The Confidence Man

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A photo of the Taunton State can be seen in the accompanying illustration. It has a noteworthy appearance that can not be ignored.

Since the dawn of time, Edgar Allan Poe wrote in 1843, two Jeremys have existed. The first, Bentham, was a noted figure in his own right, having penned a Jeremiad on usury. The other, Jeremy Diddler, was a great man – in fact, in the utmost grand way.

Poe’s opinion may have been swayed, due to the fact that Jeremy Diddler was the indirect catalyst for his existence. It was through Diddler’s scheming, as depicted in the 1803 play Raising the Wind, that he managed to win the affections of a wealthy young woman, Peggy Plainway.

This comedy was soon after performed in American theatres, one of which included Eliza Hopkins as Peggy and her husband, Charles, as a local named Sam. In the same cast, a Baltimore native named David Poe assumed the role of Richard, Plainway’s servant.

Not long after the show, Charles Hopkins passed away, and in April of 1806, Eliza married David Poe. They toured together for four years, with Eliza receiving much more favourable reviews than her husband.

Tiring of being outshone, David left Eliza in the Spring of 1810 and was never seen again. That December, Eliza gave birth to Rosalie, her third child, with her two sons, William and Edgar, already in the household.

Less than a year later, Eliza passed away, leaving her infants and children orphaned.In an essay published in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier, Poe discussed Diddler and titled the piece “Raising the Wind; or, Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences.”

In the essay, Poe asserts that what makes Diddler great is that he embodies the very essence of humanity–“as an animal that diddles.”

Poe goes on to explain that had Plato known this, he wouldn’t have been embarrassed by the “picked chicken” that Diogenes proudly showed to Socrates after the latter described man as a featherless biped.

Poe states that “A crow steals; a fox deceives; a weasel outsmarts; a man diddles. To diddle is his destiny.”

Poe provides a thorough account of diddling, listing numerous scams of man. He describes one such scam on a wharf with a steamboat about to depart. A man notices something on the ground and yells, “Has anyone lost a pocketbook?” with the passengers and captain pausing.

The captain shouts, “Time and tide wait for no man!” and starts to leave when the diddler jumps on board and asks someone on the shore to watch the wallet and advertise it for the owner who will reward them. The man questions, “It was you who found the book,” and the diddler offers a small reward.

He looks in the wallet and finds no note smaller than a hundred, which is too much to take. As the captain is getting impatient, the gentleman on the shore offers a fifty and says, “Throw me the book.” The diddle is successful and the con artist walks away with fifty bucks, and the world is left with an example of human nature.

During the mid-nineteenth century, when capitalist frenzies were rampant in America, it was a time of speculations, stock rises and falls, financial panics, and currency worthlessness.

It was a time when people strived for success but could easily become victims of diddling as the trusting were often taken advantage of. This was a diddle-or-be-done world, and it still is.

This was the era when the American Dream was taking form, and the unfettered market was creating both frustration and fulfilment. This era of uncertainty made it difficult to know whom or what to believe.

Despite no clear evidence that Herman Melville ever encountered Edgar Allan Poe’s work, the character of Jeremy Diddler appears twice in Melville’s 1857 novel, The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade.

The beggar’s lameness is questioned and the same man is presented in multiple disguises who, in the end, takes advantage of the passengers in various ways. Each scene is an exploration of how faith and opportunity interact, or when scepticism meets the desire to be in a better world.

Poe’s essay is an instruction manual on diddling, while Melville’s novel is an anthology of it.

The Confidence-Man is a diddle, revealed near the novel’s end. It was published on April 1st, 1857, corresponding to April Fools’ Day. Melville’s work provides no nineteenth-century conventional plot, but rather a series of discourses, some more enigmatic than others, none fully resolvable.

The Conceit Man’s shape-shifting is as likely to disorient the reader as it does the mark. Other characters are sketched vaguely with indistinguishable speech, and the Confidence Man himself is sometimes confused.

The scoundrel does not always triumph, and even when he does, his victim’s own gullibility is also exposed. The author directly addresses the reader, admonishing them for expecting consistency, and to not expect more realism than actual life.

Despite its perplexing nature, The Confidence-Man prefigured certain aspects of postmodern literature, which led it to receive some scathing reviews.

One reviewer stated that the authorship of the work was “toward the nadir rather than the zenith,” and another admitted to being unable to comprehend its meaning even after reading the book multiple times.

