August 11, 2011

The Nature Of The Grift

vector forces.jpg
simplified for the purposes of illustration




In The New Yorker, a piece about immigration-- abuse?  Cheating?

"Caroline" is a single woman from "central Africa" who, while living in a roach infested NYC apartment ("sometimes they get in my handbag, but they're small")  and working in what I assume is a Whole Foods (she thinks "organic" is a scam), she works with a lawyer to complete her application for political asylum.  Back home, she was raped and beaten, and would likely be killed if she returns.

The hook of the article is that she made this up in order to gain asylum.  She was never raped, never tortured, never etc.  The article explains that such embellishment is not only common, but that applicants are often counseled on how to game the system by others (including lawyers) who have been through the process.

But she's a good person, hard working, she just wants a part of the American Dream that is out of reach for native twentysomethings.  Is it right to deny her?  Oh poorly considered ethical dilemmas, what would the press do without you?  The focus of the story--indeed, the climax-- comes when she finally has her appointment wiith the immigration officer: a cold  hard-ass (read: white) named Novick in a Matrixy/East German/Kafkaesque interrogation room. Think fluorescent lighting and the hum of alienation.  

He wants specifics of her rape and torture, when and where; he wants to know what African hospital she went to and when.  She keeps her story tight; she deflects attempts to pin down the medical records.  She answers questions about local geography.  Novick checks a newspaper to corroborate her story of being in a bombing, but that's where she got the story in the first place.

So: you can read it as this lying bitch is one step ahead of the law, which is harsh, but it's a reading.   Or, you can read it as officers like Novick can't always detect lying, they do the best they can.  Or you can do what The New Yorker and NPR did, pull the left blinker on the Subaru and suggest it shouldn't have to be this hard for immigrants to come in.  They shouldn't have to lie.  Also: "Mondale '84"

In the end, the officer found her narrative compelling enough and granted her asylum, and she is a model American citizen by most measures. She has a job, a car and a husband. She goes to church every Sunday. She pays her taxes, and she's never taken a dime from the government.

I'd bet every dime of every person she's never taken a dime from that it scalded the editors like holy water to keep the phrase "goes to church every Sunday" in there, but they probably figured they needed it to appeal to the wingnuts at patriotpost.us and everyone in a landlocked state who obviously hates immigrants, especially ones who aren't from America.  

All of those readings provide their respective readers with considerable emotional comfort and reinforce their own moral superiority, which is healthier, I'll warrant, than drinking yourself to sleep in front of (this week) The Conversation; nevertheless, all of those readings would be wrong.

II.

Here's an emotional, exasperated criticism from an immigration lawyer:

[The New Yorker story] encapsulated everything about immigration law that is both dispiriting and outrageous. It is a clarion to new lawyers to keep away from the profession and a motivator to honest lawyers in the field to want to take a long shower after any day associating with his or her peers or "the system."

Can't resist low hanging fruit: "This is what motivates lawyers to take showers??  Is this thing on?" 

I get where he's coming from, and I don't blame him for feeling angry about abuses of "the system", but he's not seeing the truth: this isn't an abuse of "the system," this is the intended system.  Even though it's illegal, the system wants you to lie.

To begin to see not how this is but why this is, pretend that Caroline had made a left instead of a right and wanted, inexplicably, to immigrate to Greece.  She shows up, gets the necessary binder of paperwork, and of course right there on the cover it says they don't want black people either.  But she's highly motivated.  What's the play?  Think about the answer.

The play is: she's got to figure out who to bribe. 

The play is: she has to bribe a Greek Novick.  And Novickopoulos already expects it.

It is both metaphorically and literally accurate to say it isn't rape or torture, but exactly that system, that she is trying to escape by coming to America.

III.


The system wants Caroline, the system wants there to be a way for "intelligent" and "hard working" and "church going" resourceful people to game the system. All of those words mean "taxpayers."  It wants the kind of person who sticks with this tedious bureaucratic process even if it is all a lie; it doesn't want the person who doesn't bother to try to get legal.  And, most importantly, when you establish the grift as based on the best "rape narrative", it therefore isn't about the most money.  That's what you want to avoid, because Caroline has none of it, and MS13 has lots of it.

What distinguishes this grift from the overt kind-- of Greece, Mexico, Pakistan-- is that in the former case the cheat occurs top down, while in the latter case the cheat occurs bottom up.  In Greece, you want a permit?  You have to know who to bribe.  Bribery may go "all they way to the top," but importantly your bribe has to start from the bottom and move to the top. 

In the case of American asylum seeking-- and everything else-- the grift is at the top and it lacks a human face.  This story is in The New Yorker, right? So it's hardly news, hardly investigative journalism.  So at minimum, everyone in the business knows the score.  Novick knows that, in general, much of what he hears is a lie, even if he isn't sure/ignores that he is being lied to right now.  Unless you piss him off personally, or flaunt your lying, he doesn't care about the veracity of your claim exactly, just the internal validity of it.

