Those of you already acquainted with the alleged musical fraud of Joyce Hatto and her husband over two decades or read about it in one of my previous articles, may be as astonished as I am, how it is possible to fool seemingly intelligent people, even university professors. So-called “con artistry” is a true art of acting and dissimulation. Smart people are not immune to it as long as they have emotions. The “con” part derives from “confidence trickster”, in other words exploiting the trust and good will of others.
The booby prize for conning the academic establishment in the 20th century must go to Bruno Bettleheim (1903-1990). Of course there might very well be as of yet undiscovered frauds in high places–in government for sure, not to mention religion. How he managed to get into the upper eschelons of academe, write critically acclaimed books, etc., had not to do with his credentials that were inflated by him from the University of Vienna after the war, but on unashamed self-promotion. He looked and acted the part.
I remember in the 70’s his name was mentioned with a hush of admiration, almost sanctity, regarding his books about Kibbutz life. He had a theory about autism that squarely put the blame on “refrigerator mothers” that in a post-Freudian age should have been thrown directly into the waste bin. But any pronouncement by him had the aura of academe and he lived the part to the hilt. After all he created his public persona, so was not about to give it up.
I read with dismay that his living theatre alone convinced parents not to take their kids out of his clinics despite their complaints about him, like shutting up asthmatics all night. The esteemed doctor had AUTHORITY and that was enough. He was also a secret rager, not in public but verbally abusive to his subordinates, many of whom reported him being a tyrant.
On the other side of the coin, the public one was his much trumpeted concern for children. Actually psychology has a word for such duplicity, thanks to Freud, reaction-formation. In order to cover up pathological hatred and/or abuse, the perpetrator will seem cloying sweet around children, that is in public when they are not shouting privately at them.
Many years ago there was one perp who was outwardly a children’s clown but secretly an abuser and later found out. I also had an acquaintance with E.R., an acclaimed writer on children’s books, yet was horrified by accounts of his personal manipulations and familial tyranny. It seems one of the best ways to cover up the dirt that goes on in some people’s brains is to fixate on kids. Actual tyrants like Stalin and Ceaucescu frequently associated with children. They thrived on their adulation. The kiddie connection rounded the sharp edges of their otherwise frightening demeanor.
But getting back to reaction-formation, Shakespeare put it wonderfully about “protesting too much”. Those who are fixated on “peace” are frequently very bellicose. Quite a few who talk about “love” are full of hate.
Childhood resentments as in the case of Bettleheim may have ultimately spawned his “refrigerator mother” theory. The backgrounds of tyrants in government and education frequently have to do with neglect or abuse.
I always wondered about the villains in the books by Charles Dickens–well, they were kids once!!! So when the child grows up, he finally becomes the hard taskmaster as a way of getting back. The pathological among us never make peace with the past, in effect punish society for real and imagined wounds. Because of their stunted emotional development, they remain kids. The latter, though, if they learn to exploit it, that is to project to others a needy, eminently likeable “child”, which becomes the hook of the confidence trickster. The con artist is the child and the powerful adult at the same time. It takes moral courage not to repeat abuse.
Instead, the easiest default mode is to do unto others as they have done unto you.