The Old Shell Game

BriBlog, BriRants

distraction, mislabling, obfuscation, shell game, spin

We humans are in the habit of calling something another thing as a coping mechanism. We all do it, and it’s disgusting. We lack the intellectual courage to face facts as they really are, so we formulate an endless variety of euphemisms to bolster our self-confidence and distract others from our failings. It is a form of the “Old Shell Game” in which the peas hidden under the shells are replaced by contentious concepts. But in this shell game everyone loses including the con artists running the scams. The truly tragic fact is that the practice is so commonplace that the euphemisms have become completely accepted and invisible over time. George Orwell gave us an ominous reminder of this age-old practice in 1984 with the infamous Oceania Party newspeak slogan – “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” But the reality is more subtle and chilling.


Today I received a notice from my credit card company regarding “exciting new changes” to my credit card cash back perks. The actual change was reducing my “cash back benefit” for card purchases in drugstores from 2% to 1%, but the letter glowingly reported that this was somehow an exciting improvement to the policy. Improvement for whom? The “improvement” might benefit the credit card issuer and the drugstores perhaps. For me and my fellow card holders, it is definitely a detriment.

The modern term for this particular form of the old shell game is “spin.” The term comes from the sports of baseball and cricket. The pitcher or bowler puts a particular spin on the ball attempting to fool the batter or batsman regarding the ball’s track. Ironically, one of the most valuable skills a pitcher can possess is the ability to put no spin at all on the ball. Batters become so accustomed to trying to discern what spin is on the ball before it reaches them that a complete lack of any spin at all is itself surprising. The purpose of spin in baseball and cricket is deceit – and so it is with the “spinning” of ideas by journalists, advertisers, politicians, and organization spokespeople.

Savings, Benefits, and Discounts

There was an even more subtle and deceptive euphemism hidden inside my letter from the bank that is seldom noticed and never mentioned. These “cash back benefits” attached to my card are really just a form of sales coupon. Every transaction on my card is an expenditure by me. The card issuer and the merchants never send me money. The net cash flow is always away from me and toward them. Yet we have all swallowed the idea that these “cash back benefits” are somehow actually making us money, when in fact at best we are spending less than we might have otherwise. In fact, the “cash back benefit” is nothing more than a credit to be applied to future purchases in which we spend even more money.

The same principal applies to the military and senior discount programs offered by various businesses. Whenever I check out of these businesses after taking advantage of these discounts, my sales receipt always contains a notice reading “You Saved XXX” when in fact I saved nothing. In all fairness I must admit I spent less than I might have otherwise without the discount, but in every single instance as I walk out of the store, my bank balance is lower than it was when I walked in. We see a similar effect with various “frequent customer” membership programs. Members (like me) of these programs who repeatedly purchase some good or service build up membership points which may then be applied as discounts toward the purchase of even more goods and services from the same business. My hotel chain membership program proudly proclaims the offer of “free” stays with redemption of membership points. Those stays are not in any sense free. If they were, the hotels which participate in the program certainly wouldn’t be in business very long. After all, they have their own bills to pay. In fact, the costs for these “free” stays were simply rolled into the costs of the previous stays which earned the associated reward points in the first place. In effect, these frequent customer programs create a “captive audience” for my future business with the same company.

My monthly social security payment is proudly lauded by all government officials as a “Federal Government Benefit,” when in fact it is disbursement of contributions to the Social Security trust fund that my employers and I made throughout my working lifetime. Ignoring the fact that these payments are actually disbursement of my own money that was forcibly deducted from my earnings over the years and referring to them instead as “Federal Government Benefits” allows the government to then tax them as new “income.”

By now my readers (if any) are likely thinking to themselves that all of my whines sound like “first world problems” from a spoiled person of privilege. They might be tempted to advise me to get over myself or call 1-800-WAA-AAAH with my complaints. Fair enough. But what about the cases where our euphemisms cause actual harm?

