Monday, February 28, 2011

Madoff in Therapy

When I first saw the article, I thought it was a joke. It’s bad enough that taxpayers are providing Bernard Madoff with free room and board. We are also paying for his therapy.

In case you were wondering where all those taxpayer dollars are going, some of them are being used to help Bernard Madoff restore his good name.

Steve Fishman has the story in today’s New York Magazine. Link here.

If you had any doubts about therapy, if you think that I have been portraying it unfairly, then you should read about how Madoff’s therapist is happy to absolve him of his sins. She is functioning like a modern day priestess in a secular religion.

You would have thought that therapists, as men and women of science, would abstain from passing moral judgments. As David Hume famously remarked a few centuries ago, ethical questions, questions of good and evil, questions of what you should or should not do, cannot be decided by science.

Happily for Bernard Madoff, his therapist claims that she can judge his character.

Steve Fishman reports: “And so, sitting alone with his therapist, in the prison khakis he irons himself, he seeks reassurance. ‘Everybody on the outside kept claiming I was a sociopath,’ Madoff told her one day. ‘I asked her, “Am I a sociopath?’?” He waited expectantly, his eyelids squeezing open and shut, that famous tic. ‘She said, “You’re absolutely not a sociopath. You have morals. You have remorse.’?” Madoff paused as he related this. His voice settled. He said to me, ‘I am a good person'."

Fishman continues: “There aren’t many who would agree. For most of the world, Bernie Madoff is a monster; he betrayed thousands of investors, bankrupted charities and hedge funds. On paper, his Ponzi scheme lost nearly $65 billion; the effects spread across five continents. And he brought down his own family with him, a more intimate kind of betrayal.”

(Before you ask, I have no idea why Fishman would throw the word "intimate" into that sentence. It is markedly out of place."

With what authority does this therapist declare that Bernard Madoff is “absolutely not a sociopath?”

The strange thing is, everyone but his therapist knows that Bernard Madoff is not a good person. How much training do you have to suffer before you can put your moral sense to sleep?

Actually, even within her own profession, this therapist is behind the times. As I posted last Friday, psychologists are beginning to understand the way actions influence one’s moral compass. Link here.

Psychologists have now demonstrated that if you do wrong and keep doing wrong you are going to become a bad person, regardless of your good intentions. If you do it long enough you are going to become a monster, unfit for human compassion, sympathy, and forgiveness.

Of course, compassion and sympathy is exactly what Bernard Madoff is seeking by pouring our his black heart to Steve Fishman.

Just as he mastered the art of the Ponzi scheme, Bernard Madoff is now working to manipulate the minds of the general public and salvage his reputation.

And yet, as Madoff asks for forgiveness, he does not seem to think that too many people beyond his family suffered very much from his predations. He presents himself as a warm, sympathetic man, a father who is grieving over the recent suicide of his son Mark-- for which he and he alone bears the most responsibility.

Madoff wants us to know that while everyone around him, his clients especially, were having this amazing party on his dime, he himself was suffering extreme pangs of moral anguish.

In Madoff’s words: “It was a nightmare for me. It was only a nightmare for me. It’s horrible. When I say nightmare, imagine carrying this secret …..” “Look, imagine going home every night not being able to tell your wife, living with this ax over your head, not telling your sons, my brother, seeing them every day in the business and not being able to confide in them.”

Are you feeling sorry for Bernie yet?

His son Andrew isn’t. He does not buy the “good person” line: “Andrew won’t forgive his father. He won’t grant that his father is a good person who made a mistake. Andrew finds that almost comical.”

You can’t really blame Andrew Madoff. One day, years before the scheme unraveled, he went to his father and asked to leave the business. The ever-cunning Bernie persuaded him to stick it out, to stay in the family business.

Knowing what he knew, and knowing that the business was a catastrophe waiting to happen, Madoff used every trick he could find to keep his son in the business, and therefore to force him to share the taint that would inevitably be attached to it.

Are you ready to absolve Madoff of his sins? Does this make him a good person?

While Fishman is under a journalistic obligation to sympathize with his subject-- because otherwise he would not have gotten the story-- he has also suffered the ill effects of interacting with a monster.

Writing about Madoff’s refusal to allow his son Andrew to leave the business, Fishman writes: “Persuading a son to stay in a business a father knows will eventually take everyone down is, in retrospect, an act of deep selfishness.”

Sorry to have to say it, but “deep selfishness“ is not the right way to describe an act that will ultimately destroy your son‘s life. Especially when similar actions pushed your other son to hang himself.

Strangely enough, Fishman has laced his article with so much information about emotion, about what this one and that one were feeling, that he has lost touch with the reality of Madoff's crimes. Therapy will do that for you. If you don't believe me, ask Madoff's therapist.

Fishman has had nothing to say about the pain and destitution suffered by so many of Bernard Madoff’s victim. Lest we forget, Madoff’s son Mark is not the only person who committed suicide because of Bernard Madoff. Remember Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet? If not, here’s his wife’s view of Bernard Madoff. Link here.

Is Madoff’s remorse sincere? Nothing in the article suggests that it is. And yet, everyone but his therapist can see through the ploy. This trained professional does not even know fake remorse when she sees it.

How can we tell? Madoff does pay lip service to how ashamed he is of his actions, but he denies that anyone was hurt in his fraud. Then he adds that, after all, he was just a symptom of a corrupt system.

Better yet, he didn’t run around asking people to invest their money. They all came to him. They insisted that he take it.

When Madoff tried to give them their money back before he got caught, they all refused. Now, wouldn’t you conclude that he should not feel very much guilt or shame for his actions?

While the world sees him as an evil mastermind, Bernie Madoff sees himself as a victim of circumstances, someone who was just trying to please people. You see, he wanted to be liked so he could not turn them down.

At the very least, he is using his prison time to master the art of psychobabble.

Happily for Madoff, therapy has taught him to get in touch with all of his feelings, especially the ones that allow him to shift the blame. Now he knows that he is really a good person, so he can spend his time consoling himself with the thought that he has been misunderstood.

1 comment:

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