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The Six Habits of Highly Deceptive People – Guest Contributor Elias Da Silva-Powell

Posting on Mondays makes me aware of the number of these days which are considered holidays in order to form long weekends. It’s a great example of an availability bias because no one would ever complain that there are too many holidays, and indeed, it’s only our sense of injustice over the skewed ratio of work to not work that keeps us from remarking on all these Mondays we miss or that require us to reschedule. (Rescheduling is usually what I do in these cases, but we’re outside of the regular academic year, and having had my fun in the garden for the past couple of weeks, I’m working today in earnest anyhow.) Part of the leisure that I’ve taken lately, though, is actually germane to all of this. Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow (2011) appeared on my kitchen counter the other day, and, since I’ve lately been quite obsessed with naming concepts, the eminent psychologist’s take on a range of garden variety biases in our everyday thinking and judgment has me fascinated. All this to say that we might see, say, three red cars in a traffic line or five people wearing a particular style of clothing in the same day and be moved, for lack of substantive things to say, to remark on the prevalence of these things. Falling prey to an availability bias, we might (erroneously) conclude that “they’re everywhere.” But not so with holidays. We’re terrible with intuitive statistics, but our ineptitude is apparently mitigated by the quiet, clever, self-serving part of our minds that reflexively calculates not just frequency, but how valuable a certain feature, fixture, or phenomenon is to us.

Holiday Mondays: there are so many of them, why not keep it consistent and make Mondays a permanent part of the weekend?

Anyway, with more thoughts on the natural subterfuge we employ in our daily lives on the fly, here’s Elias Da Silva Powell, reflecting as he comes to the close of his MA on some of the most effective classroom conversation techniques and tricks of argumentation:

The Six Habits of Highly Deceptive People

It can be hard to stay on top of the various responsibilities of a graduate student. Juggling research, coursework and the ever-receding possibility of a personal life can often leave you overwhelmed and short on time.

At some point in your graduate career you’ll probably cut corners and skip doing an assigned reading for a class, only to be singled out by the instructor and asked to contribute to that day’s discussion.

There are a number of common strategies people employ to conceal their lack of preparation. I’ve noted a few popular ones here to help you recognize the blunders of others–as well as cover your own tracks.

(This is a work of satire. The author in no way endorses attempts to deceive one’s instructors or colleagues. That said, accidents happen).

The Freud Fraud (AKA the Marxist Misdirect AKA the Derrida Deceit)

“Reading this put me in mind of [x]. Has anyone read [x]? No? Good.”

Temporarily at a loss for words, this wily student covers his or her tracks by picking a single detail from the class discussion and drawing a connection to a different author or text.

The newly-invoked material is usually the special interest of the student who brought it up in the first place, meaning that no one else in the room is going to be able to catch him or her out in generalizing needlessly.

When you see panic in someone’s eyes as they mention their favourite author a half-dozen times in 3 sentences, they’re probably up to something.

Falls flat when: Someone else is a secret devotee of the student’s favourite author and disagrees with them, dooming the class to witness a jargon-laden debate.

Professor Wikipedia

*typing* “This was originally published in 1899 and republished in 1909. So there’s that.”

The Internet has revolutionized scholarly practice and research, but it has also given people the ability to become an armchair expert on a subject in a matter of seconds.

The Wikiresearcher is in a constant search-frenzy, calling up pages on texts, authors, concepts and historical periods alike, ever-ready to parachute a piece of trivia into discussion.

Despite being frequently unproductive, this person’s contributions are never quite irrelevant, and they usually squeak by undetected.

Falls flat when: Someone asks them a specific question.

The Vaguester

“How do we relate this to the ending? How do we relate this to the beginning? How do we relate-“

Assuming a philosophical pose, The Vaguester addresses open-ended questions to particular people, effectively playing ‘hot potato’ with the responsibility of actually making a definitive statement.

A particularly masterful version of this ploy involves assuming an air of superiority, as if the answers to these questions are already obvious to the student in question.

Falls flat when: The student reaches maximum circularity and accidentally asks how we can connect something to itself.

The Hanger-On

“I agree with what’s been said.” / “I was just going to say that.”

The Hanger-On has a hard time participating in a classroom setting, because he or she is conveniently beaten to the statement-making punch by someone else in the room who sums up his or her thoughts perfectly.

A less-impressive version of this strategy involves agreeing with the last statement made by repeating it in its entirety.

Falls flat when: In a moment of over-zealous participation, he or she endorses opposing sides of a classroom discussion.

The Synthesizer

“If we think about Richard’s question in light of what Kathy has just said about Roberta’s point, I think it’s clear that…”

This is without a doubt the most difficult strategy to deploy in a classroom setting, with a correspondingly high reward.

Elegantly retracing the thread of the discussion so far, The Synthesizer arranges all of the pieces in a pleasing and apparently engaged statement, despite the fact that he or she has literally no idea what’s being discussed.

I like to think of The Synthesizer as a kind of academic triple-agent, because you’re never entirely sure you can trust them or what they bring to the table.

Falls flat when: The Synthesizer’s apparently-elegant conclusion is directly contradicted by factual details.

The Anecdote-From-Experience

“This really reminded me of my own life. I mean-“

Personal anecdotes in class discussion should be rare, brief and relevant–though they never are.

You may recall this person from your undergraduate classes because of his or her tendency to supplement the syllabus with a healthy dose of info taken from his or her diary.

Not to be confused with people who do this in earnest, the Anecdote-From-Experiencer does this under the guise of making a relevant statement about the material under discussion.

Falls flat when: Doesn’t. Basically unassailable. Abandon ship.


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