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Saturday, February 02, 2008

the year of cooling the mark out

And Burn my shadow away…

Erving Goffman wrote an often referenced paper in 1952 entitled On Cooling the Mark Out. To understand this election year, LI advises our readers to read it.

The paper begins by describing the confidence game, which involves roping a mark, getting him to invest, financially, in some scheme or game, and clearing him out. At this point, the confidence gang has the option of simply leaving the mark behind. But…

“Sometimes, however, a mark is not quite prepared to accept his loss as a gain in experience and to say and do nothing about his venture. He may feel moved to complain to the police or to chase after the operators. In the terminology of the trade, the mark may squawk, beef, or come through. From the operators' point of view, this kind of behavior is bad for business. It gives the members of the mob a bad reputation with such police as have not. yet been fixed and with marks who have not yet been taken. In order to avoid this adverse publicity, an additional phase is sometimes added at the end of the play. It is called cooling the mark out After the blowoff has occurred, one of the operators stays with the mark and makes an effort to keep the anger of the mark within manageable and sensible proportions. The operator stays behind his team﷓mates in the capacity of what might be called a cooler and exercises upon the mark the art of consolation. An attempt is made to define the situation for the mark in a way that makes it easy for him to accept the inevitable and quietly go home. The mark is given instruction in the philosophy of taking a loss.”

This pretty much describes the two cases we have before us this election year. The ruinous Bush years involved two con games that were entwined one with the other. We have the con game that keeps us in Iraq, one fully supported by the ropers in – the governing elite – and we have the con game that is now busting, the full fruit of Bush’s economic policy, which involved minimizing regulation of the financial markets while maximizing the amount of money they had to play with. In this way, credit could fill up that hole where compensation from work used to be – and so productivity gains could be appropriated at a much higher rate by the richest, while home equity could be tapped, via mortgages, for the good life by the debtors.

Goffman points out that the mark’s psychology is a tricky one. To an economist, it might just look like utility maximization. But…

“In many cases, especially in America, the mark's image of himself is built up on the belief that he is a pretty shrewd person when it comes to making deals and that he is not the sort of person who is taken in by any thing. The mark’s readiness to participate in a sure thing is based on more than avarice; it is based on a feeling that he will now be able to prove to himself that he is the sort of person who can "turn a﷓fast buck." For many, this capacity for high finance comes near to being a sign of masculinity and a test of fulfilling the male role.”

Warmonger psychology unerringly follows this primitive but powerful gender program. This army of pissants shows all the signs of having had trouble emerging from the sack of their twelve year old selves, when, apparently, the separation anxiety produced by throwing out their G.I. Joe doll became frozen in place. A smaller contingent of this army – much smaller – forms the viewing core of financial porno tv networks, like CNBC. These people actually believe that they are part of the confidence game gang, which is how they came to mouth a rote optimism that had as little relation to reality as your average automobile ad has to how you would really drive an automobile.

“A mark's participation in a play, and his investment in it, clearly commit him in his own eyes to the proposition that he is a smart man. The process by which he comes to believe that he cannot lose is also the process by which he drops the defences and compensations that previously protected him from defeats. When the blowoff comes, the mark finds that he has no defence for not being a shrewd man. He has defined himself as a shrewd man and must face the fact that he is only another easy mark. He has defined himself as possessing a certain set of qualities and then proven to himself that he is miser ably lacking in them. This is a process of self﷓destruction of the self. It is no wonder that the mark needs to be cooled out and that it is good business policy for one of the operators to stay with the mark in order to talk him into a point of view from which it is possible to accept a loss.”

Goffman’s analysis of the mark points us to the form of the presidential election – that Halloween for grownups. Whoever the candidates are, they will represent wings of an established power that has made suckers of the vast majority of the population over the last four … eight… twelve…sixteen years. An established power that has assured America that the costs of running this empire will always be paid by third parties – whether these consist of tropical countries dealing with the forces unleashed by the American appetite for junking up the atmosphere with CO2, or Middle Eastern countries struggling with the yoke of American oppression in a more direct form – the soldier in their face, the mercenary who shoots them for fun in the traffic jam. Of course, this isn’t true. Those costs will come back here. The cost of the Middle East adventure can be seen in the run up of oil prices, a very small intimation of a much larger and connected group of problems that come with running out of prestige and power in a large area of the world while at the same time maximizing the number of people who hate you. As for CO2, it will turn out that melting the glaciers in the west during the drought cycle was not a good idea. The American west, overpopulated, overdeveloped, its water overpromised, is going to learn the lesson of the Hummer, too. This isn’t just something we can sluff off on Bangladesh.

