beware the pied piper

(Highlights from Sunday Focus topic, to be presented Sept 30, 2018 by A. Taylor)

Every child is familiar with the tale of the Pied Piper. "Time to pay the piper," so the saying goes - a tale which teaches the importance of honoring one's commitments. Yet, on deeper inspection, also a tale that involves the disappearance of hundreds of children - a fact that most bedtime storytellers dare not emphasize if they plan on getting any sleep that night. Creepier still, the ancient tale has its roots in a little non-fiction, keeping historians guessing as to what really happened.

The Pied Piper by Elisabeth Forbes 1859-1912

Let the historians squabble while we find a bigger, better Hamelin story - The Children's Crusade. This is a story rooted in much more fact, being mentioned in over 50 historical chronicles dating back to the 13th century. It is the story of a 12-year-old they call Stephen of Cloyes, from France, who met a pilgrim in the streets calling himself Jesus, who then handed the boy instructions for the King to raise a new Crusade and take back the holy land of Jerusalem. Stephen managed to rustle up 15,000 - 30,000 pueri (Latin for children), and march them through the streets of France. Though turned back by the King, some of these rugrats might have found a way to Cologne, Germany, where another uprising of pueri was beginning. This one was led by the boy Nicholas of Cologne, who managed to lead thousands across the Alps, to the cities of Piacenza and Genoa in Italy. That's the same distance as walking from Calgary to Vancouver, minus the paved roads!

The children’s crusade on its way to the Holy Land, 1212. (Credit: Bildagentur-Online/UIG via Getty Images)

Again, the story of the Children's Crusade is argued over by historians. Some say the pueri were nothing more than the poor from the outskirts of society. For further reading, I liked... and

Moving into the modern era, we find a lot less half-clothed orphan kids being led to their doom. Of course, it's not impossible - see child soldiersgangs, and cults. The first two are generally symptoms of a broken state and a lack of welfare institutions (like medieval Europe). When talking kids n' cults, it's often a story of a child unknowingly indoctrinated by an adult who should know better. The Jonestown massacre is probably the most egregious case of children drinking the Koolaid.

By law, children are not responsible for certain important decisions before the age of 18 or 21. But that doesn't mean the Koolaid is being shoved down their throats. I can speak from experience. That's right, yours truly, I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, and I was desperately trying to be baptized into that religion by the age of 10. Every time a young girl or boy made the news for refusing a blood transfusion, or was spotted in line for the baptism ritual, I was consumed by envy.

Our Adult Reality

I don't know about you, but all this talk about kids being deceived to their demise is really bumming me out. Luckily, we haven't learned a thing, because we are all adults. Right?

Wrong. In fact, adults can be much worse. They have a false perception of their own reasoning power and personal agency – whereas kids tend to turn to adults when in doubt. Adults also can fall for tricks. Of course a child would pay $30,000 for a bag of gummy bears, but what kid has that kind of coin? What are our weaknesses, and how might we be led to our doom?

Plenty of research has been put into this subject. Some of this research is done out of genuine curiosity, but most of it is driven by more sinister desires. Think - political ad campaigns, scam artists, advertising, pyramid schemes, religious sects, etc.

In this study by the University of Cambridge, researchers list 7 fundamental tricks that scammers use to lure people in.

These include:

  • The Distraction Principle
  • The Social Compliance Principle
  • The Herd Principle
  • The Dishonesty Principle
  • The Deception Principle
  • The Need and Greed Principle
  • The Time Principle

Let me add, the fear principle, as seen in the above political ad. 

I encourage all of you to look over the Cambridge study as a review on how one can guard themselves from the dirty scammers of the world. I also really liked - further studies into the world of advertising and its tricks. 

Until next time, stay alert, and beware the evil flutist!