Simeon's Reviews > The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
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Jun 28, 2016

it was amazing
bookshelves: non-fictions
Read from November 01 to 02, 2011

  ***Warning: this review is not for the fainthearted.***

A video recently went viral of a Texas judge savagely beating his disabled teenage daughter with a belt.

(view spoiler)

Perhaps the most heartrending moment of the video is near the beginning, when in a tiny voice the girl cries out: “Dad...” an instant before he starts to hit her.

What do you get when you hollow a human of conscience? If there were no empathy, no guilt, no shame, no anxiety, no compunction... if impulse control simply meant biding your time... if ego were all that mattered, a desire to dominate others, the shameless manipulation: quintessence of a creature with the mind of a man but the soul of an insect, no trappings of honor or personal responsibility (let alone personality). Well, you get things like human trafficking, plutocratic oligarchies, and Donald Trump.

Perhaps it occurs to you that even wife-beaters must love their wives, or why keep them around otherwise? Sociopaths don't always fake emotion or attachment. Family members are possessions, tears of loss for an important object their deepest sentiment. They do not love. They possess.

Children, for instance, are an irritation, products of the loins that may occasionally cause trouble, but which ultimately serve a purpose, useful in keeping up social appearances (if that fails, children can always be disowned). Sociopaths experience sorrow and cry for lost possessions in exactly the same way they would on finding their favorite automobile crushed by a tree in the driveway.

Without empathy, the ego becomes all-consuming. A sociopath is solipsistic to a degree that even Ayn Rand might find appalling (though she would herself score rather high on Robert Hare’s PCL-R test).

Factor 1: Personality, “Aggressive narcissism”

Glibness and superficial charm

Bachmann eyes

The creepy superficiality that politicians ooze like body fluid is item one.

It’s true, we all act sometimes. At work you may not behave the way you do at home, but usually affectation takes a toll. Overdo it, and your guilt and shame could manifest into a full-blown existential crisis. That’s why so many young people are emotionally wrecked or altered by the modern workplace, where character is not only irrelevant, but actively winnowed along the corporate ladder. (There’s a preponderance of sociopaths at the top of the corporate and political food-chain.)

Grandiose sense of self-worth, narcissism, egomania

he spent his life as an animated carcass

Pathological lying

Cunning and Manipulation


Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)

Dick Cheney

Lack of remorse or guilt

Callousness; lack of empathy

Many hypothesize that Rush Limbaugh eats babies, or that he's the result of a human-pig crossbreading experiment gone terribly wrong. Or maybe, he's just a garden variety sociopath, who knows?

Failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Nothing left to say

Behavioral patterns include bullying others at a young age, sometimes torturing animals, reacting with clinical detachment to images of depravity and gore, emotionally preying on others for entertainment, promiscuity, short-term marital relationships, criminal versatility, etc.

Anxiety and shyness are the diametric opposite of psychopathy.

As you can imagine, Judge Adams would behave splendidly in public. He's a confident man, enjoys being called "sir" and flaunting his achievements, like all materially successful creatures. The real question, of course, is how he treats those over whom he has power. The understated answer is “badly.” Not being human himself, he's never quite sure how to treat other humans, except by observing and pretending to be one of them, a tiresome mimicry.

Of her psychopathic father, Hilary said: "I told him I had the video and he didn't seem to think anything of it, basically dared me to post it. I think he just really needs help and rehabilitation.”

She actually feels sorry for him. Incidentally, Judge Adams told reporters: “In my mind I haven't done anything wrong other than discipline my child.”

You may think you are good at lying or rationalization, but you are nothing compared to a sociopath, whose favorite phrases include gems like:

“Look at what you made me do!” and the classic:
“Are you happy now?" yelled while abusing a victim,
"Is this what you wanted? Do you like disobeying me?”

"I was completely brainwashed and controlled," said the mother, "I leave the room, he’s telling me what to say, what to do."

You get the picture. Sociopaths are everywhere, between one and three % of the population, male and female, and not always violent. They are attracted to authority. It's something in their lizard brains, a vestigial will to power.

