Monday, 11 March 2013

Psychopaths and Swearing

This year's Bath Literature Festival ends tonight, and the last event I attended (possibly the last event of the Festival) was a talk by  Jon Ronson, about his most recent book, 'Lost at Sea', and the one before that, 'The Psychopath Test'.

I've long enjoyed Jon Ronson's work - he used to have a column in the weekend Guardian, and is the author of 'The Men Who Stare at Goats' and 'Them'. In fact, I blogged about his last Bath Literature Festival appearance, 4 years ago.

Having heard him speak before, I was confident that I was in for an entertaining evening, and I was not disappointed.

Jon started with reading a story which hasn't (yet) made it into a book, about his son, Joel, at the age of 8, wanting to know whether there was a worse swear-word than 'fuck', and if so, what it was., which rapidly caused Ronson, in an attempt to avoid teaching his son anything inappropriate,  to become mired in a swamp of lies, an 8-year old temporarily convinced he has learned the Worst Swear Word in the World, and, increasing guilt "I'd rather he was foul mouthed and accurate than this" 

After this light-hearted anecdote Ronson spoke about the starting point for his book, 'The Psychopath Test'.

He described started out by leafing through the DSM ( Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and determining that he has 12 different mental disorders, including general anxiety and malingering, which led to thoughts about the dangers of self-diagnoses, and then, by a series of steps which all sounded very logical when described, via Scientologists to a prisoner names Tony, who spent 14 years in Broadmoor after faking madness in the hope of avoiding a prison sentence (of 5-7 years) for assault, to the worrying knowledge that around 1% of the population is believed to be a psychopath, but the figure rises to around 4% if you look at CEOs and other people in positions of power...

We also learned that if you have been on a course to become a certified psychopath spotter, and wish to interview important  people to work out whether they are psychopaths, it's best not to write and ask them whether you can interview them to test for psychopathic traits. Asking if you can interview them to ascertain whether they have a specific brain anomaly which may be linked to business success, works rather better..

Ronson then moved on to talk about some of the articles in 'Lost at Sea', such as what happens when you borrow a car from Aston Martin in order to recreate James Bond's drive in 'Goldfinger' (flatulence and dislike, mostly), about debt and credit cards, and who they are offered to, and about rich and poor in America.

The evening ended with a Q and A session, and discussion about the NHS and differences between US and UK attitudes, after which I was able to get my copy of 'Lost at Sea' signed, and to have a quick word with Jon. He's a nice man.

It was a very entertaining evening. Despite the cold, and the snow.

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