Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson

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

I don't have much use for psychology or psychiatry. These are the branches of science used by those that seemingly justify such nonsense as curing homosexuality. Psychology experiments often seem to be ethically murky and confirm their initial hypotheses at an unbelievably high rate. On the other hand, I'm not someone that believes mental illness isn't a real disease, either. Like most things, there are good and bad aspects to psychology and clearly it has helped thousands of people live happier lives. So, when my book club chose The Psychopath Test as the monthly selection I was intrigued and looking forward to a closer examination of the industry.

I found this look into psychology and psychopaths in particular fascinating. Ronson examines all sides of the situation, talking with editors of the bible of mental disorders (the DSM-IV-TR), extreme 9/11 Truther and self-proclaimed messiah David Shayler, the author of the most common tool for diagnosing psychopathy (the PCL-R), and a powerful group Scientologists that are trying to stamp out psychology entirely (the CCHR). Written in first person Ronson seems greatly influenced by whichever group he speaks with last, see-sawing between radically different points of view. He doesn't really make any conclusions, but simply walks through the various beliefs and allows the reader to decide on his own. Most compelling to me was the debate about where the line between mentally ill and simply eccentric is drawn; what I learned here makes me a bit scared as to how fast we jump to diagnosing illness and prescribing drugs for behaviors such as hyperactivity and short tempers—especially in children.

The most surprising aspect of the book is the revelation that not all psychopaths are criminal; in fact, they are everywhere and often lead normal lives. A desire to win and a love of power are common sociopathic traits, as is a lack of normal human feelings. "They're the boss or coworker who likes to make other people up just for the pleasure of seeing them jump. They're the spouse who marries to look socially normal but inside the marriage shows no love after the initial charm wears off." Even more disturbing than the psychopath next door is the realization that these behaviors result in a preponderance of such people in leadership positions. "The higher you go up the [corporate or political] ladder, the greater the number of sociopaths you'll find there." From now on I'll be equating politicians with psychopaths, which frankly explains a lot about our government.

First Sentence:
This is a story about madness.

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