Jon Ronson: “Lost at Sea” | Talks at Google

Jon Ronson: “Lost at Sea” | Talks at Google


PRESENTER: Good afternoon,
everyone. Authors at Google New York
is pleased today to welcome Jon Ronson. [APPLAUSE] JON RONSON: Hello. Hi. So “The Psychopath
Test.” It began– I was at a friend’s house, and
she had on her shelf a copy of the DSM manual, which I’m
sure you all know about. It’s the manual of
mental disorders. It started off in the ’50s
as a very slim volume. There were very few mental
disorders in the ’50s. And then it grew and grew and
grew, and it’s currently 886 pages long, and it lists every
known mental disorder. And there’s currently 374
mental disorders. So I was leafing through the
book, wondering if I had any mental disorders, and it turns
out that I’ve got 12. I’ve got generalized anxiety
disorder, which frankly, I didn’t a book to tell me. I’ve got nightmare disorder,
which is categorized if you have recurrent dreams of being
pursued or declared a failure. And all my dreams involve
people pursuing me and declaring me a failure. I’ve got a parent-child
relational problems, which I blame my parents for. I’ve got malingering. And I think it’s actually
probably quite rare to have malingering and generalized
anxiety disorder, but there you go. I’ve got both. The new edition, as I’m sure
you’ll know, is about to come out in May, and they’ve just
announced some of the new disorders that are going
to be in there. Intermittent explosive
disorder. There’s a version of it
in the current DSM-IV. But now I met the head of the
new DSM a couple of weeks ago, and I said to him, OK, if you
break a bottle against a wall twice in a year in anger, does
that mean you’ve got intermittent explosive
disorder? And he said, yes. So there you go. Also, they’ve been thinking
about putting internet addiction into the new DSM. But now they’ve decided to put
it into the appendix, which is the graveyard of mental
disorders. Which actually, I’m kind of
pissed off about, because the times when I’ve accidentally
typed my name into Google and inadvertently pressed Search,
and I found people slagging me off, I kind of like the idea of
them being declared insane. But unfortunately, internet
addiction isn’t going to be a full-blown disorder. Much later, by the way,
I was wondering why. You know, with these mental
disorders, was I much crazier than I thought I was? Or maybe it’s not a good idea
to diagnose yourself with a mental disorder if you’re not
a trained professional. Or maybe the psychiatry
profession has a kind of strange fetish to label
increasingly normal behavior as mental disorders. I didn’t know which of those
things was true. But I thought it was really
interesting to try and solve that mystery. Much later, by the way, I met
the man who turned the DSM from a pamphlet into
a brick of a book. It was called Robert Spitzer,
who is now in Princeton. At the time, he was
at Columbia. And Robert Spitzer’s story
is that he hated Freudian psychoanalysis, because his
mother was miserable her whole life, and she died unhappy,
and she’d gone to Freudian analyst after Freudian analyst
and none of them helped her. So he grew up with this kind
of hatred of Freud. And when he took over the
editorship of the DSM, he decided that it was his destiny
to eradicate Freud from psychiatry and replace all
that sleuthing around the unconscious with checklists. So he called all his like-minded
people into conference rooms at Columbia,
and he’d say, who’s got ideas for the mental disorders? And people would go, oh, ADHD! And he’d go, what’s
the checklist? And he’d type it into
his typewriter. And that’s how ADHD came to
be a mental disorder. And it’s how bulimia came to
be in the DSM, and so on. The person who shouted the
loudest, he would listen to them, and he’d type it into his
old typewriter, and there it was, sealed in stone. And I said to him, when I met
him in Princeton, a couple of years ago, I said, were there
any proposed mental disorders that you rejected? And he said, yeah,
there was one. Atypical child syndrome. He said the problem with it
was when I asked the man proposing it what the shared
characteristics were, he said, that’s very hard to
say, because the children are very atypical. [LAUGHTER] JON RONSON: He said he was
also going to put in masochistic personality
disorder, which would be for women who remained in abusive
relationships. But he said he got into terrible
trouble with the feminists, and so he changed
the name to self-defeating personality disorder and shoved
it in the appendix. So this was much later. And when I was at my friend’s
house, I was wondering, well, what is this with mental
disorders? What’s the issue? And so I decided to meet a
critic of psychiatry to get their view, which is how I ended
