EH6 DATE: July 23 2017 Topic: Bamboozled ! Finding a way through double talk

Let's explore the infinitely deceptive and confusing answers that can be given to the most innocent of questions. [Contributions of examples most welcome].

a) A little story to set the tone:

Nassredin's Sermon

Nasreddin* had to preach in the mosque every Friday, but he did not like this duty at all, and was always looking for ways to avoid it. One Friday he had a good idea. When he went up to begin to preach to the people in the mosque, he said to them, "Do you know what I am going to talk to you about?"

They were surprised and answered, "No we do not".

Then Nasreddin said, "Well, if you don't know anything about such an important matter, it is a waste of time for me to talk to you about it." And he went down again without preaching to the people.

The next Friday, he again asked the question, "Do you know what I am going to talk to you about today?"

This time the people thought they had learned their lesson, so they all said, "Yes we do."

Then Nasreddin said to them, "Well it is a waste of time to tell people things they already know." And again he went down without preaching to the people.

The third Friday, Nasreddin again said, "Do you know what i am going to preach to you about today?", but this time some people answered "Yes" and some answered "No".

"Well," said Nasreddin, "if some of you know and some of you do not, then those that do can tell those that do not," and again he went down without saying another word.

* Hoja Nasreddin is a semi-mythical figure who actually lived in the 13th Century. There are thousands of Nasreddin stories, usually witty and wise. He is known from the Middle East, through Central Asia to Russia to China under various names (e.g. Afanti in China) -




b) Some theme links:

1. The bamboozled civilization:We’ve arranged a society on science and technology in which nobody understands anything about science and technology, and this combustible mixture of ignorance and power sooner or later is going to blow up in our faces. I mean, who is running the science and technology in a democracy if the people don’t know anything about it.... One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” – Carl Sagan @ .­ Sagan is quite right, but the irony is that the website quoted from here runs on conspiracy, magic and UFO's. Where does the truth begin and end?


2. The confidence trick: If we were all born with equal abilities and cool heads, con' men and scammers generally would have a hard time. But a sucker is born every minute. Business depends on that, politics runs on it, religions & ideologies thrive on it. In short, truth-tellers are widely disliked, and the world is not going to change. Do you try to beat 'em, or join 'em? My pitch as a teacher has been raising people to their best potential ... but lots will always struggle with the written word (hence Facebook's success), even more cringe at maths. Money? They are putty in the hands of 'financial advisors', a.k.a. 'con men. The big bamboozle always has a market. Wikipedia: "Confidence Trick" @

3. The Nigerian con: When it comes the big bamboozle, Nigerian email scammers are world class. Every year lonely Australian women lose millions of dollars to these rackets (and typically don't believe the police even when they are warned). Here is a back story on the place it all comes from: "What I Learned Hanging Out With Nigerian Email Scammers" @

4. Lawyer's picnic: Many people with some specialist knowledge depend for a large part of their income on bamboozling clients. Take your car to a garage for repair and your wallet may be picked clean unless you demonstrate mechanical knowledge and ask some sharp questions. Medical patients are almost routinely bamboozled into expensive, unnecessary treatments and tests. The masterclass of bamboozling ripoffs though belongs to lawyers, and always has. They specialize in plausible lies. (And Australia's parliaments are crawling with lawyers). A couple of examples from our American cousins: "Judgement Day" @; and a lawyer trading on the bad reputation of his profession: "Don't Go To Court Without a Lawyer" @

5. Interview questions: There's lots of evidence that interviews make no difference, on average, to the quality of people hired. However 'human relations' personnel (HR) are often among the lowest forms of life, and think they are doing their job with bamboozling questions. Here are some common ones: "20 of the toughest interview questions you could face" at . Now what are some questions you can ask to bamboozle these Masters of the Company Universe?

7. A useful primer: "Propaganda: How Not To Be Bamboozled" by Donna Woolfolk Cross - Source:

8. Tidy evasion: Ask and you shall receive: "Years ago the executive producer of Star Trek, Rick Berman, was asked during a press conference by a reporter, “Just how do those warp engines work?” Without skipping a beat he responded, “Very well, thank you.” The first rule of science fiction shows is to not let the facts get in the way of a good story" (


c) Focus questions for discussion

Think of common elements in all situations of bamboozlement - the protagonists, their relative status, their respective control of solutions, the meek acceptance of the bamboozled (or active resistance), how the bamboozlement is resolved.


1. What are some common elements in most bamboozle situations?

2. Are there significant differences among a) those who remain unaware that they have been bamboozled; ) those who sense that they have been bamboozled but lack immediate access to the knowledge needed to clarify the situation; c) those who are resigned to certain self-beliefs and expect to be bamboozled - e.g "I don't understand maths" ?

3. To what extent is economic activity dependent upon bamboozling certain segments of the population?

4. Would training in critical thinking help to eliminate a proportion of bamboozle scams?

5. What is something that bamboozles you? What can you do about it?

6. Can you think of an experience where it was wise to pretend to be bamboozled?

7. What part do "the seven deadly sins* " play in people being bamboozled? (e.g. think of confirmation bias; * lust, gluttony, greed, sloth (laziness), wrath (anger), envy, pride (often goes with vanity))

8. What part does ignorance play in being bamboozled? (e.g. ignorance of history, science, events etc. For example " A quarter of Americans don’t know that the earth revolves around the sun (Poladian 2014)).

9. What part does the reputation of the information giver (e.g. a doctor) play in people being bamboozled?

10. What part does confirmation bias play in people being bamboozled?

11. When you have to make a quick judgement with incomplete information, what is the best method?


Bamboozled Discussion Questions ©Thor May 2018

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