Also, psychopaths cannot tolerate disrespect. Sometime near the video's end, Judge Adams promises that so much as a questionable tone of voice from his daughter would result in even more severe beatings.

Factoid: the Texas Judge has a history of ruling child-abuse cases in favor of the abuser, saying that a child's testimony is void without video evidence, ironically.

Somewhat related empathy test developed by professor Baron-Cohen.

Dr. Nassir Ghaemi on The Colbert Report explaining why empathy, creativity, realism are so important in leaders.

Jon Ronson on the Daily Show.
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Comments (showing 1-17 of 17) (17 new)

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message 1: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian (first person omniscient) Picked it up today after reading your review and pretty much devoured it in one sitting... it was an extremely compelling read with many many avenues of thought to explore.

I found myself very much pulled in by the 'just mad enough' aspect of journalism as well as the Rachel North story.

Awesome find.

message 2: by Simeon (last edited Nov 06, 2011 04:29AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Simeon I'm glad you liked it. It's rather frightening at times. I really hope this book wins the goodreads award for best nonfiction of 2011.

Mike (the Paladin) I'm just now reading the book, just started. But, I to noted the rather myopic choice of examples you use...Christians and and conservatives only huh? That attitude in itself is a bit frightening.

message 4: by Simeon (last edited May 29, 2012 06:15AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Simeon The pictures in the review are one-sided because bible-thumping republicans tend to be a lot more flagrant in their pathology.

message 5: by Ananda (new)

Ananda It must be very comforting for you to tell yourself that. I take it then that if someone is not a "bible thumping republican", there is no reason to worry about their being a sociopath?

Mike (the Paladin) I left that alone. I find that (for example) the only time I hear about "hate" is not from conservatives or libertarians or Christians (real ones I mean) but from those who are telling me how full of hate I am. Mostly I sigh and walk away, closed minds are hard to open.

message 7: by Simeon (last edited Nov 05, 2012 11:12AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Simeon Ananda wrote: "I take it then that if someone is not a "bible thumping republican", there is no reason to worry about their being a sociopath?"

Sure, it's just a lot harder to diagnose.

Mike (the Paladin) wrote: "conservatives or libertarians or Christians (real ones I mean)"

This is called a No True Scotsman Fallacy, or an attempt to retain an unreasoned generalization. Christian mythology is hardly a monolithic belief system.

Leah Cassari Wow! Your review was better than the book!

message 9: by Samantha (new)

Samantha Bragg I think you're describing my ex (minus the direct physical violence mostly), I was interested in the book, but I don't know if I can face it now. =/
Thanks for the heads up.

message 10: by LA (new) - added it

LA You write very compellingly, but I didn't find the spoilers or see where you actually reviewed the book. I like your writing and would definitely read your book. I appreciate that you made Baron-Cohen's empathy test available. I'd never seen it before and was quite surprised by my results. Interesting to note, empathy quotient may be very independent from someone's proclivity to manipulate others and you need both to make a psychopath. I would welcome a dialogue with you should you ever be inclined.

message 11: by LA (new) - added it

LA Simeon wrote: Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it."

I truly did. I hope you will consider notifying me when your book is published (or if it has already).

Allison Great review . Right up my alley. I could talk about psychopaths and sociopaths forever

Allison In fact I did on a first date the other night and I think he thought it was a bit odd

message 14: by Kelly H. (Maybedog) (last edited May 31, 2013 04:14AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kelly H. (Maybedog) Excellent review. I read this book because I saw the Daily Show interview. I've been wanting to see it again, so thanks for posting it. It didn't work though. Try this one:

message 15: by Dallas (new) - added it

Dallas Samson why would someone do that

message 16: by Shayna (new) - added it

Shayna Sunderland Loved your review. Change praying to preying and it's perfect!

message 17: by Jess (new) - added it

Jess castellanos lobaton loved yo read you. Awesome job you did here :) hope to hear more from you

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