Monday, January 14, 2013

Australian Psycho

The idea of psychopathy interests me immensely. After reading John Ronson’s The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through The Madness Industry*, a narrative-style non-fictional romp into the inner workings of dangerous and corporate psychopaths, I was further intrigued. After finishing the book, and equipped with Hare’s checklist of what constitutes the cold and senseless condition, I actually went around diagnosing many people I know as psychopaths. I thought I was an amateur psychiatrist (I like to appoint myself different vocations from week to week, it shakes things up – more than once I’ve decided I was a private eye, but I’ll get to that in another post). Inevitably though, I turned on myself and began to wonder if I were a psychopath. Although Ronson clearly states that if one ever worries that they are a psychopath then they are not one (this feels like a delightful riddle) I still look back at my life and think that I definitely had a lot of psychopathic promise.

I believe there are three precursors to psychopathy which can be observed in children including:  wetting the bed, having a fascination with fire and being cruel to small children and animals. During my life I had exhibit all these concerning symptoms at one time or another. I am going to immediately dismiss the first and focus just on the second two because, let’s be honest, who didn’t wet the bed as a child? To me, this one seems completely arbitrary (and I would know, as I did one unit of psychiatry in my science degree, so am pretty much the authority on all things to do with it).  

Firstly, let’s discuss my fascination with fire. Apart from having the winter chore of lighting the fire in our slow combustion stove (which is more about my parents’ fascination with being warm than my fascination with fire) I was always interested in burning things, lighting candles and playing with matches. Mostly I remember always wanting to burn the edges of my homework and stain it with tea to make it look old. I still don’t know why I would want my homework to look old, I was 8, how old could it possibly be?  This whole practice seems retrospectively hilarious; how on earth does burning the edges of a page make it seem antique? Have all documents which have reached at least one hundred years in age survived some sort of fire only to be singed around the edges, the fire miraculously stopping just before the text? And what was the cause of all of these olden day fires from which important papers where being saved just in the nick of time? Heaven knows. But there you have it, fascination with fire, check!

Secondly, cruelty to small animals is a big red flag when attempting to identify a future psychopath, and this I had in spades. When I was small (six to ten years of age) I engaged in the following activities:

ü  I once squeezed a slug to death

ü  I pulled wings off flies (but who hasn’t done this, so it doesn’t really count)

ü  I squeezed my cat George so hard and he made such a terrible smell that my dad made me ring the vet and explain what I had done (HAHA, my parents were so creative with their punishments, maybe that was why I was so creative with my torture?)

ü  I left my guinea pig in the sun and he died of heat stroke after an amazing amount of yellow stuff came out of his mouth

ü  I left another guinea pig on a chair and someone sat on him, he also died, see previous point about yellow stuff

ü  I put a lizard in a fry pan (which was on)

ü  I tied my rabbit to the kitchen table and left him there for an hour (he was eventually hit by a car in a separate incident. Obviously.)

All of these I feel horrible about now, although I feel less bad about the guinea pigs because I don’t like guinea pigs that much. What are they? Are they a really long, hairy neck with legs? Or do they have no neck at all? And just when you think they are all warm you realise they have pissed on you. Yep. I don’t like guinea pigs. Anyway, I digress.

So I have covered the fire and the cruelty to small animals, but there is the one reason which trumps all previous nut-bag behaviour and makes me feel pretty sure I was on a psychopathic trajectory as a child. Take a deep breath, constant reader, because this is bad.

When I was about eight or nine we would go to the house of a family friend who had a small child. For some reason this child irked me, I don’t know what it was about it, but it followed me around and it just had an arrogance to it that I DID NOT LIKE. The child was old enough to stand up and walk, but not old enough to speak. And so I used to pinch it. And when I say pinch, I mean hard, as hard as I could in fact – I would grab what I could between my thumb and forefinger and squeeze, if I could incorporate some fingernail action into this I was stoked. The worst part about this is that I used to pinch the kid because I knew it was not old enough to tell anyone what had happened, it would suddenly start to cry and I would look innocently and quizzically to the parents – “what on earth has happened to your darling child to make it shriek so?” my butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth face said. While really I was thinking “what a nifty game!” Unfortunately, I have never felt remorse about this (lack of remorse: another point on the psychopath checklist. TICK.)

I still don’t know if something happened in my life to stop me from evolving into the psychopath I was destined to be, or maybe I did become one – who knows. Go ahead and judge me if you want, but just know that I will come over to your house, pinch your kids and squeeze your cat until it farts.


*Ronson, Jon. 2011, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through The Madness Industry. Riverhead Books. USA Buy it here -




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