The Extraterrestrial Checklist

I’ve had a few people recommend for me to read Jon Ronson’s book The Psychopath Test, but I have no desire to do so. Everything I’ve read about this book tells me that it doesn’t speak to me. Frankly, I have had enough of labeling people so-called psychopaths, what with the demonizing that takes place every time a suspect of an alleged crime comes up for trial. Maybe it was F. Scott Fitzgerald who wrote, “They’re not like us.”

LeftLion, whatever that is, apparently feels differently. The following Q&A is from Jon Ronson – LeftLion’s favourite journalist, in conversation with James Walker.

The Psychopath Test highlighted the flaws of constructing a checklist to determine this mental condition but as a society we have to do something to protect us from them. What did you learn?

Suddenly we’re in this little us and them dichotomy involving society and, I imagine, anti-society.

It’s impossible to come up with a simple answer but I think psychopaths exist. There’s no doubt about that; whether they’re born or made I don’t know. But they definitely exist. It’s a real condition and they’re dangerous because they’ve got no empathy, so there’s no talking sense to them. Yet, when this psychopath checklist is out in the world, if it’s misused, and I certainly have been a misuser of it (laughs), it can be a really dangerous thing. You can reduce a person to a checklist and obviously that’s no good. So there’s no definitive conclusion to draw, which is a good thing. But when it comes to mental health both extremes cause terrible, terrible trouble and when I say both extremes I mean the anti-psychiatry movement who think that mental illnesses don’t even bloody exist and the psychiatry mainstream. In a way they’re both as flawed as each other and you have to try and find a sensible grey area in the middle.

Psychiatry and anti-psychiatry are extremes…Yeah, right, and that leaves everybody else to come up with their own conclusions.

In the first place, there is no anti-psychiatry movement proper. Anti-psychiatry was a term coined by David Graham Cooper, a psychiatrist, that was never really even picked up by his colleagues and associates. Instead it’s this word biological medical model psychiatry, the predominate school of psychiatry today, would use to stifle it’s critics. Criticism, and the more criticism the more so, is equated with this mostly fictional anti-psychiatry movement. Anti-psychiatry, meaning anything other than biological psychiatry, has been proclaimed discredited by biological psychiatry. Furthermore, disagreeing with the Church of Biological Psychiatry is accounted heresy by the Church of Biological Psychiatry. Heretics from the Church of Biological Psychiatry are subject to impromptu and spontaneous, if inconsequential, diagnosis.

As for existence, the boogieman exists, he just might not be the boogieman that’s keeping your nightlight burning, Mr. Ronson. Sleep tight. Watch out for little pink elephants while you’re at it.

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11 Responses

  1. If you catch a criminal who thinks that they they are not a criminal they deny their crimes.”Sandusky on Tuesday got 30 to 60 years for child-sex crimes”

    The trick psychiatry has going that “normal” people can not see is the treatment (psychiatric drugs) can make people mentally ill.
    Because the drugs are called medicines and believed to be medicines, they can only do good things for the “patient”.

    • Crime is a matter of breaking the law, a law made by humankind. Law breakers find all sorts of rationale for breaking the law. Mental health law is a civil matter that can put people away who have broken no law, and as such mental health law should be repealed. Repealing mental health law would mean the abolition of forced treatment.

      In the first place, the difference between committing the “insane” and imprisoning the “criminal” is the same as that between the rule of man and the rule of law: whereas the “insane” are subjected to the coercive controls of the state because persons more powerful than they have labeled them as “psychotic”, “criminals” are subjected to such controls because they have violated legal rules applicable equally to all.

      ~Thomas Szasz, Ideology And Insanity, pg. 122

      You’re very right. The effects of pharmaceuticals are often confused with symptoms of “mental illness”. There are two ways to look at this situation actually. In drugging the patient the physician is replacing psychological distress with neurological disease. Neuroleptic drugs are the primary source for parkinsonism in the world today although the public mind is more aware of the parkinsonism that arises from Parkinson’s Disease. Parkinson’s Disease occurs when dopamine dies off; neuroleptic drugs block dopamine receptors. In both cases, dopamine activity is suppressed. If a neuroleptic doesn’t produce parkinsonism, it isn’t a neuroleptic.

      • This does bring us back to a kind of wishy-washy liberalism that leaves people in danger. Do they have no right to be protected? We have debated the cut-off point before with no particular argument from you other than the abolition of all law pertaining to mental health issues and an accusation of being “with them” rather than “for us”.

        The law needs serious review; too many control the lives of those who have merely stepped outside of cultural norms and this a travesty. However to deny that some pose a danger to others and to support their freedom over the people they threaten is suspect.

        Psychopathy is derived from lack of impulse in the amygdala. It can account for huge success in the worlds of business and politics. And what of that? At the end of the day, the more people you murder, the more likely you are to get away with it. But lacking the empathy to stop one from murdering even one person is something the law attempts to address. Poorly, yes, but complete abolition is unrealistic. What is realistic is to ring-fence those who have threatened no-one and whose behaviour is eccentric at best. Mental ill health is not necessarily a permanent condition any more than the flu is – This needs to be recognised and respected.

        Read the book if you want to sound credible when you trash it; I gave you a chapter reference. Like most books, one can take away what one thinks is useful and discard the rest.