“For the mark, cooling represents a process of adjustment to an impossible situation ﷓﷓ - situation arising from having defined himself in a way which the social facts come to contradict. The mark must therefore be supplied with a new set of apologies for himself, a new framework in which to see himself and judge himself. A process of redefining the self along defensible lines must be instigated and carried along; since the mark himself is frequently in too weakened a condition to do this, the cooler must initially do it for him.

One general way of handling the problem of cooling the mark out is to give the task to someone whose status relative to the mark will serve to ease the situation in some way. In formal organizations, frequently, someone who is two or three levels above the mark in line of command will do the hatchet work, on the assumption that words of consolation and redirection will have a greater power to convince if they come from high places.”

It is going to be an excellent year for spectators.


northanger said...


Anonymous said...

“A mark's participation in a play, and his investment in it, clearly commit him in his own eyes to the proposition that he is a smart man. The process by which he comes to believe that he cannot lose is also the process by which he drops the defences and compensations that previously protected him from defeats. When the blowoff comes, the mark finds that he has no defence for not being a shrewd man. He has defined himself as a shrewd man and must face the fact that he is only another easy mark."

That is priceless. We had the stock market bubble, the real estate bubble, and marks for both. The next bubble will simply draw off the next wave of willing, self-assured and ready-to-pass-themselves-as-shread middle managers.

Roger Gathmann said...

Thanks, JCD
Hey North, light of my life - are you excited about the Super Bowl? What's your take on the point spread? Mine is: Patriots 35 Giants 30.

northanger said...

Hello, Dark of my life - induce underdog bettors.

Roger Gathmann said...

So North, is that your way of telling me you are going for the upset by the Giants? And I'm being pulled by the sucker crowd?

I figure Boston has to beat NYC some time. Before the end of this century. Anyway, I'm gonna watch this over at a friend's house, a guy who is a true sports fan, so I'll get all the inside scoop as I drink up his beer. Ho ho ho. Because, in truth, I'm sadly behind on my football news. As you probably have guessed, I'm a caber toss man myself.

Scissors MacGillicutty said...

I feel shafted. ;) Goffman uses terms from The Big Con, a favorite book of mine, and focuses on the mark who needs to be cooled off as a model for people who experience loss in one or many aspects of their lives. That's well and good, but for me the interesting type of mark in The Big Con is the enthusiastic repeat customer for the same con. These marks are not stupid: often they may see that they've been gamed and return because they feel they're so shred that they can beat the crooked game on its own terms. In their amoral, come-what-may bonhomie, they resemble the "outside men" who roped them into the con. If memory serves, Maurer mentions some marks who even went on to become grifters of renown.

"You can't beat a good mark," Maurer quotes a con man saying, meaning that there's no mark better than the enthusiastic repeat mark. To bring this back to the politcal sphere, there's plenty of road kill around the political arena, and no doubt some of the wounded will need cooling off. But the resilient ones, the good marks, play a very important role, maybe one larger than their relative numbers indicate.

northanger said...

No. No. Didn't guess.

Anonymous said...

So is it ok to go to a super bowl party even if one is clueless about football? I'm invited to one and can't even figure why this game is called "football"?
Anyway, about marks and mythical figures...


Roger Gathmann said...

Amie, you have it easy. Just root for the Giants, who should be your team! Thus, when everyone surges to their feet going go go go - you should too.

This always works for me. Actually, it works too well - I love surging to my feet and going go go go for almost anybody who is running down the field. This is sometimes not a good idea.

Roger Gathmann said...

Mr. S.Magillicuty - the infinite willingness of the marks should have been included by Jesus in the Beatitudes. Surely they deserve some blessing!

northanger said...

This is sometimes not a good idea.

why? personal myth?

Roger Gathmann said...

North - no, angry Longhorn fans, over at whose house you are surging to your feet as an Aggie cornerback makes a thirty yard run or something. The explanation that we should wish for the finest opponents in order to win even more gloriously don't wash down here in the Lone Star state. We just wanna win, goddamn it.

