Part 77. The Greater Fool
(NOTE: this article is similar to a story that appeared in *Extended Attributes*
a while back, written by Bill Schindler. See http://www.possi.org/.)
There's an old story about a couple of small-town grifters who met a snake oil salesman.
They liked his spiel so much, they bought a carton of snake oil and tried it out
for themselves. Soon others in the town were trying it, too. These two fellows
bragged openly about the great deal they got because they were willing to buy it
first -- to be on the "leading edge of technology."
Well, you know what happened after a few days. The snake oil turned out to be yet
another bogus, worthless concoction. The two grifters were now in a bind. Their
credibility was shot. Sooner or later, word would get around town that the stuff
they had bought was junk, and that these two guys had been really conned bad. They
would soon be laughingstocks, and nobody would ever trust them again. Unless....
Unless the word never got around town about how bad the stuff was. The way these
two crooks looked at it, maybe they were fools, yes; but they believed everyone
else in town was even dumber than they were. All they had to do was keep finding
bigger fools than they were, and sell them on the idea. That's right, these two
clowns were now co-conspirators with the old snake-oil vendor, solely for the purpose
of saving their own reputations.
So they crowed out loud to everyone in town about what great stuff this snake-oil
guy had going for him. They brayed like donkeys to anyone who would listen about
how good they felt, how their knees no longer wobbled, and how good they slept at
night. "A bargain at *any price*!" they would shout, making the snake-oil
guy look like a kindly old soul for selling it so cheap. They wrote articles in
the town newspaper, and even got the local reverend to give a sermon or two about
Once this craze caught on, everybody in town wanted some. The snake-oil salesman
was busy for weeks, just trying to keep up with demand. The two grifters did not
even take a cut of the profits; they were just glad to have found such gullible
people to fool, to distract attention from their own ignorance and ineptitude.
After a while, the "emperor's new clothes" effect began to set it; nobody
was willing to go against the "conventional wisdom" in town about how
good the stuff was. In a few days, everyone had forgotten about the two sharpies
who had gotten the whole thing started, and people were spending money as fast as
they could just to outdo their neighbors. The snake-oil salesman set up shop in
town and soon became a wealthy baron.
By now you may have realized that the snake oil is none other than Microsoft products,
and the high-tech grifters are the corporations and the media "experts"
who believed Microsoft and told us to trust them. Microsoft has gotten fabulously
wealthy selling junk, and nobody has called the PC media to account for their foolishness
and ignorance. Now that so many people have been totally deceived, the vast majority
of the public would rather risk their whole careers and their businesses pushing
Microsoft products on others, instead of humbly admitting they were idiots to trust
Microsoft in the first place, when so many other superior alternatives were available
(and still are).
What is the moral of the story? You can't fool all the people all the time, but
you can always find somebody who's dumb enough to help you fool most of them.
Most recent revision: June 2, 1999
Copyright © 1999, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.