When we are born — when we first arrive in this world — we show up in this well-designed, well equipped, totally tricked out, vehicle. A body that already has all the functionality, all the processing power, all the hardware, that we will need for the next eighty years.
We begin life, in our one-piece human launch pod. An eight pound, micro version of ourselves that immediately upon arrival will begin to develop and grow and analyze and take in data.
So, one question that has always remained is, what exactly is the base code contained in that vehicle? — what are the aspects of life that are hard wired into us and simply need to be activated, and what are the blank sheets that we create ourselves?
And in 2014, Michigan State University decided to answer that very question. They created a research project whose goal was to determine which are the cognitive traits that we are born with — what are the standard features? The base programming? — and what is learned?
And during this two year study one of the most significant areas they uncovered, one aspect of life that we do not come into life with — one aspect of the human experience that is 100% learned — is self-hatred. The newborn brain does not have this programming or ability. At all. In any way.
But as we grow, as we look around, as we compare, as we measure — we begin to develop — self-loathing thoughts. Not insecurity. Not lack of confidence, but the pure sense of hatred of certain areas about ourselves — from us, to us.
Now, hatred in all forms, is an extremely destructive force within the human psyche. To actually hate someone else, requires large amounts of emotional, mental, and spiritual energy. And this force is difficult to contain, to create, and often oozes out to other areas of life — shackling, limiting and destroying.
But the interesting question about hatred is, it’s easy to track what happens when we hate others, but what occurs to us when we are the receiver of it? What happens when someone else — hates us?
And this is the theme of the new HBO film, ‘The Wizard of Lies’, which is based on the life of Wall Street fraudster, Bernie Madoff. It stars Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer and it raises two very important life questions.
What happens when you do something so horrible, so destructive, so inconceivably damaging, that the entire world — hates you?
And, what happens if you do something so horrible, so destructive, so inconceivably damaging, that the entire world hates — your wife and your two sons just as much?
Just because they are connected to you.
Now, if you’re not familiar with Bernie Madoff, he is currently serving a 150-year prison sentence for committing the largest financial fraud in U.S. History; having bilked over 65 Billion — yes, that’s Billion, with a ‘B’ — dollars from investors.
Madoff had achieved the very height of Wall Street success. He was rich, successful, respected — in fact, many of the regulations of the financial industry, were written by Madoff himself. So, when the once chairmen of NASDAQ, pleaded guilty to 11 federal felonies that ran over the course of twenty years, it not only became the biggest Ponzi scheme in US History, but the longest running one.
A Ponzi scheme is simply this. Money is taken in to be invested, only this money never makes it that far. Instead, it is used to pay off earlier investors — in order to keep them happy and telling others about their healthy returns — and the balance is used to cover expenses and line the pockets of those that run the scheme. So, the scam works, as long as new money keeps flowing in.
Which is why most Ponzi’s implode after only a few years — when all the new money has dried up. When no more cash can go into the top of the funnel, then it can’t continue on. But Bernie’s Ponzi ran for over twenty years, largely due to the Billions of dollars in Hedge Funds he had at his disposal.
In fact, even at the end, the reason Madoff was caught — was Madoff himself. It was his confession — to his shocked and unsuspecting family — that lead to his arrest the very next day; when Madoff’s two sons turned him into the FBI.
Now if you watch ‘The Wizard of Lies’ looking for the intimate details of The Madoff Scandal — look somewhere else. That’s not the film that Barry Levinson — the creator of Rainman, Good Morning Vietnam, and Diner — set out to make. And although the facts surrounding the film are fairly accurate, they only provide the props needed for the deeper film. The more disturbing one.
Bernie Madoff, was well aware that the company he created — Bernard L. Madoff Investments — was a complete scam. A shell. A lie. In fact, most of Madoff’s legitimate work, actually lost money. But he needed a glitzy, New York, investment showplace to parade new investors through to lure them into the web. Into the business he ran secretly, behind locked doors, two floors below them. It was the work on the 17th floor that financed everything on the 19th floor — as well as churned out fake investment statements for all their clients.
So the fascinating aspect is, that since Madoff’s business was all a scam, why did he place his two sons, his brother, even his niece and nephew, into very key positions within his firm? — his fake, illegal, scam of a company? Positioning them high up, visible, and right in harm’s way.
If you were committing the largest financial crime in history — one that if caught, you knew would result in you spending the rest of your life in prison — why would you want the people you cared about the most, to be connected to it? Why would you not want them far away? Why not create such a huge distance? — to make such a buffer zone — that they would all be safe no matter how wide the blast crater became?
But Madoff didn’t do that. At all. Bernie kept everyone close and under his authority, even up to the end. In fact, he became angry with his son Andy when he wanted to leave the company and start his own firm — only a month or so before it all crashed.
When the story broke, when Madoff came clean and admitted what he had done, the world hated him. And then the world hated Madoff’s wife and two sons. And this is the core of ‘The Wizard of Lies’. It’s not about a man who pulled off the biggest financial crime in history. It’s about what happens when the world — hates you. What happens when the innocent — are hated. And what happens when the one person who did it all — does not.
It’s about a man whose damage was so vast, that he actually should have had some self-hatred — just a little bit of self-loathing — but was not capable of it.
Bernie Madoff says he is remorseful for what he did. But his actions do not support this. He has destroyed hundreds of lives and left many investors broke. And his family — which Madoff has stated were the most important aspect of his life — are all gone. His son Mark, committed suicide on the two-year anniversary of Bernie’s arrest. His son Andy, died of cancer after disowning his father. His wife, Ruth, and his brother Peter, have cut all ties with him.
’The Wizard of Lies’ is a great film. It’s life, painted in betrayal. A look at what happens when ego trumps compassion. When control outweighs concern.
And when being a great man, is far more important than being a good one.
No matter what the cost.