Here’s a really fascinating thread from sociologist Brooke Harrington on how to handle COVID and vaccine denial.
Harrington’s basic point is an elaboration on the insights from Erving Goffman’s classic article “On Cooling the Mark Out.”
Goffman’s key observation, kind of obvious when you see it in B&W on the page, is that eventually all marks come to understand they’ve been conned.
As Goffman explains, they almost never complain or report the fraud to the authorities. Why? Bc it’s humiliating.
So humiliating, in fact, that Goffman describes it as a form of social death: the body survives, but the person-in-society is destroyed by the admission of having been conned. It’s a condition Goffman likens to being laid off, deported or dumped.
Very relatable, & pitiable.
But there’s a crucial difference between a mark & most others condemned to social-death-by-humiliation: the mark can simply deny the con, claiming they were “in on it” the whole time.
This saves their pride & cheats social death, but allows the con to continue unchecked.
For those running the con, “cooling the mark” means ensuring that marks come to accept the truth about the situation in a way that doesn’t lead them to become so angry that they cause trouble, by for example going to the police.
For a society that’s trying to lessen the damage caused by anti-vaxx grifters, it means finding a way to get those conned by that grift to deal with the realization in a constructive way, by warning others, rather than by saving face by continuing to deny to their social world that they’ve been conned.
Harrington argues that the key here is to employ “coolers,” who in this context means trusted high status authority figures from the marks’ own community. (Think Fox News personalities etc.). People from outside the community can play a part by praising and encouraging the coolers to do this work, since outsiders can’t do any effective cooling themselves, given that the very existence of the outsiders reminds the marks that they’ve been conned.
An encouraging insight she offers is that Americans are capable of making pragmatic judgments about how to deal with anti-social behavior, that avoid either extreme and therefore counterproductive punitive responses, or the kind of equally counterproductive sympathy that sees marks as purely victims of the con, and doesn’t require anything of them subsequently.
It’s a really interesting analysis, and it makes me wonder how it could be deployed more generally, in regard to cooling the marks of the right wing long con, and in particular those who are dealing with the gradual realization that they’ve been conned by the king of that particular grift, Donald J. Trump.