Tag Archives: Jon Ronson

Culture of Complaint

Last December an Op Ed piece by Arthur C. Brooks ran in the New York Times.  Reading and contemplating of it and a little follow-up research could lead to the easing of minds obsessed with grievance. See, The Real Victims of Victimhood. The Op Ed posits that our society has become infantilized by its progressive drift toward embracing promoters of complaint, particularly those who peddle in nothing but complaint. They are not hard to identify provided one retains some degree of objectivity. They offer no solutions or alternative vision. Instead, they capitalize on engendering ‘us vs. them’ mentality.  The solution to all of us’ complaints is the destruction of them. A diabolically simple formula to appeal to denialist-inclined minds.

Brooks refers to the 1993 book Culture of Complaint by former Time art critic Robert Hughes that sparked his observations. Hughes warned of what the book’s subtitle called ‘The Fraying of America.’ Hughes broke down the origins of ‘us-as-victim vs. them’ thinking in the U.S. He ably demonstrated how it has been an integral feature of Americanism since the days of the first Puritans. He contended that PC – political correctness of the left and patriotic correctness of the right – was exacerbating the cultural disability to frightening levels of ignorant and irresponsible black-and-white thinking.

That Hughes identified a real problem might have been clear to rational minds within a decade of its publication. By the year 2000 that polar mentality was so prevalent, our future two-term President would play on it without even identifying just who the ‘them’ was:

“When I was coming up, it was a dangerous world, and you knew exactly who they were. It was us versus them, and it was clear who them was.  Today, we are not so sure who they are, but we know they’re there.” (George W. Bush 21 January 2000, on the campaign trail in Iowa)

In less than two years W found ‘them’ and distinguished himself with the rallying cry: “You’re either with us or you’re with the enemy.”

Of course, the 2016 Presidential candidates make Bush look like the model of judicious wisdom by comparison.

An entertaining look at how such dichotomous thinking pervades our culture is contained in Jon Ronson’s book Them: Adventures with Extremists. Ronson’s self-deprecating humor helps to shed light on how the process of polarization works subjectively.

The Psychopath Test



Sitting In Judgment

I am adding The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson to my recommended reading list.   This short excerpt from What Is Wrong With Scientology explains why:

Ironically, perhaps the best way to understand the most fundamental flaw in the Scientology system of dealing with the influence of sociopaths is to read a book that touches on corporate Scientology’s vehement, costly protests against the alleged failure of the field of psychiatry to do the same.  In The Psychopath Test, Ronson chronicles a member of corporate Scientology’s Citizens Commission on Human Rights (a group established to “clean up the field of mental healing”) and his quest to free an allegedly falsely labeled psychopath from a United Kingdom mental institution.

Ronson becomes fascinated with the apparent terrible injustice of “Tony’s” (pseudonym) incarceration.  As Ronson researches the matter in greater depth, he comes to find the Bob Hare psychopath test, or checklist, rather rational and workable.  The more time Ronson spends with Tony, the more he begins to doubt the fellow’s sanity against the psychopath test.  Out of curiosity, Ronson puts the test to use on a businessman who is unrelated to the matter of Tony.  When he completes the analysis, Ronson shares his condemning findings with a fellow journalist.  His colleague points out that Ronson only spent a couple hours with the target, and perhaps his journalistic “skill” of catching a target out on lurid admissions, and his preconceived notions of guilt, played a part in his finding.  Ronson, in his honest and entertaining style, rides the rollercoaster of enthusiastic certainty to self-deprecating doubt in his own and others’ use of the psychopath test.

Ultimately, Ronson causes the reader to consider that while there is a tremendous, accurate compilation of information that helps us detect sociopathy, can any one of us be trusted with the power to judge and sentence anyone else against that information?  Are any of us worthy of the God-like power to condemn another to a life of quarantine and isolation?  Do we, in wielding such a powerful tool of knowledge, tend to take on the characteristics of the sociopath when we sit in judgment?

Ronson seems to wind up in much the same place L. Ron Hubbard did when he published this statement: “I have come to find that man cannot be trusted with justice.”  While Hubbard persevered and constructed an elaborate system of justice intended to overcome that fatal flaw of humankind, for whatever reason, his lack of trust was proved justified by his own creation.

Ultimately, though, L. Ron Hubbard said that the only guarantee that one would not wind up on the receiving end of a sociopath’s club was to understand how to identify one in the first place.  And that conclusion was echoed by Martha Stout.  The founder of Scientology and his long-time nemeses in the field of mental health ended up agreeing on one unifying principle: When it comes to the havoc others can wreak upon one’s life, the best protection is the truth – know it, and it shall set you free.

And so my recommended remedy in dealing with the very real problem of sociopathy, or the suppressive person, is as follows:

  • Learn for oneself how to evaluate the worthiness and value of one’s fellows.
  • Never forfeit your judgment to some authority, no matter how apparently wise and judicious, when it comes to judging the merits of others.
  • Strive to be worthy of the trust of those you care about.