That's the system.  The system favors narratives over truth to avoid the terrible reality of reflexive human corruption.


IV.

"Internal validity over objective reality?  The system wants you to lie?  What madness is this?"

Say you're a gay male asylum seeker.  "Back in Brasil they beat me mercilessly, police have gang raped me.  I'm told that I can find acceptance in "Southern Carolina."  (Shhh, don't tell him. This will be hilarious.)

Your documents are all ready.  Your day before the immigration judge comes.  How should you dress?  Think about this.

(NYT) In the end, Mr. Castro opted for... pink eye shadow, a bright pink V-neck shirt and intermittent outbursts of tears... He had been advised by his immigration lawyer that flaunting it was now his best weapon against deportation.

"Judges and immigration officials are adding a new hurdle in gay asylum cases that an applicant's homosexuality must be socially visible," said Lori Adams, a lawyer

Being gay isn't enough, you have to look gay.  But importantly, while no member of the immigration office can deny you for not looking gay:

Rhatigan [from Immigration] said such behavior by immigration officers would not be condoned.   "We don't say that someone is insufficiently gay or homosexual"

"everyone knows" that you have to dress the part.  Like your life depends on it.

The system doesn't want truth, it wants internal validity.  That sounds bad, but it wants it to be based on the force of a narrative because it doesn't want your life to be determined by the whims of a man with two mortgages or a drug habit or a hard on. 

But wait: now pretend you're not gay.  Can you... dress the part?


One lawyer recalled a recent client who applied for asylum on the basis of sexual orientation, then showed up a few weeks later with his wife, seeking help with a green card. In 2009, Steven and Helena Mahoney pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a consulting business in which, among other things, they coached straight people on how to file gay asylum claims.


Is it lying?  Yes.  Is it a grift?  Yes.  But is the fake-gay married guy more likely to rape a bus of schoolkids or file quarterly 1099s?   That's the system.

V.

The unanswered question is: how?  How can a system operate on words alone?  "All you have to do is say you were raped and you're in?"  No, of course not, you have to provide proof.    I can't just roll up to the Apple store and say I have $100, I need some sort of proof that I have $100. Someone has to take my words--- maybe even lies-- and translate them to tangible proof.  So maybe it's the bank, or maybe it's Visa who takes my "lie" that I have $100, and makes it real for the merchant by forcing me to pay $15 a month until that lie becomes true.

Caroline is fabricating a rape narrative.  Novick wants proof.  How does she prove it?  What is the mechanism by which the American system converts words-- truths or lies, either way-- into physical evidence?  What does the system give her-- indeed, demand of her-- as a means of manufacturing the necessary proof of her rape?

To buttress her asylum claim... she had been attending group and individual psychotherapy sessions, as part of a program for survivors of torture.... She has individual sessions with a psychiatrist, who prescribes antidepressants: Zoloft, Wellbutrin, trazodone....  "I throw it away."

Note that she didn't really have any symptoms; the system required her to go as evidence that she was raped. i.e. psychiatry is not the unintended collateral damage of a terrible system, it is the necessary part of the dialectical workings of (American) society, it is the specific way in which theory/lies/abstractions are physically manifested.

By "required" I don't mean codified.  There's no rule that says she has to see a shrink.  But she still has to.  It will look weird if she goes before the judge without a PTSD diagnosis.  Nor does a person actually need to go to a psychiatrist, but they must at minimum employ the language of psychiatry: traumatic, depressed, flashbacks...

I do not use the requirement of psychiatry lightly. I mean exactly what I say: psychiatry makes words manifest into tangible reality.

Remember Castro who was not gay unless he appeared gay-- the reality was irrelevant, what mattered was the narrative?  Even he was in it:

He shared a letter from his psychiatrist confirming that he took antidepressants for the post-traumatic stress disorder caused by his abuse.

How much did it cost the system to help Caroline game it?  2 therapy visits/month at $60/visit + 1 "med check"/month @ $50/visit + medications @ $150/month (assuming generics) = $320/month.  However, and this is the point, it made a profit on its investment, not just in  taxes but in "blast radius:" she'll be a positive influence on others, her kids, who will grow up educated, employable, etc. This is the same force that gives you $700/month in SSI because that is just enough to prevent you from robbing a Dunkin Donuts or chasing a dragon, not to mention way cheaper than incarcerating you or turning the Bronx back into a police state.

The system wants Caroline because she's good for the system.  Of course, she is black, but at least she's African black; and, anyway, you can't have everything.


VI.

No doubt all this talk about "the system" seems too abstract to be real, almost at the level of conspiracy theory, so let me offer you an everyday example.

