Wednesday, May 14, 2014

They walk among us and wonder why we feel pain

Book: The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry
Author: Jon Ronson
Published: 2011 (Riverhead)
Pages: 272

According to this book, "psychopath" and "sociopath" are the same thing and used interchangeably; according to my Psych 101 and sociology professors, they are not. I hope I am not being to presumptuous by believing them over this guy, because I do love the offbeat adventures he gets into in the name of journalism.

 This is the same guy who wrote The Men Who Stare at Goats, and I heard him interviewed on the podcast "How Was Your Week?" (which, honestly, I love but had to stop listening to after the hostess went through a major breakup at the same time as I did - so go listen to it, we're both mostly over it by now), and now I'm going to have to read his book Them! because it's about conspiracy theorists and if he adds any of the affable  semi-skepticism that is still willing to be taken in if the evidence is good enough that he adds to his other work, then I'm already sold.

 Anyhoo, this book didn't depend so much on his ability to take leaps of logic, but it did wear down his faith in the mental health industry and their classifications of what's normal and what's not. It starts with a coded book that one of his friends receives and can't, you know, decode, so he tells the author about it and the author starts to dig in and in the process finds fascinating insight into how we measure psychopaths.

 I phrase it like that because it's not so much about the actual psychopaths that he gets to interview (one's in jail!) and run across, but more about how to tell if someone qualifies or not. Stemming from the checklist that was standardized in the 1960s, his increasing wonderings on the subject only get more tangled up in the development of the diagnosis and its history, why psychopaths make such successful business people, and what does it actually feel like to not have any clue what other people are feeling. 

 It was great first-person narrative journalism, which sometimes to me feels truer than complete objectivism, especially when the facts are also there between the anecdotes.
You should read this, and I'm going to put it on my bookshelf so the goats can stare at it, and I'm going to find Them! (which is all They want from us, really) and report back.

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