Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Crazy Good

Last week while I was in line for coffee, I got asked if I was a psychopath.

This wasn’t because I look psychopathic (I hope), but because I was carrying a copy of Jon Ronson’s newest book, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, under my arm. It’s my favorite book of the moment, and the one I’m going to badger everyone I know to read.

I’ve been a huge fan of Jon Ronson’s since I first encountered his non-fiction book, The Men Who Stare at Goats, in a used book store in Burlington, VT, circa 2007. The Men Who Stare At Goats is loosely about U.S. Army officers who try to harness psychic energy in an attempt to disintegrate live goats, and since its publication in 2004, it’s been turned into a film starring George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, Ewan McGregor and Jeff Bridges, and Ronson has been invited as a regular contributor to NPR’s This American Life.

Ronson’s forte is weird fringe journalism, wherein he investigates psychic and paranormal military ops, extraterrestrial theories, Roswell type stuff, and now, psychopathy. But the thing that makes him so much more than a run of the mill conspiracy theorist is his knack for serious journalistic endeavors: how did our psy-ops military culture lead up to Abu Graib? How foolproof is the rubric we use to label people psychopaths? And should we be more concerned about the psychopaths who are in prison, or the ones who are running the world’s biggest corporations?

From the Stockwell Strangler to former Sunbeam CEO Al Dunlap, Jon Ronson sets out on a quest to understand the nature of psychopathy and power. (According to the Bob Hare, creator of the Psychopathy Checklist Revised, at least 4% of our world leaders meet the minimum qualifications of psychopathy!) Ronson’s anecdotes are witty and revelatory, and will make you feel a little like you are able to identify the psychopaths in your own life. But at the heart of his investigation, Jon Ronson unveils his own unsettling hypothesis about our culture’s fascination with madness, and why we’re all sort-of comforted by those pill-popping personalities we see on reality TV.

And if nothing else, The Psychopath Test is a fabulous conversation starter. I suggest you take it with you next time you go for coffee. You might get asked if you’re a psychopath.

Rachel - Programs

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