The Dangers Of The Oversimplification Fallacy

The Dangers Of The Oversimplification Fallacy

Con artists understand how to weave complex
concepts into simple ideas that capture the imagination of their marks, but
simplicity often misleads or deliberately deceives yet people often prefer –
even crave – easy-to-understand concepts.

Whenever I talk for private clients or perform
sleight of hand, I’m often asked if I’ve ever cheated the
casinos or genuinely conned people and kept their money.

It would be easy to lie and fabricate years
spent on the other side of the tracks, but the truth is more complicated and
difficult to package in a glib soundbite and from a personal perspective.

Having had the unique opportunity to perform
every type of scam on real people for my work on TV, the last people I would
want to be confused with are real scammers.

This presents me with a constant ethical dilemma
that illustrates the dangers of oversimplification.

Never Trust A Con Artist, Ever

It would be a lot easier if I claimed to be a reformed card cheat or con artist or pickpocket or fraudster, which has been a proven path for many predecessors and contemporaries who claim to have veered from the dark path of criminal enterprise into the light of public protection.

For a few of these predecessors (and
contemporaries), there may be a smattering of truth to their questionable pasts
but for others (most, I think), it’s merely a convenient backstory built on
complete fantasy or (at best) brief flirtations with the other side of the law.

People who ask the question are seeking
authenticity and would be thrilled (it seems) to rub shoulders with a genuine
con artist, but those same people are exactly the people who need to stay the
hell away from real con artists who would cut into them without a moment’s

R Paul WilsonImage:

Seriously, con artists are f**king scumbags and
the more I get to know about their methods, the more I despise everything about

While Hollywood has successfully promoted the
idea of the charming, dapper swindler with a heart of gold, I’ve found the
truth to be nothing but ugly and cruel.

Yet that Hollywood lie seems to stick and
there’s real disappointment when I tell people I’ve only experimented as a card
cheat (in live games), conned people for TV or played against the casinos more
for experience than for money.

That disappointment cultivates a constant
temptation (on my part) to ‘fess up and give people what they want but
therein lies the mechanism of a real con game: offer people what they want to
take whatever they have.

It would have been so easy to paint a simpler
picture of crime and redemption and become a supposedly reformed, honest con
artist that lazy writers or unimaginative PR firms could easily understand.

My true backstory is far more complicated and
while a simpler lie would be easier to convey, understanding complicated truths
is essential to properly being protected from the intricacies of deception and
it would seem dangerous to support these lessons with a lie.

Such is my personal struggle to avoid a simple
(but potentially profitable) lie and stick to a more complicated truth.

And for the record: You probably shouldn’t trust
anyone who claims to have been a real con artist because the worst case
scenario is that they’re telling the truth!

The Oversimplification Fallacy

People, as a rule, respond to simple
explanations or concepts and it often requires a certain level of understanding
and interest to delve deeper into any subject.

Sometimes, simplification is a perfectly valid
form of communication that offers fast, necessary understanding without
distorting deeper facts, but oversimplification can be a form of manipulation
that can mislead millions of people.

In fact, the oversimplification fallacy is a
recognised way to draw seemingly obvious conclusions that make complete sense
unless the intended audience is willing to delve deeper than a few pithy

Politicians constantly simplify their message to
achieve desired results and can whip up immense support based on well-crafted
messages that (deliberately) fail to properly, fully or fairly represent the

For example, how often have we heard that
violence amongst young people has increased since the introduction of video
games, therefore violent games must be responsible for this increase in real
life violence?

It makes perfect sense as an idea and for many
people, it’s more than enough to jump on board and
vote accordingly. 

In fact, this is a naive argument that fails to
consider countless other factors but it draws a compelling and
easy-to-understand correlation between violent games and actual violence, yet
this paper-thin argument has sent millions of people to their social media
pages to signal support for regulating violent video games.

If you’ve ever seen a politician dogmatically
refuse to say more than a handful of predetermined phrases in answer to a topic
during an interview, repeating the same words in the same order as dictated by
his or her spin doctors; you’re watching a deliberate attempt to shape opinion
or force a message onto the audience without addressing the real meat of a

Governments, corporations, ideologies and
religions all know how to shape a message to ensure the maximum positive
response and we are constantly being bombarded by these messages every day.

Even the most cynical of observers (hello!)
can’t possibly delve into every nugget of information that passes his or her

While I read everything I can find about how
people are being manipulated by governments, at the same time, I’m passively
absorbing information that conveys no real facts but has been deliberately
designed to subconsciously shape my opinion and drive subsequent conclusions.

Some of that manipulation is bound to take hold
and I constantly find myself in possession of opinions shaped by others and
while I may be well-read on many topics, I’m just as ignorant, misguided and
manipulated on countless more.

Convenient Lies vs.
Inconvenient Truths

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Understanding deception is about recognising it
in all walks of life, even those where it might be acceptable or bearable but
by doing so, we continue to cultivate our individual grift sense that could
potentially protect us in the future.

A simple lie is as easy to buy as it is to sell
and I’m probably poorer for holding to the truth of my own past but since my
goal is to educate people on the subject of deception, I feel obligated to
stick to the facts.

Sadly, people tend to prefer a convenient lie to
an inconvenient truth, and this has become a principle of communication
familiar to anyone with flexible morals or questionable ethics.

Obviously, there are many things in life that
might be as simple or authentic as they first seem but I remain wary of
anything that can be explained easily, understood quickly or accepted

We live in a time where facts are all too
pliable and whatever version of the truth we prefer can be found with few
clicks on a device that soon learns how to pander to our individual biases and
in no time at all we don’t need to search for comforting answers or opinions
because they already know where to find us.

By combining our natural inclination towards
simple stories or solutions with our individual preferences is a powerful,
transformative means of communication that has come to manipulate and divide
people until we became so polarised we forgot how to communicate with anyone
who differs with our own perspective.

While I have fought the temptation of giving my
audience the story they want to hear, others choose to embrace expectation to
shape their image or their message based on what their audience desires.

Con artists do this every day, and it has worked
for centuries.

But whenever I see the tools of scammers being
employed to such devastating effect in all walks of life, I can’t help but
wonder if I should have just invented a more appealing backstory and reaped the

Instead, I remind myself of a more complicated

Manipulation is manipulation and a con is a con no matter who is using those methods or why.

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Author: Glen Ferguson