The email intrigued me - for about a minute.
Hi Adam, would you consider selling deadlysins.com, I could pay $8000 for the site, if you could let me know either way I would appreciate your time.
[Name withheld] Fishery & Reindeer
Almost immediately, my skepticism kicked in. In the early days of the web, I might have taken the offer at face value, but we've all been through a lot since then. Lonelygirl? Fake. Kid swept aloft in a renegade helium balloon? Lies. Gay Girl in Damascus blog? Hoax.
As a result, we've developed some finely-tuned equipment for detecting the presence of bullshit. It's only natural. We like to know what's real and what's not, and we live in a world in which anyone with a computer, a little know-how, and an sense for a good story can pull the wool over the world's eyes.
So I immediately started looking for the subtle indicators of a scam. No serious buyer would start with an offer in the thousands of dollars. The message employed poor punctuation. A URL attached to the email led to an unrelated site. And why would someone at a "Fishery & Reindeer" want a domain name that referenced the 7 deadly sins?
I had successfully detected another scam. I thought. (That's a story for another time.)
Oddly enough, it made me think about Ebola. News reports on the frightening growth of the virus have discussed how the behavior of the endangered communities may be facilitating the spread of the disease. Families have removed or abducted their sick relatives from hospitals to bring them home, infecting others in the process. In one instance, armed men raided an Ebola quarantine facility, sending patients scattering, because they believe the disease is a fiction.
Those reports are ensnared with a subtle racism: the idea that the spread of the disease is due to the stupidity and ignorance of the affected populations. If they only understood modern medicine, the coverage suggests, they would be fine.
That narrative also makes the world spectators feel better because it helps them believe it couldn't happen at home. "We" are smart, educated, and therefore superior, while others pay the price of ignorance.
But the spread of Ebola is being facilitated not by ignorance, but by a kind of competing knowledge.
Many people in West Africa have lived under systems in which they have been lied to, manipulated, and used. Competition for resources can be so severe that scams, corruption, and exploitation are rife, and everyone must have an exceptionally well-tuned mechanism for separating out bullshit. Any subtle hint that things are not on the up-and-up is a good enough reason to assume a scam.
Then: foreigners come to your country like aliens in your midst. They come from nations with long histories of using their technological advantages to exploit your nation for economic benefit - including abducting your people into slavery. They're wearing suits like something from a science fiction film. They take your child, or your husband, and hold him in a compound that's sealed off from the outside world. And you never see him again. You can't say goodbye, you can't even see the body. And more people start getting sick.
In your heart, you feel something's not right. You could believe the outsiders, or listen to your gut, that well-tuned bullshit detector, that's saying "don't accept this version of reality - there must be a better one."