Say you get a bill from Verizon or Blue Cross and you're like, wtf?  Is this in base 6?  So you call a number that begins with 800, put it on speaker and surf the internet for the next hour to the background music of genocide.

Finally, Sally comes on, and you know she's going to want to help.  Here's what I do every single time.  When Sally says, "Verizon's Blue Cross, I'm Sally, how may I help you?" the very first thing I say is, "Hi, Sally.  I'd like to speak to a supervisor."

Because at the level of a Sally, nothing I can say to her to get her to do what I want exerts nearly as much pressure as "the system" exerts on her to get her to NOT do what I want.  It's not just that she doesn't have any power, it is that even though she has  power, the exertion of that power in my favor results in negative consequences for her.  Is she going to get promoted if she makes me happy?

My only recourse is to go high enough in the system such that my pressure is greater than the pressure from the top; where giving me what I want doesn't matter to that level.  Where helping me benefits that person, not hurts them.  Sometimes that's pretty high up, sometimes it's only one more level up, but it is rarely at the ground floor.  So I always bypass it.   In small letters on the back of your Verizon bill, it says very clearly, "Rookies and rubes, please call 1-800..."

But if I was in Hungary, this is the last thing I want.  In Hungary, the move is to work Sally and keep her supervisors out of it, because Sally is cheaper to bribe than her supervisors.

Another example.  In The Sopranos, Burt and Patsy try to shakedown a local Starbucks; apparently they either believe they're in Hungary or that it's 1971.  So they tell the manager about the possibility of tornadoes and smallpox unless he pays up, but the manager who lives in America just looks at them incredulously and invokes the impassable authority of the American system.  "Dude," he says, and I'm paraphrasing, "every dime is accounted for by the computer."  Not by CEO Howard Schultz; the computer.  It's unassailable because there is no such thing.  The computer is "the system," the computer is the spirit of America.   "You can detonate a nuke in here," he continues," Corporate doesn't care about me.  They'll just re-open another one the next day."  That's the system. You may say it's dehumanizing corporate greed, and it is, but on the other hand the system has (for example) protected the manager from this kind of nonsense and no cops were needed







Rail against it if you want, but unless you learn to operate within it, then Patsy will have been right: "It's over for the little guy."



VII.

A final example.

You're in college, and between the alcohol and the orgasms you're not doing well in your classes.  Maybe in danger of failing out.  You need to convince the Dean to let you redo the tests, redo the papers, anything-- just not kick you out.

You're at the computer. You have his email address.

What are you going to write?  What is the only thing you can write?


VIII.

The reflexive counterargument is that this system is immoral.  It allows cheating; it supports the primacy of narratives over reality; it shouldn't be like this.

But the system doesn't make moral judgments, it saves those for TV, all of the calculations are economic, evolutionary.  The system isn't immoral, it is amoral.  The fundamental problem is that people are easily corruptible.  You'll never be able to close all loopholes, so you have to decide which ones are the worst.

Am I saying Novick knows he's being lied to, and knows that he's supposed to let her in anyway?  That the judges know that we need more hard working Africans?  Of course not.  Yet Caroline got in anyway.

No person or group of people set this up, it developed, logically, through the push-pull of individual wants and needs in diverse and seemingly unrelated areas.  Add up all the vector forces in four dimensions, this is what you get.  A big vector is bribery and personal corruption; another vector is the size of the medical field and the incomes it creates (including SSI); another vector wants (hispanic) immigrants in jail because there's profit in it; another is institutionalized narcissism, where everyone (including judges and psychiatrists) knows what you say about yourself matters more than what you are... and etc.

"Not everyone cheats!"

I know.  None of this is to minimize the real difficulties asylum seekers have.  Only 30% of the asylum cases are approved.  The point here isn't how to get asylum; the point here is about the nature of the grift. Asylum seeking is merely one example of the same grift that is operational in SSI, in criminal justice, in getting a mortgage.   How does the American system "fail" at the margins-- allow itself to be gamed?  It fails in specific ways and not in other ways; bribery, for example, isn't rampant.  Neither is kidnapping or trading sex.  Before you say Caroline shouldn't be able to cheat, ask why does the American system favor this kind of cheating?

Don't make a moral judgment, don't ask if it's "right," just sum the vector forces.

Consider also the consequences.  If narratives are valued more than reality, or at least serve as proxies for reality, then right or wrong, what happens when that narrative is challenged?  What happens when society changes course and says, "I don't believe all these asylum seekers were tortured, I want physical non-psychiatric proof."  Or: "I don't believe you all are disabled, I think you should all be working at McDonalds."  Or: "I don't think you all have any chance of paying this mortgage back, you should be living in an apartments."

What happens is the same thing that happens at the individual level: rage.  Now you have to sum some vectors to decide whether paying them $700 a month or letting them become Americans is better than the alternative.

