Thursday, November 27, 2008

Are you a sociopath?

Mark Easton of the BBC had a recent blog entry about sociopaths and how to spot one. A sociopath is someone with no conscience, and according to some estimates they account for 1 in 25 of us. There are a lot of articles on the web about them, and they mostly say the same sort of thing. They tend to be written from the perspective of a "normal" person, they tend to assume you either are, or are not a sociopath, and the advice they give is to avoid interactions with sociopaths wherever possible. Recalling a few experiences from my past, I'm not so sure that sociopathy is a binary state - I think it's more of a gradient. It's also a bit of an easy label to give people who you don't like. When I started trying to count likely candidates for sociopathy, I got (worryingly), a lot. Either I tend to attract them, or there are more than 4% of them out there, or I'm over-diagnosing. Let's hope the latter.

20 again for 7 hours

I was invited to give a talk at Cambridge University earlier in the week. I hadn't been before and thought it might be interesting to see what all the fuss was about. Would it confirm the stereotypes of insanely privileged, out-of-touch public school toffs?

Cambridge itself is flat, low-rise, old and quaint. It reminded me a bit of Bath, York, Gloucester and Durham. But better. Like Cambridge was the original and those places were copies. There were a lot of book-shops and people on bikes. The bookshop where I bought my newspaper from had an "honesty box". It almost felt like Utopia.

The students were a bit on the geeky side - I saw a lot of young Woody Allens (both male and female). This was unlike when I lived in Bristol where the students tend to look like Abercrombie and Fitch models. Manchester students on the other hand are all a bit on the Amy Winehouse side.

This was the room they put me up in for the night. It had its own kitchen and bathroom. It was bigger than the room that I gave my talk in.

After the talk, I got taken to a "High Table dinner". This involves a kind of school-dinners affair in a grand room from the set of a Harry Potter film. Various old men in gowns mumble in Latin at the beginning and end, and you have to stand up in silence. I was on a lower-down table with the students (who sniggered a bit while this was going on). There was a drinking game, whereby if someone puts a penny in your wine glass you have to drink the glass in one go. I couldn't work out if this was a tradition or a recent binge drinking thing.

Being now well into my mid-30s, I don't really socialise with students any more, so the evening was eye-opening. I would be having a perfectly nice conversation with one of them, talking about the effect that Clause 28 had on me coming out to my parents, when they'd say something like "Oh, I was born in that year".

Still, I was impressed with how socially competent they were (almost but not quite reaching American levels of confidence). They also seemed to take their studies very seriously (and the poor things seemed to have the double the workloads of other students I've talked to). Still, they will be running the country in about 20 years so I guess they should get used to it. I was pleased to hear a wide range of accents - not just the posh ones, but a very strong Scouse one, a Lancashire one and a Manchester one. About seven of them were going to a club and persuaded me to go along. When we got thereI barely knew any of the songs that were played. I had a sudden flashback to 1992 - when I was 20 and used to go clubbing 4 nights a week. For a few months we had a mature student called Christine move into our shared house - she was a social worker from London in her mid-late 30s. We took her clubbing one night and she left by 12pm, exhausted and out of it. After she'd gone, the rest of us laughed at her awful dance moves. So this whole evening seemed to be set up as a karmic punishment so that I could experience what it was like to be Christine. Anyway, I managed to hold out until 2pm when everyone went home. If they laughed, they at least had the grace to do it behind my back. I got back to my palatial quarters and looked at my tired face in the mirror - noting the increasing numbers of lines around my eyes, and thought for a moment how at least I didn't have acne. But their acne will clear up. And my lines will only get deeper and longer...

1 comment:

KAZ said...

I've just been round the corner shopping with our Amy Winehouses - much more interesting than Abercrombie and Fitch.

Whatever you danced like - the fact that they invited you must mean you were doing something right.