Anonymous said...

OK then, Giants it is! I only hope I can tell who the Giants are when I jump up to do the GO GO thing. Also, slightly worried about the spillage involved, since I'm only going on the promise of fine wine. But then again, I spilled coffee all over myself while reading that Thurber text.
Apparently, New England is heavily favored over New York, what's with that! Fuggedaboutit!


Roger Gathmann said...

You can't go wrong with surging to your feet when other people do, Amie. And spillage? Spillage is an homage to the goddess of football. Sphairete!

northanger said...

this is priceless: gramsci & articulation. hmm... Gramsci’s Black Marx: Whither the Slave in Civil Society?

northanger said...

not to go on topic in a kinda off topic way (since i didn't get no invite), you never discussed national or institutional myths (& how personal myths are a subset of these). then there's that thing about forgetting. wherein i noticed there's been no nuremberg trial thingy for slavery. there's a lot of... "memory loss" in this country allowing dots to remain unconnected. so this caught my eye.......

The working class needed to develop a culture of its own, which would overthrow the notion that bourgeois values represented 'natural' or 'normal' values for society, and would attract the oppressed and intellectual classes to the cause of the proletariat. Lenin held that culture was 'ancillary' to political objectives but for Gramsci it was fundamental to the attainment of power that cultural hegemony be achieved first. In Gramsci’s view, any class that wishes to dominate in modern conditions has to move beyond its own narrow ‘economic-corporate’ interests, to exert intellectual and moral leadership, and to make alliances and compromises with a variety of forces. Gramsci calls this union of social forces a ‘historic bloc’, taking a term from Georges Sorel. This bloc forms the basis of consent to a certain social order, which produces and re-produces the hegemony of the dominant class through a nexus of institutions, social relations and ideas.

and this.......... In sociology, articulation labels the process by which particular classes appropriate cultural forms and practices for their own use. The term appears to have originated from the work of Antonio Gramsci, specifically from his conception of superstructure.

found Gramsci’s Black Marx googling: gramsci articulation superstructure.

Roger Gathmann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roger Gathmann said...

North, hmmm, it would make sense that the disciplined factory worker goes back to Sorel.

And...speaking of memory loss and gain, have you been keeping up with Gwendolyn Midlo Hall?
Check out this interview:

As you mighta noticed, in my posts I am using - in terms of the myth of the self - the notion of the loa. But I don't know how to ... formalize that yet.

And what are you talking about, 'no invitation' to O.T.? You are the Scheherazade of comments, the stringer of Ariadne's thread through the whole damn labyrinth of O.T., the coureuse des bois of the infinite web wilderness!

As everybody knows. Do I invite the sun to rise, or the rain to fall?

northanger said...

blocco storico : Letter to Daniel Halévy

In the course of these studies one thing seemed so evident to me that I did not believe that I needed to lay much stress on it: men who are participating in great social movements always picture their coming action in the form of images of battle in which their cause is certain to triumph. I proposed to give the name of 'myths' to these constructions, knowledge of which is so important for historians:20 the general strike of the syndicalists and Marx's catastrophic revolution are such myths. As remarkable examples of myths I have given those which were constructed by primitive Christianity, by the Reformation, by the Revolution, and by the followers of Mazzini. I wanted to show that we should not attempt to analyse such groups of images in the way that we break down a thing into its elements, that they should be taken as a whole, as historical forces, and that we should be especially careful not to make any comparison between the outcomes and the pictures people had formed for themselves before the action.

there's a lot more...good stuff. am i ok in thinking Sorel's pessimism is on topic?

Pessimism is quite a different thing from the caricatures that are usually presented of it; it is a metaphysics of morals rather than a theory of the world; it is a conception of a march towards deliverance that is narrowly conditioned: on the one hand, by the experimental knowledge that we have acquired of the obstacles which oppose themselves to the satisfaction of our imaginations (or, if one prefers, by the feeling of social determinism) — on the other, by a profound conviction of our natural weakness. These three aspects of pessimism should never be separated, although as a rule little attention is paid to their close connection.

myth of the self - the notion of the loa
why am i thinking: egregore?

GMH stuff is fascinating. unicorn story: symbiotic vs. parasitic. that which is seen, believed in, spoken of... and denied. vs [fill in the blank].

northanger said...