It is unclear if Melville intended to bring an end to his literary career with this novel, but it is certain that he never wrote another afterwards.

The far-reaching implications of The Confidence-Man extend beyond the literary world. In modern times, America has a unified currency, and the Securities and Exchange Commission sometimes penalises fraudsters.

However, the two categories of ‘makers and takers’ and the ‘1 and 99 percenters’ are just a modernised version of what an 1852 magazine writer referred to as the ‘Skinner and the Skinned’.

The battle between the real world and the ‘skinners’ continues to be ongoing, with the ‘skinners’ gaining more control. Melville’s perception was more than the predictable consequences of capitalism; he was able to realise what Marx failed to understand, and what his followers have yet to comprehend.

It is not only greed that makes us susceptible to manipulation, either as victim or perpetrator. It is love.

At sunrise, a solitary figure in a light-coloured suit boarded the Fiddle at the dock. Immediately, he was attracted to a group of people looking at a notice offering a reward for catching a con artist from the East, a “unique genius”.

From his pocket, the man extracted a small slate, jotting down a line from 1 Corinthians 13, “Charity thinketh no evil”, and holding it up next to the placard so that those who read one could read the other.

After a short while, he erased the words and replaced it with “suffereth long, and is kind”, which was then changed to “endureth all things’ ‘ and the rest of the Pauline criteria of charity.

Assuming he was a “simpleton” and mute, the crowd initially hurled insults and physical attacks at him, and then disregarded him after he failed to respond.The barber aboard the ship had opened his business for the day and hung a sign with the words “No Trust” written on it above his door.

The narrator commented that it was “an inscription”.

Though the inscriber’s actions were still intrusive in a way, they did not seem to draw the same mockery, shock, or anger that a stranger would have, and even less did it cast the inscriber in the light of a fool.

The book begins with a discussion–not setting out a clear opinion, but raising questions that are never conclusively answered. Is it better to be overly cautious and view everyone with suspicion, or to be trusting and potentially be taken advantage of? Is it better to trust or to doubt?

The King James Bible uses the word “Charity” to translate the Greek agape. Melville was aware that “charity” was beginning to take on a financial meaning, replacing its moral one.

In his disguise as a philanthropist, the Confidence Man proposes a “World’s Charity” that would have just “one object” in mind.

The process of global charity shall be formalised; to achieve this, the current practice of voluntary and indiscriminate giving must be abolished and the Society must be authorised by various governments to collect a single annual charity tax from all people.

It has been fourteen years and a staggering “eleven thousand two hundred million” since introducing the “Wall Street spirit” to philanthropy, and the man in grey predicts that after this period of time, “not a single person in need or non-believer will be left on the planet”.

The incredulous passenger was far from convinced that the scheme would work as the boat arrived at his destination, but still, he reached into his pocket and paid.

Other passengers followed suit, including one who bought stock from a coal company executive, another who purchased six vials of Omni-Balsamic Invigorator from an herbal doctor.

The Missourian who, despite his promise not to hire help, paid the man from the Philosophical Intelligence Office for a boy and even the barber, who – unintentionally – gave the Confidence Man a shave on credit.

The con man uses his “not unsilvery tongue” and “gestures [that] are a Pentecost of added ones” to create a “persuasiveness before which granite hearts might crumble.”

He is more than the stereotypical bullshit artist, which Harry Frankfurt describes in On Bullshit as someone who stands “neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false.”

The con artist is aware of which type of BS will fly under the radar and remain undetected in the atmosphere of everyday life.

The gentleman attired in grey inquired of the “plump and pleasant” traveller, “If I may ask, do you have faith?”

“Truly, sir–why, sir–genuinely–I–”

Would you be able to trust me, for example?

I can only safely invest in a person I don’t know much about, sir.

He releases a deep sigh and laments, “Oh, what a struggle it is to be a stranger. I aimlessly roam around and no one has any trust in me.”

Moved by sympathy, the woman offered to be the man’s friend.

No one who lacks confidence can be my friend.

I, however, can at least attest to the fact that I have – to a certain extent – I mean to say that –

No, you don’t have any trustworthiness. Ah, I get it now. No faith.

The woman retorts, “I believe you are being unfair, sir.” She implies that a previous experience has “influenced” his judgement. She continues, “Not that I would accuse you. I assure you, I can confidently say–um–that–that–”

Demonstrate your trust in yourself: put up twenty dollars.

The cost of twenty US dollars!

“Madam, I said, you don’t have trust in me.”

