Law in Contemporary Society
*The mechanics of eliminating the Godcon merely bring into focus initial questions in addressing the issue of the Lawcon* -- By RicardoWoolery - 27 Feb 2009

Casting off my role as a mark in the Godcon merely suggests a starting point as I seek to address the swindle I classify as the Lawcon. Eliminating my dependence on my pastor freed me from the swindle of organized religion. However, freeing myself from the persuasive forces in law school and legal practice requires taking control of the terms on which I participate in both contexts.


Arthur Leff’s explication of the elements of the Godcon in his book Swindling & Selling resonates with my experience of organized religion.

Leff describes the “Godcon” as a swindle in which the conman induces “marks to trade money… in exchange for the promised delivery of quantities of exceedingly valuable divinely manufactured goods. The conman… sets himself up as a broker of Grace.” From age three in Jamaica, I attended church every Sunday, witnessing my pastor exhort the various ways of acquiring and maintaining God’s salvation whilst winning souls for Christ. Each Sunday, I left church feeling satiated with sufficient grace for the week ahead and invigorated by the communal bonds shared with my pastor and fellow churchgoers. My pastor, playing the role of broker in the swindle’s script, dispensed God’s grace in exchange for my tithes.

Consciously I never queried “whence the wealth”? Or “why the split”? Leff posits that absent a satisfactory answer to these questions that the mark is not mollified into acquiescence with the swindle. Although reasonable, this prerequisite to a successful Godcon is incomplete. I, and others like me, unquestioningly accepted the authenticity of the Godcon because the script from which we were acculturated reinforced the Godcon as natural and indispensable. Although this observation is consistent with Leff’s description of the Godcon, he appears to put too much weight on the mark asking his threshold questions while overlooking the answer implicit in the script.

I was empowered to free myself from the Godcon because I discovered that the exclusive brokerage role of the conman was a myth.

Leff suggests the mechanism of the Godcon is activated by the conman and mark conspiring to “bring nondiminishing treasure to the outkast.” Whether the conman or the script provided me with satisfactory answers to Leff’s threshold questions, this conspiracy secured my continued participation in the Godcon throughout my teenage years. However, leaving Jamaica to attend a liberal arts college in Massachusetts enabled me to realize that the secret to extricating myself from the persuasion of organized religion lay in realizing that I did not need a self-appointed intercessor with God.

A visit to a poor Andalusian village during my junior year in Spain catalyzed this epiphany. After being horrified at the impoverished existence of the villagers, I was awestruck by the many gold fixtures adorning the church in which they worshiped, then angered at the thought that the presumably fervent tithing of this very religious village had contributed to the converse realities of the village’s marks and the church’s conmen. I don’t suggest the villagers would have been significantly richer had they not been swindled, but I saw no reason for them enriching a broker to reap benefits, real or imagined, from the beneficent “old man.” In genuinely pursing a relationship with the being I believed guided my life, the key to dismantling the persuasion of organized religion lay in eliminating the conman.

Presuming that Leff seeks to demonstrate the similarities between swindles and the art of persuasion, it would appear that, by believing in cultivating a direct connection to a higher power, I am striking a foolish bargain. However, this relationship does not involve the unequal exchange of my money that is indispensable to Leff’s characterization of the swindle, for some intangible spiritual good. Leff declares, “I am not arguing that religion in general… is a swindle. I am suggesting instead that if one does set out crookedly to acquire money for one’s personal benefit there are structural components in a religious context which make the job of a conscientious swindler very much easier.” Leff strongly suggests that eliminating the conman empowers the mark to make a fully-informed choice about the nature and extent of his actions.


The nature of the value being exchanged in the Lawcon must be resolved before the Lawcon can be eliminated

The lawcon assumes Columbia persuades students and firms persuade associates to do something or become something. What is that something? To think like a lawyer? Does the proffered idea of a lawyer permit variance or is it monolithic? If not to think like a lawyer, then should I be persuaded to do or become? To appear to be a good profit maximizer? To effectively and efficiently marshal law and facts to get the resolution that leaves me feeling I did the right/just thing? In the law school and law firm contexts, the objective appears to involve each of these elements.

Controlling the nature and extent of my participation in the lawcon will ensure that I benefit most from my law school experience

I need to do at least three things to ensure that I am not persuaded to act against my best interests. First, I need to make affirmative choices during law school that are guided by my quest to enjoy what I do. Second, freeing myself from the lawcon doesn't necessarily require eliminating the broker, as I concluded in my godcon experience. It requires freeing myself from its power to dictate the type of work I must do and the way I must feel about doing it. It's akin to becoming unafraid to be fired or unafraid to seek ways to get exposure to practice specializations that inspire me although those classes aren't part of the curriculum. Third, controlling my choices requires talking to profs about their work in my area of interest, private international law, seeking research positions within and without Columbia that can buttress my theoretical understanding with exposure to real world practice. It also means ensuring, wherever I practice, that I develop my niche so that no external force can dictate the work I do or define makes it valuable with various "carrots" or "sticks." Freeing my self from the notion of the lawcon means determining the terms of my relationships within the CLS or legal practice setting and ultimately being secure in knowing I can walk away and be happy elsewhere.

  • The real purpose of the essay in this draft seems to me to be to strike a blow on behalf of freedom of thought. Organized religion's defect is shown to be the unquestioning deference to external authority on the central philosophical question, what makes my human life meaningful? The issue of the movement of money, as you say, isn't really what you're thinking about. While Leff, who is at pains to point out that he isn't drawing conclusions about which ecclesial organizations are "cons" and which are "sales," is not proposing to "remove the broker" from any relation between men and gods. The point of contact between the two subjects you discuss isn't "con," therefore, but the importance to you of freedom of thought—the preservation of your intellectual and moral autonomy.

  • From my point of view, therefore, Leff could be subtracted from the setting. The result would be a loss of complexity without loss of relevance to your actual concerns, which seems all to the good. I'm not sure whether the analogy between your departure from organized religion and your approach to law school is important, but whether you decide to keep the comparison, it seems to me that Leff illuminates the wrong parts of it.


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r7 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:11:23 - IanSullivan
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