“There is no evidence that we’ve been placed on this planet to be especially happy or especially normal. And in fact our unhappiness and our strangeness, our anxieties and compulsions, those least fashionable aspects of our personalities, are quite often what lead us to do rather interesting things. “
Jon Ronson, the Psychopath Test
To someone who’s planning on soon becoming a psychiatrist or mental health researcher, or something in that vicinity, picking up a book called “The Psychopath Test” was only too natural. It’s the kind of title that would catch my eye before I even knew it caught my eye. Whether you’re into this sort of thing or not, this is definitely a book that keeps you hooked: interesting, humorous, and simple; all I needed were two days and a half to finish it. And, if I were to sum it up in one word, I would say: INTRIGUING.
‘The Psychopath Test’ gives us a display of the spectrum of human madness. Ronson interviews people from all over the world to show us how on the one end madness can give rise to creativity in all its forms, introducing us to people like Mary Byrnes (an acclaimed painter) and Ian Spurling (Freddy Mercury’s costume designer), but on the very other end you have serial rapists and mass murders like Toto Constant; with fetishism and delusions, crazy capitalists and conspiracy theorists colorfully scattered along the line.
The question that comes up again and again is whether checklists are really a sufficient method of labeling people with psychiatric diagnoses, some of which could be damning. And in our tireless efforts to conform and to label, who should be labeled normal and who shouldn’t? Are psychiatrists all around the world over-diagnosing mental illnesses? Are we medicating people who in fact do not need it.
“maybe it was trying so hard to be normal that made people so afraid they were going crazy”
I was reading this book as a neutral person at times, and as a psychiatrist-to-be at others. The psychiatrist-to-be kept wondering if I would fall into the same mistakes and tricks, if I would ever diagnose someone as bipolar or psychotic when in fact they weren’t; and if pre-prepared checklists would ever take the upper hand over my judgement of a situation. Meanwhile, the neutral person was just worried I would ever run into one of those un-empathic, emotion-less, manipulative psychopaths and suffer some miserable fate!
“Psychopaths: predators who use charm, manipulation, intimidation, sex and violence to control others and satisfy their own selfish needs.”
So, yes it’s definitely a book that makes you think a lot about the little things in life, and the big ones. It makes you ponder questions of madness and sanity; conformity and rebellion; why we like to stick to the security of the norm, or why we decide to stray from it in order to make a statement, to let our existence be known – sometimes consciously, sometimes through illness.
Ronson travels around the world to better understand the worlds and minds of “psychopaths” and to learn to “spot them”. He sits across tables from people most of us would rather not approach, and he simply asks them about their thoughts and their feelings – no barriers, no labels; some even become his friends. I found that the thing most worthy of respect. After a journey with some of the ‘maddest’ people out there, he still maintains that we should not “define people by their maddest edges”, and he challenges our deep-seated need to conform and to fit in, and be labeled ‘normal’ , by saying it keeps us from doing interesting things!
“Does the madman know he is mad? Or are the madmen those who insist on convincing him of his unreason to safeguard their own reality?” Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
And if you think of it, that’s absolutely true, if we all conformed, our earth would’ve still been flat, and apples would’ve continued to mysteriously fall off trees, and our generation would never have witnessed a man jump from the edge of the stratosphere! In light of that, I’m gonna raise an imaginary toast to our wildest endeavors and our maddest dreams ! Cheers!