The immediate problem is that the grifts all rely on one key element: money.  The system can allow itself to be cheated if there's money to support it, just like a grocer can toss you a free apple as long as the margins are still good, because ultimately it's good for the business and hence for the system.   But when that money dries up, the institutional grift has to be closed but it will by necessity open elsewhere.  Down the chain. From institutional to individual.  Now instead of Novick being a cog in what looks like a giant carny act based on words, Novick himself starts demanding a little payout. Uh oh, now all your lies and diagnoses and credit cards don't matter a lick because Novick just Red pilled everything-- he wants cash.  Now the system is wrecked, because the system's inherent cheats fulfilled a larger purpose; Novick has obliterated the purpose.  So the Carolines don't stand a chance; bribery is the new grift, and no one trusts anyone.  Now you have Greece.  You can do what they do, choose your prime minister by heredity and placate the people with long vacations and low retirement ages, until the day you can't.  And then they'll thank you for two generations of free lunches by rioting.







Comments

I agree with you main point... (Below threshold)

August 11, 2011 5:39 PM | Posted by Neither_US_nor_Greek: | Reply

I agree with you main point, but just thought it was funny, from the point of view of someone who is neither American nor Greek, that you would include the "choose your prime minister by heredity" just a few years after the departure of Bush Junior (and perhaps a few years before Jeb becomes your next president).

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Oh and I just noticed (swee... (Below threshold)

August 11, 2011 5:42 PM | Posted by Neither_US_nor_Greek: | Reply

Oh and I just noticed (sweet irony) that I gave a fake email address to post the comment. As you predicted, it worked like a charm.

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Thank god we only choose ou... (Below threshold)

August 11, 2011 7:11 PM | Posted by BHE: | Reply

Thank god we only choose our presidents by heredity.

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I guess I should have read ... (Below threshold)

August 11, 2011 7:12 PM | Posted by BHE: | Reply

I guess I should have read the comments before posting that.

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In light of that last sente... (Below threshold)

August 11, 2011 7:28 PM | Posted by Will: | Reply

In light of that last sentence I'd love to hear your perspective on the rioting/looting that occurred this week in London and other cities in England.

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The Cameron government call... (Below threshold)

August 11, 2011 8:57 PM | Posted, in reply to Will's comment, by l'enfant terrible: | Reply

The Cameron government calls it "austerity measures".

http://www.rferl.org/content/Britain_Announces_Sweeping_Austerity_Measures/2196108.html

The program is unpopular with those receiving benefits.

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If you had Greece, you'd ha... (Below threshold)

August 11, 2011 9:02 PM | Posted by More Truthiness: | Reply

If you had Greece, you'd have a country where people work dramatically more hours per year than, say, Germans, have fewer paid holidays, and a later retirement age.

http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=ANHRS

http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/ewco/studies/tn0702028s/tn0702028s_5.htm

But never let facts get in the way of a good "narrative".

Your blog is a wonderful example of why blogs exist. I can't avert my eyes!

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Mind you, the GDP per capit... (Below threshold)

August 11, 2011 11:13 PM | Posted, in reply to More Truthiness's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Mind you, the GDP per capita in Germany is more than 30% higher than Greece, so they are doing something right.

That's not to say that they 'deserve' the right to their better reputation/economic strength... But it does show that they've played the economic game better, which accounts for their economic rewards.

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Compared to most this narra... (Below threshold)

August 12, 2011 12:42 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Compared to most this narrative is half-assed. It mostly lays out your blind spots. Hint, everything that you think doesn't belong in this narrative, particularly the things you allude only to deny, those are the bits that matter. Everyone knows that everyone needs Mexicans in America...wait wait... on a particular level of abstraction.

Dig deeper dude, that's what you're good at.

Yeah, I know, I know, if you dig deeper, your blind spots will murder you. You know that too, right?

That's the real problem here. Your narrative can't take these down a notch or too in abstraction level simply because it's really really hard for you to admit certain things to yourself.

Explore the parts of this story that make you extremely uncomfortable, the ones you're not sure of, cuz none of us are.

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Compared to most this narra... (Below threshold)

August 12, 2011 12:43 AM | Posted by Marcus: | Reply

Compared to most this narrative is half-assed. It mostly lays out your blind spots. Hint, everything that you think doesn't belong in this narrative, particularly the things you allude only to deny, those are the bits that matter. Everyone knows that everyone needs Mexicans in America...wait wait... on a particular level of abstraction.

Dig deeper dude, that's what you're good at.

Yeah, I know, I know, if you dig deeper, your blind spots will murder you. You know that too, right?

That's the real problem here. Your narrative can't take these down a notch or too in abstraction level simply because it's really really hard for you to admit certain things to yourself.