With only his promise that a Widow and Orphan Asylum exists and that he is its representative, she still gives him twenty dollars. He does not let her off easily and offers her some comfort:

“There is a record of the reasons for the act, so farewell. You must have faith. Like the apostle said to the Corinthians, ‘I’m delighted that I can trust you in all things.'”

The Confidence Man (in all his forms) isn’t only offering stocks, potions or donations to widows and orphans. He is providing the assurance that the stock will rise, the potion will heal and the disadvantaged will be saved.

He is renewing what had been taken away due to the growth of America’s population, the development of railroads, telegraph wires and westward expansion. Racial differences, which had been used to support slavery, were diminishing and causing division.

Destiny was something that one could shape instead of accept and people were empowered to make something of themselves. This created confusion and unease as people did not know where to turn for certainty about the natural order and their place in it.

The Confidence Man was the one that could speak to the fear and offer confidence to those in need.

He inquires of one of his prospective victims, “Wouldn’t it be charitable to alleviate human suffering?” He then explains the development of an invention he crafted “in snatched time periods away from eating and sleeping.”

My Protean easy-chair has such a range of adjustable joints, hinges, and cushions that it is extremely flexible and responds to the lightest touch. It is sure to provide any restless or troubled soul with the comfort it needs in one of its many configurations of back, seat, footboard, and armrests.

Having attained wealth by attending to the anxieties of those who, in the present day, must come to decisions concerning morality and way of life–especially, concerning whether to believe the Confidence Man–he is providing comfort for those who are exhausted from being in a state of indecision.

This is something that all of the newly enlightened, upwardly mobile are likely to need.

“It’s hopeless to try to cure a sick philosopher,” the herbalist declared to an ailing person.

“What makes you say that?”

“Because they lack faith. It doesn’t matter what medicine I might give them, it’s never going to have any effect. Whereas if I gave the same treatment to a peasant in a similar condition, it would be a miracle cure. I’m not denying the power of the mind, but it has an influence on the body, and if the mind has no faith in a remedy, then the body won’t benefit from it either.”

All of us have a condition of uncertainty, and the Confidence Man is offering a remedy, based on kindness and love, if you would only have faith in him – and demonstrate it with a financial contribution.

Prior to Melville’s novel, the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane was established to ease human suffering. Its members, referred to as alienists, often tracked the amount of insane people, as requested by the Bureau of the Census.

It was discovered that more people were suffering from mental illness than originally thought, due to the fact many were kept in family homes or wandering around. They suggested that states build more mental hospitals, but when a new census was conducted, it showed that there were even more insane people.

Edward Jarvis, the Massachusetts doctor in charge of the Commission on Lunacy in the 1850s, commented that the increase of insane people must be because “the more the means of healing are provided and made known to the people… the more they are moved to entrust their mentally disordered friends to their care.”

So, it seems the growth of the insane was caused by a growing faith in doctors.

In 1872, Jarvis realised that something more than the idea of supply-side economics was at work.

In societies where education is not commonplace and people remain in the same fixed social class from birth to death, those who inhabit such an environment do not experience the same mental strain and anxieties that are associated with attempting to rise above their native condition and achieve a higher life.

Consequently, the same mental disorders present in other societies are not present in this one, as the causes of insanity do not operate in this kind of social structure.

Jarvis’s home of Massachusetts was a breeding ground for mental illness, especially among the educated class. He noticed that 4% of doctors, lawyers, and teachers were officially listed as insane, and he recognized this as a consequence of the “imperfection of our civilization.”

He was not rejecting modernization, but rather pointing out the strain it put on people and the need for his profession. Those who were just feeling confused could find solace in the trust that they would eventually be able to comprehend the culture they had been exposed to.

The herb doctor, when talking to his patient, remarked that “Distrust is a stage to confidence”. This is also the attitude of scientists, whose scepticism was kindled during the Enlightenment. It enabled them to build a new kind of certainty through research that was done carefully and objectively.

In the 19th century, chemists, physicists, biologists and botanists used their microscopes, flasks, metres and, most of all, doubt to uncover the mysteries of nature.

When Melville’s book was published, the world was beginning to benefit from a new perspective, as evidence of a hypothesis that had been around for more than half a century was discovered.

This theory argued that the source of sickness was not air pollution, bodily imbalances, or simply fate, but instead micro-organisms, such as the ones that contaminated the wells in John Snow’s London, spoiled milk in Louis Pasteur’s France, and caused death in cattle and individuals with tuberculosis in Robert Koch’s Germany.

