Home » Strange Answers to the Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson (Full Transript)

Strange Answers to the Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson (Full Transript)

And I said, “What else?”

He said, “Oh, yeah. I told the psychiatrist that I wanted to watch women as they died, because it would make me feel more normal.”

I said, “Where’d you get that from?”

He said, “Oh, from a biography of Ted Bundy that they had at the prison library.”

Anyway, he faked madness too well, he said. And they didn’t send him to some cushy hospital. They sent him to Broadmoor. And the minute he got there, said he took one look at the place, asked to see the psychiatrist, said, “There’s been a terrible misunderstanding. I’m not mentally ill.”

I said, “How long have you been here for?”

He said, “Well, if I’d just done my time in prison for the original crime, I’d have got five years. I’ve been in Broadmoor for 12 years.”

Tony said that it’s a lot harder to convince people you’re sane than it is to convince them you’re crazy. He said, “I thought the best way to seem normal would be to talk to people normally about normal things like football or what’s on TV. I subscribe to New Scientist, and recently they had an article about how the U.S. Army was training bumblebees to sniff out explosives. So I said to a nurse, ‘Did you know that the U.S. Army is training bumblebees to sniff out explosives?’ When I read my medical notes, I saw they’d written: ‘Believes bees can sniff out explosives.’

He said, “You know, they’re always looking out for nonverbal clues to my mental state. But how do you sit in a sane way? How do you cross your legs in a sane way? It’s just impossible.” When Tony said that to me, I thought to myself, “Am I sitting like a journalist? Am I crossing my legs like a journalist?”

He said, “You know, I’ve got the Stockwell Strangler on one side of me, and I’ve got the ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’ rapist on the other side of me. So I tend to stay in my room a lot because I find them quite frightening. And they take that as a sign of madness. They say it proves that I’m aloof and grandiose.” So, only in Broadmoor would not wanting to hang out with serial killers be a sign of madness. Anyway, he seemed completely normal to me, but what did I know?

And when I got home I emailed his clinician, Anthony Maden. I said, “What’s the story?”

And he said, “Yep. We accept that Tony faked madness to get out of a prison sentence, because his hallucinations — that had seemed quite cliche to begin with — just vanished the minute he got to Broadmoor. However, we have assessed him, and we’ve determined that what he is is a psychopath.” And in fact, faking madness is exactly the kind of cunning and manipulative act of a psychopath. It’s on the checklist: cunning, manipulative. So, faking your brain going wrong is evidence that your brain has gone wrong. And I spoke to other experts, and they said the pinstripe suit — classic psychopath — speaks to items one and two on the checklist: glibness, superficial charm and grandiose sense of self-worth. And I said, “Well, but why didn’t he hang out with the other patients?” Classic psychopath — it speaks to grandiosity and also lack of empathy. So all the things that had seemed most normal about Tony was evidence, according to his clinician, that he was mad in this new way. He was a psychopath.

And his clinician said to me, “If you want to know more about psychopaths, you can go on a psychopath-spotting course run by Robert Hare, who invented the psychopath checklist.” So I did. I went on a psychopath-spotting course, and I am now a certified — and I have to say, extremely adept — psychopath spotter.

So, here’s the statistics: One in a hundred regular people is a psychopath. So there’s 1,500 people in his room. Fifteen of you are psychopaths. Although that figure rises to four percent of CEOs and business leaders, so I think there’s a very good chance there’s about 30 or 40 psychopaths in this room. It could be carnage by the end of the night.

Hare said the reason why is because capitalism at its most ruthless rewards psychopathic behavior — the lack of empathy, the glibness, cunning, manipulative. In fact, capitalism, perhaps at its most remorseless, is a physical manifestation of psychopathy. It’s like a form of psychopathy that’s come down to affect us all. Hare said to me, “You know what? Forget about some guy at Broadmoor who may or may not have faked madness. Who cares? That’s not a big story. The big story,” he said, “is corporate psychopathy. You want to go and interview yourself some corporate psychopaths.”

So I gave it a try. I wrote to the Enron people. I said, “Could I come and interview you in prison, to find out it you’re psychopaths?”

And they didn’t reply. So I changed tack. I emailed “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap, the asset stripper from the 1990s. He would come into failing businesses and close down 30 percent of the workforce, just turn American towns into ghost towns. And I emailed him and I said, “I believe you may have a very special brain anomaly that makes you … special, and interested in the predatory spirit, and fearless. Can I come and interview you about your special brain anomaly?”

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