Explore the parts of this story that make you extremely uncomfortable, the ones you're not sure of, cuz none of us are.

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what books do you read and ... (Below threshold)

August 12, 2011 1:45 AM | Posted by OptimusPrime: | Reply

what books do you read and how can i develop some of this insight? i want to know :(

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Silly psychiatrist ... stay... (Below threshold)

August 12, 2011 5:08 AM | Posted by Dave Johnson: | Reply

Silly psychiatrist ... stay out of politics. And economics, as long as we're cutting loose large chunks of reality with which you have only a layman's expertise.

The grift that you mention accompanying mortgages is actually the story told with the authority of a professional ensconced in an "institution of financial probity" which doubles down and says "yes, you can DO this loan, it'll ALL work out- after all, real estate is ALWAYS going up in value."

Outside narcissism, even though you still have the binoculars, you confuse which end to look through.

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"Perhaps we can only reach ... (Below threshold)

August 12, 2011 5:18 AM | Posted by Guy Fox: | Reply

"Perhaps we can only reach approximations of sainthood. In which case, we must make shift with a mild, benevolent diabolism."
- Jean Tarrou

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"You're in college, and bet... (Below threshold)

August 12, 2011 6:12 AM | Posted by Or: | Reply

"You're in college, and between the alcohol and the orgasms you're not doing well in your classes. Maybe in danger of failing out. You need to convince the Dean to let you redo the tests, redo the papers, anything-- just not kick you out.

You're at the computer. You have his email address.

What are you going to write? What is the only thing you can write?"

I was done staring into the abyss and so I wrote that I was a fuck-up who deserved the grades I was getting because I saw no point and no future. And yet, they still let me see the school psychiatrist and obtain a medical leave, not a fuck-up leave. I was like Patrick Bateman, confessing all my crimes only to find that nobody believed me.

If I had read this blog post a year ago it might have sent me into the deepest depths of despair. Tonight I can read it and laugh. If you're right about one thing only, it's that rum really does work.

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NICE. I like citati... (Below threshold)

August 12, 2011 9:20 AM | Posted, in reply to More Truthiness's comment, by Matt Katz: | Reply

NICE.
I like citations. Oh, a narrative is good, but backed up with citations it is even better.

I think part of TLP's point though, is that The Nature of the Grift matters.

The grift in greece is bribery - can we back that up with public perception of corruption figures?
The grift in the US and DE is work. If you go through all of these awful legal hurdles, you don't have to know someone to get ahead or get in.

The result: in the US and DE we are selecting for people who are good at filling in forms and staying within legal rules.

The other way: you are selecting for people who are ok with breaking the rules, people who engage in shadow economies.

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nice post... (Below threshold)

August 12, 2011 9:54 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

nice post

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A keeper for the book.... (Below threshold)

August 12, 2011 10:26 AM | Posted by Gary: | Reply

A keeper for the book.

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What's $100 gonna do for yo... (Below threshold)

August 12, 2011 11:34 AM | Posted by acue_mania: | Reply

What's $100 gonna do for you at the Apple store?

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"bribery, for example, isn'... (Below threshold)

August 12, 2011 12:51 PM | Posted by Phanatic: | Reply

"bribery, for example, isn't rampant"

What.

http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/list.php

Bribery's so rampant we don't even call it bribery anymore.

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Dude even if you want to cl... (Below threshold)

August 12, 2011 2:12 PM | Posted, in reply to Phanatic's comment, by TheUnderwearBandit: | Reply

Dude even if you want to classify campaign donations as bribery his point still stands.

The US is still a top down system. You are not a foreigner in Russia where a cop is escorting you to an ATM, so you can pay him $500, so that he doesn't throw your ass in jail.

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Too late in the day - will ... (Below threshold)

August 12, 2011 7:00 PM | Posted by Whatchamacallit: | Reply

Too late in the day - will have to read this again. But before I forget - what's your take on the London rioters not all being what everyone expects - black and on welfare.

Many had jobs, where from "good families".

Personally I'm not at all surprised.

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Sounds like you are depress... (Below threshold)

August 13, 2011 5:28 AM | Posted, in reply to Or's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Sounds like you are depressed and have poor insight.

Sounds lke you weren't fooling anyone and your psychiatrist wrote ou out of school because you are mad.

Normal people want to live. Medical depression is unique in that it makes living seem pointless. Only depressed people lose the will to go on, and see no future even when they haven't hit 21 yet (which I assume you had not as we are referring to a college you, right?)

You didn't fool shit. You need to keep taking your zoloft or whatever you are doing because you're nuts, kid. But then again, depression does pervert insight so this is all expected.

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This comment went ignored w... (Below threshold)

August 13, 2011 5:34 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

This comment went ignored when in reality it was the most important one.

