Black's new novel is That Darkness.
Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
The Confidence Game by Maria KonnikovaVisit Lisa Black's website.
Could you just help me out? I don’t need any money, I swear, I just have to tell you about this deal/ inheritance/ tragedy/ hot stock tip/ cache of long-lost artworks that I need help to distribute. I’m not asking for money—that’s not what this is about, trust me.
No, trust me—that’s exactly what it’s about.
This isn’t just a book about great swindles throughout history, though there are plenty of anecdotes and tales to illustrate the points made. It is a dive into the psychology of belief, why we trust, why intelligent, successful people fall for what seems, in hindsight, the most fantastical bald-faced lies ever to fall on all-too-willing ears.
Basically it comes down to the fact that the default setting for human beings is to trust. This is not unreasonable—studies show that trusting people do better and are more successful in the long run, and we could hardly function if we had to re-examine every single decision three or four or five times. And people who get conned are not naïve dunces, but simply as prone as the next person to skillful manipulation. There is no one type of victim—cons are tailored to meet individual goals—but they (we) are alike in that goals make one vulnerable.
The author goes through each step, beginning with the “put-up”. Con men and women study their target (much easier these days with social media). Familiarity does not breed contempt, it breeds acceptance. We’re all more comfortable (and therefore trusting) with people who are like us, and we all want to join the club of our dreams, whether that is the aristocracy, dot com millionaires, lottery winners, or the quilter’s circle.
Then the ‘play’—they make contact, establish their credentials, tell us all about their history, all of it fascinating and all of it fake.
Then the ‘rope’--they’ll get to the story, the narrative, a tale of fabulous wealth that could be ours, or of a horrible abuse they suffered which prompted them to seek our help—‘the touch.’ Why us? Because deep down we all think of ourselves as exceptional, exceptionally nice, exceptionally generous, and exceptionally intelligent.
We don’t ask for a lot of verification, because we’re too smart to get conned, and even if we do look more closely, we might look exactly where the con man directed us. Some sort of support will be offered for the story, in the form of fake documents, testimony from other beneficiaries (cohorts in disguise), or initial payoffs from the investment. We might need an extra ‘nudge’—the production is limited, all your friends are doing it, and if you don’t trust me then say the word and I’ll be out of here…though you might miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime. And everyone knows that the pain of regret tops many other agonies.
Then ‘the blow-off’—they, and our money, disappear. If they’ve done a good job, we never realize we were conned at all. We think it was simply bad luck; after all, not every investment pays off. But it’s more likely we know all too well where we went wrong…only we’ll never, ever admit it.
Because, of course, we’re too smart to fall for that.