How to spot a psychopath: Jon Ronson at TEDxMarrakesh


Translator: Julie Xu Hello. OK, this is a talk
about how to spot a psychopath. The statistics, by the way – which Robert Hare,
who invented the psychopath checklist, came up with this – says 1 in 100 people is a psychopath. There’s 100 people in the room,
so one of you … (Laughter) … is a psychopath. If psychopaths enjoy
going to talks about psychopaths, there could be more than
one of you in the audience. (Laughter) And I think psychopaths do enjoy
going to talks about psychopaths because of item 2:
grandiose sense of self-worth. So, 1 in 100 regular people
is a psychopath, Hare says, but 4 in 100 CEOs are psychopaths. So you’re four times more likely
to be ruled by a psychopath than you would have one
as your subordinate. OK, so I’m now professionally trained, and, I’ve got to say, an extremely
adept psychopath spotter. I’ll tell you the story of how
I became a psychopath spotter, and what I did with my powers. It started at a friend’s house, and she had on her shelf
a book called the “DSM.” Do people know the DSM? It’s a manual of mental disorders. In the 50s, it was very slim,
like a little pamphlet, but now it’s an enormous book. They’ve come up with
a huge number of mental disorders. There are 886 pages, 374 mental disorders. I was leafing through the book
wondering if I had any mental disorders, and it turns out I’ve got 12. I’ve got generalized anxiety disorder,
which is a given. I’ve got nightmare disorder, which is categorized if you have
recurrent dreams of being pursued or declared a failure. All my dreams involve
somebody chasing me down the street going, “You’re a failure!” (Laughter) I’ve got malingering,
and I think it’s actually quite rare to have both malingering
and generalized anxiety disorder because malingering tends
to make you feel extremely anxious. And I have parent-child
relational problems, which I blame my mother for. (Laughter) And I have caffeine-induced disorder,
which I’ve got right now. (Laughter) So I was leafing
through this book, wondering, “My goodness! Am I crazier
than I thought I was?” Or maybe it’s not a good idea
to self-diagnose if you’re not a trained professional. Or maybe the psychiatry industry has a strange fetish to diagnose
normal behavior as a mental disorder. I have no idea which was true. I was quite excited to have
so many mental disorders. It kind of made me feel like it’s good to know
there’s something wrong with you. I wondered whether my anxiety
was a good thing. Maybe it’s a thing
that drives me forward to achieve. Maybe it makes me do interesting things.
I was wondering what is all this. I thought it’d be interesting
to meet a critic of psychiatry to get their view on it, which was how I did a pubby lunch
with the Scientologists, who have a crack team
of psychiatry busters called the CCHR. So I said to them, “Can you prove to me
that my thesis is right and that psychiatry is pseudoscience?” They said, “Yes, we can,
we can prove it to you. We can introduce you to Tony.” So I said, “Who’s Tony?”
And they said, “Tony’s in Broadmoor.” Now Broadmoor is Broadmoor Hospital
which used to be known as “Broadmoor Asylum
for the Criminally Insane.” So I said, “What did Tony do?” And the Scientologists said,
“Hardly anything.” “He’s completely sane,
he beat somebody up or something. He’s totally sane. He faked madness
to try to get out of a prison sentence. He faked it too well,
and now he’s stuck at Broadmoor. The more he tries
to convince people 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 went to Broadmoor. The Scientologists got me in. It’s not easy. We were sitting in the Wellness Center. (Laughter) And Brian the Scientologist said, “By the way, Tony is the only person
in the entire DSPD unit to have permission to meet people
in the Wellness Center. So I said, “What does DSPD stand for?” He said, “Dangerous and Severe
Personality Disorder.” So I said, “Is Tony
in the part of Broadmoor that houses the most dangerous people?” And Brian said, “Yeah, isn’t that crazy?” So then the patients started drifting in,
and most were overweight, and they were wearing sweatpants,
and they looked quite docile. And then Brian said, “There’s Tony.” Tony came in, and he wasn’t overweight,
he was in extremely good shape. He wasn’t wearing sweatpants,
he was wearing a pinstripe suit, and he was walking towards me
with his arm outstretched, like someone out of “The Apprentice.” Somebody wants to convince me
that he was very sane. So he sat down. I said, “Was it true
that you faked your way in here?” He said, “Yeah, I beat
someone up in Reading. I was on remand in my cell,
and my cellmate said, “You’re looking at five years.
