The ideomotor effect

I don’t quite know what to make of this but it pulls me both ways–it’s hilarious and then not.

Fake bomb detectors (that) were hawked to the Iraqi government by an English con man named James McCormick. The so-called bomb detectors were nothing more than plastic handles with non-operational antennae sticking out of them, a design based on a gizmo from the nineteen-nineties that supposedly found lost golf balls. Reading about it now, McCormick’s scam seems flimsy and cartoonish—the detectors came with laminated cards “programmed” with “electrostatic ion attraction” to find various substances, and with white gloves for proper handling. Yet McCormick became a millionaire by travelling around the world selling these devices to governments and police forces for thousands of dollars each, and many of the people he sold them to are still using them. Higginbotham’s story is a case study in people’s capacity for both deviousness and credulity. It’s hard to tell which side of equation gives a bleaker view of human nature.

Or maybe the source of the McCormick scam isn’t a tragic flaw in human nature but a specific quirk that predisposes us to believe in the ability of sticks to point at things.

Read the complete article in The New Yorker.

But sobering my thoughts fly to the senators and members of Congress (when the highest leaders of the land are these sort is there still hope for this country?) implicated in the PHP10B (or more?) pork barrel scam and, if all of the reports are true, how they have suavely conned people (the latest being that of Senator Lapid’s garbage deodorizer), and what’s more unbelievable is how these people bought what were sold to them. The pork barrel scam (old old news by the way), to reiterate what is stated in the above article,

is a case study in people’s capacity for both deviousness and credulity

and perhaps

a specific quirk that predisposes us to believe in the ability of sticks to point at things.

At this point I’m reminded of the odd salesmen who peddle their wares in neighborhoods (by the way, what are barangay officials doing, allowing these peddlers into neighborhoods without a permit to sell. The barangays are being divested of income because they don’t do their duties — or don’t they know? They say “there’s not enough funds” yet they don’t know how to bring in funds. More of this in a separate article.) There was this salesman selling pressure cookers (I think I’ve written about this in my other blog, but anyway) and someone in the neighborhood, apparently beguiled by it being cheap, bought one. She used it at once and discovered she was conned. The thing was fake. The gadget that was supposed to keep the lid on went flying up the ceiling the instant the heat inside the cooker reached a certain temperature and you could guess the mess it made out of what she was cooking. What made this woman buy the thing while the rest recognized that they were merely being sales talked to believe in “the ability of sticks to point at things”?

Postscript: While the title of this article sounds like ‘idiot’, this is not its meaning. As mentioned in the same The New Yorker article, the phenomenon refers to “when the power of suggestion causes unconscious movement”.


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