Dr Freud . . . meet Mr Gates
Bill Gates has been the subject of thousands of articles, many TV shows and a growing array of Web sites. But despite the endless publicity, does anyone besides the software titan himself know what makes Bill Gates tick? Christine Burns takes a closer lookWhat motivates the man who stands accused by the US Government of mistreating his software rivals? Does he have some deep-seated need to prove something to those folks in Seattle suburbia who may have treated him badly as a child? Does his well-documented arrogance mask some hidden insecurity?
We posed these and a series of other questions about Gates to three top mental health professionals in the Boston area. The doctors had access to biographical information about the Microsoft mogul and viewed close to two hours of Gates' videotaped deposition currently being aired during court proceedings of the antitrust trial against Microsoft in Washington, DC.
While all three doctors say they are ethically and legally prohibited from drawing absolute conclusions about Gates' psyche without talking extensively with him first, they were able to point to patterns of behaviour that may open a window - at least a crack - into his persona.
Diagnosis one: control freak
"It's very clear that Bill Gates is a person who needs to remain in complete control of the situation," explains Ronald Ebert, PhD. Ebert, a noted forensic psychologist who often gets deposed as an expert witness in the Massachusetts courts, was amazed by Gates' manipulative performance opposite Department of Justice hired gun David Boies in the deposition video filmed in August.
Gates answers most of Boies' questions with questions. "He's quite masterful, actually. He must be a heck of a poker player," Ebert says.
Gates' body language - a despondent shrug when he gives Boies one of many "I don't recall" or "I don't remember" replies, or a sheepish grin as the two banter back and forth about seemingly meaningless issues like the semantics of a 4-year-old e-mail message - clearly gives more insight into the man than any of his testimony, Ebert says.
"He just toyed with the prosecutor. Non-verbally he says, 'Just in case you thought you were in charge, I just want you to know that nobody is in charge of Bill Gates'," Ebert says.
A spokeswoman for Microsoft contends that Gates cooperated fully with the Government, undergoing three full days of questioning. "The Government's attorney asked vague and leading questions. Mr Gates simply refused to allow the Government to put words into his mouth," she says.
Gates' constant counter-questioning of Boies in the video is also indicative of Gates' basic need to achieve something more than he has already accomplished, Ebert says.
Biographical data points to Gates' long-standing history of trying to be better at what he does. For example, it was reported in the recently published biography Bill Gates Speaks, by Janet Lowe, that as a child Gates would repeatedly stuff himself into a box and then leap out to see if he had managed to jump any farther than the time before.
"I think this is a kid who has always been testing himself, testing himself, testing himself. Always trying to be better and better and ultimately be the best he can," Ebert says.
According to Ebert, he consistently exhibits a subtle arrogance. This leads Ebert to conclude that Gates believes he intellectually bests most of the people he meets.
This became clear during points in Gates' testimony when Boies asked him to explain aspects of Microsoft's business. "Gates at times was almost trying to educate the attorney. But I certainly wouldn't say that he would make a great teacher," Ebert says. "The feeling that really comes across is Gates saying, 'You're not going to understand this, but I will do my best to explain it to you.' He obviously considered the attorney not to be as bright as he is. I have a hunch he may feel that about much of mankind."
Gates is not an overtly emotional man, Ebert says, which is one of his best weapons for remaining in control. "Except for an occasional smile or shrug, Gates did not get angry or agitated when con- tradicted or pressed, but rather demonstrated an ability to fully manage his feelings."
His only odd behaviour is his rocking, Ebert says. Reported in Time magazine as an indication that Gates may be borderline autistic, Ebert took the constant movement to be more characteristic of thoughtful consideration.
"He is too engaged and involved with other people. He gets other people to do his bidding. I mean, when you read all of those e-mails [that accompany the video testimony] you can see that he is communicating very carefully and thoughtfully with people," Ebert says. He concludes that the rocking is how Gates maintains his focus.
"Odd, yes. Not your average person," Ebert says in summary.
But Ebert does not see Gates falling into the "mad genius" stereotype. "Rather, I see him as a bright, focused entrepren- eur who has been able to use his non-conformance streak to remarkable advantage," Ebert says.