The only people who benefit from easy immigration are corporations. Since corporations control your brain like some kind of sci-fi tentacle alien monster, you now also think that immigrants are GREAT! It has become unspeakable to even ASK THE QUESTION if perhaps we should stop fucking immigration.

NO one wants to talk about that any more than we want to hear the word "nigger" being screamed or look at an animal ripping off the skin of a smaller animal for dinner. It's just not aesthetic... it's not social. Lets all just ignore this problem, mmmkay?

Meanwhile I can hardly find a job because cheap third world people are trained and ready to perform it for far cheaper. My traitorous nation always on the side of the corporation makes it extra easy for these bastards to come here and take my job.

Go ahead and point your fingers and laugh -slash- gasp at the antisocial brute saying ugly unaesthetic things.

Meanwhile, all of my coworkers barely speak english.

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I understand your point, bu... (Below threshold)

August 13, 2011 9:43 PM | Posted by Pendelikos: | Reply

I understand your point, but I don't know that Greece is really the most useful illustration of it -- especially if you're making a point about migration, asylum, etc. There's plenty of furtive and arbitrary bribery and extortion in Greece, but this sector of the bureaucracy isn't where to find it.

Greece approves less than 1 percent of the asylum petitions it receives every year. There is a system, and it might or might not "work": generally the applicant gets to re-apply and be rejected again, then start over, etc. -- but while that's pending the state collects many thousands of euros per year in exchange for every temporary renewal of a foreigner's ID card. Bribery works only if you bribe the right person in the right amount, and nobody just off the boat is expected to know how to do this. By contrast, everyone knows that it's illegal to circulate in public without official papers issued by the Hellenic national police. The police might be violent and reactionary, but they're also super-convenient. And their fee schedule is published in the Government Gazette.

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"But the system doesn't ... (Below threshold)

August 14, 2011 2:53 AM | Posted by Dave: | Reply

"But the system doesn't make moral judgments, it saves those for TV, all of the calculations are economic, evolutionary."

The system's calculations aren't economic, they are political and ideological, and consistent with Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 which is as well. If the system wanted to attract net tax payers, it would screen immigrants by their earning power, rather by who have the most compelling Queen for a Day stories. The system would take the immigrant engineer with a degree from Technische Universität München (easily verifiable) over the maid who claims she was gang-raped in Guinea (not easily verifiable). The current system selects for sociopaths.

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A slightly more than usuall... (Below threshold)

August 14, 2011 5:53 PM | Posted by Charles McElwain: | Reply

A slightly more than usually brilliant post.

It is curious that the New Yorker piece appears now, in proximity to the Nafissatou Diallo/Strauss-Kahn case.

You see, she sought asylum here. But she apparently falsely claimed violation in her homeland, so we can dismiss her charges against Strauss-Kahn. Or, perhaps, she also had to prostitute herself, and again, we can dismiss her charges against Strauss-Kahn. Clearly, one who tells untruths, or sells themselves, cannot be raped.

We have reached such a point of over-contextualizing news stories in a rush to get to whatever cognitive kill switch is appropriate, that as a society we are incapable of drawing connections between the various news stories occurring.

So, we react to the New Yorker immigration story, with umbrage and a call for reform, but do not consider that the story might suggest to the DA that there is no diminution of the case to be brought against Strauss-Kahn by how Diallo managed to enter this country.

Just as we have one set of reactions to Egypt blocking Facebook and other messenger services, and another to the British attempt to do similarly and to use "social media" to identify rioters/dissidents.

Or, for that matter, for San Francisco's BART system to block cell phone service in its system during a protest (even issuing a statement affirming First Amendment freedoms in one paragraph and in the next saying they don't apply "here").

And, of course, no one connects these two phenomena.

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This is long-understood and... (Below threshold)

August 14, 2011 6:58 PM | Posted by The Wobblies: | Reply

This is long-understood and well-formalized in game theory. In a signaling game, sometimes you get a pooling equilibrium (bad apples can't be distinguished from good ones), sometimes you get a separating one. One of the things you can do to raise your likelihood of getting a separating equilibrium is raising the cost of signaling -- i.e. seeing if people jump through hoops to get asylum, and vice-versa.

This kind of thing evolves almost everywhere.

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"Or, perhaps, she also h... (Below threshold)

August 14, 2011 7:14 PM | Posted by Dave: | Reply

"Or, perhaps, she also had to prostitute herself, and again, we can dismiss her charges against Strauss-Kahn."

She had to prostitute herself? Why? She was making $25 per hour in her day job.

In order to convict someone criminally, you need evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Diallo's testimony no longer meets that standard. If she wants to go after DSK civilly, let her. But let her do so from her native Guinea, which is where she'd still be if she answered her visa application questions honestly.

