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The Media, Mueller, the Big Con and the Democratization of Narrative

March 25, 2019

Falling for a con is painful. The first reaction is to deny being conned, of course. The second is to blame skeptics for being correct in their skepticism.

Here's the fundamental "story" of the Mueller Investigation: elites don't like "the little people" democratizing public narratives. The elites--who reckon their right to rule is self-evident--want to set the narrative and the context, because that's the foundation of power: once you get the citizenry to agree on your narrative and context, you secure two valuable things: 1) political legitimacy and 2) their obedience.

Elite anxiety over the "the little people" democratizing narratives is not a new phenomenon. Elites have demanded control of any media outlet that doesn't parrot their line and have tried to declare skeptical inquiry sedition for generations, stretching back to the founding of the Republic.

The elite interest in controlling the narrative and context long predates the era of "fake news." Please read this excerpt from the 1991 book The Radicalism of the American Revolution about the democratization of everyday life in post-Revolutionary War America (1790 - 1830):

"The result of all these assaults on elite opinion and celebrations of common ordinary judgment was a dispersion of authority and ultimately a diffusion of truth itself to a degree the world had never seen. With every ordinary person being told his ideas and tastes, on everything from medicine to art to government, were as good as, if not better than, those of "connoisseurs" and "speculative men" who had college degrees, it is not surprising that truth and knowledge became elusive and difficult to pin down."

This democratization deeply unsettled the elites, who were accustomed to leading by setting the "acceptable" narrative and context. Democracy, they discovered to their chagrin, isn't a force that one can bottle up and dispense in measured doses around election time; it spreads throughout every sphere of the society.

This reliance on one's own judgment depreciated the power not only of self-appointed elites but of those claiming superiority based on credentials. As novelist Herman Melville understood so acutely, this democratization of everything made everyone, pundit and commoner alike, a potential mark for a con and a potential chump for a compelling pitch that appealed to vanity, social aspirations and what we now call virtue-signaling.

Melville laid all this out in one of my favorite novels, The Confidence-Man, ostensibly a collection of stories about a motley cast of characters on a Mississippi riverboat but actually a meditation on the nature of trust, confidence and cons.

This puts Melville's 1857 novel at the very heart of the Mueller Investigation as various elite-promoted narratives are revealed as cons. Authority, of course, is well-placed to push The Big Con; declaring "the truth of the matter" as an article of faith is the acme of The Big Con.

Democracy requires all Americans take responsibility for sorting the wheat from the chaff. We're all potential marks, so we have to remain skeptical of every context and every narrative being pushed by authorities, elites, self-appointed experts, etc., all of whom are of course as self-serving as anyone else trying to advance their interests with a compelling story.

Here are a few paragraphs from my Amazon review of Melville's novel:

What ties the book together is not a story but a theme: the nature of trust and confidence. In a very sly way, Melville shows how a variety of cons are worked, as the absolutely distrustful are slowly but surely convinced to do exactly what they vowed not to do: buy the "herbal" patent medicine, buy shares in a bogus stock venture, or donate cash to a suspect "charity."

In other chapters, it seems like the con artist is either stopped in his tracks or is conned himself. Since the book is mostly conversations, we are left to our own conclusions; there is no authorial voice wrapping up each chapter with a neatly stated ending. This elliptical structure conveys the ambiguous nature of trust; we don't want to be taken, but confidence is also necessary for any business to be transacted. To trust no one is to be entirely isolated.

Melville also raises the question: is it always a bad thing to be conned? The sickly man seems to be improved by his purchase of the worthless herbal remedy, and the donor conned out of his cash for the bogus charity also seems to feel better about himself and life. The ornery frontiersman who's been conned by lazy helpers softens up enough to trust the smooth-talking employment agency owner. Is that a terrible thing, to trust despite a history of being burned?

The ambiguous nature of the bonds of trust is also explored. We think the Cosmopolitan is a con-man, but when he convinces a fellow passenger to part with a heavy sum, he returns it, just to prove a point. Is that a continuance of the con, or is he actually trustworthy?

The book is also an exploration of a peculiarly American task: sorting out who to trust in a multicultural non-traditional society of highly diverse and highly mobile citizens. In a traditional society, things operate in rote ways; young people follow in their parents' traditional roles, money is made and lent according to unchanging standards, and faith/tradition guides transactions such as marriage and business along well-worn pathways.

But in America, none of this structure is available. Even in Melville's day, America was a polyglot culture on the move; you had to decide who to trust based on their dress, manner and speech/pitch. The con, of course, works on precisely this necessity to rely on one's senses and rationality rather than a traditional network of trusted people and methods. So the con man dresses well and has a good story, and an answer for every doubt.

Much of the corporate media pushed a narrative that careful investigation has not confirmed. If there is one thing we can agree upon, it's that Mueller played it by the book and used all the resources available to him to follow every potential lead.

Various elites were counting on a conclusion that justified their dogged promotion of a specific agenda (impeachment), and now the backpedaling, air-brushing, convoluted explanations for why they fell for the con, etc. begins.

