‘Getting crazy with the Cheez Whiz’ – The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

When I reached pages 101 and 102 of this book I began to get worried. I have an ongoing niggle in my noggin that I am mad – stark-raving bonkers, doolally, off my trolley, a bit Dagenham. My friends and relatives humour me, pretend that I am all there, that I got off at East Ham. My wife nods and smiles at my pronouncements, my endless gaze, my invented worlds. I suppose we all live in fear of insanity – mindful of its power, jealous of its rebellion, maybe wishing to join that ultimate dropping out: ‘Confined on the ship, from which there is no escape, the madman is delivered to the river with its thousand arms, the sea with its thousand roads, to that great uncertainty external to everything’ – Foucault. But, as I say, when I thumbed my way to pages 101-02, my own personal runaway District Line express had me hurtling (deranged and lunatical) straight for Upminster – eight stops past Barking. And here is why.

The scientific basis for Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test is an actual psychopath test called the Hare PCL-R Checklist (Robert D. Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist-Revised) – twenty points from which mental health professionals calculate if someone exhibits signs of psychopathy. By the way, and I did not know this, psychopathy and sociopathy are the same thing, interchangeable – like Bow Road. As any sane person would, I read the list and wondered if it applied to me and my mind. I will not spoil the book by listing all, but here are some of the checkpoints: ‘Glibness/superficial charm. Grandiose sense of self-worth. Pathological lying. Cunning/manipulative. Lack of remorse or guilt. Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom. Parasitic lifestyle. Impulsivity. Juvenile delinquency. Promiscuous sexual behavior. Many short-term marital relationships.’ I found myself going: ‘Check, check, check, hell yeah! Uh-huh. Right on. True. No doubt.’ Ready to slip on my ‘Ted Bundy is God’ T-shirt, my ‘I could murder a Yorkie’ jockeys, and check myself into Broadmoor Hospital, I read on and discovered that if you think you are a psychopath, you definitely are not. Psychopaths are way too wrapped up in their minds to realize that they are psychopaths. Phew. Armed with this test and additional data from various psych-iatrists, -ologists, -oanalysts, plus advice from the Scientologists, Ronson sets out to track down psychopaths in hospitals and prisons, and in banking and industry – his theory being that some psychopaths run big business – it is all mergers and acquisitions – or murders and executions, as Bret Easton Ellis’s psycho-in-an-Armani Patrick Bateman would have it.

On his travels, Ronson encounters neurologists, a mysterious writer, Douglas Hofstadter – author of Gödel, Escher, Bach, disgraced television psych-guru Raj Persaud, Tony – a man who faked insanity, more Scientologists, nude psychotherapy sessions, a woman who made her dirty protest into art, Haitian death-squad leader Toto Constant, ‘Chainsaw’ Al Dunlap, and the seriously out-for-lunch David Shayler. Investigations into serial corporate rapists, serial killers, and serial liars bring Ronson into the orbit of men such as Ted Bundy, Charles Manson (wonder why Ronson never interviewed him?), Robert Napper, and Colin Stagg.

Of the above list, Bundy fits the Hare PCL-R Checklist more snugly than Pavarotti reverse toothpasted into a petite straightjacket. A few weeks back I wrote this, ‘Bundy created his own locos, devised the arena of his abductions; a smooth-talker schooled in politics and law, good-looking, he extemporised, creating situations in which trust folds into violence, a woman becomes an object of disgust in order that the non-object (Bundy) can reject his abjection. Bundy, a tireless builder of scenarios, stories, lies, and myths – re-enacted his kills to constantly regain the original rush, the ‘one’ time he felt whole. He worked at night, he worked at twilight, the liminal hours – and he carried away the bodies, on the road, into the mountains.’ Bundy was an off-the-peg, out-to-lunch psycho and Ronson attempts to show how some of today’s top executives and politicians mirror Bundy’s charm, drive, and lack of remorse in their ceaseless pursuit of power, money, and control.

Although some of the signposts on the psychopathic information highway point to cul-de-sacs, orbitals, and spaghetti (neuro) junctions, guiding us along a route that doesn’t really deliver the requisite wow factor in its conclusive destinations, Ronson’s prose is lively, conversational, and clear. His own neuroses add to the twitching curtains of our own mental inquisitiveness, and his humour in confronting sometimes violent and unstable personalities makes this book readable and highly entertaining. There is an undercurrent of seriousness and reference that are worth pursuing outside the covers of The Psychopath Test if you want to check out David Cooper, R.D. Laing, Colin Wilson, or Gordon Burn’s Happy Like Murderers. So, when you sit down to dinner tonight with your loved one(s), run a check, see if their quirks and traits add up – are you sitting next to Fred West or Fred Dibner, Patrick Bateman or Patrick Stewart, Margaret Thatcher or Margaret Atwood?

Any Cop?: ‘People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does’ – Foucault. ‘Getting crazy with the Cheez Whiz’ – Beck.

Advertisements

About this entry