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This post feels like an ans... (Below threshold)

August 14, 2011 7:41 PM | Posted by The Devastator: | Reply

This post feels like an answer to people who say, "Reading that was amazing, but what the Christ does it mean?" in the comments to other posts. Really tied a lot of venerable TLP themes together. +1 vote for putting it in the book, maybe at the end.

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Very good point about the b... (Below threshold)

August 14, 2011 9:37 PM | Posted by DensityDuck: | Reply

Very good point about the bureaucracy of the phone-help system. It's telling that most of the first-level people have been replaced by automated messages. I actually prefer it that way; it means that neither they nor I am forced to pretend that the thing I'm communicating with gives a shit about helping me get what I want.

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"Really tied a lot of vener... (Below threshold)

August 14, 2011 9:56 PM | Posted, in reply to The Devastator's comment, by DensityDuck: | Reply

"Really tied a lot of venerable TLP themes together."

Indeed, the "grift" he describes sounds like people telling a narcissist what he wants to hear.

The narcissist creates a desired image, then constructs a reality to fit that image. If you support the narcissist in constructing that reality, then you can get him to do damn near anything for you. For example, if the American political society wants to be a society that is kind to gay rape survivors, then telling them that you're a gay rape survivor means the system will bend over backwards to help you.

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Yeah, exactly. That, and Se... (Below threshold)

August 14, 2011 10:57 PM | Posted, in reply to DensityDuck's comment, by The Devastator: | Reply

Yeah, exactly. That, and Section V on how psychiatry is involved in all this, and the final paragraph on how we can afford to be generous only to the extent that we are rich, and probably ten other things I'll have to reread the post to pick up.

Most of all, this post really exemplifies... I don't know if it's a theme, but a way of thinking TLP has, which is to distrust criticism which does not understand the thing it's criticizing and does not consider the alternatives. I don't know whether this stance is "right" or "wrong" or what that means, but I do know it's incredibly rare and awesome to read someone with that stance, which is why I keep coming back to the blog, and why I will rent a plane and drop copies of his book on my town when it comes out.

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I think the post is cool. I... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2011 9:44 AM | Posted by medsvstherapy: | Reply

I think the post is cool. I don't understand the anonymous comment abt digging deeper, and blind spots. What is it, anonymous poster? Racism? It is in the post. Alone is narcissist? He has already heard that criticism, and if he is narcissistic, his defenses have already jumped in.

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I think the system lets in ... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2011 10:20 AM | Posted by TGGP: | Reply

I think the system lets in plenty who aren't net tax-payers (the most productive new citizens are generally going to come from less dysfunctional countries). What exactly it gets out of these bogus sob stories is beyond me.

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BTW, this is tangential, bu... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2011 11:05 AM | Posted by The Wobblies: | Reply

BTW, this is tangential, but. Gay men were beaten by neonazis for a while in Sao Paulo -- which is larger than most american cities but it's still just one city -- and have their own community-operated emergency lines. OTOH, we have full marriage equality for gays. Why would a gay dude want to move to the US specifically? And not to Sweden or the Netherlands, where he's going to be beaten up by more handsome neonazis at least?

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TheWobblies - Because Gay p... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2011 1:43 PM | Posted, in reply to The Wobblies's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

TheWobblies - Because Gay people in some countries in Africa and the Middle East are systematically killed by the government for being Gay and face death if they return back to their country of origin. There are different kinds of immigrants and countries generally have different quotas for both (and most European and Commonwealth countries also have different immigration laws concerning citizens of former colonies - immigration in the US is quite different than in most other developed nations in this way). Essentially, one is claiming political or social refugee status if there's a danger of being killed if you return to the country of origin. It's very different than being an economic immigrant - which sucks if you're poor but, generally speaking, if you have money it's really easy to emigrate to most places (Gay, straight, honest or criminal, etc). Most countries also allow professional immigration but that's dependent upon what jobs need to be filled at that point in time (hence doctors and scientists generally being needed but unskilled labor being encouraged to immigrate to work in wealthier nations when they're doing well and nobody wants the shit jobs).

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ALL grifts are about tellin... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2011 2:11 PM | Posted, in reply to The Wobblies's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

ALL grifts are about telling people what they want to hear - telling people the lie they want to believe about themselves (or, in this case, the story that is effective for getting through the system and has worked before).

I'm not sure this really has anything to do with narcissism though, it's pretty typical bureaucracy really. The thing about systems is that there will always be people trying to game them, a prime example of that would be how the rich and corporations avoid paying taxes by finding "loopholes". So, you have poor people who try to game the system from the bottom and rich from the top (obviously you win bigger if you're "managing" the system from the top...but, hey, look at those smelly immigrants trying to survive by gaming the system...get them!)

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It's like the American vers... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2011 2:14 PM | Posted by JohnJ: | Reply

It's like the American version of Soviet doublethink.

