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Monday, May 14, 2018

Drowning doesn't look like drowning

Via Ben Evans, "Drowning Doesn't Look like Drowning" is a classic viral explainer article by Mario Vittone.

Vittone tells you how to recognize the signals that someone is drowning, certainly. But the broader frame of the article is how dangerous it is that we assume, wrongly, that we know what drowning looks like--to the point that dozens of parents in the US every year watch as their child drowns to death, having no idea they're dying.

It reminds me of Erving Goffman’s classic 1952 essay “On Cooling the Mark Out", in that it's revelatory to think about this as a pattern and metaphor. What else doesn't look like what it is, but has massive consequences?

A few possibilities:

* wasting your money doesn't look like "poverty"
* oppression usually doesn't look overt, and can look quite genteel
* exposing children to lead-contaminated water doesn't look like "poisoning"
* crossing streets in a way that'll eventually get you hit looks perfectly safe
* speeding and driving while texting don't look like murder
* poor epistemology and unreflective patriotism don't come with warning label swastikas
* con artistry doesn't look distrustful. Quite the opposite! As David Mamet wrote in the excellent film House of Games, "Why is it called a confidence game? Because you, the mark, give me your confidence? No, because I give you mine."

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