up having lunch with the Scientologists. And it was a crack team
of Scientologists. This was in London. They’re called the CCHR. And it’s their destiny
to destroy psychiatry wherever it lies– probably because of difficult
relationships between L. Ron Hubbard and psychiatrists,
back in the day. And I had lunch with the head
of the London branch. His name was Brian. And I said, can you prove to me
that psychiatry is a wicked pseudoscience that
can’t be trusted? Can you prove your
ideology to me? And he said, yes, I can
prove it to you. And I said, how? And he said, I can introduce
you to Tony. And I said, who’s Tony? And he said, Tony’s
in Broadmoor. And Broadmoor is Broadmoor
Hospital. It was Britain’s most notorious,
mythologically notorious asylum for the
criminally insane. It’s now called, of course,
Broadmoor Hospital. And I said, what did Tony do? And Brian said, hardly
anything. He beat someone up
with something. But the point is, he decided to
fake madness to get out of a prison sentence, and he faked
it too well, and now he’s stuck in Broadmoor. And the more he tries to
convince the psychiatrists there that he’s sane, the more
they take it as evidence that he’s crazy. Do you want us to get you into
Broadmoor to meet Tony? So I said, yes, please. So I’m going to read a tiny
bit from “The Psychopath Test,” what happened when
I went to Broadmoor. I got the train there. I began to yawn uncontrollably
around Kempton Park, which is what dogs also do
when anxious. And I got to Broadmoor, and I
met Brian, and we were taken through high-security gate after
gate after gate into the Wellness Center, which
is where you get to meet the patients. And it’s all calming colors,
like peaches and pine. And I’m going to do a little
microphone experiment of, like, leaning back a bit
and seeing if you can still hear me? Is that OK? Because I was getting a– great. OK. So the Wellness Center at
Broadmoor, it’s all peach and pine and calming colors. It looks like a kind
of travel inn. And the only bold colors are the
reds of the panic buttons. And Brian said to me, you know,
Tony’s the only person in the entire DSPD unit to have
the privilege of meeting people in the Wellness Center. And I said, what does
DSPD stand for? And Brian said, Dangerous and
Severe Personality Disorder. And I said, is Tony in the part
of Broadmoor that houses the most dangerous people? And Brian said, yeah,
isn’t that insane? And then the patients started
drifting in, and they’re all quite overweight and wearing
sweatpants and shuffling, and they had sort of doleful eyes. And Brian whispered to me,
they’re medicated. Which, to a Scientologist, is
like the worst evil in the world, but I’m thinking it’s
presumably a good idea. And then Brian said,
here’s Tony. And a man was walking towards
me, and he wasn’t overweight. He was in excellent physical
condition. And he wasn’t wearing
sweatpants. He was wearing a
pinstripe suit. It was evidently the outfit of
a man who wanted to prove to me that he was incredibly
sane. So we sat down, and I said, is
it true that you faked your way in here? And he said, yeah, absolutely. I beat a man up in Reading,
which is just west of London. And I was on remand, and my
cellmate said, you’re looking at five to seven
years for this. What you have to do
is fake madness. Tell them you’re mad. You’ll get sent to some
cushy hospital. You’ll have your own
PlayStation. Nurses will bring you pizzas. So he says, so that’s
what I did. And I said, how to do it? He said, well, I asked to see
the prison psychiatrist. And I’d just seen a film called
“Crash,” in which people get sexual pleasure from
crashing cars into walls. So I said to the psychiatrist,
I get sexual pleasure from crashing cars into walls. And I said, what else? And he said, oh, I told the
psychiatrist that I wanted to watch women as they died,
because it would make me feel more normal. And I said, where’d
you get that from? And he said, oh, from a
biography of Ted Bundy that they had in the prison
library. So anyway, I faked
madness too well. They didn’t send me some
cushy hospital. They sent me to Broadmoor. The minute I got here, took a
look around, asked to see the psychiatrist. I said, there’s been a terrible
misunderstanding. I said, how long have
you been here for? He said, well, if I had done my
time for the original GBH, I’d have got five
to seven years. I’ve been in Broadmoor
for 12 years. It is an awful lot harder,
Tony told me, to convince people you’re sane than it is to
convince them you’re crazy. I thought the best way to seem
normal, he said, would be to talk to people normally about
normal things, like football. That’s the obvious thing
to do, right? I subscribe to “New Scientist.”
