This note follows from a conversation I had with my wife, and an email I sent to Rod, so I must start by apologising to those individuals for recycling the same material into a blog post. Waste not, want not, my grandmother used to say.
I have recently read Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test – a friend recommended it, and I found it a worthwhile, absorbing read. It is, admittedly, written rather in the style of Bill Bryson (Notes from the World of Psychiatry?), but it is entertaining, informative and thought provoking all at the same time. The big messages for me were the surprising numbers of scary people who make it into positions of power and influence, and the extent to which the psychiatry and pharmaceutical industries have exploited public fear of mental illness, and have (apparently) even invented disorders – especially in childhood – whose very existence is debated, but which produce a very considerable revenue.
I am not going to trot out a full review – my mind doesn’t seem to work like that. I will mention, however, some small disquiet I felt as I was working my way through Bob Hare’s psychopathy checklist, which is an established diagnostic tool, especially in criminal psychiatry – it struck me that it seems remarkably crude, for a resource which is so highly valued and which actually results in people being placed in institutions – but then, what do I know? I also found, as I was going through the checklist, that a fair number of the characteristics described might apply to me. Good heavens, that one sounds like me as well.
|No, no - that's a cycle path|
Of course, I played it down to myself, but I was really quite relieved when I came to a section which stated that, if the reader was growing concerned that they might themselves have psychopathic tendencies, then they almost certainly did not, since a true psychopath would not have been concerned.
So that’s all right then – now I wasn’t worried at all. Then I started to consider, how would a psychopath have reacted to the news that anyone who was worried was probably not a psychopath? Would they then have become worried, since they had not been concerned about the checklist questions, or are psychopaths unlikely to be worried about something as cerebral as a book anyway? Should I be worried about the exact point at which I ceased being worried? Hmmm.
|That's more like it - there's a man who had an accident with the ketchup bottle|
By this stage I had finished reading anyway, so I have stopped worrying now. I’ll go back to worrying about my book about quantum mechanics, which was the worry I interrupted with this most recent book, though I am faintly puzzled to learn that The Psychopath Test is to be a film, starring Scarlett Johansson. I shall leave out the obligatory picture of Ms Johansson, since no-one else will.
I drafted this post yesterday, and this morning I find that my timing was inopportune. I am sickened, like everyone else, by the news coverage of the live execution of a TV news team in Virginia – having heard the BBC talking, once again, about “media coverage”, I am keeping the TV switched firmly off until things quieten down. I am upset by the event, the coverage, the reaction and the implications.
|Apparently, this is what a TV looks like when it's switched off|
Of course, this is a tragedy involving people in the news industry, so the TV people are very focused on that; they happen to have been rather attractive, young people, which makes the story even more interesting – complete with statements from fiancés, tributes from neighbours and former schoolfriends, etc; most obvious of all, the availability of a clip showing someone being killed on live TV is too much to resist – the media will get as close to the boundaries of the law and public decency as they can to outdo each other. I am not going to invite death threats again by lamenting the gun situation in the USA, but I observe that the perpetrator was a black guy, which will have been duly noted by those who keep score and those who support the present gun laws.
I wonder – to give us a context, how many unpublicised fatal shootings take place each day in the US? I also wonder – since I am now a bit of an expert – are the psychopaths the people who:
(1) Kill people on live TV?
(2) Televise the shooting in as explicit a manner as possible, to score viewing figures?
(3) Watch it again and again, to catch new details?
(4) Think about doing something similar?
(5) Keep the TV switched off, to avoid being confronted by it?
The questions are, of course, rhetorical – I do not expect anyone to provide answers. Thanks, anyway – if you are upset by this post, please purchase a bunch of flowers from your local filling station, and place them in front of your TV.
Just out of interest, I thought I’d have a look this morning to see if there are any prominent black members of the NRA. I got depressed before I’d formed a clear opinion, so I’ve done with the subject. Back to quantum mechanics.