behaviour is mandatory, by which I mean an immediate severance of the involvement. To confound the obfuscation further by attempting to qualify the disarray with buffers of alleged misunderstanding, misconstrued needs or anything else to dilute the mendacity of the proponent is a waste of time. At moments like this one must call upon the adages of axiomatic living which bring us out of the clouds and plants us firmly upon the ground, among them, “trust your instincts”.

The most recognizable intimate cons are the gold-diggers, the penny pinchers (who profess to excuse their niggardliness by claiming pride in having “deep pockets”), the social climbers, the political aspirants and generally anyone else who seeks to improve their lot at the expense of others. Historically, such losers inevitably fail; indeed their loathsome behaviour is customarily a signal of their current or impending ruin. Frequently the upsetting element of the con is not so much the value for which one is taken, but more for the publicity of having been taken at all.