Military Euphemisms

Perhaps the oldest forms of these distracting, deceptive, and sometimes harmful euphemisms arose in the realm of warfare. Military commanders who are routed on the battlefield refer to the headlong flight of their defeated armies from the field as “strategic withdrawals” or as “evacuations.” The victorious refer to the conquest of their enemies’ territory as “liberation.” The horrible atrocities perpetrated by everyone in combat are called by various terms. The perpetrators call them “justice.” The victims call them “crimes against humanity.” We call our own combatants and those of our allies “freedom fighters” or “liberators,” while those of the enemy are called “terrorists,” “thugs,” “war criminals,” or “mercenaries.” Following World War II, Winston Churchill famously said, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”


The salient question surrounding the abortion debate is whether the resident of a pregnant mother’s womb is a full-fledged human being or not. If it is a human being, then aborting this child is certainly murder. In fact it is conspiracy to commit murder by contract between the mother and the medical professionals who actually carry out the murder. But if the occupant of the mother’s womb is not a human being, then there is no question of murder. If the victim of the abortion has no inherent human rights, then the mother is free to dispose of it in any way she deems fit just as she would an inflamed appendix or an ingrown toenail. To defend our own positions regarding the issue, we talk about either a “pre-born child” or a “lump of flesh” taking up the space inside the uterus. Likewise, when we speak of the abortion itself, refer to it as either “contract child murder” or as “women’s reproductive health care.” Either way, the terms we choose reveal the side of the debate upon which we stand. Tragically, because the victim of the abortion is unable to defend itself, it has no say so at all in determining its own fate either in preserving its life or ending it.

Another perhaps more subtle set of euphemisms surrounding the abortion controversy concerns how the various combatants refer to their own positions. Those like me who regard abortion as murder call our position “pro-life” rather than “anti-child-murder” or “anti-reproductive-choice.” We simply ignore the fact that we seek to impose our views on the mothers themselves. Those in the opposite camp call their position “pro-choice” rather than “anti-baby” or “pro-child-murder.” They deny or simply ignore the idea that the resident of the womb has any innate human rights of its own. The “choice” to preserve or destroy its life is considered to belong entirely to the mother. The baby (or whatever it is) is entirely denied any right of choice.

Transgenderism and Sexual Behavior

An entirely new language made up of obfuscating euphemisms has sprung up in recent years around the world with regard to human gender and sexual activity. People who identify as the same gender with which they were conceived are said to be “cis-gendered” while those who do not are said to be “trans-gendered.” Those who are so confused by the whole thing that they can’t even make up their own minds exactly how they conceive their sexuality are said to be “gender fluid.” Added into this already confusing mix is a variety of terms used to describe people’s sexual desires and behaviors. Simple combinatorics with the vast array of gender identity and sexual attractions and behaviors has resulted in a staggeringly confusing variety of literally hundreds of possible labels for people’s gender identity and sexuality. The vast majority of these are so nebulous and confusing they are rendered virtually meaningless. Not so long ago, most members of society would have simply called most of these “perversion” or “sexual aberration.” If the truth be told, most members of society still think of them privately as such, but most people are afraid to express that viewpoint to others for fear of ostracism, loss of jobs, and even prosecution by governments and corporations who have fully validated the “perversion.”

Ironically, drugs and surgical procedures designed to modify a person’s sexual characteristics are called “gender affirming” rather than “gender denying” or “gender modifying” which in fact they are. What’s even worse is that forcing such procedures and drugs upon children too young to understand the future implications for their bodies and their minds isn’t identified as the “child abuse” or “reckless child endangerment” which it actually is. Rather, we call it “gender affirming care,” and governments, schools, the medical establishment, and “progressive” society as a whole are rushing headlong into affirming and promoting this gigantic conglomeration of lies.

Freedom of Expression

The idea that everyone should be allowed to express their own beliefs freely without fear of retribution was considered so critical to civil society that the first generation of leaders under our US Constitution felt that this fundamental right should be succinctly spelled out in its First Amendment. Since there seems to be so much confusion in US society today with regard to this subject, perhaps it would be helpful to quote the amendment in its entirety…

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Quoted April 8, 2023 from –

The text of the amendment itself is straightforward. Yet over the course of the subsequent decades since the amendment was ratified, literally millions of words have been written and thousands of legal cases have been tried attempting to nail down exactly what sort of expressions the amendment protects and which it does not. In point of fact, the freedom of speech that the amendment cites has never been entirely unlimited, nor should it have been. For example, misreporting a crime to the police or the location of a fire to the emergency services is illegal as well it should be. Doing so could potentially cause great harm to other members of society by distracting the emergency services from handling other emergencies, or even worse by misleading the police into actions at a purported crime scene that could lead to innocent people being arrested, injured, or even killed. Thus, this form of free expression is rightly forbidden.

