R2 Reading Response

Conveniently, each reading itself exemplified that which it described.

Chater and Loewenstein’s The Under-Appreciated Drive for Sense-making described how “Curiosity may, of course, be unsatisfied if we are unable to perform the relevant action …, in which case we would expect the curiosity to be replaced with, or at least mixed with, frustration,”(Chater and Loewenstein, 9). While the article’s behavioral economics theories were intriguing, they frustrated the layman with complicated mathematical theorems. I was unable to immediately decipher formulas such as e(K|B) = arg minC e′,K|B . How does that formula make sense? The curious energy I had gained from their insights transferred to irritation from the indication that I’m not as intelligent as they are. This interaction between their piece and I, the viewer, drew out my innate “drive for sense-making.”

As a result, I’ve been writing this response carefully, considering how coherent my phrasing is. Maybe that was Chater and Loewenstein’s intention: By being plainly logical in some parts of their essay and cryptic in others, they convince readers of the importance of clarity. Clarity may have saved the victims of con-artist Sammy Azzopardi.

Ironically, The New Yorker published the article “How Stories Deceive.” Though this newspaper isn’t an abnormally manipulative one, all journalism is deceptive to some extent. In this case, journalist Maria Konnikova portrays Azzopardi as an extraordinarily successful mastermind. Azzopardi is a real criminal. She is not a fictional character in a Marvel movie. She not only has directly harmed real victims, but she has ever so slightly discredited those who may come to police or peers with real stories similar to her made-up ones.

Despite her misdeeds, she was deified as a story-worthy villain. The writer almost celebrates the greatness of her misconduct. Beginning the article with an imitation of Azzopardi’s tactics, Konnikova uses the same tools of shock, trust, and emotions to draw the reader in. She describes a “dazed and distressed” young girl whose “… face was ashen. She was shivering”(Konnikova). As we later find out, this is just a character acted out by Azzopardi, and Konnikova recounts how she masterfully succeeded with this act over and over again. Yes, demonstrating the perspective of those deceived may be necessary to explain how such deception is possible, but the writer also exploits the richness of Azzopardi’s lies to enhance the article’s narrative. While this dramatic narrative effectively exemplifies and explains the danger of trust founded on stories, it begs for that same trust from the reader.  Especially in the context of deceptive storytelling, how can we readers be asked to trust such an embellished article? Konnikova points out that “When a fact is plausible, we still need to test it. When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” This article is too interesting and too guided to be fact. This article is a story.

A girl like Azzopardi must have a reason to lie. Maybe she is suffering, or has suffered in the past. How troubled could she really be? How much of her stories were lies? Where is the line between truths and lies in storytelling? How much did The New Yorker cross that line? Does the line even matter? Maybe all stories live only in the gray area between hard fact and outright lies.

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