Fraudulent? Does That Matter?

Few things make me feel like I was born on the wrong planet as much as the blatant denial of the meaning and authority of reality – that is to say, the reality of objective truth. This is truly a malady of modern human reason, and it seems to be rampant – maybe even epidemic. There are days I’m sure I’ve seen everything, then there are days, and I think this is one of those days, when I’m almost afraid to look out the window at the world for fear of the lunacy I might encounter.

I came across a startling statement in a Boston Globe article a couple months ago or so, which I decided at the time to let slide without comment, but the story reappeared last week, and fits too well into a pattern with some other recent stories, suggesting that we have inadequate cultural resources at our disposal, on account of our social penchant for subjectivism, with which to deal seriously with personal fraud.

The statement came from a 71 year-old Massachusetts woman named Misha Defonseca, in an article discussing her ongoing troubles with an American publisher named Jane Daniel, in which Defonseca offered what she must have thought was a serious explanation for fabricating the story behind a book she wrote at Daniel’s urging. Defonseca claimed to have been a young Jewish girl who escaped the Nazis and was raised by wolves in the Ukraine, among other adventures. The book was huge commercially in Europe, and was even made into a film in France, but the story was a complete fabrication. Defonseca isn’t even Jewish, never mind the bit about the wolves.

Defonseca’s troubles with Daniel don’t really interest me – it is a tawdry story without any redeeming characters – but her explanation for the fraud she perpetrated floored me when I read it in the Globe:

“This story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality, my way of surviving,” Defonseca said in a statement released by her lawyers.

What on earth is that supposed to mean? Not only did a 71 year-old woman think this statement up, but her lawyers apparently thought it could somehow garner sympathy! What if they’re right?

It’s important to understand that she did not make the story up to publish in a book for profit; she had been telling the story for years to anyone that would listen. She has spent half a lifetime feeding off the attention her “fantasy” has attracted her (not to mention the large sums of money earned over the past decade or so), and yet now that her hoax is revealed, she shamelessly tries to cling to her story by subjectivizing the grounds for judging her actions. As long as she wants the story to be true, she figures she can continue to perpetuate it at some level, denying any culpability, with no concern for the many people she deceived, no sense of genuine repentance, and no apparent understanding that the truth matters. By her own words, her life has become so intertwined in this lie that she cannot extricate herself.

In a world in which the public order has repressed religious authority as being unreasonable and oppressive of individual freedom, we see in this embarrassing episode the worst elements of religious self deception and irrational, delusional pretense coming to expression in the hope-forsaken framework of the psychologized modern mind, with its pathetic appetite for self-esteem and “affirmation,” trapped in a prison of relativistic subjectivity that is incapable of distinguishing fantasy from reality. Reality (that is, the truth) plays such an inconsequential part in her chosen shade of existence that she will likely go to the grave without ever comprehending the evil she has contributed to the world through her shameless dishonesty. But perhaps even sadder is that she has completely lost her own self in the process.

This is, after all, not her story at all, even as she so desperately wants to believe it is. It is the story of someone who never existed, the story of no one at all. It’s the story of nothing – it’s not even a story; it’s a fraud – it’s not real. Her story, indeed, can never be known, because her existence has been emptied out meaninglessly, replaced by a fraud that has no reality, no existence. No one will ever know her, because her story can never be told; eternally lost in the fog of deceit and moral corruption, she doesn’t even know herself.

Truly, the saddest thing about the indulgent “identity” culture of modernity’s narcissistic bent is that identity can never be found in the mirage of self-seeking, only lost:

Thus says the LORD:
What fault did your fathers find in me that they withdrew from me,
Went after empty idols, and became empty themselves?
Jeremiah 2:5 (NAB)

Somewhere, there are those who, as young Jewish girls, did go through the horrors of Nazism, who must feel nothing but shame for this woman, who cannot manage to be ashamed of herself.