Monday, July 13

Interview: Jon Ronson

- August 2, 2017


The journalist and writer of bestselling books – including The Men Who Stare At Goats and The Psychopath Test – spoke with Victoria Nangle about his forthcoming Psychopath Night and more

Hello, and how are you today?
I’m okay thank you! I feel I’ve taken on just the right amount of work. Any more and I’ll become panicky and overwhelmed, any less and I’ll feel I am a failure, have always failed, will always fail.
However, I currently live in New York and am very uneasy about the political turmoil. I think Philip Roth summed it up well: “What is most terrifying is that he makes any and everything possible.”

If you had a magic wand cutting through all access and permission disputes, who would be top of your interview wish list and why?
Donald Trump, Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Bannon. Why: because I want to try and understand what’s going on inside their heads.

We live in interesting times. How do you think future historians will speak of the current global activities?
That we lost our minds for a while. We ignored the warnings from history and allowed authoritarian rule to take over. Crazy, pointless decisions were made in our name – like Trump’s immigration executive order.
People were at fault from all sides. In the run up to Brexit, as well as to Trump’s election, a kind of aggressive authoritarianism swept politics and culture. Social media was partly to blame: aggressive left wing authoritarianism seemed cool on social media. It’s like we all polluted the waters and Trump emerged from them like a mutant fish. Future writers will make stage musicals about these times, like Cabaret, and audiences will be in tears.

Future writers will make stage musicals about these times

Your Psychopath Night seems very apposite for the times. Is ‘psychopath’ a catch-all these days for people who say things we don’t agree with and refuse to agree with us?
Yes. It’s an overused word. We love to declare other people insane, especially people we don’t like. Actually I don’t think Donald Trump is a psychopath and even if he is I don’t think people should be labeling him a psychopath from afar. Because who’s going to be labelled from afar next? You?
A mental health activist – @_sectioned – put it well to me on Twitter the other day. He said: ‘Times of fear and chaos are when old myths, stereotypes & prejudices come out, and it’s in unprecedented times that marginalized folks become more vulnerable and need all the help we can get – not to be further stigmatized & thrown under the bus by doctors.’
Good point, right?

Are all psychopaths dangerous?
Well I think anyone who lacks empathy is going to be malevolent in one way or another. But most proper high-scoring psychopaths aren’t violent. According to Robert Hare (inventor of the psychopath checklist) 4% of CEOs are psychopaths – as opposed to 1% of the general population.

Did curiosity kill the cat – or did it just get into a box so that no one could see it and possibly go to sleep?
It’s strange and sad that social media has, I think, made people less curious. It should be the opposite. It gives us a window into lives we’d never normally get to glimpse. But instead of curiosity we frequently go for instant judgment. We surround ourselves with people who feel the same way we do. And if someone with an opposing point of view enters our bubble, we scream them

You seem to find a humour in some of the darkest places, but with a light hand. Is it hard to mine this, or is it simply part of the way you view most of the world?
It can be hard to mine. But if I tell a story that doesn’t have any humour in it, I tend to feel I’ve failed. Actually that’s not entirely true. Some of my favourite stories that I’ve written don’t have much humour: Justine Sacco from Shamed, Ruby Ridge from Them. But they’re exceptions. Usually I really want to find a kind of clash of humour and empathy and horror. Nothing breaks hearts more than a well-constructed juxtaposition between humour and horror. When I put it like that I sound like a psychopath.
Off the back of your most recent book – So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – what is your opinion of Donald Trump’s Twitter use?
We now have a President who routinely Twitter-shames his opponents, even when they’re powerless private individuals. At the end of 2015, for example, a young student named Lauren Batchelder stood up at a political forum and told Donald Trump that she didn’t think he was ‘a friend to women’. The next morning he went for her on Twitter, calling her an ‘arrogant young woman’. As a result, she was bombarded with rape threats and death threats. Somewhat ironically, Melania Trump recently told a rally in Philadelphia that as First Lady she wants to tackle social media bullying, because it has ‘gotten too mean and too rough’.

What is the secret to happiness?
Jesus, don’t ask me. I’m stressed out and miserable. Actually, I do know. Nine hours sleep.

Jon Ronson’s Psychopath Night , Brighton Dome Concert Hall, Monday 13 November 2017, 7.30pm, £21, Age 14+

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