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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sport lying

The following article appeared in yesterday's NY Post: 

Madoff's nose growing with untruths

Even a 150-year prison sentence hasn’t convinced Ponzi king Bernie Madoff to tell the truth.

The convicted fraudster’s latest whoppers include a story that he is working with Harvard Business School on “building an entrepreneurial course” that will focus on his long-forgotten accomplishments, such as his role in paving the way for electronic market-making.

“I have been approached by a number of other business schools but have only committed to Harvard,” Madoff boasts in an interview with Fox Business Network.

“The entire matter is not true,” a spokesman for the school told FBN’s Charlie Gasparino.

In a series of telephone and e-mail chats with Gasparino, the 73-year felon also claims that hedge fund honcho Steve Cohen, of SAC Capital Management, is “the worst kept secret” when it comes to illegal trading.

Asked how he knows this, Madoff tells Gasparino that he was once forced to call the SAC founder to tell him “to stop his managers from approaching my traders with their offer to give them info if we let SAC execute our commission business.”

While SAC has been caught up in the federal probe into insider trading, Madoff carried out his $65 billion fraud without much trading.

“Steven Cohen has never met or spoken with Bernard Madoff and any assertion otherwise is absolutely false,” an SAC spokesman said, adding that SAC “does not execute trades for other firms.”

One of the most telling differences between sociopaths and the rest of us is that they will lie even when they have no compelling reason to do so. They'll lie even when the only thing they have to gain is someone's (very) temporary respect. Even when they know they'll eventually be caught, they just concoct tall tales anyway.

No one forced Madoff into his Ponzi scheme, but once he was neck deep, he pretty much had no choice: he either had to continue with the big lie, or go to jail. But in the exchange with Gasparino described above, he seemed to lie just for the hell of it.

This is called sport lying. (And the people who do it are sometimes known as "pathological liars.") The incentives are twofold.

First, the sociopath enjoys the admiration he gets for his false claims to glory. He knows that when he is caught in the lie, the other person will be disgusted with him. But that doesn't matter to him, since a sociopath lives entirely in the moment. I remember reading about a psychology experiment in which a group of people were told they were going to be given an electric shock, and asked whether they wanted to receive it at that moment, or put it off. All of the nonsociopaths opted to get it over with, whereas all of the sociopaths asked to delay it. Lying about one's accomplishments is merely the flip side of that same coin. A sociopath just wants to bask in the admiration of the moment; he doesn't care about the future reckoning.

The other incentive for sport lying is that it makes him feel smart. Even if he only gets away with the lie temporarily, by fooling you he has proven that he is smarter than you. That is how a sociopath's psyche works: he actually takes egotistical satisfaction from things that most of us would be embarrassed about.

If you ever meet anybody who tells a lot of tall tales, beware. 

Whatever you do, don't invest your money with him.

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