Monday, 5 December 2011

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

Here's the good news.  If you're worried about being a psychopath, then you're not a psychopath.  Jon Ronson's more worried that he's an anti-psychopath: socially inept, low self esteem, and worried about things like whether he's the opposite of a psychopath.

The scary thing is it's not a mental illness.  Psychopaths aren't psychotic.  It's not a disorder listed in the "Big Book of Mentalism" the DSM IV.  It seems more like being a vampire, an android in Blade Runner or the Thing.  It's the old problem of consciousness.  How do you really know someone doesn't feel empathy if they've programmed themselves to act exactly as somebody with empathy would?

Ronson meets one prisoner in Broadmoor, who beat up a tramp and convinced the
authorities he was crazy by quoting Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet (which should do the trick.)  But the psychiatrists refuse to let him go, saying faking mental illness is something only a psychopath would do.  He meets a top US businessman who could be a psychopath.  Maybe he's just ruthless.  Where's the line? And how easy is it to abuse the test when you're in a position of power?

There's lots more here beside straight-up psychopathy - there's an examination of the growing medication of children, the hazards of psychological profiling when tracking killers, and the strange case of David Shayler...

He' s the former MI5 officer turned whistleblower who later cropped up as a 911 conspiracy theorist.  Then he went on TV to claim the planes which flew into the World Trade Centre were actually missiles overlayed with holograms of planes.  Then he became a transvestite......then he announced he was the son of God.....and interest has faded since then.

Ronson tracks that media interest, and finds the holographic plane theory was when Shayler peaked - that's when he was the right kind of mad.  Too much becomes banal.  The subtitle of this book is "A Journey through the Madness Industry" and the media, along with Ronson himself, are part of that industry.  There's money in madness, as long as it's the right kind.  Psychopaths, for instance.  They look just like you and me, but underneath they're very different.  What could be more fascinating?

This is a great read - accessible, thought-provoking and unusual - and my first book on Kindle.  I'm liking it a lot.  Very easy on the eyes, the forward and back buttons are intuitive, it's light and it fits in my pocket.  I bought this book for under a fiver and downloaded it in 2 minutes.  Another source has has meant even more than my usual backlog of half-read books, so I'll do another round-up soon.


Ed said...

I never knew Shayler had gone that far off the rails - divine lineage, conspiracy theory, holographic projection: shades of Icke there...

Joe said...

Not dissimilar, although shayler's pretty much homeless these days while ickey's a millionaire who sells out 5 hour seminars at times square.

Right kind of madness!