The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industryby Published 12 May 2011
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In this madcap journey, a bestselling journalist investigates psychopaths and the industry of doctors, scientists, and everyone else who studies them.
The Psychopath Test is a fascinating journey through the minds of madness. Jon Ronson's exploration of a potential hoax being played on the world's top neurologists takes him, unexpectedly, into the heart of the madness industry. An influential psychologist who is convinced that many important CEOs and politicians are, in fact, psychopaths teaches Ronson how to spot these high-flying individuals by looking out for little telltale verbal and nonverbal clues. And so Ronson, armed with his new psychopath-spotting abilities, enters the corridors of power. He spends time with a death-squad leader institutionalized for mortgage fraud in Coxsackie, New York; a legendary CEO whose psychopathy has been speculated about in the press; and a patient in an asylum for the criminally insane who insists he's sane and certainly not a psychopath.
Ronson not only solves the mystery of the hoax but also discovers, disturbingly, that sometimes the personalities at the helm of the madness industry are, with their drives and obsessions, as mad in their own way as those they study. And that relatively ordinary people are, more and more, defined by their maddest edges.
The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry Reviews
I read this in about a 4 hour span, from 12 am - 4 am. It freaked me out and I slept with the lights on. But on with the review.
So I've read things about psychopaths previously. How their brains are actually wired differently and they are unable to feel empathy, etcetc. Psychopathy is incurable. Psychopathy, in its violent and sexual strands, is outright fucking terrifying.
But Ronson's book talks more about the frequent misdiagnosis of psychopathy. And the misdiagnosis of many other "mental illnesses" that may in fact just be trying to label and profit off of various human eccentricities. I thought it was interesting. Especially the inmate Tony who scammed his way into the Mental Hospital hoping for nicer amenities and found himself unable to convince the doctors of his sanity for another 20 years (13 years after his prison sentence was originally intended to be over).
That's some real life One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest stuff. When the majority decides that the only thing needed to stamp a lifelong label of "psychopath" is a score over 30 on a 20 point behavioral checklist, an incredible danger arises. Misuse and misguided priorities in diagnosis can ruin lives, create madness instead of protect against it.
As relatively new fields, I think psychotherapy and the psychiatric world at large are bound to make huge changes in their approach as they learn more and more about the human brain and its relation to behavior. A lot of the disorders seem, to me, very subjective in their conditions. (e.g. one of the characteristics for psychopathy is an 'inflated sense of self worth'....uhm? that's pretty subjective and would probably include the vast majority of my professors) The human brain itself is just such an incredible unknown that I think there needs to be a certain level of trepidation in creating absolutes. For Tony, the "absolute" definition of psychopathic tendencies lost him the best 20 years of his life surrounded by rapists and serial killers in a maximum security Hospital.
Of course, at the same time, there are definitely strands of human beings who objectively act differently and need to be addressed by society. They respond differently. They do not have the same emotional capacity as the other 99% of the human race. There is some definitive consistency in the way their minds work. There need to be tactics for identification, for prevention against their possible havoc.
So basically Ronson's conclusion is that, like with every other thing in this world, there needs to be a balance in the approach. There can't be a mass frenzy to diagnose and label every little idiosyncrasy of human behavior, turning the world into a medicated homogenization scared of every feeling outside of complacent and numb. But at the same time, we can't ignore extreme human behavior, the kind that is debilitating and sometimes even dangerous.
Oh wait, back to my review of the actual book. It was decent. Who isn't intrigued by the minds of psychopaths (and the minds of those who study the minds of psychopaths)? I thought his different chapters and stories were a little too disjointed and he trailed off topic a little toward the end. The book didn't have as great of a flow or dynamic as it could've. But overall, pretty interesting and worth a read.
I'm not sure how much I learned about Psychopaths but I learned I like the author a lot.
He's awkward and anxious in the most relatable way!
If you're going to read this book, do yourself a favour and get the audiobook!
If you're interested in this topic, I'd recommend starting with Martha Stout's The Sociopath Next Door rather than this book. The problem with this one is that it's more "Follow me as I delve into this crazy world and have surreal experiences" than it is a study of sociopathy. And that ultimately makes it less gripping. I remember clearly the first section of of Stout's book, as it took the reader on a tour of one man's mind as he faced a simple but telling moment of moral decision-making. It was so suspenseful and kind of harrowing. This is much less profound.
Nonetheless, it's a genial read and certainly a good book.
This is what I might call "an oddly interesting book". I say that because in retrospect I'm a bit surprised that it holds the interest so well. Mr. Ronson begins with a strange little mystery concerning running down the source/writer of an (to use the same word) odd book that has been mailed to certain people. From this the book springboards into a look at Psychopathy, its diagnosis and by extension the way in which psychiatric disorders are not only diagnosed but agreed on (that is agreed to exist as disorders).
Rambling a bit and full of introspective thoughts by the author (most of which are interesting and entertaining if not always germane) we go through a series of interviews that range from "Tony" to Bob Hare who basically formulated the most used Psychopath test. Tony was a young man who has been in Broadmoor for years, sent there after a relatively minor offense. The author was brought there by representatives of the church of Scientology in an attempt to discredit psychiatry in general. Other interviews included Emmanuel Constant, a former Haitian death-squad leader. He also interviewed a corporate hatchet man type exec. who was known for blithely firing people and joyously shutting down plants.