But in today’s society, the standard of potential harm that leads to outlawing free expression has been lowered to the point where if something I might say hurts someone’s feelings or even causes them to question their own preconceptions, my right to voice my opinions can be legally limited or even outlawed altogether. This frightening trend is running rampant in jurisdictions throughout the USA and around the world. Freedom of Speech has largely become freedom only to say things with which potential hearers agree. Having started out under the first amendment being mostly unlimited, freedom of speech has now become virtually non-existent. Ironically, those who physically assault people with whom they disagree are not now prosecuted for their crimes. Instead, they are lauded in the media and exonerated in the courts for having lawfully exercised their constitutionally protected freedom of expression! Violent suppression of others’ freedom of expression by angry mobs is now called “peaceful protest.”

It is even more frightening when we consider that artificial intelligence technology has now progressed to the point where even our private thoughts could soon be legally regulated. The Thought Police governmental authority Orwell warned us about is now chillingly close to becoming a social reality.

The Demise of Reasoned Debate

I can’t remember where I recently read an opinion that the idea of objective journalism is an outmoded concept. The writer stated flatly that journalists needn’t seek after objective truth in their reporting, but should boldly bring to the forum promotion of their own opinions and agendas (or more correctly those of their corporate and governmental masters), incorporating only those relevant facts which corroborate them, and quashing any accidentally discovered facts which might tend to call the “approved” version of the truth into question.

This abhorrent position with regard to the search for objective truth has invaded our institutions of learning to an alarming degree as well. Recently, we have seen multiple instances on college campuses across the USA wherein speakers expounding ideas and positions not in conformance with those of the institutions, their employees, and opposing factions of the students were simply shouted down or violently driven away from the forum by physical assault. Name-calling has replaced reasoned debate of important issues. It has been jokingly said that if one cannot provide a logical and well-thought-out argument for some given position, one can always effectively resort to simply comparing one’s opponent in the debate to Adolf Hitler. But sadly, that is exactly what we are seeing in the very places which ostensibly encourage everyone to voice their conflicting ideas in open forums so that all who are present may consider them and make their own conclusions.

Even in cases where that evil name is not invoked, a common practice is simply “gaslighting” an opposing viewpoint. The purveyor of this version of the Old Shell Game starts by stating some given opinion as an established fact. Then, if anyone dares to say anything contradictory, their knowledge, motivations, and/or sanity are called into question relentlessly until even they themselves start to doubt the validity of their position. If anyone dares to question the approved position, their opposition is ridiculed as a “conspiracy theory” and anyone who espouses belief of the conspiracy theory or even offers it unbiased consideration is ostracized. Nowhere is this approach to debate more prevalent than in the ongoing conflict between Darwinian evolutionary theory and creationism. Darwinian evolution and its uniformitarian underpinning are taken as unquestionable facts in practically every institution of higher learning throughout the world. Those who dare call them into question are ridiculed at best, deprived of their livelihoods in academia if possible, refused publication in scholarly literature, and intimidated by any means necessary to compel their silence or better yet their agreement with the “approved facts.” Any objective facts that don’t support the prevalent theory are either silently quashed without further debate or blatantly modified to make them appear to support the predetermined conclusions.

The sad result is the raising up of a whole generation of society which is incapable of even hearing conflicting ideas much less giving them somber and fair consideration on their own merits. We have become so accustomed to calling things that which they are not, and closing our minds to ideas which conflict with our own presuppositions that we are now incapable of choosing for ourselves between right and wrong. This is bad enough in itself. What’s even worse though is that it leaves the “hearts and minds” of our entire society vulnerable to manipulation by people of power whatever their potentially misguided agendas might be.

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