  2. Jon Ronson is a fool. Psychopath is just a name to call people. If someone doesn’t have the level of “empathy” you think they should have, (as if that can even be measured objectively), they are hardened to the world, maybe they hate the world. What happened to them? Idiots will tell you they were born that way. Magical thinking fools who believe in psychiatry’s ready-made villains. I had to laugh when he calls mainstream psychiatry “extreme”. So the opponents on the fringe are “extreme” AND the vast broad mainstream psychiatry believing fools are also “extreme”? Who does this leave? Jon Ronson and his “it is a condition” (take his word for it) crowd?

    The psychopath label has been good to Jon Ronson, it has given him a book and much money. He’s not about to say it or see it for what it is, quackery.

    • I agree. Jon Ronson would say “no” to psychiatry and it’s critics, and then he presumes there are other critics out there. His understated “no” is actually an implicit “yes” to mainstream psychiatry. Where else are those psychopath (& anti-social personality disorder) labels going to come from anyway? This is another excuse to blame biology, a game that conventional psychiatry plays all too well. Blaming biology removes the element of human decision making from the equation. Freedom is chucked out the window with responsibility, and then where are we? Slaves to impulse and external circumstance? I cling to my faith in freedom, and I include in that faith, the freedom to choose to do either good or evil. We should be punishing people for the evil they do, and not for the freedom they have to do evil or good. I think the deterministic view point that comes of biological psychiatry (freedom is an illusion) a threat to democracy.

      Jon Ronson’s moderation is the moderation of an Allen Frances. Allen Frances was one of three main editors behind the DSM-IV. Allen Frances is posing as one of the fiercest critics of the DSM-5 revision process. I don’t know that Allen Frances has ever expressed a great deal of remorse over the DSM-IV. When you are lambasting what you engineered in the first place, you must be pretty pleased with yourself in your God-like role. Is Allen Frances playing two sides against the middle? You betcha!

    • Hi, Anonymous – it’s been a while.

      Ronson is a journalist, a writer; let’s not forget that. His book is “psychopathy light” and is intended to entertain to a greater degree than it is to inform.

      What it does do, is bring to the fore the arguments about treatment and its randomness both with regards to target individuals and the treatment they receive.

      True psychopaths tend not to be treated because they are smart enough not to get caught (see other comments). They are self-serving and immune to the suffering of others. In this, they express their part in the vagaries of human nature.

  3. If people lack empathy and are completely narcissistic, why not just say that, instead of pathologizing? Oh, I forgot, because if we just said that, this wouldn’t implictly prescribe and rationalize coercive (if necessary) pseudo-medical treatment for his ‘mental illness’.

    As for Ronson’s derisory remark about loonies like myself who deny the existence of abstract pathological processes that effect abstract entities, such a remark obviously reposes on his own ignorance. He authors one execrable book about his supposedly fascinating journeys and meetings with ‘lunatics’ and ‘weirdos’, and all of a sudden he esteems himself a pre-eminent authority on the subject of ‘mental illnesses’, without even the embryo of an understanding of what people actually mean when they say ‘mental illnesses don’t exist’ or ‘mental illness is a myth’, which is not denying the facts, but denying the representation of those facts in mislplaced medical terms.

    Even fifty years after the publication of Szasz’s “The Myth of Mental Illness”, people still equate perceptual difference with denial of human suffering. Empirical proof of a ‘mind’ rotting with disease would put an end to the debate and subsume all perspectives to that of the Mental Healthers, but of course, none is or can be forthcoming, so society reverts to its usual modus operandi when confronted with dissent that can’t be dismissed with hard evidence, namely, ridiculing and shaking its heads in collective disbelief that someone could disbelieve what is so obviously true to them, the concept of mass delusions obviously not applicable to our golden generation.

    • Psychiatry and neuro-psychiatry would pathologize 50 % of the US population. You can’t do that if you don’t pathologize people. ‘Lacking empathy’ could be considered a choice. ‘Narcissistic’, when it isn’t an adjective, by the addition of “personality disorder” becomes a psychiatric label. The explanation…bio-babble. Theory has it personality is born, and not made, or developed. I guess bio-babble theory further could claim “disorder” to be ‘to the bone’.

      Where is Jon Ronson going to go if not to the critic of psychiatry? Ah, I know…to psychiatrists posing as critics of psychiatry. Psychiatrists like Allen Frances. The general population only knows what psychiatry, the “experts”, tell it. Allen Frances is claiming the DSM-5 is in danger of “medicalizing normal”. Dr. Thomas Szasz, long before Dr. Frances had his little halfway round about face, titled one of his books, The Medicalization of Everyday Life. He, Dr. Frances, could be going to psychologists, too, but that’s another area of murk. He’s got some of them fogged himself, I believe, and so, that’s that.

      The problem is that people believe the bunk printed in the DSM. Psychiatrists came up with the DSM. Psychologists are generally under the sway of psychiatry. Some patients make a lot out of bunk. Some people make a lot out of molehills. Chicken Little thought the sky was falling. Chicken Little was very lucky not to cross paths with a psychiatrist.

    • Mass delusion is alive and well and is being manipulated by pharmaceutical companies for profit; of this there is no doubt. However when narcissism and lack of empathy turn murderous, there is an issue to face.

  4. As for the belief in an ‘antipsychiatry movement’, this is a delusion, but a delusion popular and useful enough to escape being imputed to a brain disease.

    • Yes and no. Some people identify with “anti-psychiatry”. “Anti-psychiatry” even has a Wikipedia page. Some of the figures most strongly associated with “anti-psychiatry” objected to the term. So much for “anti-psychiatry”.

      I’ve heard it proposed that psychiatry as a profession, because it is so harmful to people, should be abolished. I certainly sympathize with such sentiments. Some people would call such a view “anti-psychiatry”. Other people would say, “Good riddance!”

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