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Friday, March 13, 2009

Madoff's Confession

I think everyone in New York has waited for the trial/sentencing of Madoff for the last three months with abated breath. I've read a lot of angry posts, a lot of vitriol, and frankly I agree with them. But what I haven't seen is anything about the man. I haven't seen anyone delve into the man's life to see what created this "special" character. I've read about "family friends" who were "shocked." But no one has stated why.

So when the first line of the Guardian article this morning states that "legal experts were flummoxed by the fraudster's willingness" to confess, something finally clicked into place. I've been wondering about this guy for a while, and all the guys like him: the people who lie and cheat as a lifestyle, like a Anne Hathaway's ex-boyfriend who was just sentenced. Or Marc Drier of Drier LLP whose entire firm's wealth was based on selling fake promissory notes. There's something almost serial killeresque about people like this. And, I confess, a keen interest in the subject. And at least in the case of serial fraudsters, it makes me feel sorry for them. The confidence that they express in life, is a complete and utter lie, (like everything) a false front verging on ludicrous bravado and broggadicio. How can someone live like that?

To a certain extent, we all lie to ourselves. I'm good looking, I'm smart, I'm talented. I did this and no one else. I know I did this, but I didn't really do it. I believe I was wronged, and that this person wronged me even though I know it was my fault. We're peculiar and fantastic creatures that way. Our lives are governed by perceptions of ourselves and perceptions of the world that are based on such spurious notions, seemingly sacrosanct, and totally ephemeral, if as Sartre would say, we were confronted with a mirror. But some people go to far. Whether it's fear, or perceived necessity, the little lies are never discovered and progress, and grow. For most people, the little lies don't grow. They're small enough, inconsequential enough, or they're faced immediately. But for men like Madoff and Raffaelo Follieri (Hathaway's ex) the lies only grow ever larger. What fear they must live in, what constant gnawing fear of being found out. And what relief when the lie is finally over.

This I believe is why Madoff was so relieved. He's not a Ken Lay, or a Hank Greenberg, people who acted fraudently, but believe that they were right or justified, he knew that what he did was terribly wrong. And he couldn't help himself. We didn't help him either. Men like Madoff and Follieri didn't become this way overnight. I could almost believe that both could take an insanity plea. But at least in the case of Madoff, he was done with it. Madoff may have stolen the most money in history--that's an accomplishment, and he'll live on in infamy for the rest of his days. Maybe in fifteen or twenty years he'll have some admirers. But Madoff's sin was cardinal. It's one thing to steal from the poor, but Madoff stole from the rich. That would only be forgiveable if he were Robinhood, and giving the money to the poor. No, the man is doomed to ignominy. And he can't wait. All the terrible thoughts he's had about himself, the sleepless nights, the hellish day dreams, they can all rest easy now. Because the truth is known, and he can hate himself without all the needless subterfuge, self or otherwise. Just like we do.

I pity the man. I do. I hope his last few years in prison are relatively easy ones.

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