Without intelligence networks interested in promoting Titus Oates’ story, he might have been relegated to total obscurity. Oates was a mythomaniac, recounting wild inventions he knew his listeners wanted to hear, all in a desperate bid to attract attention. But there were powerful political forces who found his hallucinations advantageous.
This reminds us once again, as in the case of Joseph Smith, to always look for the interaction between the individual impostor and the organized networks which constitute and assemble the audience which the impostor so urgently desires. Some key excerpts from Greenacre:
“An impostor is not only a liar, but a very special type of liar who imposes on others fabrications of his attainments, position, or worldly possessions. This he may do through misrepresentations of his official (statistical) identity, by presenting himself with a fictitious name, history, and other items of personal identity, either borrowed from some other actual person or fabricated according to some imaginative conception of himself.
There are similar falsifications on that part of his identity belonging to his accomplishments, a plagiarizing on a grand scale, or making claims which are grossly implausible. Imposture appears to contain the hope of getting something material, or some other worldly advantage. While the reverse certainly exists among the distinguished, wealthy, and competent persons who lose themselves in cloaks of obscurity and assumed mediocrity, these come less frequently into sharp focus in the public eye. One suspects, however, that some “hysterical” amnesia is, and dual or multiple personalities are conditions related to imposturous characters. The contrast between the original and the assumed identities may sometimes be not so great in the matter of worldly position, and consequently does not lend itself so readily to the superficial explanation that it has been achieved for direct and material gain. The investigation of even a few instances of imposture – if one has not become emotionally involved in the deception – is sufficient to show how crude though clever many impostors are, how very faulty any scheming is, and how often, in fact, the element of shrewdness is lacking. Rather a quality of showmanship is involved, with its reliance all on the response of an audience to illusions.
“In some of the most celebrated instances of imposture, it indeed appears that the fraud was successful only because many others as well as the perpetrator had a hunger to believe in the fraud, and that any success of such fraudulence depended in fact on strong social as well as individual factors and especial receptivity to the trickery. To this extent those on whom the fraudulence is imposed are not only victims but unconscious conspirators. Its success too is partly a matter of timing. Such combinations of imposturous talent and a peculiar susceptibility of the times to believe in the swindler, who presents the deceptive means of salvation, may account for the great impostures of history. There are, however, instances of the repeated perpetration of frauds under circumstances which give evidence of aprecise content that may seem independent of social factors….
“It is the extraordinary and continued pressure in the impostor to live out his fantasy that demands explanation, a living out which has the force of a delusion, (and in the psychotic may actually appear in that form), but it is ordinarily associated with the ‘formal’ awareness that the claims are false. The sense of reality is characterized by a peculiarly sharp, quick perceptiveness, extraordinarily immediate keenness and responsiveness, especially in the area of the imposture. The over-all utility of the sense of reality is, however, impaired. What is striking in many impostors is that, although they are quick to pick up details and nuances in the lives and activities of those whom they simulate and can sometimes utilize these with great adroitness, they are frequently so utterly obtuse to many ordinary considerations of fact that they give the impression of mere brazenness or stupidity in many aspects of their life peripheral to their impostures….
“The impostor has, then, a specially sharpened sensitivity within the area of his fraud, and identity toward the assumption of which he has a powerful unconscious pressure, beside which his conscious wish, although recognizable, is relatively slight. The unconscious drive heightens his perceptions in a focused area and permits him to ignore or deny other elements of reality which would ordinarily be considered matters of common sense. It is this discrepancy in abilities which makes some impostors such puzzling individuals. Skill and persuasiveness are combined with utter foolishness and stupidity.
“In well-structured impostures this may be described as a struggle between two dominant identities in the individual: the temporarily focused and strongly assertive imposturous one, and the frequently amazingly crude and poorly knit one from which the impostor has emerged. In some instances, however, it is also probable that the imposture cannot be sustained unless there is emotional support from someone who especially believes in and nourishes it. The need for self-betrayal may then he one part of the tendency to revert to a less demanding, more easily sustainable personality, particularly if support is withdrawn.
“The impostor seems to flourish on the success of his exhibitionism. Enjoyment of the limelight and inner triumph of ‘putting something over’ seems inherent, and bespeak the closeness of imposture to voyeurism. Both aspects are represented: pleasure in watching while the voyeur himself is invisible; exultation in being admired and observed as a spectacle. It seems as if the impostor becomes temporarily convinced of the rightness of his assumed character in proportion to the amount of attention he is able to gain from it.
“In the lives of impostors there are circumscribed areas of reaction which approach the delusional. These are clung to when the other elements of the imposture have been relinquished….
“Once an imposturous goal has been glimpsed, the individual seems to behave without need for consistency, but to strive rather for the supremacy of the gains from what can be acted out with sufficient immediate gratification to convince others. For the typical impostor, an audience is absolutely essential. It is from the confirming reaction of his audience that the impostor gets a ‘realistic’ sense of self, a value greater than anything he can otherwise achieve. It is the demand for an audience in which the (false) self is reflected that causes impostures often to become of social significance. Both reality and identity seem to the impostor to be strengthened rather than diminished by the success of the fraudulence of his claims….
“The impostor seems to be repeatedly seeking confirmation of his assumed identity to overcome his sense of helplessness or incompleteness. It is my impression that this is the secret of his appeal to others, and that often especially conscientious people are ‘taken in’ and other impostors as well attracted because of the longing to return to that happy state of omnipotence which adults have had to relinquish….