I like reading about scientific
breakthroughs. One time, they had an article
about how the US Army was training bumblebees to
sniff out explosives. So I said to a nurse, did you
know that the US Army’s training bumblebees to
sniff out explosives? Later, when I read my medical
notes, I saw they’d written, “thinks bees can sniff
out explosives.” An then when Tony said this to
me, I thought it was probably good idea that I hadn’t met any
psychiatrists when I was writing “The Men Who Stare At
Goats,” which if people don’t know, it’s full of that stuff. It was my previous story. I was in Hawaii and I met a man
called Glenn Wheaton, who was part of a secret
US military unit called Project Jedi. And I said, what was
Project Jedi? And he said it was a
series of levels. And I said, what
was level one? He said, level one
was observation. You walk into a room. How many chairs are
in the room? The super soldier
would just know. And I said, what
was level two? He said, level two
is intuition. You’re at a fork in the road. Do you go left? Do you go right? You go right. And I said, what was
level three? And he said level three
was invisibility. And I said, that’s quite
a leap from level two. I said, what, actual
invisibility? And he said, at first, but after
a while, we adapted it to just trying to find a
way of not being seen. So I said, like camouflage? And he went, no. [LAUGHTER] He said, level four was we had
a master sergeant that could stop the heart of a goat just
by wanting it to stop. And I said, did he
ever manage it? And he said, one time. But his heart got damaged
at the same time. And I said, what, was the goat
psychically fighting back? And he said, no, the goat
didn’t stand a chance. He said, it’s what’s known
in paranormal circles as sympathetic injury. He said one time they had 30
goats in a room, and they were all staring at goat number
16, and then goat number 17 fell over. Which I guess is collateral
damage. [LAUGHTER] When you decided to wear
pinstripe to meet me, I said, did you realize the look
could go either way? Yes, said Tony, but I thought
I’d take my chances. Plus, most of the patients here
are disgusting slobs who don’t wash or change their
clothes for weeks on end, and I like to dress well. Tony said he didn’t like
hanging around with the other patients. He said on one side of him, he
had the Stockwell Strangler, and on the other side of him, he
had the Tiptoe Through The Tulips Rapist. And he said he found them
unsavory and frightening, so he stays in his room a lot. And he said they took that as
a sign of madness, because they said it demonstrated that
he was aloof and grandiose. So only in Broadmoor would not
wanting to hang out with serial killers be considered
a sign of madness. Anyway, Tony seemed completely
fine to me. Just normal and sane. But obviously, what
did I know? So when I got home, I wrote to
his clinician, Anthony Maden, and I said, what’s the story? And he wrote back to me,
and he said, it’s true. We accept that Tony faked
madness to escape a prison sentence, because his delusions
that had seemed very 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 says on the checklist. Item eight, cunning,
manipulative. And I said to the clinicians,
what else? And one of them said to me,
the pinstripe suit– classic psychopathic. Speaks to items one and
two on the checklist– grandiose sense of
self-worth, and glibness, superficial charm. Not wanting to hang out with the
other patients was classic psychopathic. It spoke to lack of empathy
and also grandiosity. So all the things that seemed
most ordinary about Tony was evidence, according to its
clinicians, that he was crazy in this new way. He was a psychopathic. And Tony Maden said to me, if
you want to know more about psychopaths, you can
actually going on a psychopathic-spotting course
with Robert Hare, who’s the creator of the checklist, for
PCLR psychopath checklist. Like the grandfather of
psychopathy studies. So I did. I went on a Hare course. And I am now a certified– I have a certificate
of attendance– and I have to say, extremely
adept psychopath-spotter. So these are the statistics. One in 100 regular people
is a psychopathic. So one in 100, walking around,
regular people, are psychopaths. This, according to Robert
Hare and his group. But that rises to 4% of CEOs
and business leaders. You’re four times more likely
to have a psychopath at the top of the tree than you are to
have one as your underling. Because, of course, capitalism
at its most remorseless rewards psychopathic behavior. It rewards the lack of empathy
and the grandiosity and the impulsivity and the
irresponsibility. These things are rewarded by
an out-of-control system. This was what Hare
was saying to me. I have to say, when I was
learning all of this, I’m wondering what I should
do with my new-found psychopathic-spotting skills. I thought I wouldn’t put them
to philanthropic good use. What I would do is think about
all the people in my past who had crossed me to see which
of them I could out as psychopaths. So the first on the list– I don’t know if there’s any
British people here, or indeed, “Vanity Fair” readers. Because the first on my list
was AA Gill, the critic AA Gill, who is a classic
psychopath. He gave me very, very bad
reviews on my television documentaries over many years,
which is classic psychopathic. Plus he once wrote a column
about how he wanted to shoot a baboon on safari. He’d been on safari and he shot
a baboon, because like all of us, he wondered
what it would be like to shoot a person. Classic psychopath. So I met AA Gill, actually,
quite recently at a journalist award ceremony in London. And he came bounding up to me. And somebody had told him