Every con depends on the mark wanting to believe the con is true.

Falling for a con is painful. The first reaction is to deny being conned, of course. The second is to blame skeptics for being correct in their skepticism.




Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($6.95 ebook, $12 print, $13.08 audiobook): Read the first section for free in PDF format.


My new mystery The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake is a ridiculously affordable $1.29 (Kindle) or $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

My book Money and Work Unchained is now $6.95 for the Kindle ebook and $15 for the print edition. Read the first section for free in PDF format.


If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.



(Kindle ebook $6.95, print $12, $13.08 audiobook)

America teeters on the precipice: our government is now captive to special interests and big money, twin cancers that threaten our democracy. This accelerating crisis is exacerbated by a toxic social media-fueled tribalism that has replaced “what do you think?” with “which side are you on?”

Our crisis isn’t just political—it’s structural: as the pace of change explodes from gradual to non-linear, the organizations that dominate our economy—centralized corporations and government—become destined to fail. We see this failure in both the soaring inequality that has hollowed out the American Dream as well as in the rising tide of social and political disunity.

To prevent the fall of our democratic republic, we must transform our economy and society from the ground up. As we enter a new era of rapid, unprecedented tumult, it is we citizens who will need to save our democracy. For our political and financial elites will cling to their centralized power, doing more of what’s failed, even as civil society unravels.

All is not lost--yet. Our way forward starts with understanding the fatal flaws of our brittle, self-serving status quo and embracing this basic truth: better options are available if we’re willing to explore.

To pathfind our way to a better destiny, we must create new localized structures optimized for resilience and adaptability—a flexible, decentralized, sustainable, democratic, opportunity-for-all nation.

Read the first section for free in PDF format.

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic (ebook $6.95, print $12)



Recent entries:

The Media, Mueller, the Big Con and the Democratization of Narrative March 25, 2019

Politics Has Failed, Now Central Banks Are Failing March 22, 2019

Which Nations Will Crumble and Which Few Will Prosper in the Next 25 Years? March 21, 2019

The Neutered Fed Is Politically Trapped March 20, 2019

While the Nation Fragments Socially, the Financial Aristocracy Rules Unimpeded March 19, 2019

The Coming Crisis the Fed Can't Fix: Credit Exhaustion March 18, 2019

A Precarious Revolution Is Brewing March 15, 2019

What Sort of "Democracy" Do We Have If Everyone's Goal Is Maximizing Their Government Swag? March 14, 2019

How States/Empires Collapse in Four Easy Steps March 13, 2019

Here's The Problem: The Pie Is Shrinking March 12, 2019

The Source of Killer Inflation: Services March 11, 2019

What If Politics Can't Fix What's Broken? March 8, 2019

Trade Isn't China's Only Worry March 6, 2019

The Fed's "Wealth Effect" Has Enriched the Haves at the Expense of the Young March 5, 2019

What Killed the Middle Class? March 4, 2019

It's All About Who Reaps the Gains (Asset Bubbles) and Who Eats the Losses (Stagnating Wages) March 1, 2019


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"There is no security on this earth; there is only opportunity."
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"Do the thing and you shall have the power." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." (E.F. Schumacher, via Tom R.)

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"History doesn't have a reverse gear." (CHS, 12/22/15)

Smith's Law of Conservation of Risk: Every sustained action has more than one consequence. Some consequences will appear positive for a time before revealing their destructive nature. Some consequences will be intended, some will not. Some will be foreseeable, some will not. Some will be controllable, some will not. Those that are unforeseen and uncontrollable will trigger waves of other unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences. (July 8, 2014)(thanks to Lew G. for retitling the idea.)

Smith's Neofeudalism Principle #1: If the citizenry cannot replace a kleptocratic authoritarian government and/or limit the power of the financial Aristocracy at the ballot box, the nation is a democracy in name only.

The Smith Corollary to Metcalfe's Law (The Network Effect): the value of the network is created not just by the number of connected devices/users but by the value of the information and knowledge shared by users in sub-networks and in the entire network. (CHS, 4/6/16)

My Credo of Liberation: I no longer care if the power centers of our society--the distant, fortified castles of our financial feudal system--are changed by my actions, for I am liberated by the act of resistance. I am no longer complicit in perpetuating fraudulent feudalism and the pathology of concentrated power. I no longer covet signifiers of membership in the Upper Caste that serves the plutocracy. I am liberated from self-destructive consumerist-State financialization and the delusion that debt servitude and obedience to sociopathological Elites serve my self-interests. (Thank you, Klaus-Peter L., for reminding me)

"We've become a culture of excuses rather than solutions: solutions always require sustained effort and discipline." (CHS 4/9/16)

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"We live in a system of human emotions that masquerades as a science (economics)." (CHS 1/1/18)

"Always remember, your focus determines your reality." George Lucas

"Diversity is for poor people. Sameness is for the successful." GFB

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