Diagnosis two: sociopath
After viewing the tape and other materials, sociologist Jack Levin immediately concluded that Gates is an all-American genius who's reached the proverbial dream of financial success and world fame due to his software creativity and stellar business acumen.
"But based on that same evidence he might also be seen as an all-American sociopath," says Levin, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston and author of 19 books about human behaviour.
A sociopath is clinically defined as a person with aggressive, antisocial behaviour. Levin says Gates could fall into this category because "he's able to manipulate the reigns of power without heavy emphasis and ethics. He controls with moral impunity. He shapes the truth to his own liking.
"Bill Gates isn't afraid to go outside of [society's] established rules and regulations," Levin says.
While he may have some disregard for social norms, Gates is by no means psychotic, Levin says, and he isn't crazy. "He's not the least bit confused, doesn't talk to dogs, hallucinate or hear words spoken in an empty room.
"Some psychotics may be as smart as Gates, but they are generally much more confused," Levin says. "Bill Gates knows very well the difference between right and wrong, knows if and when he does the wrong thing, but chooses to rise above - or below - the moral obstacles that might have deterred someone else's success.
"Bill Gates knows exactly what he is doing," Levin says.
Gates' responses while being legally deposed also represent a lesson in evasion, Ebert says.
His motto seems to be, "be as ambiguous as possible, give as little information as possible, take as much time as possible to respond, so as to limit the time available for additional questions", Levin says.
Bill Gates is a lawyer's dream and a prosecutor's worst nightmare because he gives the enemy minimal ammunition that might later be used to shoot himself in the foot - or in the corporate treasure chest.
"He manipulated his responses in the deposition so that he said absolutely nothing but took hours to do it. That is very clever actually," Levin says. "He's more crafty than crazy."
Diagnosis three: mirror to mankind
Harvard Medical School clinical professor Harold J Bursztajn, argues that the best way to understand Bill Gates is to take a closer look at the general public's fascination with him.
Bursztajn, who is co-director of Harvard's Program in Psychiatry and the Law, asked the simple question, "Why are we so interested in Bill Gates?
"Is it because he mirrors that part of ourselves which idealises intelligence and power? Or is it the part that overemphasises winning and losing in human relationships?" Bursztajn asks.
Bursztajn continues his inquiry into human nature via the medium of Bill Gates. "Do we all have an interest in domination, submission and power which is difficult for us to own up to without being self-righteous?
"And thus is it easy to see Bill Gates as the one who is the bad guy for seeming to have such interests?"
Whatever it is about Gates that draws us to him subliminally, Bursztajn says that it is interesting to analyse the changing public attitudes toward him.
"If you look at the mythical story of Icarus, he was flying high in favour with the gods and got too close to the sun so he got burned. Gates certainly is flying high, and I wonder if some of us are wishfully thinking that he'll crash and burn," Bursztajn says.
But not all members of society hold ill will toward Bill Gates. In fact, recent surveys have shown that the majority have no disdain for Bill.
At the same time, Gates is confronted by a growing and very vocal body of critics. Bursztajn says Gates is currently experiencing the typical cycle in which society first glorifies people of particular interest but then figuratively crucifies them once they step out of their defining role.
"A classic example is Cassius Clay [later Muhammad Ali]," Bursztajn explains. Muhammad Ali was glorified as a great fighter. But when he seemingly "got too big for his britches and started making statements politically", he was stripped of his glory and vilified for quite some time, he explains.
"If you look at the amount of Gates bashing that goes on these days, I'd have to say that he is living through the same societal cycle."
Society had no problem when Bill Gates was a young, geeky software upstart who was taking on the Goliaths of the computer business in the 1980s, Bursztajn says. But now he has crossed over to become an extremely successful businessman and that just doesn't jibe with what society is willing to tolerate.
"There's this overwhelming idea about people who finish on the top of the heap. They must have done something wrong to get there. That's the attitude toward Bill Gates," Bursztajn says.
"So when Bill Gates was fighting against IBM and he was the little guy, that was OK. But now that he is the big guy, then he must be part of the evil empire," says Bursztajn.