I’d put him in my book. And the first thing he said was,
I would never sue another journalist. So I said, that thing that you
wrote about wanting to kill a baboon on safari, because like
all of us, you wondered what it would be like shoot
a person, I said it’s not all of us. It’s not a normal
thing to think. It’s just you. And he said, well, you don’t
hunt, so you would never understand. So I said, I sell more
books than you do. [LAUGHTER] So by all criteria, I won. And then I thought of somebody
who was possibly more psychopathic than AA Gill. And this was a man I’d met
15 years ago in New York. His name was Toto Constant. And he was a Haitian dictator. I won’t go over his crimes,
but they were terrible. And he’d got away with it,
because at the same time, he was working as an informant
for the CIA. So when he had to flee Haiti, he
moved in with his mother in Queens, and was allowed
to remain. He said, if you don’t let me
stay here, then I will spill the beans about the CIA. So they let him stay. The rule was that he
had stay in Queens. Queens was to be his prison. He was never allowed
into Manhattan. I should say, he was constantly going into Manhattan. So I thought, at the time– I was young and I was
just starting out. I thought it would be funny to
go and meet a dictator who had to move back in with his
mother in Queens. [LAUGHTER] But I have to say,
it was not funny. There was nothing
funny about it. I turned up in Queens,
and he was there, wearing a pinstripe suit. Very hot day. And all he wanted to do was
protest his innocence. That was my only purpose that
day, was to listen to him protesting his innocence. And it was nonsense. The evidence against him is
completely compelling. One of the items on the
checklist, by the way, according to Hare, is compulsive
lying and not caring about being
caught in a lie. So a kind of shamelessness. But so all he wanted to do was
protest his innocence. And so I left. I was frustrated. I couldn’t connect with him on
any kind of empathetic level. And I never did anything
with the interview. I found it kind of creepy. And at one point, he started
crying, and I looked up, and I realized he was only
pretending to cry. Shallow affect is one of the
items on the checklist, an inability to experience
a range of emotions. But now I’d done a
psychopath-spotting course. I was suddenly incredibly
excited about my day with Toto Constant. So I decided to write to him
again, to see if you would meet me again. And it turned out that he was
doing 12 to 37 years in jail in upstate New York for
mortgage fraud. So that’s item 20 on
the checklist. What is item 20? Oh, I’ll get back to
what item 20 is. Criminal versatility. So I wrote to him, and I said,
I don’t know if you remember me, but we met 15 years ago. And he wrote back and said,
I remember you very well. Please come and visit. Nobody ever visits me. It would just be wonderful
if you came to visit me. So I’m going to read another
little bit from “The Psychopath Test” as
to what happened when I met Toto Constant. Why didn’t you come and
see me last Tuesday? he asked me. That volcano erupted in Iceland,
and everything got put on hold, I said. OK, he said. I understand. When I got your letter,
I was so excited. Really? I said. All the inmates were saying, the
guy who wrote “The Men Who Stare At Goats” book is
coming to visit you. Wow. Everyone here has heard
of that movie. Really? I said. Yes. We have a movie night,
every Saturday night. Last Saturday was “Avatar.”
That movie touched me. It touched me, Jon. The invasion of the small nation
by the big nation. I found those blue
people beautiful. I found a beauty in them. Are you an emotional man? I asked. I am emotional, he nodded. By now, I’m thinking I’m wasting
my fucking time. I’ve driven up all the way from
New York, and New York state turns out to
be a big state. And it had taken me, like,
hours to get there. Then I see him, and he’s
obviously not psychopathic. Oh, shit. Which I guess is slightly a
callous lack of empathy, which is item six. Anyway, a couple of moments ago,
they chose “The Men Who Stare at Goats” movie. Most of the inmates didn’t
know what the hell was going on. They were saying, what’s this? But I was saying, no, no. I’ve met the guy who
wrote the book. You don’t understand
the guy’s mind. And then you wrote to me and
said you wanted to meet again, and everyone was so jealous. That’s nice, I said. When I heard you were coming
last week, my hair was a real mess, but I wasn’t scheduled
to have my hair cut, so another inmate said,
you take my slot. We switched slots at
the barber shop. And someone else gave me a brand
new green shirt to wear. Oh, god, I said. And then he just started to say
to me, you know, I really want people to like me. It’s very, very important
that people like me. It matters a lot to me
that people like me. And after a while, I said to
him, isn’t that a weakness? Your desperate desire to
have people like you, isn’t that a weakness? And he said, oh, no. It’s not a weakness, and
I’ll tell you why. If you can get people like you,
you can manipulate them to do whatever you
want them to do. So I said, you don’t really
want people to like you. He goes, oh, no, no, no. So I left Toto Constant’s house
that day feeling like a psychopathic-spotting genius. I had cracked him open with
the word “weakness.” And I just felt incredibly
proud of myself. And I was driving back
to New York, and then I started to panic. And my amygdala shot signals
of fear and distrust and remorse up and down my central
nervous system, which my amygdala does a lot– which makes me, by the way, the
neurological opposite of a psychopathic. Their amygdalas under-perform. And my amygdala was, like,
over-performing. I was, like, veering across the
