Veer­ing into lu­nacy

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS -

The Psy­chopath Test is way­ward, in­tel­li­gent and al­ways funny. Ron­son is the man with the shtick, yet one won­ders if the rou­tine is be­gin­ning to get in the way of his story.

As Ron­son dis­cov­ers, Hare’s check­list emerged as part of a move­ment by psy­chi­a­trists to end a more hippy-ish and ro­man­tic view of mad­ness. The age when doc­tors would drop acid and frolic with their pa­tients was over.

Hare par­tic­i­pated in the se­ries of sem­i­nars that pro­duced the third edi­tion of the Di­ag­nos­tic and Statis­tic Man­ual of Men­tal Dis­or­ders (1980) or DSM-III, which dif­fered from the ear­lier DSM-I and DSM-II in be­ing far longer. This mas­sive pro­lif­er­a­tion of men­tal ill­nesses made phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies de­ter­mined to mar­ket cures.

Ron­son touches on child­hood bipo­lar dis­or­der, a con­di­tion that prob­a­bly does not ex­ist, yet which has led to chil­dren as young as three be­ing placed on med­i­ca­tion. A dif­fer­ent kind of jour­nal­ist might have fo­cused on this story. Or, per­haps, on the de­ci­sion in DSM-IV (1994) to link Asperger’s with autism, which led to an ap­par­ent ex­plo­sion in autis­tic chil­dren.

Of course, a dif­fer­ent kind of jour­nal­ist may never have made these con­nec­tions at all, but to Ron­son these shock­ing sto­ries are merely fea­tures on a pi­caresque jour­ney.

It is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine any­one writ­ing a more quixotic book, un­less they were ac­tu­ally Miguel de Cer­vantes, yet where Ron­son sees giants the reader will of­ten strug­gle to dis­cern a wind­mill. Again and again, his books re­turn to the mo­ment we lost faith in the idea of mad­ness as lib­er­a­tion. I sus­pect Ron­son is a ro­man­tic, still cher­ish­ing the hope that lu­nacy may be a glo­ri­ous way out from a life of rou­tine. – © The Daily Tele­graph UK 2011

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