By now it seems nearly everyone—from Yale Students to finance execs to IvyGate blog readers to Fox News viewers—has heard of Aleksey Vayner.
Vayner secured his fate as an infamous (if not incarcerated) figure by making up a ton of stuff about himself and then bragging about it in an attempt to get hired by the top finance companies in the world. At some point, though—probably while viewing the video Vayner advertised on his résumé, a six minute, forty second treatise on success featuring b-roll of Vayner performing various physical feats of questionable veracity—the headhunters in various HR departments began to smell bullshit wafting its way up and down Wall Street.
It’s a familiar smell, evidently, to pretty much everyone around here who’s ever met Vayner. The guy’s been making outrageous claims since he was a prefrosh (check out the May 2002 issue of the Rumpus), claims that nobody around him ever felt like calling him on … until now.
To me, there are a couple of things for all of us to learn from this whole escapade.
1) Don’t lie. That’s messed up. Especially if it’s for self-promoting purposes.
2) There’s something about Yalies that makes us accept more than a modicum of bullshit as par for the course, and not really care that much about it … even when it’s being slung around faster than Vayner’s purported serving velocity (140 MPH!!!).
This cultural tolerance of bullshit is hardly a surprise, given the admissions process at a place like Yale. Come on, don’t look at me like that. You all remember the days of résumé-padding that led up to your getting that big blue envelope in the mail: helping your friends with their calculus homework became “Volunteer Tutoring”; playing percussion in a school play so you could go to a cast party and flirt with a cute actor made you part of a “High School Orchestra”; maybe you even enrolled at a Community College course because the easy A you’d earn in Intro Psych would count for an extra point in your GPA. Whatever. The point is that a little bending of the truth isn’t foreign territory to a lot of students who’re trying to get into a competitive university like this one.
Vayner just took things too far. Okay, Vayner took things way too far. Okay, Vayner took things farther, and in more creative ways, than most of us could dream. Point taken. Clearly the guy’s got a problem—they don’t call it pathological lying for nothing, and there’s a pretty intense pathology at work here—but the point is that, in a sense, he was continuing to “play the game” that everyone knows, recognizes, and tolerates, even though everyone knows that it’s bullshit.
The depressing part is that, in the case of college admissions, Vayner’s act worked. (Okay, I don’t know that for certain—I haven’t seen his admission file—but one can only imagine what kinds of extracurriculars wound up in that little grid of his.) Admissions Officers are so constantly bombarded by bullshit that their radars are overloaded, and every once in a while somebody nuts slips through. That’s awful, if you think about it: what you’ve actually done matters far less in our little world than what you can say you’ve done, especially if your claims can’t be refuted. And who you actually are … well, that matters even less.
Which brings me to my final thought on the matter: Aleksey Vayner may be a perfectly nice guy. I don’t really know him, and most of us who’ve spent the week reading up on his dishonest ploys don’t really know him either. My only experience of him was when he (somehow) convinced our Eastern Philosophy professor to let him screen a movie on the last day of our class (a treatise on Zen Buddhism featuring b-roll of Vayner performing various physical feats of questionable veracity). He struck me as a giant toolbox then, but who really knows? Maybe nobody does … and either way, we should cut the guy some slack. He has a problem and doesn’t deserve to be raked over the coals by every two-bit jokester who has nothing better to do than troll the internet looking for people to feel superior to.
David Chernicoff is a Senior in Branford College and also a third-year law student and a candidate for PhD’s in Philosophy, History of Art, and Women’s and Gender Studies. He is has been the Sterling Professor of Humanities since 1997. He is a trained fighter pilot who has earned every major decoration in the armed forces by serving in every United States military action since his birth in 1984 (including pulling the trigger on the nearest miss of Osama Bin Laden on record). He still has top-level intelligence classification and advises the government on matters of nuclear strategy in between stints as a lion tamer at the wildly popular Cirque du Mond, of which he is co-founder. He speaks 74 languages, including the language of the trees, a skill he picked up under the personal tutelage of a legendary Amazonian shaman. Among his lesser accomplishments are: winning a poker tournament between the Allied and Axis leaders of World War II (including a legendary bluff that Winston Churchhill insisted was the real reason Hitler finally surrendered); developing the Theory of Natural Selection with Charles Darwin while serving as captain of the HMS Beagle; painting Guernica; and preventing a catastrophic meteor collision with Earth in the sixth millenium BC; all of which he achieved via the ingeniously deft use of the time machine he crafted at age five from certain mystical substances he developed through alchemy, one of his many childhood hobbies. Chernicoff is also an expert in the Arts of Love, as shown him by a race of sexual aliens whom he seduced upon their attempted abduction of him during his high school days. Three times has Chernicoff nearly achieved enlightenment through a uniquely-blended style of meditation whose expression in words is impossible—though his anthology of poems on the subject recently outsold the entire Harry Potter series and the Bible combined to become the most lucrative, life-changing book in the history of mankind—and each time he has refused to transcend the earthly realm without first reaching out and teaching each child in the world how to lead a healthy, productive life. He is adored by billions and worshipped by millions, but he’s really a down-to-Earth guy … and he’d love to have a cup of coffee and chat some time.