road, and I was thinking, oh my God, what if Toto Constant
reads my book and decides to kill me? And then I thought, well, that’s
not going to happen, because he’s doing 12
to 37 years in jail for mortgage fraud. But what if, like, one of his
friends or relatives decides to kill me? And I panicked, and
I kind of pulled into a drive-in Starbucks. And I went through my notes, and
I’ve got to the part where he said, I’ve lost everybody
who ever loved me. I don’t have anybody
left in the world. Anybody who ever loved me has
betrayed me and gone. I have nobody left. And I thought, well,
that’s OK, then. [LAUGHTER] Anyway, I recounted all my
findings to Robert Hare, who was unimpressed. And he said forget about
some Haitian dictator. Forget about some guy
at Broadmoor. The big story is corporate
psychopathy. This is like the world’s
biggest story. And I have to say, back then–
things have slightly changed. But back then, it was true, what
Robert Hare said, that this was like a hugely important
story, but nobody was interested. Nobody cared when he told them
that it was the solution to the greatest mysteries of all. Why the wars? Why the corruption? Why the tax evasion? While all these terrible
things? Corporate psychopaths. This was Hare’s contention,
that psychopathic behavior will both propel you to the top
of the tree, because of the kind of person it turns you
into, and also, the system rewards it. He said this was an
enormous story. Why is nobody interested? He said, you should get yourself
some corporate psychopaths to interview. And so I tried. I wrote to Bernie Madoff,
saying, can I come and interview you to find out
if you’re a psychopath? And he didn’t write back. So then I changed tack. I wrote to “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap,
the famous asset stripper from the ’90s. I said, I believe you may have
a very special brain anomaly that makes you interested
in the predatory spirit and fearless. Can I come and interview
you about your special brain anomaly? And he said, come on over. So I went to Al Dunlap’s
place. Al Dunlap, if people don’t know,
would go into a failing business, fire 30% of the
workforce, always with a quip. For instance, he once
told somebody– somebody once said to him,
I’ve just bought myself a new car. And he said, you may have a
new car, but I’ll tell you what you don’t have– a job. Plus, he once threatened his
first wife with a knife, and said he always wondered what
human flesh tasted like. Plus he didn’t turn
up to either of his parents’ funerals. So I went to his house, which
was filled with sculptures of predatory animals. It was like he was giving me
a tour of the gardens. It was this grand mansion. He was going, over there, you’ve
got lions and tigers and more– he was saying this
in a less effeminate way. Tigers and falcons and eagles. It was like Narnia. And then we went into his
kitchen, and it was Al and his wife Judy, and his
bodyguard Sean. And I said, you know how I
said in my email that you might have a special
brain anomaly? And he said, yeah, it’s
an amazing theory. It’s like “Star Trek.”
You’re going where no man has gone before. And I said, well, some
psychiatrists would say that this makes you [INAUDIBLE]. And he went, what? And I said, a psychopath. And I’ve got a list in my pocket
of psychopathic traits. Can I go through
them with you? And he looked intrigued,
because what saved me was like all of us. He loved nothing more than a
mental health checklist. And he said, OK. So I said, grandiose sense
of self-worth? Which I have to say would have
been a hard one for him to deny, because he was standing
underneath a giant oil painting of himself. And he said, you’ve got
to believe in you! And I said, shallow affect? And he said, who wants to be
weighed down with some nonsense emotions? And I said, manipulative? And he said, that’s
leadership. So he basically went through
much of the checklist, redefining it as business
positives. But I have to say, something
happened to me the day I was at Al Dunlap’s, which was
whenever he said something to me that was non-psychopathic, I
thought, well, I’m not going to put that in my book. So he said no to juvenile
delinquency. He got accepted to West Point. He said no to many short-term
marital relationships. He’s only been married twice,
and his second marriage has lasted 41 years. And all of those things. I thought, well, I’m not going
to put that in my book. And then I realized, of course,
that becoming a psychopath-spotter had turned me
a little bit psychopathic, in the way that I was desperate
to shove Al Dunlap into a box marked psychopath. Desperate to define him
by his maddest edges. And I mean, I think that’s kind
of what we all do is as journalists. As my friend Adam Curtis
said to me, when I got back to London– he’s a British documentary
maker– he said, here we travel around
the world with our notepads in our hands, and we wait
for the gems. And the gems are always be
outermost aspects of that person’s personality. And we’re like medieval monks. We stitch together the gems and
leave the ordinary, normal behavior on the floor. And those gems are always the
things that would be defined, within the DSM, as
mental disorders. And he said, we all know that
what we do is odd– and kind of leading to a
nefarious conformity. But we don’t like to
think about it. What does it say about our
own mental health? And I think Adam’s right. I think that that is what
we do, as journalists. And I suppose for the last few
years, I’ve been trying to do the opposite of that. I’ve been trying to not define
people by their maddest edges. And I think it’s a good point,
and I’ll finish here. Don’t know if anybody wants
