Can you spot the psychopaths among us?
08 August 2011
As previously noted, I've been having a couple of good nonfiction weeks. I've had particular good luck with getting new books by authors I've enjoyed before.
Jon Ronson is one of my very favorite investigative writers (and a Brit to boot). Although the movie version of The Men Who Stare at Goats was awful, just awful (even with Ewan McGregor in it, and you'd better believe it hurts me to say that), Ronson's book, on which the movie was based, was weird, spectacular, and surprisingly dark underneath all its absurdity.*
So when I saw that he was coming out with a book titled The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, I knew I would have to read it. The premise is simple: How can you tell when someone is a psychopath?
Ronson became interested in the subject in a roundabout sort of way: he was contacted by a scientist who (along with other scientists) was the target of some sort of hoax. When Ronson set out to investigate the hoax (which is just the sort of weird thing Ronson seems to happily get involved in, as a matter of course), he concluded it was perpetrated by someone with pscyhopathic tendencies. His very next step is to fall in with some Scientologists,** who lead him to a man in a mental hospital in Great Britain who swears he only acted crazy to get out of prison time, but now the psychiatrists have him pegged as a psychopath and won't let him out.
Confused? Don't be. It all makes sense, in a stranged sort of way, and before you know it, you're along with Ronson on a journey exploring what it means to be a psychopath, how psychopaths are identified, how they've been "treated" through the years, and whether or not most successful CEOs are, in fact, psychopaths. I enjoyed the whole thing, very much. Primarily just because I enjoy Jon Ronson. Consider his early ramble through the DSM-IV-TR (the diagnostic textbook/manual in which mental disorders are described):
"'I could really be on to something,' I thought. 'It really could be that many of our political and business leaders suffer from Antisocial or Narcissistic Personality Disorder and they do the harmful, exploitative things they do because of some mad striving for unlimited success and excessive admiration. Their mental disorders might rule our lives. This could be a really big story for me if I can think of a way to somehow prove it.'
I closed the manual.
'I wonder if I've got any of the 374 mental disorders,' I thought. I opened the manual again.
And I instantly diagnosed myself with twelve different ones." (p. 34.)
Tee hee. It's another good book from Ronson, ridiculous but with an undercurrent of the deadly serious and darkly disturbing.
*I don't believe I've read his first book, Them: Adventures with Extremists, or else I've forgotten it. I'll have to get that one soon.
**Evidently Scientologists do not believe in psychiatry, which is (again, in a roundabout way) how Ronson ended up talking with them.