There’s always something fascinating about psychopaths. Whether it’s the flamboyant portrayals on TV and film or the general mystery around the condition, we seem to take comfort in observing and classifying the insane.
In The Psychopath Test, Jon Ronson explores psychopathy, psychiatry and flaws in diagnosis. Over time, the media has picked up on the ‘good’ psychopaths, where confidence and a dedicated mindset has benefitted business and the economy. In Ronson’s book, we see Jon – armed with Bob Hare’s checklist for psychopathy – rooting out examples of such people at the top of society.
Aside from these case studies, the book seems to pick at the wider question of labels in our society. Of course, we already see this with social class and different beliefs, but there’s something concerning about labels when it comes to insanity.
Throughout the story, we hear about a man – given the name Tony – who is imprisoned in Broadmoor after faking insanity. Throughout his time in the facility, we hear about his struggle to prove his sanity when others think he is insane.
In Tony’s case, any signs of sanity would seem faked according to psychiatrists in Broadmoor, suggesting that Tony was being manipulative. It’s almost like any positive characteristics outside the condition are swept aside, and society continues to bound individuals to their condition.
Of course, nowadays with any mental health condition, we hear about people achieving remarkable things despite having Tourette’s or autism, for example. Whilst individuals can choose whether or not to let their mental health define them, society still favours labels because it aids marginalisation.
Much like when I read So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Ronson does leave some questions unanswered. In this case, why is society fascinated by mental health conditions and why is it so keen to limit individuals to this?
But then again, I think I’ve already answered this question. As we watch TV psychopaths, we relish in the dichotomy created between ‘us’ and ‘them’. These binary oppositions fuel society just as much as these apparent ‘good’ psychopaths do.
Have you read The Psychopath Test? What do you think of it? Comment below!