Friday, December 6, 2019


I'd been under the impression that the now-legendary "419" scam had always been something of a small-time operation. Sure, a particular scammer might have a dozen or so people that they were stringing along, but that was the extent of it. So color me surprised to learn that a lawyer in the Dominican Republic has managed to rack up nearly 30,000 "clients" in a scheme to lay hands on what is supposedly billions of dollars that is sitting in banks after an ancestor deposited gold some 150-plus years ago. The story, by Joe Nocera, is a fascinating read.

What I found to be most interesting about the whole thing is the power of the myth that lay at the bottom of it. And I don't mean "myth" in the often pejorative usage of a false narrative, but rather as a traditional story which embodies a belief regarding some fact or phenomenon of experience. The belief that members of the Rosario family are heirs to an impressive fortune can be said the be the driving force in all of this; the current lawyer is not the only person to have formally looked into this, simply the only one to have told the family that they're correct, and that the money is waiting for them. They just have to pay some up-front expenses first...

Regarding the various Rosarios that have bought into this as stupid, greedy or naïve is easy. Perhaps too easy, since it does provide a convenient narrative for why they were taken in when so many other people have managed to see through this and similar ruses. Rather, I wonder what this says about the power of disappointment and disillusionment that people would go to what strikes me as such great lengths to avoid them. Maybe it's because I'm not desperately impoverished and wasn't raised with a narrative that says, in effect, "our current lot is not our genuine fate" but I find the tenacity with which the story of the gold, and the wealth that has since become, maintains its hold to be remarkable. I would have expected that everyone would have given up by now.

But I suppose that this is the reason why there is a reading of the Pandora myth that claims that Hope was just as much an evil as the other maladies that were in the wedding gift jar. I have a difficult time seeing how Hope isn't a curse for everyone except the lawyer.

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