There is a lot that's interesting here and the book will (I believe) keep you involved. After looking into how disorders get into (and are pulled out of) DSM-IV-TR, considering the implications of Hare's list (and how it effected the author as he found himself setting out to find and identify "free range psychopaths) and the attitudes around these he came to an interesting conclusion. That they may be dangerous tools leading to over diagnosis.
I suggest you take a look at this, especially if you (like me) have been "concerned" about statements like "1% to 10% of the population may be psychopaths". While this book may be a bit more disjointed than some of the author's other works...it's well done and interesting.
***Warning: this review is not for the fainthearted.***
A video recently went viral of a Texas judge savagely beating his disabled teenage daughter with a belt.
Perhaps the most heartrending moment of the video is near the beginning, when in a tiny voice the girl cries out: “Dad...” an instant before he starts to hit her.
What do you get when you hollow a human of conscience? If there were no empathy, no guilt, no shame, no anxiety, no compunction... if impulse control simply meant biding your time... if ego were all that mattered, a desire to dominate others, the shameless manipulation: quintessence of a creature with the mind of a man but the soul of an insect, no trappings of honor or personal responsibility (let alone personality). Well, you get things like human trafficking, plutocratic oligarchies, and Donald Trump.
Perhaps it occurs to you that even wife-beaters must love their wives, or why keep them around otherwise? Sociopaths don't always fake emotion or attachment. Family members are possessions, tears of loss for an important object their deepest sentiment. They do not love. They possess.
Children, for instance, are an irritation, products of the loins that may occasionally cause trouble, but which ultimately serve a purpose, useful in keeping up social appearances (if that fails, children can always be disowned). Sociopaths experience sorrow and cry for lost possessions in exactly the same way they would on finding their favorite automobile crushed by a tree in the driveway.
Without empathy, the ego becomes all-consuming. A sociopath is solipsistic to a degree that even Ayn Rand might find appalling (though she would herself score rather high on Robert Hare’s PCL-R test).
Factor 1: Personality, “Aggressive narcissism”
Glibness and superficial charm
The creepy superficiality that politicians ooze like body fluid is item one.
It’s true, we all act sometimes. At work you may not behave the way you do at home, but usually affectation takes a toll. Overdo it, and your guilt and shame could manifest into a full-blown existential crisis. That’s why so many young people are emotionally wrecked or altered by the modern workplace, where character is not only irrelevant, but actively winnowed along the corporate ladder. (There’s a preponderance of sociopaths at the top of the corporate and political food-chain.)
Grandiose sense of self-worth, narcissism, egomania
Cunning and Manipulation
Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
Lack of remorse or guilt
Callousness; lack of empathy
Many hypothesize that Rush Limbaugh eats babies, or that he's the result of a human-pig crossbreading experiment gone terribly wrong. Or maybe, he's just a garden variety sociopath, who knows?
Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
Behavioral patterns include bullying others at a young age, sometimes torturing animals, reacting with clinical detachment to images of depravity and gore, emotionally preying on others for entertainment, promiscuity, short-term marital relationships, criminal versatility, etc.
Anxiety and shyness are the diametric opposite of psychopathy.
As you can imagine, Judge Adams would behave splendidly in public. He's a confident man, enjoys being called "sir" and flaunting his achievements, like all materially successful creatures. The real question, of course, is how he treats those over whom he has power. The understated answer is “badly.” Not being human himself, he's never quite sure how to treat other humans, except by observing and pretending to be one of them, a tiresome mimicry.
Of her psychopathic father, Hilary said: "I told him I had the video and he didn't seem to think anything of it, basically dared me to post it. I think he just really needs help and rehabilitation.”
She actually feels sorry for him. Incidentally, Judge Adams told reporters: “In my mind I haven't done anything wrong other than discipline my child.”
You may think you are good at lying or rationalization, but you are nothing compared to a sociopath, whose favorite phrases include gems like:
“Look at what you made me do!” and the classic:
“Are you happy now?" yelled while abusing a victim,
"Is this what you wanted? Do you like disobeying me?”
"I was completely brainwashed and controlled," said the mother, "I leave the room, he’s telling me what to say, what to do."
You get the picture. Sociopaths are everywhere, between one and three % of the population, male and female, and not always violent. They are attracted to authority. It's something in their lizard brains, a vestigial will to power.
Also, psychopaths cannot tolerate disrespect. Sometime near the video's end, Judge Adams promises that so much as a questionable tone of voice from his daughter would result in even more severe beatings.
Factoid: the Texas Judge has a history of ruling child-abuse cases in favor of the abuser, saying that a child's testimony is void without video evidence, ironically.
Somewhat related empathy test developed by professor Baron-Cohen.
Dr. Nassir Ghaemi on The Colbert Report explaining why empathy, creativity, realism are so important in leaders.
Jon Ronson on the Daily Show.