Vaccines and treatments were being developed to address one of these organisms, the smallpox virus, and soon would be available to address other illnesses. This was a miracle: illnesses that were once fatal or posed a serious threat to health and wellbeing could now be identified and cured.

The application of science to suffering not only led to effective treatments, but also to a new comprehension of existing ailments.

For example, the 1905 discovery of the syphilis spirochete demonstrated that what were thought to be different diseases–genital sores, a pustular rash and a form of dementia–were all stages of the same illness. This was only possible with the knowledge held by the educated and well-equipped–doctors.

This finding proved that they were not simply bluffing when they claimed to understand the cause of suffering and how to treat it.

Psychiatrists, formerly referred to as alienists, faced a unique challenge in their field. They had no slides to show if their patients were suffering from germs or other biological problems, since the brain was proving to be difficult to study with the instruments at their disposal.

Pliny Earle, a well-known psychiatrist, noted in 1886 that due to the lack of knowledge in the pathology of the disease, “we are forced to fall back upon the symptomatology of the disease–the apparent mental condition, as judged from the outward manifestations.”

This was demoralising for psychiatrists who felt left behind as the rest of medicine progressed through scientific advancements.

For the past 125 years, psychiatrists have been attempting to move away from the distrust of them and their patients, and towards trust. This has been difficult due to the inability to identify diseases with certainty.

Thomas Salmon expressed his concern in 1917, informing his colleagues that the “chaotic” state of their nosology “discredits the science of psychiatry and reflects unfavourably upon our association”.

George Raines, a leader of the American Psychiatric Association, further added that in 1948, psychiatrists had three different nomenclatures to choose from, which were frequently modified by specific institutions, leading to the field becoming a jumble of private languages.

Diagnosis of similar patients would differ from hospital to hospital, city to city, and even country to country, and there was not even any sort of uniformity in terms such as paranoid schizophrenic or personality disorder.

A well-known study in England revealed that when presented with a patient, the doctor’s diagnosis of schizophrenia versus manic depression varied greatly. This lack of consistency in diagnosis disturbed the major patrons of psychiatry, such as insurance executives and government bureaucrats, in the mid-1970s.

The American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) decision to remove homosexuality from its manual, perhaps the first-ever occurrence of a disease being eradicated by a vote, further pushed the patrons to make a change.

As a result, insurers began cutting benefits for mental health and the presidential commission suggested reducing government support for research and treatment due to the lack of unified definitions for both mental health and mental illness.

Robert Spitzer, the individual appointed by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to bolster trust in psychiatry with the revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), revealed to me that “psychiatry was seen as false” and would not be trusted until it was acknowledged as a medical field.

This was the purpose of the 1980 release of the third edition of the DSM. Allen Frances, the chairman of the fourth revision of the DSM (released in 1994), expressed his concern about the state of psychiatry, even after 165 years of its establishment.

58 years after the first DSM, 56 years after Thorazine, and 22 years after the introduction of antidepressant drugs that are now in the bodies of 11 percent of Americans (and all of us through the water supply).

Even now, he confessed, “there is no definition of a mental disorder”–although the DSM tries to provide one, “it’s false. You just can’t define it.”When I published an article in 2010 which included a comment from Frances expressing his dissatisfaction with the fifth revision of the DSM-5, he became enraged.

He asserted that I had carelessly thrown out my opinion without considering the potential implications, misrepresenting him as if he were rejecting psychiatric diagnosis entirely.

He continued by saying that the lawyers in trials he attended as a forensic expert had taken to waving the magazine I published in his face, and that the Scientologists had been gleefully repeating his comment.

Frances declared that the reason for his dissatisfaction had nothing to do with him, but with the patients; that I had presented an unfair and incorrect portrayal of psychiatry in a manner that would sully its validity to those who need it.

A fellow passenger inquired his neighbour if he felt it was just to unmask the operator in such a manner after one of the herb doctor’s intended targets called him a “profane fiddler on heart-strings” and struck him with what was described as a “sudden side-blow.”

“It is just and proper.”

If Asmodeus1 were to make an appearance at the Paris Bourse and hand out flyers that revealed the innermost thoughts of all the people present, would that be fair? Or, as Hamlet puts it, would it be ‘overthinking the situation’?

Does it do an injustice to be honest when it will reduce people’s trust in something? Is it ever acceptable to lie?

