Jon Ronson | "Lost at Sea" - Authors at Google

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 25.01.2013


PRESENTER: Good afternoon, everyone.
Authors at Google New York is pleased today
to welcome Jon Ronson.
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.
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
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--
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
So I said, I sell more books than you do.
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.
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.
I said.
All the inmates were saying, the guy who wrote "The Men Who
Stare At Goats" book is coming to visit you.
Everyone here has heard of that movie.
I said.
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
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.
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
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.
JON RONSON: I don't know if anybody's got any questions.
PRESENTER: Please come to the microphone.
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.
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--
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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
is "The Psychopath Test" for sale up there, or is it just
"Lost at Sea?"
PRESENTER: Just "Lost at Sea."
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.
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
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?
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: The ones with padded walls.
The ones with the padded walls.
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
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.
AUDIENCE: We can't comment about [INAUDIBLE]
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--
AUDIENCE: Those numbers seem atomically high.
If it's 1%, and you're up at 5% of all--
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
And Robert Hare said, well, that's because he's one.
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.

Well, look, well, thank you.
Thank you very much indeed.
And happy Christmas.