The Spanish Prisoner

Seven or eight years ago, I was on a commuter flight, sitting in an aisle seat. Two rows ahead of me, across the aisle on my right, a guy was arguing with his wife/girlfriend. It wasn't a ferocious argument, but any sort of personal disagreement is noticeable in these circumstances, and it had been simmering since I noticed them boarding the plane.

There were two other things I noticed when they sat down. The wife/girlfriend had the husband/boyfriend's name - Randy - tattooed on the back of her neck, and Randy had the letters T - R - U - S - T tattooed on the fingers of his left hand. I remember smiling to myself when I saw this. Obviously these two were from a very different background than me, but I really appreciated the public display of commitment they had made by getting these tattoos. I remember thinking to myself that I bet their relationship was a strong one, even though the disagreement seemed to simmer throughout the flight.

The plane landed and we all stood up. And then I saw the letters tattooed on Randy's right hand.

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  1. This is a really wonderful article, thank you.

    A theme that comes up on ET quite often is how important it is not to treat people like instruments but as ends in themselves. But the whole way I’ve had this question in the back of my mind, what if I can tell that somebody is treating me as an instrument, is it ok to take the gloves off, play dumb, squeeze them for what I can? Maybe I was afraid to ask out loud.
    The last part of this article addresses that somewhat, and it’s heartening for me to see how much we agree.

  2. As always, too much smart stuff for me to absorb in one (or several) reads, but I still have a question (surprise): is the critical Libra “tell” - the one that, oddly, hasn’t gotten much press - the fact that Libra will be backed by a basket of international currencies?

    This tells (ha-ha) me that Libra’s not Bitcoin, it’s not threatening the state’s seignorage (and reserve currency status [for the US] and everything else that flows to Caesar from having its own fiat currency); it’s really nothing new; it’s just another payment system dressed up as a crypto currency - albeit, with a new back-office process (blockchain).

    Everything else is whatever (narrative, con, etc.); that Libra is backed by the existing Nudging Oligarchy’s currencies announces the winner of the game up front.


  3. Mark,

    You got it. Libra is Conning the Con (bitcoin).

    Thanks Ben,


  4. Ben- Remember…an honest man/woman cannot be conned! Speaking of conned, how about the group-sellout/think that is ESG investing? Pretty soon everyone will be ESG (in craven attempts to be included in ESG ETFs…or not be boycotted). To quote Frederick the Great, “He who defends everything defends nothing”. How about so many companies’ and individuals’ aping the Pride Swatch/Thumbnail background for their logos last month? Don’t get me wrong; I see great things with the Pride movement, etc. What bothers me is mindless aping to “comply” what the rest of the herd does…or in fear of society’s equivalent of the Stasi (which we’ve created for ourselves: “Yay, not so secret policing of ourselves”! It’s as if we’re all afraid of that kindergarten kid who points his finger at us and says “stranger, stranger”…causing the rest to do the same.

  5. "A coyote is a clever puzzle-solver who really has the best of intentions. Who really wants to be successful for the right reasons. Who really wants to accomplish something of meaning in the world. Who is smart and aware and nobody’s fool. Who has been beaten up professionally a bit and has a healthy skepticism about the business and political world.

    And who is just a little bit on the make. "

    Man, did I just look in the mirror.
    Except maybe for the “nobody’s fool” part.

  6. That article alone was worth my July subscription fee.

  7. Hi Ben. I loved this piece. It hit really close to home - some of it very, very uncomfortably.

    Does the saint’s immunity to the Spanish Prisoner con come from the fact he thinks it unethical to unlock a prize from a ‘capital arb’? If coyotes are like parasites (I recently reread your old piece on parasites) in many cases, then the saint thinks that being a coyote HF manager is an unethical job, is that fair?

    I am a little unclear about who the state and oligarchy are optimizing for in a ruse like Libra right now - after all, the end market of billions is predominantly not comprised of coyotes. Would you say that the gatekeepers/facilitators to the Ocean (This is Water) are often coyotes, and that they need to be “brought in” on both idealogical and materialistic dimensions? But at the same time there is a greater narrative for the masses “onboarding billions to banking” that needs to work in parallel.

    The difficulty among the more cynical (and chip on the shoulder type) coyotes is with this:

    “I see what they are offering me and I TAKE it. Without hesitation. Without remorse. I take it just as they are trying to take from me … in full sociopathic bloom.”

    OF COURSE you are right. But man this is hard to do. Especially for the more cynical and ‘default aggressive’ among us. Conning the con is the definition of sheep’s clothing I suppose.

    At this early stage it’s particularly hard. My ideological disgust for the whole project is stratospheric . Yet the fruits of conning the con seem distant and abstract at this point. It’s a tough intersection here, the sheep’s clothing does not look attractive right now. But it’s probably time to get comfortable with it. And meditate or something to stay calm.

    “You will find yourself conflating justice with loss and comeuppance. You will take on sadness and schadenfreude as your resting psychic state. Trust me when I say that I know of which I speak. Negative energy is deadly. That is not a figurative statement. It will literally kill you.”

    Because this terrifies me. And I have felt this a lot. It’s hard to escape for me anyways.

  8. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    You and me both, Andy!

  9. Reciprocity is a strong impulse so I agree with your recommendation of basically conditioning one self to take something at face value without having an expectation of giving something back (especially trust) to an organization that already profiting on treating people like cattle. Perhaps this is another “old man yells at cloud” but I do have a hope for some sort of alternative choice that offers a decentralized platform, like Solid (

  10. Avatar for jz1 jz1 says:

    “THEY” always want to create a ecosystem, water for you to swim in, air for you to breathe, conditioned respond to social events. While we all automatically swim/breathe/respond, Ben keeps reminding us that know your water, know your air, know your crowd. A guy I know told me he knows people who have to think which legs to move first when they walk after they do enough meditation to uncover the unconsciousness. He resist his muscle to automatically move his legs and his brain needs to think how to walk. Resisting by holding a bit coin is easy. Resisting water/air/response is tough. If you become conscious enough, you will find it difficult to walk. Reminds of me of Neo vomiting after he sees the matrix.
    I guess you have to vomit before you can fly.

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