Allen Frances believes this to be true and the Confidence Man concurs. “I don’t want to push my product on you,” he says to a man who has a disability and is refusing to buy the pain reliever.

“But I still want to do something nice for you.” He gives him a container of the medication and suggests he put it on twice every day.

The patient queries, “Will this really do me any good? I’m being honest; will it?” The physician answers by recommending they give it a go and then prepares to depart.

“Remain, remain! Will this certainly be beneficial to me?”

Why not? It can’t hurt to give it a shot. Farewell.

She pleaded, “Please stay and provide me with three more boxes. Here is the payment.”

The herb doctor presented the boxes but declined the money. “I’m delighted to witness the emergence of your trust and optimism. Believe me that, similarly to your crutches, these trust and optimism will assist you even when your legs can not. Remember to rely on trust and optimism, thus…”

“Please stay! You have made me improve as a person. You have put up with me like a devoted Christian, conversing with me like one would, and that is enough without having to give me these boxes. Here is the payment.”

The rustic powder and the liniment, with the addition of the doctor’s confidence, could act like a charm. This could be considered as “bullshit”, however, it has been scientifically confirmed to work. Doctors, of course, refer to it as the “placebo effect”.

It is the oldest form of medicine in existence, used by Jesus, Hippocrates, Galen, and other ancient physicians. They prescribed medicines, such as mercury, which should have killed the patient, but they were able to heal them sometimes.

It is believed that they were unknowingly using the power of the placebo effect, which occurs when the patient trusts the doctor to heal him and has faith in him. It is believed that without the placebo effect, it would be a lot harder to heal people for money, particularly when they are suffering from psychological issues.

It is still not fully understood why the placebo effect works, however it is clear that confidence plays an important part. If a doctor prescribes a pill and tells a patient it will make them feel better, they are more likely to receive the desired outcome than if they had found it on a table with a sign saying ‘swallow me’.

There have been theories posited to explain why people may receive relief from fake morphine, or why people get better in clinical drug trials with placebos than those with no drugs, however none of them have been fully accepted.

The only certainty is that confidence, both from the doctor and the patient, is essential to the healing process.

Dr. Allen Frances would not refute this statement: the placebo effect is something he was concerned would be downplayed if he and his fellow psychiatrists shared what they had been discussing for years.

The disorders found in the diagnostic manual are not actual medical diseases, but instead are collections of constructs put together by experts. Robert Spitzer had urged me to “open it up” and make it appear to the public that they must be knowledgeable about something.

However, what they definitely know is not that conditions such as schizophrenia, major depression, and hoarding disorder are the same as diseases such as cancer and diabetes, because they are not.

Thomas Insel, the leader of the National Institute of Mental Health, has even gone on record for almost ten years now saying that the psychiatric disorder groups are not scientifically valid.

Psychiatrists do know that if they do not appear to understand something, they will no longer have a job, not only because third parties such as insurers and government entities will not pay them, but because they will not be able to evoke the faith that can heal people.

They understand that psychiatry is a confidence game.Though it may appear that the fact that antidepressants do not generally outperform placebos indicates that they are simply fraudulent, this concept is not entirely accurate.

One could also say that psychiatrists and their pharmaceutical collaborators have tapped into an ancient source of healing through their scientific knowledge, making it available to the public.

Consequently, many of us have to place our trust in physicians, who are the mediators of science for the layperson, since we cannot comprehend the intricacies of biomedical research.

Clinical trials often involve the use of placebos, since the effectiveness of drugs is measured by their superiority to placebos. However, the placebo effect itself is rarely studied, in part because no one has been able to replicate a therapeutic pill’s success.

Allen Frances believes that it wouldn’t be kind to deprive people of something that could provide hope, even if it’s only imaginary.

Irving Kirsch, from Harvard, has proposed a design for a study to definitively measure the placebo effect, wherein participants are given placebos and told they are placebos, drugs and told they are placebos, placebos and told they are drugs, and drugs and told they are drugs.

Despite the potential of this experiment, it has not been conducted yet due to ethical concerns about deceiving people, which could damage public trust in medical researchers.

Allen Frances is not the only medical doctor who helps relieve psychological distress. PhD doctors, such as myself, as well as other therapists, provide the so-called “talking cure” (as described by Carl Jung and Bruno Bettelheim, who attributed the term to Sigmund Freud).

We don’t carry medications or have the right to identify afflictions, yet we are trusted enough to make a career out of offering hourly sessions of this particular brand of love.

