Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

Author Jon Ronson has been popping up on podcasts I've listened to for years and I'm generally enthralled by the stories he tells. Too, his soft-spoken, sing-song English accent never fails to grab me so at last, I'm reading his work. 

To be honest, I read this particular title in order to help determine if a person in my life is actually a psychopath. While I have my suspicions, I wanted to learn more about psychopathy in order to make my own unqualified assessment and then be all judge-y and shit. 

In fact, this same idea is among the reasons Ronson wrote the book: he became aware of a man who faked his way into a mental hospital to avoid prison and who then couldn't get out. From there, Ronson learns of Dr. Robert Hare and his psychopath test: 20 questions that have become a standard in diagnosing psychopathy (I'm skipping over how the book starts with an odd story about random academics who receive copies of a custom, cryptic book since you pretty much can ignore that).

As Ronson  applies his newfound knowledge, he starts seeing psychopaths everywhere and this is a fellow who certainly knows how to find people who are, shall we say, a bit off. In fact, he feels so empowered by this wee bit of knowledge that, as the book goes on, he recognizes the Hale test might be too broad to be consistently correct. He also learns those with psychopathic tendencies are less often the homicidal maniacs that we've come to associate with the term but quite often leaders in government and business. It seems psychopathy lends itself to this personality type. Are they all nuts or just misunderstood? Tough call. 

Ultimately, what I believe Ronson learned by writing The Psychopath Test is that while someone may indeed be a psychopath, it isn't for him to decide. Same goes for me. As Alexander Pope said, "A little learning is a dangerous thing". 

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