The Psychopath Test (by Jon Ronson) | Book Review
So, I had lots of hours to burn in London before my flight. And I needed a place with free Wi-Fi. Luckily, there was Waterstones nearby. Tell you what; free Wi-Fi is an excellent marketing strategy. I ended up buying 5 books. ‘The Psychopath Test’ was among them and it caught my attention for I have been asking myself since a long time whether it was possible for anyone to be clinically incapable of empathizing with others and whether it was possible for anyone to be born a criminal.
One lucky weekend, I journeyed through the book. Jon Ronson observes that madness was motivating people and shaping the world more than rationality. He began his quest to find out whether there existed a preponderance of psychopath amid the top ranks in corporate and political world. He pens down his observations in very captivating and humorous way with spontaneous references to his ‘own sort of madness’. He questions himself: whether rationality is a greater drive in his life or his ‘over-anxious’ brain in search for answers. He interrogates the abstruse divide between normal and abnormal in his own unique way:
“..It wasn’t normal. Normal people definitely didn’t feel this panicky. Normal people definitely didn’t feel like they were being electrocuted from the inside by an unborn child armed with a miniature taser, that they were being prodded by a wire emitting the kind of electrical charge that stops cattle from going into the next field”
He gave simple examples in a witty tone; we, the ‘normal’ beings can associate themselves with such examples and at the same time realize that ‘such mysterious, crazy noises’ exist within us too:
“I phoned home but my wife didn’t answer. It crossed my mind that she might be dead. I panicked. Then it turned out that she wasn’t dead. She had just been at the shops. I have panicked unnecessarily in all four corners of the globe”
Despite the amusing tenor that twitters throughout the book, it discusses the topic of clinical absence of empathy (i.e. psychopathy) acutely and brings to surface on-ground realities that even academics tend to oversee.
Early on in his journey he got hold of the DSM-IV. Skimming through the book he ironically comments on the fuzziness of classifications:
“ … ‘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. Generalized Anxiety Disorder was a given. But I hadn’t realized what a collage of mental disorders my whole life has been.”
His scepticism in the DSM led him to an international network of Scientologists called the CCHR (Citizens’ Commission on Human Rights) who introduced him to ‘the man who faked madness’ as an evidence of the flaws that existed within psychological classifications. As an outsider, who belonged neither to main stream psychiatry or CCHR, he was able to weigh his observations without any pre-formed associations. Along the journey he attended a workshop on Hare’s checklist for psychopaths (PCL-R), and became a ‘certified psychopath spotter’. He travelled ‘madly’ hundreds of miles to meet people who had been classified as psychopaths, to see if they fulfilled the checklist.
At no point in his book, does he form any staunch view. He neither declares CCHR as heretics or Psychiatry: An industry of death. He felt no need to assert a final ruling regarding any of the people he inspected for psychopathy. He super-imposed and organized his observations, personal experiences, dialogues with professionals but did not provide any answer in binary. He makes a strong case for all those who lie in the middle of the spectrum; the grey area between psychological definitions of normality and abnormality.
In short, it was an informative and intriguing journey into the madness industry. The journey unveils the dark corners of madness-spotting industry and silently asks for an all-important redefinition of madness.