What you need to do – fake madness. Tell them you’re mad,
you’ll go to some cushy hospital, nurses will bring you pizzas,
you’ll have a PlayStation.” I said, “How did you fake madness?” He said, “I asked to see
the prison psychiatrist. I’d just seen this film called “Crash”
by David Cronenberg, in which people get sexual pleasure
from enacting car crashes. So, I told the psychiatrist, “I get sexual pleasure
from enacting car crashes.” And I said, “Why?” “Oh, yeah. I told the psychiatrist
I like to watch women as they die because it would
make me feel more normal.” So I said, “Where did you get that from?” He said, “From a biography of Ted Bundy
that they had in the prison library.” So he evidently faked
madness much too well, and they sent him to Broadmoor. He took one look at the place and said, “There’s has been a terrible mistake. I’m not mad.” I said, “How long have you been here for?” “If I’d just done my prison sentence,
I’d have got 5 years. I’ve been in Broadmoor for 12 years.” So, for the last 12 years, he’s tried to convince them
that he’s sane. I said, “How do you do that?” He said, “Well, it’s not easy.
I subscribe to New Scientist. I like to try and talk to them
about normal things, like football. And there’s an article
in New Scientist that recently said the US Army was training bumblebees
to sniff out explosives. So I said to the nurse, “Did you know that the US Army’s training
bumblebees to sniff out explosives?” He said later when he saw
his case notes, they’d written, “Believes bees can sniff out explosives.” He said, “The more you try to act sane,
the more crazy you seem.” So, Tony seemed completely sane to me,
but I’m not a professional. I left, and I wondered what to do. So I decided to write
to his clinician, Anthony Maden. I said, “What’s the story?”
And his clinician emailed back and said, “Yeah, we accept
that Tony’s story is true. We accept that he faked madness
to get out of prison sentence because his delusions were very cliched. However, we’ve assessed him, and we’ve decided that what he is
is a psychopath! And in fact, faking madness is exactly the kind of cunning
and manipulative act of a psychopath.” So, faking your brain going wrong is evidence that your brain
has gone wrong. He said, “It’s on the checklist –
cunning and manipulative.” And I said, “What else?” He said, “Well, pinstriped suit –
classic psychopath That speaks to ‘grandiose
sense of self-worth,’ and also ‘glibness/superficial charm.’ ” Tony had told me that he didn’t like
to hang around with his neighbors. He has the Stockwell strangler
on one side of him, so he stayed in his room a lot. They take that as a sign
that he’s a psychopath because it speaks
to lack of empathy, grandiosity. Only in Broadmoor would not wanting
to hang out with serial killers be a sign of madness. So Anthony Maden said, “If you want
to know more about psychopaths, you can go to a psychopath
spotting course of Robert Hare, who invented
the psychopath checklist. So I did, I went on a three-day course, which is exactly the same as people
who now are court experts, who speak at sentencing
hearings and so on, to determine whether somebody
is a high-scoring psychopath or not. I went on the three-day course, and I am now an extremely
adept psychopath spotter. Hare said to me, repeatedly, “Some guy in Broadmoor
who may or may not fake madness – that’s not a big story. The big story is corporate psychopathy.” He said, “Psychopathy
is so powerful, a brain anomaly.” “It is a brain anomaly,” he says. The amygdala doesn’t send
enough signals of fear and distress up and down the central nervous system. Psychopaths are the neurological
opposite of me. My amygdala sends way too many signals
of fear and distress up and down to my central nervous system. So, they don’t feel anxious. No anxiety. He said, “It’s such
a powerful brain anomaly that it molded society all wrong.” Capitalism, at its most ruthless, is a physical manifestation
of psychopathy. That’s how powerful the condition is. We are all victims of psychopathy. He said, “You’ll really want to try
and get an interview with a corporate psychopath.” So I looked around, and I chose … Al Dunlap. Al Dunlap, in the 1990s,