The consumptive man queried when his patience with the herb doctor’s chatter had expired, “Has anyone ever been healed through mere conversation?”

It was important for him to connect with Amelia. She was a 35-year-old doctor and a patient of his, although she was not an actual person. To protect the privacy of those involved, he had to create a fictional character. She was petite and had a dark complexion, and she stared intensely at him as she relayed her story, as if she was trying to gauge his reaction.

She recalls that she has everything she is supposed to have – a great husband, kids, job, and money. However, she frequently finds herself in a reverie, especially when nothing else is demanding her attention.

It’s like a daymare or flashback, with her mother lying in a puddle of her own urine when she was twelve years old and having to help her back into bed. Additionally, she remembers how her mother would wander outside in the winter wearing only her nightgown, bald and weak from the chemo, and vomiting in the gutter.

All of this was accompanied by the chemo-brain and Dilaudid, and the cold making her skin break out in goosebumps.

One might wonder if any of this truly occurred.

Being an only child, my father was occupied with two jobs and was overwhelmed by my mother’s illness, therefore, I became her nurse. It might come off as overly dramatic, but I’ve never put much thought into it.

If you asked me to explain her cancer experience, I could tell you of the hardships, however, I would never deny they bothered me. It might appear obvious to you, but I just never…

What do you mean by that?

I decided to pursue a career as a doctor because of this.

Have you come to that conclusion?

I’m guessing you do have one.

“That could be true. But I’m more interested in why these recollections come back to you now and in this form. I’m speculating that it’s because you have reached a level of stability that allows these memories to surface in all their vividness.

It seems the narrative of the events has remained incomplete, omitting the trauma and terror of witnessing these occurrences and seeing your mother in such anguish, and the emotions that were conjured in you, and then having to deal with it all by yourself. I believe you need a more comprehensive story.”

We dedicated our time to creating something. Amelia was just as hardworking in this task as she had been towards her medical school and residency. She documented her progress in a journal. She wrote an autobiography emphasising the two years of her mother’s suffering. She shared many harrowing stories with me, not leaving out any medical details. One day she said, “I understood last night how much I desired her death. I recalled looking down at her lying in the bed, the blankets pulled up to her neck, only her face contorted in agony, that wasted body covered by the sheet, and I desired her to die.

Not only out of kindness.But because she was too unwell to still love me, and I despised her for that. I detested her. I completely detested her.”

The next time I came across Amelia, she declared she was fully recovered. “I haven’t had a single daymare in two weeks,” she declared. “And I talked to Jeff about the situation–he knew that my mom passed away early, but not much else.

I even got in touch with my aunt who was around us a lot and she remembers the same stories. I’m starting to think it’s gone for good.”

I’d like to think that talking had helped her in some way. Amelia explained to me that recalling these memories led her to comprehend that she had created a division between her life by separating it into two sections; one before her mother’s death and one after.

She was determined to reunite them both. Her condition seemingly required the treatment I offered. Yet, did I only persuade her that this was the case and the only way to do this was to face the fact that she had killed her own mother? What was it about talking that brought her healing?

It is possible that mental health is nothing more than the ability to create a plausible narrative. Perhaps the only mental illness is the lack of such a narrative.

On the other hand, it could be that what we experience is an acute sense of loneliness and an intense fear that our parents cannot protect us from the terrible events of life and that our desire to hurt them for their failures will make us unloved.

Dale Carnegie, a twentieth-century confident man, once asserted that many people seek out a doctor when all they really need is someone to talk to. A therapist is a physician who is trained to provide this kind of attentive audience. So, was it conversation that helped Amelia or was it the simple fact that she was being heard?

It seems unclear how to answer that particular inquiry, just like it’s uncertain why the purple pills have a positive effect on people. It may be inconsequential to suggest this, but I believe there is a shared component between both therapy and pharmaceuticals: the placebo effect.

Even though drugs have side effects that give the impression they are working, therapy is a placebo treatment more than anything else. That’s not a criticism of my profession; it takes a certain kind of person to give hope to the dejected, and not everybody can do it–or even wants to.

The Confidence Man is told by a passenger that “tender sensibilities must stay away from the truth, like a threshing-machine.” Perhaps I assisted Amelia to reinforce her sensibilities and reclaim what had been disregarded as worthless.

