Posted by: Ali Davis | August 16, 2009

Picking Your Pocket from the Right

When I was in high school, I had an after-school job at Dulles airport.

One of the airport policemen told me about a pickpocketing team they were after: A tall, beautiful woman and a shorter, nondescript man. The beautiful woman looked beautiful, and the man carried a hot dog slathered in mustard.

First the woman got the mark’s attention, and then the man clumsily bumped into him with the hot dog.

In the middle of all the apologizing and brushing off of mustard, one of them picked the mark’s pocket.

It was pretty smart. They may well have been an egalitarian team, but I’ve always assumed that the man ran things because he was less likely to be recognized. In the mark’s mind, he was – at best – the fourth most important thing.

The potential stain, the still-messy hot dog, and the pretty girl helping him clean off were all, in that moment of crisis, more important.

And, unfortunately, the wallet was briefly a distant fifth.

(I don’t want to discount the woman’s potential intelligence in this. There are plenty of things a girl can wear to keep a guy from noticing her face. And even if she wasn’t showing leg or baring cleavage, there’s a sameness to a lot of beautiful faces; even, symmetrical features. I bet she wasn’t in a lot of danger of being described accurately.)

At any rate, it was a good game. It worked well because there were two potential distractions: Beauty and fear. Mild fear, just the fear of being stained or looking foolish, but fear nonetheless.

Give the brain two different high-emotion distractions and it’s almost impossible to pay attention to anything else.

I bring it up because the same game is currently being run on the nation as a whole.

There are several nodescript guys coming at us with hot dogs. The health insurance and medical industries, their lobbyists, and the elected representatives they’ve tucked away have been whipping out ever-scarier forms of mustard.

Socialism (Isn’t that particular mustard long past its expiration date?), death panels, and eugenics have been heaved at our beautiful white shirts one by one. How scary! What if we can’t get them out?

The fact that so many flat-out lies are involved is infuriating, but for another time. The important part here is the fear they’re stirring up. To some people, nothing seems more important than dodging when they’re afraid.

The beautiful woman is there too, though she’s wearing different outfits than usual. She looks like the chance to get on TV, the chance to be the very best patriot, or the chance to belong to a passionate and persecuted group.

It feels special, this group: To belong, you must have clearer vision than everyone else and be one of the chosen few who can see past all the “facts” that everyone keeps putting out to the heart of the true evil that is out there.

And, really, that leads us to the most beautiful woman of all: The one who offers the chance to wallow in exquisite, righteous martyrdom. It’s a rush, that kind of holy agony. You go down fighting a glorious fight that you know you can’t win. And with that comes a beautiful release from responsibility.

When you know you can’t win, all you have to do is lash out – and not even with any skill or accuracy. You don’t have to worry about making sense or progress. You just howl out your rage and hope that Fox caught it instead of MSNBC.

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