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Uh, the VAST majority were ... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2011 3:11 PM | Posted, in reply to Whatchamacallit's comment, by Ed: | Reply

Uh, the VAST majority were black, foreign, and on welfare.

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Well, to be honest, I would... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2011 3:14 PM | Posted by afinn: | Reply

Well, to be honest, I wouldn't write him anything. I mean, if all I'm doing is getting drunk and laid, maybe I don't really want to be there at all?

Like if I'm lazy at job and I know it'll affect it and when the push comes to shove, I'll be the first to be kicked out, and I'm still not motivated, maybe I just don't give a shit. It might not even be about hating the job, maybe I believe the end of the world is coming. Or maybe I think I'll die soon. In any case, I just know somewhere, it's not that important.

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For all the regular readers... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2011 10:55 PM | Posted by Andy: | Reply

For all the regular readers and commenters on TLP, can any of you recommend writers or books or material with the type of insight and style of TLP? I think of George W.S. Trow, but can't really bring to mind others. Would appreciate any suggestions or even ideas from anybody. Thanks in advance.

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Another good example is med... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2011 11:42 PM | Posted by RC: | Reply

Another good example is medical marijuana. The public doesn't like drug users, but doesn't want to push the issue with an otherwise law-abiding, tax-paying citizen. So, if somebody is willing to lie about back pain (in California at least), he/she will be given a pass. Although, if you're going to lie about back pain, why not set your sights a bit higher on some Oxycontin?

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I had a laugh about always ... (Below threshold)

August 16, 2011 5:31 AM | Posted by Natalie: | Reply

I had a laugh about always asking for a supervisor. I worked in a call centre for a while (horrible horrible job) and when someone wanted the supervisor, you just look around for someone who is free: "Hey Bill, you wanna be my supervisor today?" A man with an authoritative voice was always a good choice.

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"The thing about systems is... (Below threshold)

August 17, 2011 1:50 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by DensityDuck: | Reply

"The thing about systems is that there will always be people trying to game them..."

You didn't read the post. What's happening here is not "gaming the system". What's happening here is exactly what the system is intended to do.

Americans want their society to be one that's kind to gay rape survivors. Therefore we better have everyone who comes into the country be a gay rape survivor. Maybe they'll stop being one on their third step past the office door, but as far as the system is concerned it just saved a gay rape survivor from a life in hell. Praise be to Jesus and let's get set up for the next one.

The most fundamental shift in modern American culture is the notion that identity is curated. You don't grow and develop and discover who you are; you pick and choose who you want to be from a whole menu of options. There's nothing permanent about who you are; you want to be a gay rape survivor one day because it gives you some advantage, go for it! Gay it up. Tomorrow you can be someone else.

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Will, here's a respo... (Below threshold)

August 17, 2011 7:33 AM | Posted, in reply to Will's comment, by Nicki: | Reply


Will, here's a response:

Dear England,

Who's full of convicts now?

Regards,

Australia

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"You're in college, and bet... (Below threshold)

August 25, 2011 7:49 PM | Posted by Biology Student: | Reply

"You're in college, and between the alcohol and the orgasms you're not doing well in your classes."

Wow. Either I'm still lit from last night or I really did hear my mother's voice chastising me as I read those very words in this article. I guess I wasn't prepared to read something that would so accurately describe my current state at this very moment.

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Oh, and by not doing well, ... (Below threshold)

August 25, 2011 7:58 PM | Posted by Biology Student: | Reply

Oh, and by not doing well, I don't mean near expulsion or anything. Just Bs and Cs that should have been As. That earlier sentence distracted me enough that I failed to read the sentences after it.

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"You're at the computer. Yo... (Below threshold)

August 26, 2011 12:32 AM | Posted by DG: | Reply

"You're at the computer. You have his email address.

What are you going to write? What is the only thing you can write?"


I am not sure if you are right that there is only one thing you can write.. but I am thinking from the terms of the system..which wants you to stay in school.

so you write "I need a second chance"

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I simply added your web pag... (Below threshold)

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It sounds like you're the o... (Below threshold)

March 4, 2012 12:39 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

It sounds like you're the one having problems. Don't romanticize depression. Don't give it more power than it deserves. And develop some compassion for other mentally ill people too (and some knowledge); plenty of mental illnesses lead one to considering suicide and feeling hopeless.
Why on Earth would you call someone you believe to be suffering from depression with poor insight 'mad'? Do you just enjoy running around being an asshole? That's how your message came off.

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Funny. We have a cou... (Below threshold)

March 4, 2012 12:53 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Funny.
We have a couple of TLP regulars here who related a story about immigration to narcissism (what else, right).
There should now be a special diagnosis for not narcissism, but for people who use the label 'narcissism' for just any old scapegoat they don't like.

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