But perhaps not. It is likely she was not healed by talking, listening, or the reality we unearthed (or was it constructed?) together, but instead by confidence–hers in me and mine in tales. Possibly I just made her nightmares vanish.

This could certainly make me a man of self-assurance. However, does this make me a swindler? I accepted Amelia’s money and shared a tale with her. I firmly believe it was the truth, yet I was not present and neither was Amelia who is now recollecting her wish to kill her parents.

But we were both present in my office, with these extraordinary circumstances. I was lending her a listening ear, she was giving me credit for my knowledge, and underneath the words and movements was something genuine, possibly the only authentic thing: not the tale, but the love that brings it to life, that kindles and then safeguards it.

In the twenty-third chapter, the Fid ele enters the Mississippi Valley, the region completely under the control of slavery. This is the exact midpoint in the novel.

The Confidence Man has changed costumes at least seven times in the first portion of the book, but will remain in the same persona for the remaining chapters, that of the cosmopolitan Frank Goodman.

As night begins to fall, he engages in a series of conversations with his fellow passengers, discussing topics such as the truth, evil, Polonius’s advice to Laertes, and the comparison of philanthropy to misanthropy.

At the bar, the cosmopolitan converses with a gentleman by the name of Charlie Noble. Goodman notes that the friendliness induced by wine is surging in modernity. “It is a testament to the progress of the humanitarian spirit,” he adds before noting how much different things were in the past.

In previous generations, geniality was mostly confined to the home and at mealtimes. But today, in the age of joint-stock companies and free-and-easies, it is like the gold of Peru: abundant and widespread. Yes, we moderns have geniality everywhere, like a generous moonlight.

“Indeed,” said Noble. “Geniality has spread to all areas and professions. We have genial senators, authors, lecturers, doctors, clergymen, surgeons, and I’m sure the next thing we’ll have are genial hangmen.”

Goodman foresees a “new kind of monster” in the coming century, a genial misanthrope who will amuse the world with their fiddle. He suggests that, armed with such geniality, these misanthropes will be just as popular as some philanthropists are not today.

Fifteen years into the new century, Dale Carnegie was encouraging the hesitant to “choose their character” and to “immerse themselves” into their role, embracing it so completely that it envelops them.

He suggested that people should pretend to be interested and caring in order to gain the friends, influence and money they desire. This was a form of misanthropic benevolence, donning a facade of compassion to be of assistance to others.

Sigmund Freud was one of the most cynical misanthropes, travelling from Europe to America six years before Carnegie published his first book and never returning. He argued that civilization’s successes and yearning for the spiritual realm were only further proof of our flawed nature.

His words echoed Saint Augustine’s famous saying, “Inter urinas et faeces nascimur,” which he endorsed as he exposed our attempts to make ourselves appear more noble than we actually are.

He reminded us that the best we can do is to create the illusion of morality and use our better judgement to not commit the most heinous of sins- incest and patricide.

In Freud’s opinion, psychoanalysis had been taken over in the United States by psychiatrists who declared in 1926 that only medical doctors could practise it. This was not the case in Vienna, where Freud had trained art historians and other laypeople – even a princess – to be analysts.

For the US doctors, however, providing only the consolations of common unhappiness was not enough; they wanted to provide a cure.

Refuting Freud’s assumption that our instincts could never be tamed and that reason could not conquer them, these doctors tried to make good on Freud’s prediction that a “psychoanalysis swallowed by medicine”

Would lead analysts to take on endocrinology and the autonomic nervous system, and thus turn it into a branch of medicine, such as radiology.Melville had sensed something special in this disposition, and it has been confirmed by the mental-health industry in more recent times.

This new model suggests that instead of the dark, sinister feelings that Freudianism postulated, people are actually composed of reasonable and sensible traits. Moreover, it posits that the world is not an ominous, pessimistic place, but rather a benevolent one that can bring contentment and joy.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) was developed in the 1960s and gained prominence in the 1990s. I was enrolled in a week-long course to learn how to conduct it. The instructor, Leslie Sokol, opened the session with a strong statement: “Let’s get to work”.

She looked well-groomed and exuded confidence, which she said was something we had to strive to instil in ourselves and our patients. However, this could be a challenge due to scepticism – like the doubts I had that I was merely ‘diddling’ Amelia. Leslie warned that “self-doubt is contagious”.

Sokol emphasised that self-doubt is often the root of why patients come to us, and that empathy alone is not enough to address the issue. The goal, she explained, is to “socialise” the patient to the model and help them learn how to cope with life’s challenges without being overwhelmed.

