24 August 2011


Jon Ronson. The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry. Picador, 2011.

Journalist Jon Ronson was asked by a neurologist to investigate a truly weird book she had received. While he was able to solve that problem fairly quickly, the search led him into the world of psychiatry, and the anti-psychiatry movement now largely dominated by Scientologists.
He gets involved with the campaign for the release of a Broadmoor patient, who claimed he had faked madness to get out of a prison sentence, and from this he meets psychologist Bob Hare who has devised a test for psychopaths, and tracks down various strange attempts to cure the 'incurable' psychopaths. The Hare criterion include massive egotism, lack of empathy and conscience, unshockability, poor impulse control, superficial charm and charisma etc.

Hare and some of his colleagues have clearly come to the conclusion that by no means all psychopaths are in jail, in fact some are running businesses and governments, and while criminal psychopaths can ruin several lives, these can ruin thousands. Obviously the libel laws mean that few of them can be named, though few could doubt that the late Robert Maxwell was among their number! The example given by Ronson is an American corporate axe-man and professional sacker, the person firms appoint if they want to thrown masses of their staff out of work.

Of course there is a problem about seeing psychopaths around every corner, and for them being responsible for much of the world's suffering, which is that it is just another version of the old myth that all the world's heartache, suffering and misery is the fault of the terrible others, and if only we could cleanse the world of Them all would be peace and joy.

The journey to the edges of madness takes Ronson to the outer limits of conspiracy theorising, those who claim that the 7/7 London Underground bombings were somehow faked, even going so far as to claim that one survivor who set up a blog and support group was a government stooge, or would be if she actually existed. When she turned up at one of their meetings, she was denounced as being crazy herself for shouting at them. A leading figure in this movement is or was David Shayler the former MI5 whistleblower. Shayler has since discovered he is the Messiah so further comment seems superfluous.

The final section of the book looks at the controversial diagnosis of young children with bipolar disorder, even though mainstream psychiatric opinion is that this does not develop before adolescence. This is perhaps yet another example as to how more and more behaviours and behavioural problems are given medical or medical sounding diagnoses, and all but a very narrow range are assumed to have some sort of syndrome, problem or disorder. -- Peter Rogerson.

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