to ask me questions. And I just think, as the new
DSM’s about to come out and it’s going to be even bigger
than DSM-IV, there’s going to be even more mental disorders
in there, I think it’s probably a good time to think
about defining people by their gray areas, as opposed to
their maddest edges. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] JON RONSON: I don’t know if
anybody’s got any questions. Hello. AUDIENCE: Hi. [INAUDIBLE] psychopath. PRESENTER: Please come
to the microphone. JON RONSON: Oh. Yes. Like that. PRESENTER: Think about the
psychopathic list. I wonder if you think, from an
evolutionary perspective, that the traits that made somebody a
psychopath was giving them a competitive advantage, a
lift through evolution. And even now, in today’s
messed-up society, to use your words, if you think that it
still gives them an advantage. JON RONSON: Yeah. And that’s certainly
what Hare thinks. And there’s a new writer on the
block called Kevin Dutton. He’s just brought out a book
called “The Wisdom of Psychopaths.” So he
believes that. In fact, Kevin Dutton
would say that and would go one step further– and it’s not a step that
I would take– which is that it’s actually, we
can learn from psychopaths. It’s good. We can learn coolness
under pressure. So not only is it evolutionary,
but it actually could be considered
to be positive. Which is something I don’t buy,
because I think if you don’t have empathy, if empathy
just literally is absent from your brain, what would always
grow in the barren landscape is, you know, malevolence, is
this is the other items on the checklists, and always
malevolent. And an Army recruiter
once told me– it’s a very popular belief
that capitalism rewards psychopathic behavior. And I think that is true
to a certain extent. I think it’s true in the kind
of industries where a short-term kill is beneficial,
like hedge funds, you could say, or fucking health
insurance industry. And so on– journalism. But I think in businesses where,
actually, the long term is important, it’s never
going to work out. There’s always going to
be a transgression. It’s always going to chaos. And an Army recruiter said to
me, contrary to what certain people believe, we don’t want
psychopaths in our battalions. It’s the last thing we want,
because they make terrible team players. Hi. AUDIENCE: Hi, thanks
for coming. JON RONSON: Thank you
for having me. And I think for [INAUDIBLE] I feel like Ray Kurzweil. AUDIENCE: What’s that? JON RONSON: Nothing. It’s OK. [LAUGHTER] AUDIENCE: So, question. How young do children
start to exhibit some of these qualities? And are there tests that are
specifically geared for them? JON RONSON: There’s actually
camps. “The New York Times” did this incredible piece, a few
months ago, about summer camps for psychopathic
children. Because the fact is, one of the
items on the checklist is early behavior problems. And the behavior tends
to manifest itself from the ages– almost always, actually. This surprised me, when I asked
Robert Hare about this. He said this was
like a big one. Between the ages of 8 and 10. And that’s obviously an age when
you’re thinking about PR, and you’re not thinking about
your career, so you will display these characteristics
in a pretty open way. And it’s either 8 and
10 or 10 and 12. I think it might be 10
and 12, actually. I think I’ve got that wrong. Al Dunlap’s saying that he had
no early behavior problems, and if he’d got accepted into
West Point, that proves it, shows that he’s actually not, as
much as we all want him to be, a classic psychopath. So yes, between the ages of– it’s either 8 and
10 or 10 and 12. I can’t remember. And there’s an incredible “New
York Times” piece, which if anybody wants to read more
about the possibility of psychopathic children, I would
recommend you read that. Thanks. Hey. AUDIENCE: Hey. So your stories are just
awesomely random. I was wondering how you choose
stories, and also, how often you choose ones that
don’t go anywhere? JON RONSON: Well,
I mean, often. And I find it– very hard to– you spend months and months on
Google looking for the page that nobody else has ever
found, for the story. And quite often. The most depressing one that
went nowhere, actually, was I was going to write a book about
the credit industry. I had a prophetic sense that it
was all going to collapse. Because I wrote the piece in
“Lost At Sea,” which is my new collection– which
is available for sale just over here. I wrote a piece called “Who
Killed Richard Cullen?” about a man who committed suicide
because he was out of his depth with credit cards. And people kept on saying
to me, you know, this is a house of cards. This isn’t going to last. And I became obsessed with
writing a book about the credit industry. And I spent months and months
on it, and I failed. And the reason why I failed,
the terrible truth, is that the people who I met, the people
who were coming up with the tricks to keep
people enslaved– the terrible stuff
they were doing. The late fees– they were boring people, and
I couldn’t make them light up the page. And I’d go and meet them, and
nothing exciting would happen. And I say, in fact, in “The
Psychopathic Test,” if you want to get away with
wielding true malevolent power, be boring. Because journalists like
writing about colorful, engaging people. It makes us look good. So don’t like Blofeld, all
monochord and ostentatious. Be boring. And then the next thing,
I suppose, is– OK, you’ve got a mystery
to solve. And I like to think my books
always start with a mystery. And the mystery in “The
Psychopath Test,” I suppose there was a few of them. One of them was, is it true,
what psychiatrists say, that psychopaths rule the world? Is that true? It’s a huge thing to say, and