As Aaron Beck states, a therapist should help the patient to “master problems and situations previously seen as insurmountable” and to realign their thinking in line with reality.

This learning process will provide the patient with the self-confidence they need to navigate between doubt and setbacks, and sail on smoothly through life.

It is not necessary to pinpoint the origin of Amelia’s reveries or their particular significance, and in fact, such an effort could be detrimental. To illustrate this point, Beck mentioned Lot’s wife, who was turned to stone due to her preoccupation with the past and her refusal to focus on a brighter future.

To counter this, Lot’s wife was instructed on how to recognize her “automatic thoughts” and document them, how to trace the relationship between her beliefs, thoughts, emotions and behaviour on a “cognitive conceptualization diagram,” and how to form a more positive response.

By taking these steps, Lot’s wife could learn to think realistically and in this way, become more resilient, as was confirmed by Sokol.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been found to be effective in reducing suffering, although it should be noted that the tests conducted to prove its efficacy were done using two manuals, one containing instructions for CBT, and the other for a placebo therapy.

Leslie Sokol is a true blessing to us and our patients. She has taught us to be passionate and confident in our pursuit of happiness and joy.

We are fortunate to have been born in a land that is devoted to the quest for contentment, and if ever we should stumble or fall out of step, we can rely on others to help us get back on track.

We can believe that the world is our Protean easy chair, where we can learn to trust it to give us peace from our woes and aching bodies.

As night draws near, the Confidence Man visits the barber who is suspicious of others. This man wonders why he should trust anyone when his trade has taught him that people do not always look like the truth. He claims that lies, no matter how bold, can be more courageous than truth.

But who is truly courageous? Is it the psychiatrist and his so-called knowledge? The cognitive behaviourist, and their clock-like geniality? Or the retro-Freudian therapist, and their ideas about the depths of the self and the need to dig deeper?

These beliefs may just serve as a way to show love, through pills or time, and offer comfort through stories, a way of tackling the immensity of time and the certainty of death. In that case, it could be said that all these lies are equally brave.

The Confidence Man, speaking to a merchant in the morning, posits that a fresh and liberal interpretation would lead one to conclude that all the passengers on the cabin of the boat were playing games in which no one would lose.

The merchant retorts, “No, I don’t think that’s what you meant; as far as I’m aware, no such game exists in this world yet where everyone can be a winner.”

Eight years after Herman Melville’s “The Confidence-Man” was published, Lewis Carroll invented the Caucus Race, which concluded with Dodo Bird’s famous statement, “Everybody has won and all must have prizes.”

This principle has been observed by social scientists for more than three-quarters of a century: the truth is, apart from CBT’s manipulations, all mental health treatments are roughly equal in their effectiveness.

The only thing that truly makes a difference is the therapist’s own conviction in their work. In the end, it doesn’t matter what guise we take, as long as we can honestly present confidence.

For the past three decades, I have been engaging in activity akin to what Melville’s protagonist and Leslie Sokol did. However, I do not possess any more evidence than they did that what I’m doing is reliable. Nevertheless, I carry out my activities with less cynicism and less geniality than they did.

The barber, after having his shave taken away by the Confidence Man, remarks that he is “quite an original”.

This gives the narrator one last chance to directly address the reader and leave them confused with the proclamation that he is not in fact original. As Melville puts it, a truly original character is as hard to find as a “new law-giver, a revolutionising philosopher, or the founder of a new religion”.

It is not about a mundane figure that the author can pick up in a town, an individual who does not influence their surroundings, but rather someone who is truly unique and remarkable.

It is like a Drummond light, radiating its rays in all directions–illuminating everything around it (similar to the way Hamlet is illuminated). In certain minds, such a character evokes an effect akin to the one created by the beginning of things in Genesis.

This can be regarded as Melville’s last trick, as the Confidence Man has done to his victims, what Melville has done to his readers, and what other accomplished diddlers–novelists, therapists, partners–are capable of.

All of us can do this for each other: bring out the light in the dark, lift us up on the wind, and provide us with a glimpse of ourselves and our lives. If we are brave enough to look, this can give us a moment of courage.

  1. A fiend from the Apocrypha’s Book of Tobit and an 18th century French book is depicted as someone who takes off the roofs of houses to uncover the events within.

Drummond is credited with creating an early version of what we today call limelight. His invention consisted of using heat to direct onto a cylinder of lime, producing a brilliant incandescence.

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