Thursday, July 14, 2011
A Tale Of Two Sociopaths
Here is a Boston crime story that everyone knows about. An evil conman with the ridiculous pseudonym of Clark Rockefeller steals his six year old daughter away from her beautiful, brilliant and super-achieving mother, thus leading the police on a merry chase across the Northeast. Now, some years after the kidnapping conviction of the evil conman, it seems that he has been outed as a murderer as well, having done away with a man named Jonathan Sohus in California during his previous false life as some British dude with the equally ridiculous pseudonym of Christopher Chichester. Now here, one might say, is a true sociopath.
Of course, we're talking about German-born Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter who, like any guy with a name like that, sensibly changed it when he arrived in the states. Numerous times, in fact. From Thurston Howell III of Gilligan's Island, he adapted a notorious parody of a rich person's accent as his own mode of speech and somehow was able to use it to hoodwink his way into elite society. Perhaps if all those snooty meritocratic social climbers had ever deigned to watch a TV sitcom now and then, they wouldn't have been taken in by Gerhartsreiter's charade, but they were. As they also were by that magical surname - "Rockefeller". Enough to make Harvard Business School grads of either gender swoon - or salivate like Pavlov's dogs. In addition to the ludicrous accent and the iconic surname, Gerhartsreiter embroidered his identity with eccentricities like disdaining socks and eating only white food, and with tales of his entering Yale at fourteen, his parents' tragic death in a car accident, and other more trivial moments of the "Pookie and Skip on the Vineyard" variety. That he chose such an over-the-top and cartoonish disguise in his masquerade as a rich man was not only a stroke of genius - how could such an extreme persona not be real, his victims must have reasoned - but also a hint of the contempt he must have felt for those he duped.
When he was caught, the press made much of his humble origins in Bavaria, his working class parents and his mediocre academic record - as though he were merely "ordinary", not like the Ivy League princess he could twist around his little finger. The truth is, I think, that Gerhartsreiter was at least as "brilliant" as Sandra Boss, and that his dementedly nuanced deception was at least as clever as - and surely more creative than - anything she had ever done. In that sense, they were intellectual peers. To convince smart people that you are as smart as or smarter than themselves, you have to be smart, too - even if whatever evidence you provide of your smartness is a pack of lies. Certainly, Sandra Boss thought he was a brain. Then again she also found him attractive.
Even if we allow that Gerhartsreiter and Sandra Boss had intellect in common - she playing the goody-goody "Achiever" to his cunning bad-boy manipulator - they had something else in common as well. They were both sociopaths. Oh, come now, you might say. Sandra Boss (how aptly named!) was a high-flyer, a super-competent consultant for the exalted McKinsey company, one who had advised boardrooms on corporate strategy to the tune of two million dollars a year. A pillar of society and a sterling exemplar of lifelong classroom obedience. What everyone would be, if they were smart enough - and she was! While he was a mere criminal...
But what do corporate consultants actually do? They show CEO's how to streamline their operations, how to arrange mergers with other companies, so that they can cut costs, lay off workers, and underpay and overwork their remaining workers with impunity - all to enrich themselves and their already obscenely wealthy shareholders. I mean, do corporate consultants really do anything else? Do they invent new technology or cure cancer? Do they - I'm almost choking at the absurdity of the thought - do they console the dying and feed the poor? No - as we have seen in America in the last few years, corporate consultants destroy lives, not mend them. While Gerhartsreiter may have killed one (at most two) people, and fooled (and amused) many others - how many lives has Sandra Boss destroyed? How many strokes, heart attacks, divorces, suicides and descents into alcoholism did this "brilliant and beautiful" woman enable from her immaculately appointed offices in London, Boston and New York? Even if you can't agree that she is a sociopath herself - after all, she's not the one actually sending out those pink slips - isn't she at least part of a sociopathic system? And, as such, a sociopath by association?
No wonder she and Gerhartsreiter got along so famously. Even eHarmony.com couldn't bring together a better matched pair than the, uh, Rockefellers.
'The Man in the Rockefeller Suit,' by Mark Seal (San Francisco Chronicle)
Christian Gerhartsreiter (Wikipedia)