was a very notorious asset stripper. He would come into a company,
and he’d fire everybody, and the share prices would shoot up. He did it at Scott’s, which is one of America’s leading
toilet paper manufacturers. He came in, closed down plants
all over the place. And he’d kind of fire people quite often
with a quip, with like a funny joke. So one of his stories was somebody
came up to him and said, “I just bought myself a new car.” And Al Dunlap said,
“You may have a new car, but I’ll tell you
what you don’t have – a job.” He once went to a plant
in Mobile, Alabama, asked somebody how long
he’d been working there, and the guy said, “30 years.” “Why do you want to work at a place
for 30 years? It makes no sense.” Then he closed the plant down
and fired everybody. He said something
that wasn’t psychopathic. Like, for instance, he said no – I didn’t ask him about
promiscuous sexual behavior because his wife was there,
and, frankly, I chickened out. But he said no to juvenile delinquency,
and he said no to early behavior problems. He said, “Because I got accepted
into West Point, and if I was a delinquent,
they wouldn’t have me in.” There’s no rumors of affairs.
He’s already been married twice. Admittedly, his first wife
cited in her divorce papers that he once threatened her with a knife and said, “I always wondered
what human flesh tasted like.” But he has only been married twice. Also, by the way, he would often speak
about his wise and supportive parents but didn’t turn up
to either of their funerals. But even so, there were quite a few items
on the psychopath checklist that didn’t apply to him at all. So I thought to myself,
well, I won’t put that in the book. Then I realized, my goodness, being a psychopath spotter
has turned me somewhat psychopathic. I was displaying lack of empathy,
I was being cunning and manipulative. It had turned me kind of power-mad. Then I got a call from Tony in Broadmoor. By the way, Tony has always denied
being a psychopath. He said the problem with the checklist –
one of the items is lack of remorse; another item is cunning, manipulative,
and pathological lying. So if you tell them, “I feel
enormous remorse for what I did,” they say, “Typical of a psychopath
to pretend to be remorseful when they’re not.” He said it’s like voodoo –
they turn everything upside down. And the Hare checklist is used by experts
in sentencing hearings, in parole and probation
hearings all the time. The rest of somebody’s life
can be determined on how high they score
on the psychopath test. Anyway, Tony said
he had a tribunal planned, and would I like to come? So I went to it. And after 14 years in Broadmoor for a crime that would have got him
five years if he hadn’t faked madness, they let him go. And he’s now out. He said to me,
“Jon, the way you got to remember – everybody is a bit psychopathic.” He said, “You are, I am.
Well, obviously I am.” I said, “What are you going to do now?” He said, “Well, there’s this woman
in Belgium I fancy, but she’s married. [inaudible] get her divorced,
but that’s OK because we’re manipulative. So Tony is out and about. I spent a long time wondering
what I should think about Tony. I was worried, you know, because part of me
really wanted to support him, and another part of me thought,
well, you know, he might be a psychopath, and they have a 60% recidivism rate. What do I do? For a while, I’ve wondered if I should write about him
in a supportive way, but not quite good enough
for it to actually work. So, like campaign for his release
but quite badly like a sort of crap Bono. (Laughter) But now I’ve decided, actually, is Tony a psychopath
or is Tony a miscarriage of justice? And the answer I came up with is “both.” You can be a psychopath
and also be a miscarriage of justice because we should not
be determined by a checklist. And we should be defined by our sanity and not our madness, if we possibly can. And sometimes it’s our madness, it’s the least attractive aspects
of our personality, it’s our anxieties, our compulsions,
and our obsessions, that lead us sometimes
to quite interesting things, that leads us to move forward and succeed. Thank you very much. (Applause)