Sunday, January 19, 2014
Sociopath alert: Jordan Belfort
That Jordan Belfort, whom The Wolf of Wall Street was about, is a sociopath is hardly a revelation. Anybody who orchestrated a con like Stratton Oakmont, his glorified boiler room operation, would have to be a sociopath.
But it's always gratifying to see the number of ways in which a sociopath gives himself away, and Belfort demonstrated practically every distinguishing characteristic of a sociopathy.
The movie, by the way, is a little reminiscent of Catch Me If You Can, which also starred Leonardo DiCaprio, in that it essentially celebrates a sly devil whose trickery and success the audience are supposed to identify with and revel in. Hollywood has a tendency to present sociopaths in a misleadingly sympathetic light -- especially given that those sociopaths themselves had exactly zero sympathy for their victims.
Belfort was obviously a natural salesman (read: manipulative), as he showed right from the start of his career. He imparted his sales techniques to the over 1000 brokers he hired for his firm, and now makes a living as a "motivational speaker" (read: teacher of same sales techniques).
To be a convincing salesman, you must come across as if you believe completely in your own product, even if you know it's a complete sham. You can't have any telltale tics, you can't have a catch in your voice, and you can't appear nervous. (In other words, you can't feel guilt.)
Jews tend to look down on Anglos for their excessive drinking; and they tend to take fewer recreational drugs as well. Belfort, though Jewish, showed no such discipline. He developed a serious addiction to Quaaludes, and if the movie is accurate, snorted a lot of cocaine as well. It takes a certain impulsiveness to allow oneself to become addicted like that, and impulsiveness is a hallmark of sociopathy. (This is why sociopaths are more likely to be substance abusers.)
Nor did Belfort have any inhibitions about sex, as his frequent use of prostitutes demonstrated. (Sociopaths are generally more promiscuous, and far more likely to claim "sex addiction.")
We all like money, but Belfort practically worshipped it. Money equals power, and sociopaths are always power hungry. It goes beyond that, however; practically every sociopath I've ever known seemed to almost worship money and imbue it with an almost talismanic quality, and was willing to do anything to get more.
Belfort was a great believer in conspicuous consumption, as befits a narcissistic personality. His helicopter, his yacht, and the "most expensive house on Long Island" (according to the movie), were all his way of declaring his greatness to the world. (Sociopaths always seem to have a strong need to make this declaration.)
The yacht later sank because Belfort disregarded his captain's advice not to sail into a storm. (Sociopaths are fearless as well as reckless.)
Perhaps the most telling giveaway of Belfort's sociopathy is how he enjoyed himself while the scam was going on. Sociopaths have an almost preternatural ability to party and have fun even while they are in the midst of propping up a house of cards which must inevitably come crashing down. They have absolutely no compunctions about their victims, and seemingly don't even worry about their own future well-being. They simply live it up, in situations where most of us would be worried sick.
Part of Belfort's partying evidently included dwarf tossing, which was briefly a fad during the heyday of Stratton Oakmont. This "sport" usually took place at bars, and its appeal seemed to be precisely that it was so obviously wrong. The concept is almost funny, in a sick sort of way; but actually doing it requires a complete lack of concern for others. Stratton Oakmont was certainly an appropriate setting.
At the end, after the feds closed in, Belfort got a more lenient sentence because he became a government witness, i.e., testified against his former friends and colleagues. (Sociopaths are often the first to turn, unburdened as they are by any feelings of loyalty.)
He ended up serving only 22 months for having swindled innocent victims out of over $100 million.
To hear Belfort now, you'd think his life was one big morality tale, with a character arc of the type you generally see only in the movies. The picture he draws is of a guy who was essentially seduced by the Wall Street lifestyle, as if he were almost an innocent victim himself. According to the DailyMail, he now says, "I'm a wolf who became a more benevolent character. I refuse to glorify my past" -- as if a sociopath can ever change his stripes. (And as if the book and movie are anything but glorifications of his past.)
As part of his settlement, Belfort was ordered to make a total of $110 million in restitution to his victims; so far only $11.6 million has been recovered, mostly from the sale of his forfeited properties. The agreement he reached required that he pay 50% of his income until restitution was complete. But in the past three years Belfort has been paid $1.7 million, mostly from book and movie rights, yet he has paid only $243,000 to the authorities in the past four years. Whatever benevolence he claims to have achieved evidently does not extend to his victims.
He also told Reuters in 2007, "I believe I have a shot at being redeemed by leading a good life today." He also told them that he is trying to right past wrongs. (Well, maybe he's just not trying that hard.)
Sociopaths are forever claiming to be turning over a new leaf; but they never do. That they expect people to believe them, even after all their lies, is another peculiarly sociopathic quirk. Because they've lied successfully in the past, they always seem to believe that they can continue to do so for as long as they wish. The fact is, sociopaths are as likely to grow a third arm as they are to develop a conscience late in life. Sociopathy is incurable.
The "Early Life" section of the Wikipedia article on Belfort doesn't contain any revelations. He came from a middle class family in Queens; both parents were accountants, and his mother later became a lawyer. My guess is that because both parents worked full time during his early years, he didn't form as strong a bond with either as he might have.
Belfort says that he came from "a good family," as if it is a big mystery how he could have ended up doing what he did. But there are many outwardly respectable families which are in one way or another dysfunctional. I know nothing about his parents other than that they spawned him; whatever else they were or weren't, they certainly bred sociopathy.
(The movie, by the way, is actually quite enjoyable; it's just that as a character study it's misleading.)