it almost sounds like a conspiracy theory. Yet the people who say these
things are eminent. And so that’s the mystery
that you leap into. And then you have to be
completely open to wherever the story takes you. So in the book I’m writing now,
the opening mystery is, why do court experts get it
wrong far more often than other sorts of scientists? And that’s the mystery that’s
leading me into a whole bunch of incredibly interesting
areas, I think. And yeah, you have to be open. Not polemical, just open to
wherever the story takes you. AUDIENCE: Hi. JON RONSON: Hi. AUDIENCE: Thank you
for coming. JON RONSON: Thank you. AUDIENCE: So the thing I
wonder– you gave an example while talking about
your book– is talking to these people and
confronting them about this classification of
their behavior. I think if I were to do that,
I would panic, like you did coming down from upstate
New York, every time. So how, as a person with
generalized anxiety disorder, how did you manage to do that? JON RONSON: Well, you know what
I think the answer is? And this is true for
people I know– I’ve got loved ones
who have OCD. And I think it’s absolutely
the same. The weird truth of it is– and
I’m sure this isn’t true for everybody, with any kind of
anxiety disorder, but I think it’s true for a lot
of people– which is that the anxiety always
manifests itself in completely irrational ways. And in real life frightening
situations, just like everyone else. You know, you analyze– what risk am I actually
in, here? And work it out, in a kind of
completely rational way. But you can’t let your bloody
dog off the leash in Central Park because of an irrational
fear it’s going to get run over. So that’s the truth of it. It’s that anxiety disorders tend
to manifest themselves in irrational ways that don’t
actually have any resemblance to reality. And when you’re in genuine
anxiety-inducing situations, you’re fine. Don’t ask me why, but that
seems to be the case. AUDIENCE: And I’ve also been
asked to ask if you know if Tony’s still in Broadmoor. JON RONSON: Well, OK. I– I– is “The Psychopath Test” for
sale up there, or is it just “Lost at Sea?” PRESENTER: Just “Lost at Sea.” JON RONSON: OK. In that case, does anybody mind
if I sort of give away what happened to Tony? The book’s still fine anyway,
even if you know the ending. OK. Tony called me, and
for a while, I didn’t take his calls. Because frankly I found
the label terrifying. And then after a while,
I took his calls. And he said, you know why
you’ve been calling me? And I said, because they said
that you’re a psychopath. And he said, look, I’m
not a psychopath. And he said, trying to prove
you’re not a psychopath is even harder than trying to prove
you’re not mentally ill, because one of the items on
the checklist is lack of remorse, and another one is
cunning, manipulative. So when I say I feel terrible
remorse for what I did, they say typical of a psychopathic
to cunningly say they feel remorse, when they don’t. He said it’s like witchcraft. They turn everything
upside down. And he said, anyway, I’ve
got a tribunal. And it actually was partly do
with me, I have to say, because before my book was
published, I told Tony’s story on “This American Life,” and
it had a bit of an impact. And Tony sent it to various
lawyers and got himself a tribunal, in part, I think,
because of the publicity because of “This
American Life.” And he got a tribunal. And in the tribunal,
they let him go. He’d been in Broadmoor
for 14 years by then. 12 years in Broadmoor, two years
at the Maudsley, which is a similar place. And they let him go because they
said that you shouldn’t be locked up for the rest of
your life because you score highly on a checklist
that would imply a greater-than-average
recidivism rate. It’s almost kind of Orwellian. And out in the corridor, Tony
came up to me, and he said, you’ve got to realize, Jon, that
everybody’s a little bit psychopathic. He said, you are, I am–
well, obviously, I am. And I said, what are you
going to do now? He said, there’s this
woman in Belgium I fancy, but she’s married. And I’m going to have to get her
split up from her husband. But you know what they say
about us psychopaths. We are manipulative. And then he disappeared off
into the British night. And everything was fine
for about six months. Brian, the Scientologist, would
give me updates, and he was making up for lost time. Which I know sounds
ominous, but wasn’t necessarily ominous. That he got into a bar fight
and ended up going to jail for a month. As part of the release, part of
the probation, he couldn’t go back to the mental
hospital. He had to be treated by
the prison system. And by the way, the unit he was
in closed down, because the government actually began
to think the same thoughts about the DSPD unit. So the unit closed down. So he went to jail
for a month. Then he came out. And that’s the last I heard
until about two weeks ago, when I got a tweet from somebody
in a bookstore, who said that somebody in the
bookstore had said that he was one of Tony’s care workers,
and they’d got talking about it. He was back in prison. So I looked him up– I’m one of the few people who
know his actual name. And sure enough, he had racially
assaulted a station guard somewhere just outside
London, and had gone back to prison for– I don’t know how long. I think maybe a few months. And that’s the last
I’ve heard. So it’s not a happy ending. Which by the way–
let me just say. It then begs the question,
well, is it right that Tony was out? And it’s a very difficult
question, but I still think, yes, it was, for all the
obvious reasons. AUDIENCE: It seems like there’s
sort of a movement towards thinking that people who
