Imagine this. You’re 17 years old.
You don’t know what you want to do with your life. But you knew it wasn’t this… trapped in a mental hospital.
You yell out, “I’m not a psychopath!”
But the doctors don’t believe you. No one believes you. Not a judge, not your family, not even the journalist coming to interview you.
They all listen to you plead. You try to appear sane. But that only makes you appear more and more insane.
Jon Ronson witnessed this. A real life account. And he wrote a book about it called, “The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry.”
He visited this 17 years old at “Broadmoor, The Asylum for The Criminally Insane.”
At first, Jon believed him. He thought the kid faked madness. Until he got out…
I love Jon’s writing style. It’s sort of humorist meets gonzo-esque journalism. He puts himself in the middle of weird situations. And writes about it.
The kid was facing jail time (5-7 years).
“He beat someone up badly in Redding, which is near London,” Jon said. “And he was on remand in prison. His cell mates said to him, ‘Ya know, ‘You’re looking at 5-7 years in prison unless you fake madness.’”
They convinced him.
“‘You’ll get sent to some kushy hospital where you’ll have your own playstation, nurses will bring you pizzas…’ so that’s what he did. He faked delusions and hallucinations,” Jon said.’
“How? How’d he fake it?”
“He told the prison psychiatrist that he wanted to watch women as they died because it would make him feel more normal.”
It worked. He was diagnosed a psychopath. But they didn’t send him to some kushy hospital like he planned. They sent him to the most secure mental hospital in all of England.
“And he was stuck.”
For 14 years.
These stories are so fascinating to me. It makes me wonder why I don’t go visit some obscure person in jail and write about them. Why don’t I go in search of something more unfamiliar?
I suppose it had to do with the role I’ve assigned myself as a writer and a podcaster. Here I was with Jon Ronson, someone I tried to get on the podcast for years.
He told me his story, about how he used to be consumed with thoughts about psychopaths. All he could do was try to diagnose the undiagnosed.
Then it flipped. People started to look at him as the voice of prosecution.
He had to start turning down assignments.
And take on a new role (part of reinventing yourself).
“In a weird kinda way, I think I’ve gone from being the prosecution to the defense,” Jon said. “I’m much more interested in trying to understand people who are demonized and dehumanized and when appropriate try to humanize them. I think most people deserve that. Not not everybody, but most people do.”
Links and Resources
- Listen to Jon’s podcast “The Butterfly Effect” (season 1 was about the consequences of the tech takeover of the porn industry)
- “The Men Who Stare At Goats” by Jon Ronson
- The Men Who Stare at Goats (Movie)
- “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” (one of James’ favorite books)
- “The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry” by Jon Ronson
- “Them: Adventures with Extremists” by Jon Ronson
- Psychopathic Test (live show)
- “Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries” by Jon Ronson
- Justine Sacco (you can read about here in this New York Times article “How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life”
- “Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions” by Johann Hari
- Laing (the anti-psychiatrist who wrote “The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness” NOT Artie Lange the comedian)
- The Bilderberg Group (the group that extremists Jon met said “run the world”)
- Alex Jones, a “conspiracy broadcaster” (who you might know if you’ve seen InfoWars)
- Bill Hicks (American stand-up comedian)
- Jim Tucker (the journalist who helped Jon Ronson uncover more details about the Bilderberg Group), he wrote a diary about it called, “Jim Tucker’s Bilderberg Diary: Reporter’s 25year Battle to Shine the Light on the world Shadow Government”
- Henry Kissinger
- AJ Jacobs, who wrote “The Year of Living Biblically”
- Broadmoor Asylum for the criminally insane
- Albert Dunlap (one the CEO’s Jon and I discuss as an example used in The Psychopath Test)
- Okja (the popular Netflix movie written by Joon-ho Bong and Jon Ronson (here’s the trailer)
- Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (a TV show Jon recommends watching)
- Bari Weiss (the New York Times columnist who’s an example of someone who’s pushing back against online shaming)
- Emma Gonzalez, the incredible highschool student from Parkland who’s making waves in the movement to reform gun laws and one of the leaders of the March For Our Lives event
- I Am, Unfortunately, Randy Newman (a documentary Jon Ronson worked on)
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