Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson     616.8582 RONSON

This story begins with a "quest" that was given to the author, Jon Ronson, by Deborah Talmi, a London neurologist who had received a book (Being or Nothingness) postmarked from Gothenberg, Sweden. After going online to do some research about the book, which she knew to be expensively created, she found out that this individual had sent the same book to academics all over the world. All of these individuals, through blogging and message boards, tried to figure out the "code" of the book (the message the author was trying to send them). When they all gave up in defeat, the academics decided to reach out to someone who could investigate the mystery. They decided on Jon Ronson, and he took on the case. Ronson does seem to figure out who has written the book, but this is not what really seems to intrigue him (as the title of the book points out).

What intrigues him is the why. Douglas Hofstadter, a professor at Indiana University (and an author that the author of Being or Nothingness discusses within the book), tells him that the why is probably because the author is a "crackpot." This amazes Ronson, that someone could disrupt so many peoples' lives by merely being "unbalanced." So Ronson decides to look into "madness." At this point, the story gets a bit more disjointed, but is still very interesting. Ronson's look at insanity first leads him to Scientology, which is extremely suspicious of psychiatrists. One of the scientologists introduces Ronson to a man who is currently being held in the Broadmoor Criminal Lunactic Asylum in London. Ronson was told that the man had "faked" his way into the asylum and is now "trapped" there by the psychiatrists, which is not the whole story, of course. Ronson learns from the man's doctor that the reason he is still being held is because he is a psychopath. Ronson consults the "psychopath expert" in Talmi's department, who introduces him to the Hare Checklist, a "test" created by Bob Hare to recognize signs of a psychopath (Superficial Charm, Proneness to Boredom, Lack of Empathy, Lack of Remorse...). According to Hare, psychopaths can never be cured and about one percent of the population is a psychopath. In order to get some time to speak with Hare, Ronson attends one of his seminars, which is given to law enforcement and other interested parties. Hare walks everyone through the checklist and shows examples of inmates with the different aspects of "psychopathy."

Ronson had learned about psychopaths having no empathy and conscience before, but another member of the Institute of Psychiatry, South London, told Ronson of a 19 year-old case study who enjoyed the idea of killing others (she was studying history after being turned down to join the Royal Air Force), and Ronson had asked the man what he did about her. The man told Ronson that there is nothing you can do to stop a psychopath until after a crime has been committed. The person just told Ronson to keep an eye out, as psychopaths are dangerous, no matter what guise you find they may be in. So, Ronson decides to turn his new psychopath perception tools to finding psychopathy in the corporate world, such as with Sunbeam's Al Dunlap (who was known to enjoy firing thousands of workers all over the U.S. before leaving, due to fraudulent accounting). Ronson questions Dunlap, who shows more than a few signs of being a psychopath (and who views these as "good" qualities to have). When talking with Hare and other members of the psychiatric field later, they are not surprised by this, as many high ranking members of the corporate world, political world, and other cut-throat enterprises tend to be "classic psychopaths" (the signs on the checklist would be seen by these individuals as good traits for rising to the top). Ronson does mention some good news, for all those who are wondering, that if you are worried that you might be a psychopath, then you are not (the sign that you worry about it proves this).

Then a good point was brought up to Ronson. At what point have you stopped "finding" a psychopath, as in the case of Al Dunlap, and started "creating" a psychopath, instead. If you try hard enough, you can use what you know about a person to have them "fit" a high score with the checklist. Ronson mentions that it becomes kind of a "power-trip" for him. In being a journalist, he has been looking for people to write stories about, and maybe this is not much different than what Bob Hare is doing. So, keep this in mind if you decide to use this book to search out all the "psycopaths" around you.

I found this book very interesting, even if the author does tend to meander about in his themes. Jon Ronson travels all over to look into "psychopathy," and the people he meets and things he learns are fascinating. I am not quite sure what to do with this information I have learned, but I have enjoyed learning it, nonetheless.

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