The Fish in the Barrel: how ignorance destroyed critical thinking -- and watching a confidence game unfold right before my eyes.

I am always fascinated by human behaviour, and how we have layers: the poor live in a hard layer. The rich also live in a hard layer because getting rich requires cunning. The middle class are the soft layer: they have the rich to employ them, and the poor to make them feel superior to someone who has it harder than they do.

Revolutions happen when this dynamic is destroyed and the former soft layer is thrown into the hard layer of poverty. When you are middle class, you have the luxury to fantasize about being rich and famous. When you were middle class, and are now poor, that pacifier is snatched from you, you're life theories are proven wrong, and now someone is going to pay for it.

You become so blinded by your broken dreams that someone can round up all of the other broken dreamers, manipulate them, and then turn them into pawns to gain more power while promising paradise is right around the corner if they kill all those who destroyed their dreams.

Human nature is predictable, and this has been a trusty way of gaining power across the globe for centuries.

Except now.

The Internet has done a very interesting thing: it has bypassed having to destroy the middle class to create the same anger, particularly in the United States -- a country that once warned its own people that "united we stand; divided we fall."

And the US is rapidly dividing. 

You have rich and sheltered people talking about "Resistance." You have A-list actresses voguing for the camera, dressed to the nines as they are protesting on the red carpet. You have so many linear divides that civil war is inevitable.

The Internet created a hot bed of hatred and pure stupidity where people's narratives have miscategorized them -- and if you do not know your place, then, you do not know your surroundings, either.

Part of the reason is that journalism destroyed itself by not keeping up with the times -- or, put another way, misinterpreted their own reality, seeing themselves as invincible because there once was a rig to give them all the power of communications.

What the US is experiencing is anarchy. That soft layer of the middle class -- who are not trained to think too critically -- are now looking online for their cheat sheet of how to interpret reality.

And it is bringing genuine fear into their beliefs.

We can take a look at a very flawed story from USA Today about how Russia bought Facebook ads -- but if you actually read those ads, it is pseudo-propaganda.

Fake propaganda.

It is peculiar thing to see fake propaganda, and I am someone who researches propaganda.

So why bother with buying ads that won't do the trick?

The reporters never actually looked to see if Russians bought those ads for their own purposes -- or if someone else used a proxy to do it.

It seems like the perfect bait and misdirection: have everyone so focussed on someone else, that you can manipulate the fearful to get them to trust you right before you start to exploit that fear.

The story is pure confirmation bias: the Russians would not be the only nation or even corporation to play such a gambit. When we have companies and governments spends billions of dollars in researching persuasion, why would they use an inferior form of persuasion?

FARA is an anti-propaganda law that has been on the books in the US since 1938. 

That means propaganda has always been a concern, especially after the Second World War -- and yet, most people have no training in spotting actual propaganda.

Because propaganda is a war strategy -- create a crisis, and then people will follow you in a bid to save themselves.

In the classic (and ancient) text The 36 Stratagems of War, there is a Winning Stratagem:

Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west.

So what we are witnessing right now is precisely that: someone going through an awful lot of trouble drawing attention on the Russians, leaving the US vulnerable to threats who have a vested interest in creating that chaos.

Someone who knows Americans' xenophobic tendencies, and was around to remember how fearful people were during the Cold War.

We are seeing a very peculiar disintegration of a nation that has very little reason to fall apart.

We are seeing this rage of hysteria that reminds me a lot of the confidence game of Find the Lady or Find the Peanut.

Both games require a pigeon to have their guard down using both arrogance and fear.

The fear is created by a confederate of the huckster with the cards or shells -- someone who looks like they are just someone in the crowd who warns to pigeon that the dealer "is cheating."

This part is true. The dealer is crooked, but so is the concerned citizen who seems kind enough to share that with the sucker.

The sucker now feels connected to the false guardian who then promises to keep an eye on the dealer.

But this isn't what happens. The confederate gives a false sense of power to the pigeon, who then overestimates his knowledge and evening cunning, guaranteeing he is going to play to win an unwinnable game.

The pigeon's fear is used to create arrogance, thinking he has "figured out" the dealer, but then is fleeced, and the confederate gets a share of that windfall.

The pigeon loses no matter what -- except under two conditions:

1. He doesn't play. He walks away from the greed scam. He doesn't believe the dealer -- or the "helpful" confederate. The illusion of having two sides is seen for what it is, and the potential dupe doesn't fall for the bait.

2. He exposes the con. He knows there is no peanut under any shells or Queen of Hearts on the table. He can flip over any two shells or cards, and then state that the one that wasn't flipped must have the winning shell or card. It doesn't, but the dealer cannot risk exposure. The dealer will most likely take off with the funds, but he knows he was made.

And right now we are watching a game of Find the Lady.

If we had real journalism, we'd already know who is the grifter and his confederates.

But we don't. We have fear-mongers running around like chickens without heads. There are no rational fact-gatherers pointing out the games to the soft layers of society.

This information void is unprecedented as is the behaviour of a soft layer behaving as if they became dispossessed.

The end result will also be unprecedented -- and unpredictable, even to those who are creating that false crisis. It is not hard to riddle out most of this game, given the structure and content of this siege of ignorant fear, but how it was all break and explode will be very interesting.

However, it is a confidence game that is beneath me. There are more important things to do right now -- and if people choose to fear and to hate, then so be it.

But I will not enable or indulge their ignorance -- or arrogance...