Scams in the City

Hyp­no­tism – when de­fined as the act of putting some­one into a trance and un­der your con­trol – is not real. But in In­done­sia, many scam vic­tims in­sist they were hyp­no­tized, as if they were pow­er­less to pre­vent them­selves from be­ing swin­dled.

Indonesia Expat - - CONTENTS - BY KENNE TH YE­UNG Ken­neth Ye­ung is a Jakarta-based editor

It's All in the Mind

I was conned once. It was back in 1994, when I was a tourist in Lon­don. Sit­ting by West­min­ster Bridge, I was ap­proached by an im­mac­u­lately dressed, well-spo­ken stranger. He claimed to be a pro­fes­sional golfer, who had left his wal­let in the back of a taxi and needed to bor­row 100 pounds to get to a tour­na­ment. He promised to re­pay the money. Be­ing youth­fully naive, I gave him the money. I never saw him again.

It was a costly les­son in scep­ti­cism. I cer­tainly wasn't hyp­no­tised. I had merely been duped by a con­man's per­sua­sive pat­ter.

So, what is hyp­no­tism? Ac­cord­ing to Greek mythol­ogy, Hypnos was the god of sleep, who lived in a cave sur­rounded by opium pop­pies and other nar­cotic veg­e­ta­tion. Then in 1842, a Scot­tish sur­geon named James Braid coined the term ‘ hyp­no­tism' to de­scribe the process by which peo­ple could be put into a trance-like state in­duced by vis­ual and men­tal fo­cus on a sin­gle ob­ject.

The of­fi­cial dic­tio­nary of In­done­sia,

Ka­mus Be­sar Ba­hasa In­done­sia, goes fur­ther. It de­fines hyp­no­sis as “a sleep­like state in­duced by sug­ges­tion, putting a per­son un­der the in­flu­ence of the in­di­vid­ual who gives the sug­ges­tion, af­ter which the sub­ject be­comes com­pletely un­aware”. Non­sense.

Yes, a per­son can be re­laxed to the point of day­dream­ing, where they go along with some­one's sug­ges­tions, but they re­tain a level of aware­ness and can­not be forced to do some­thing against their will. You can only be hyp­no­tised if you want to be – un­less per­haps you have been beaten, shocked or drugged.

Movies and TV shows have con­vinced many peo­ple that a swing­ing pen­du­lum or mes­mer­iz­ing ges­tures and words can cause a per­son to fall into trance and then fol­low or­ders. There are also stage shows, where per­form­ers com­mand will­ing sub­jects to en­gage in buf­foon­ery. What about hyp­no­sis ther­apy, where peo­ple pay money in the hope of quit­ting smok­ing, los­ing weight or grow­ing big­ger breasts or a longer pe­nis? Pay­ing some­one to help you achieve pos­i­tive think­ing and self- dis­ci­pline may have ben­e­fits, such as al­le­vi­at­ing symp­toms, pain, stress and anx­i­ety, but it won't cure dis­eases or re­verse bald­ness. At worst, some hyp­nother­a­pists plant dan­ger­ous ideas in peo­ple's minds and foster self- delu­sion.

In­done­sia's most fa­mous ma­gi­cian, Deddy Cor­buzier, some­times per­forms hyp­no­tism on TV shows. He once pre­tended he could make view­ers sit­ting at home be un­able to stand up – and even asked them to Tweet pho­tos of their sub­se­quent im­mo­bil­ity. But first, he care­fully ex­plained that peo­ple who did not wish to par­tic­i­pate should lift their feet off the floor. I was will­ing. I fo­cused in­tently on his in­struc­tions, plant­ing my feet firmly on the floor, palms press­ing down on my thighs. Alas, when Deddy com­manded “Try to stand up,” I stood up.

An­other TV hyp­no­tist, Uya Kuya, finds at­ten­tion-seek­ing celebri­ties, such as bigch­ested ac­tress Ju­lia Perez, who are will­ing to go along with cring­ingly low­brow an­tics, like scratch­ing their heads when they hear trig­ger words. Such clown­ing may seem harm­less, but it's dan­ger­ous when it makes peo­ple be­lieve hyp­no­tism is real. TV shows fea­tur­ing hyp­no­tists should be pref­aced and con­cluded with an­nounce­ments that hyp­no­tism is phony. Oth­er­wise, peo­ple will think there re­ally are ‘men­tal­ists' who can con­trol them for ne­far­i­ous pur­poses.

The In­done­sian me­dia in­vari­ably sup­ports the myth that scam vic­tims were hyp­no­tised. The Riau Pos re­ported on Jan­uary 28 that a man car­ry­ing Rp.40 mil­lion to pay for his up­com­ing wed­ding party was rest­ing at a small mosque when a stranger hyp­no­tised him and per­suaded him to part with his cash.

In an­other case, Iskan­dar (34) from Aceh prov­ince was robbed in late Jan­uary while tak­ing a bus to the North Su­ma­tra cap­i­tal of Medan, where he had in­tended to pur­chase a bi­cy­cle. Four well- dressed men boarded the bus, in­tro­duced them­selves as heal­ers and gave Iskan­dar a mas­sage. Ar­riv­ing at his desti­na­tion, he no­ticed his roll of ban­knotes, amount­ing to Rp.8 mil­lion, had been re­moved from his pocket. He told po­lice he was hyp­no­tised. Also in Medan, univer­sity stu­dent Isra Pur­nama (23) was robbed last month while on her way home af­ter a lecture. A mo­tor­cy­clist asked her for di­rec­tions to a doc­tor's clinic on the pre­text that his mother was un­well. He con­vinced her to get on his mo­tor­bike and hand over her bag for safe­keep­ing up front. Af­ter driv­ing a short dis­tance, he dropped a piece of pa­per con­tain­ing the doc­tor's ad­dress and quickly stopped the bike. Isra dis­mounted to pick up the pa­per and the man sped away, tak­ing her bag of valu­ables. Nat­u­rally, she de­clared she had been hyp­no­tised.

Peo­ple also claim to be hyp­no­tised via phone calls from scam­mers, whether it be buy­ing them tele­phone credit or trans­fer­ring funds for bo­gus in­vest­ments or job of­fers. Po­lice in West Kal­i­man­tan on Jan­uary 24 ar­rested five men for fraud in­volv­ing hyp­no­tism, which had net­ted them Rp.660 mil­lion – peanuts com­pared to the vast sums squan­dered by leg­is­la­tors on com­par­a­tive stud­ies abroad.

Al­le­ga­tions of hyp­no­tism have even been made by Jes­sica Wongso, who is sus­pected of mur­der­ing her friend Mirna Sal­i­hin on Jan­uary 6 by putting cyanide in her coffee. Af­ter Jes­sica was in­ter­ro­gated by po­lice, she com­plained to the Na­tional Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights that she had been hyp­no­tised. And when peo­ple re­cently joined a cult called Fa­jar Nu­san­tara Move­ment (Gafa­tar) that com­bines teach­ings of Is­lam, Chris­tian­ity and Ju­daism, the In­done­sian Ulema Coun­cil de­clared that Gafa­tar's ad­her­ents had been con­trolled by satanic hyp­no­sis.

And so it goes on. Po­lice in 2007 is­sued eight guide­lines (in yel­low box) on how to avoid be­ing hyp­no­tised. Re­pro­duced here in English and slightly abridged, they're mostly sen­si­ble, ex­cept the bit about “tele­pathic forc­ing”. Re­mem­ber, you can't be hyp­no­tised, but you can be scammed if you don't prac­tise scep­ti­cism.

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