Usually if a Jewish person gets into trouble we try not to draw attention to it, we're so embarrassed. We call it a chilul HaShem, an abomination to G-d, and hope the news passes over quickly.
But a guy steals 50 billion dollars, well, it's hard to ignore. Our luck. He had to be Jewish, we say (as opposed to Italian, or Irish, Chinese or Sudanese, a Somalian pirate, a Brit, choose your nationality). People are going to talk about us. Slander us. This time of year, it's especially not so good. It's a real oy vey, something to geshrai (give a sudden shriek) about. Check out this journalist's Jewish Response to the Economic Crisis if you think I'm just a little paranoid about anti-Semitism.
My mother calls me on Friday. She says, "What do you make of this guy Bernard Madoff? Is he sick? I mean, what is he? Is he a sociopath? My friend Beverly says he's a sociopath. What's a sociopath?"
"I don't know if he's sick. I really don't. He might be. Or he might be considered a sociopath."
"Is it genetic?"
"Well, I'm not sure. It may not have anything to do with genetics, although believe me, we'd love to blame something like this on bi-polar or better, uni-polar disorder. Tell Beverly that you think Bernie Madoff had a uni-polar manic episode, a long one. You'll sound smart and it gets us off the hook."
"I can't even pronounce that. But if you're telling me it's probably not genetic, then are you telling me that his parents taught him to be a ganif like that? (Ganif is the Hebrew word for thief.) His parents probably came here on the boat with mine!"
"It's likely people would say that, that this cheating is learned behavior. I don't know. I get pretty tired of hearing parents getting the blame for everything. It's unlikely his parents gave him the green light to steal. It's culturally not what we do. It's frowned upon."
Mom sighs. "I know, I know. We take a kid to a psychiatrist for stealing a candy bar. What is a sociopath, anyway?" She's not into Googling things.
"People don't generally use the word correctly. It's a criminology word, I'm pretty sure. But mental health professionals also talk about sociopathy as related to personality, particularly Antisocial Personality Disorder. Sociopathy refers to having no guilt, to seeing the opportunity to hurt others and taking it. No fear of the consequences. No morality."
"I don't understand. How does a normal, nice looking man like him, turn into someone like that?"
"I don't know, Ma. In our crowd we would say, No Torah. But it's much more than that. Most people have some kind of respect law, for authority, some fear. And they have a super-ego, too, that little voice in the head that says, That's not nice. Don't do that. Seems that Madoff either hasn't got that voice or doesn't listen to it, or has no fear. Your guess is as good as mine, though. Crime isn't my specialty."
We get off the phone. But this bothers me, as it bothers everyone in my community, that this man has scammed so many people out of so much money. Not that their money is necessarily theirs. Some of us believe that if we have it, we have it so that we can redistribute it. But that's philosophy, theology. Some people really do wonder, however, "Is my money mine? Do I really own anything?"
I love the story, and forgive me if I've told it before, about the rabbi out taking a walk. A thief grabs his wallet and runs off. The rabbi runs after him shouting, "Take it, take it! Take the money! It's yours!" The rabbi assumes the guy needs the money more than he does. He's giving it to him so the thief doesn't have to suffer the sin.
So I'm thinking that this man, Mr. Madoff, just isn't thinking right. He doesn't understand his responsibility to the universe to redistribute wealth.
Or he has unipolar mania, a disorder that is rarely diagnosed, because it's generally perceived as hypo-mania, and everyone has one of those in the family, someone who tends to be incredibly gifted, whose gifts or thinking have the potential to get him into real trouble at some point or another, just about the time that his beautiful mind goes too far awry. No fear.
I went to shul this morning and the rabbi talked about Bernie Madoff and how everyone has a war story to tell because this guy took no prisoners.
Then he tells us the following story.
A few weeks ago a couple of young men finished their Friday night dinners and walked to the synagogue to learn together. They studied for many hours into the night, and when they closed the books and got ready to leave, noticed the pouring rain. Since it had been nice when they left their respective homes, neither had brought a coat.
They looked in the coatroom and saw two lone trench coats and various unclaimed items.
Our synagogue happens to be a repository of men's coats and sweaters. We could open a store. Anyway.
The boys searched the shul to see if anyone was still there. Everyone had gone home.
They had to make a decision.
Should they borrow the coats? Surely if they did, they could return them early in the morning, first thing. Would it matter? Did they have the right to borrow the coats? Is it stealing to borrow something without permission? What is the law?
Rather than err on the side of stealing, the boys left the coats in the coat room and walked home in the rain. (That will teach them to not listen to their mothers)
The rabbi's point, of course, is that had Mr. Madoff made decisions like these boys made decisions, had he worried, fretted about the consequences of his behavior, the ponzi scheme would never have taken place. He didn't worry, however, not enough. He's not into karma, and scoffs, apparently, at civil, federal, religion and international law, law of any kind. He has Bernie's law.
That or he's manic.
Below are a couple of diagnoses for you to chew on. Don't ask me to pick one because I haven't talked to him, and have no psycho-social-family history on the man. But I'd love to talk to him, I really would. And he does need a check up. He certainly needs some kind of excuse.
Criteria for Manic Episode:
A. A distinct period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting at least 1 week (or any duration if hospitalization is necessary).
B. During the period of mood disturbance, three (or more) of the following symptoms have persisted (four if the mood is only irritable) and have been present to a significant degree:
1.inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
2.decreased need for sleep (e.g., feels rested after only 3 hours of sleep)
3.more talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking
4.flight of ideas, or subjective experience that thoughts are racing
5.distractibility (i.e., attention too easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli)
6.increase in goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school, or sexually) or psychomotor agitation
7.excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments)
C. The symptoms do not meet the criteria for a Mixed Episode.
D. The mood disturbance is sufficiently severe to cause marked impairment in occupational functioning or in usual social activities or relationships with others, or to necessitate hospitalization to prevent harm to self or others, or there are psychotic features.
E. The symptoms are not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication, or other treatment) or a general medical condition (e.g., hypothyroidism).
Note: Manic-like episodes that are clearly caused by somatic antidepressant treatment (e.g., medication, electroconvulsive therapy, light therapy) should not count toward a diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder.
Diagnostic Criteria for 301.7 Antisocial Personality Disorder
A. There is a pervasive pattern of disregard fro and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three (or more) of the following:
1.Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
2.Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
3.Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;
4.Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
5.Reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
6.Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
7.Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.
B. The individual is at least age 18 years.
C. There is evidence of Conduct Disorder with onset before age 15 years.
D. The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of Schizophrenia or a Manic Episode.
Sex differences: According to DSM-IV (in a 1994 publication by the APA), Antisocial Personality disorder is diagnosed in approximately three percent of all males and one percent of all females.