Roger. wait a sec. Sorel's "myth" is irrefutable (so he says). what are you doing with myth & this cooling off? if anything.

Roger Gathmann said...

In Heller's opinion, Sorel is guilty of using myth as a metaphor for a conceptual system. Sorel, I think, would claim that unlike, say, a conceptual system that gives us rules for constructing laws, the myth of the strike is constructed out of the fact that there can be no failure of the idea of the general strike, or of the revolution - every instantiation is an imperfect embodiment of it. Which I would call an ideal, not a myth. I think.

I'm not totally endorsing Heller's viewpoint, but I like her sticking to 'myth' as something distinct from any conceptual system. Or, I suppose you could say, the image of said system - thus the myth of laissez faire, or the myth of revolution.

My idea that the happiness ethic might be called mythical is about the fact that this isn't a conceptual system - rather, it is a system in which the semantic unit, happiness, is embodied in three different ways (that I can see) while at the same time the embodiments are parasitic one upon the other. In other words, they fail the elementary test of conceptual sorting.

This is separate from Kris' use of personal myth.

northanger said...

everything said in your 1st paragraph was everything Sorel was trying to avoid — at best, he could only "imperfectly" define "myth". & wouldn't he also disagree about "every instantiation"?

as far as your 3rd paragraph.


Roger Gathmann said...

North, I'll quote myself from the comments section about myth in the last post, so my third graf will be less wtf-ish!

"This is why I wanted to explore Heller's notion of the absence of myth. I like the fact that Heller is not going to countenance any metaphoric move, the kind of thing that makes any system of thinking mythical. On the other hand, happiness in this culture isn't just a matter of conceptual systematizing - it is something like mana, a power, something that is embodied in circumstances (hence the political use of happiness), that stretches over lives, and that also names a mood or feeling. It thus seems to have a tripart embodiment."

As for Sorel - I don't understand how he could maintain, at the same time, that something was mythic because it stated as an irrefutable fact the historic inevitability of revolution, and then claim that this isn't a claim that every instantiation of revolution that fails (is repressed, or evolves into something that is outside of what the revolutionary envisions) tells us nothing about the content of revolution itself - which sounds like the relationship between the real and the ideal to me.

I'm suspicious of a trope that would make all secular, non-liberal political movements into religions, I suppose. Classical Liberalism arose, in part, out of opposition to established religion, and this legacy makes liberals all to quick to turn the opposition they encounter into religion or superstition.

northanger said...

Roger, no problem with any of these formulations. except: do you want a definition that makes you comfortable or do you want something describing "the only way of becoming a true revolutionary"? however imperfect.

Scissors MacGillicutty said...

Blessed are the Outside Men, for they are the shepherds of the wandering Marks;
Blessed are the Inside Men, for they bring the Marks into the sanctuary of the Store;
Blessed is the Con, for in it the Outside Man, Inside Man, and Mark are as one in the Touch;
Blessed are the Good Marks, for they are like unto a well from which those thristy in the Grift may drink and be refreshed for ever and ever. Amen.

And blessed are the Pols and those who believe in them, for they are as the Outside and Inside Men and the Marks, and our rights and quality of life are as the Touch fleeced from the Marks. Hallelujah.

Roger Gathmann said...

I was pretty happy to be wrong about the Patriots winning. What a great game! Somehow, this morning - actually, as I was paying my electric bill, talking to the clerk about the upcoming game - I realized I should be on the underdog side, even if the Giants did knock the Cowboys out of contention. So I watched the game rooting for them, when I wasn't explaining to Ian, my hosts son, that I couldn't play the Eskimos vs. the Pirates game tonight.
The Giants never had that winning machine look the Patriots have down flat, Manning looked scared through most of the game, but they put it together! Amie, hope you had a good time jumping up and down for the G-s.

Anonymous said...

Manning was so goofy looking you just had to root for him. Underdogs rule!

Anonymous said...

LI, I don't know anything about football but that was some game! And yes, I was jumping up and down for the Giants in the fourth quarter. And of course there was spillage when that Giants player made that unbelievable catch at the end of the game. How in hell did he hold on to the ball! It was fun walking about the city afterward.


Roger Gathmann said...

Amie, I envy you! The ticker tape parade (which, for once, won't celebrate murdering people in an unnecessary war) ought to be cool!