have mental disorders that have, you know, psychopathy or
things like that, should be treated as criminals or
dangerous and locked up. What do you think about that? JON RONSON: Well, this
is the big thing. And it’s a huge thing in
America at the moment. There’s these places
for pedophiles. There’s one in Los Angeles
called Coalinga, where the day somebody’s done their time and
is released from jail, they immediately get sent to
Coalinga, and they’re locked up, kind of, for the rest
of their lives. Because once you’re in
that nexus, it’s impossible to get out. And there was a story in “The
Los Angeles Times” where one of the doctors at Coalinga has
said a huge percentage of the people there shouldn’t
be there. And Robert Hare said that the
people who determine who is and isn’t a psychopathic on
behalf of Coalinga, he said he teaches them, and they’re just
picking their nails, and they’re doodling. And they’re going to go off and
kind of have a huge effect on people’s lives. So on balance, even though
there’s no question that psychopaths exist, and there’s
no question that they’re incredibly problematic, and
that they’ll reoffend and reoffend and reoffend, it’s
still really hard, it’s still a real problem to think, well,
OK, lock them up for the rest of their lives. It feels wrong, right? So I feel that you just have
to take your chances. Lock them up for the amount of
time that each individual crime deserved, because the
alternative is worse. But you know, I mean,
what do I know? This is like three, four years
of my life, and that’s the conclusion I came to. But it’s not an easy topic. Please can we not end on that? [LAUGHTER] JON RONSON: Maybe we
can end on that. I’ve been told I can see rooms
at Google that people don’t get to go to, so that’s
exciting. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] JON RONSON: Sorry? AUDIENCE: The ones with
padded walls. JON RONSON: Right. The ones with the padded walls. [LAUGHTER] JON RONSON: When I was at TED,
I feel like Scooter. I was in the elevator, coming
up, and talking about going when I was at TED. But when I was at TED, there was
this kind of lady who runs DARPA, and she kind of
released her killer hummingbird. And everyone was kind of wowed,
and then they’re, oh my God, this hummingbird
can just kill. And now she’s a bigwig
at Google. [LAUGHTER] AUDIENCE: We can’t comment
about [INAUDIBLE] hummingbirds. So there’s a suggestion that 1%
of people are psychopaths. Have they done a big enough
population sampling for that to be reasonable? JON RONSON: I’ve got to say,
this is completely subjective. Hare is absolutely adamant
that that’s the percentage, 1%. And Hare is like a very
respected, eminent person. I’ve always thought
that sounds a bit high, I have to say. AUDIENCE: The thing is, if it
skews, I don’t know, white, and it skews male,
and it basically skews living in America– [LAUGHTER] AUDIENCE: Those numbers
seem atomically high. If it’s 1%, and you’re
up at 5% of all– JON RONSON: CEOs. It seems high, I’ve
got to tell you. I mean, Hare is very– he is cautious. I mean, I did have my slight
issues with him. There was this time– and
I put this in the book– when I met him at a
hotel in Heathrow. And I was looking for
him everywhere. It was late at night. I couldn’t find him. We arranged to meet. And I decided to go to the
concierge desk to phone his room, because the queue was
so long at the desk. And so I went to the concierge’s
phone and pressed 0 to get through to
the operator. And the concierge was kind of
storming toward me, going, put down my phone! And I said– and he grabbed the
phone and slammed it down. And then I met Robert Hare,
and I said, you wouldn’t believe what just happened. The concierge just grabbed the
phone off me, and it was quite frightening. And Robert Hare said, well,
that’s because he’s one. [LAUGHTER] And I said, really? And he said, you should
put that in your book. And I said, I will. So I mean, I agree. This is something I don’t say
very often, because I have a lot of respect for Robert
Hare, and I really do. And I think his checklist
is onto something. But I’ve always thought
1% seems high. Yeah. OK. Well, look, well, thank you. Thank you very much indeed. And happy Christmas. [APPLAUSE]

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  1. That threw me off, too. I thought he might get around to Lost At Sea eventually but it didn't happen. I just finished that book a couple of weeks ago so I was looking forward to him doing a google talk on it.

  2. look at how Jon picks at the label during the Q & A.. i'm no psychologist, but that looks like a stereotypical case of generalized anxiety disorder

  3. with regards to the last question,
    personally, i believe Robert Hare's statistic that roughly 1% of the population are psychopaths. just as with any other personality disorder, there are varying degrees of intensity within a wide range of observable traits.
    plus, it's almost counter-intuitive for the untrained psychologist to diagnose an "unethically outgoing" person as a psychopath. it's much easier to self-diagnose yourself as comparatively timid.

  4. He was supposed to promote his latest book "Lost at Sea" but I guessed he lost track of himself. This guy is quite the character…

  5. Which internet user ever slagged off Jon Ronson, he's the poster boy for neurotic geeks who can still be cool and likeable.

  6. An acquaintance of mine told me he was diagnosed as a sociopath as a child and also while serving in the army in Iraq. They trained him as a sniper and he told me he had absolutely no moral qualms about his job and how insidious other sociopaths were especially outside in civilian society.

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