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That got your attention. The answer is no. I know this because I’m able to feel emotions like sadness, and to empathise. But just to check, I did an online test entitled ‘Are you a psychopath or a narcissist?’ I was pleased to confirm that I am not a psychopath. Slightly less pleased when it turned out that the test thinks I might be a narcissist. The leads me to think that it is probably wildly inaccurate (she says, blogging extensively about herself).

But Jon Ronson’s book, ‘The Psychopath Test‘, has definitely got me thinking. I’m half way through it, and am enjoying it so much I’m going to bed way after my bed-time. It’s laugh-out-loud funny. Bob Hare, who came up with the original psychopath test, really didn’t appreciate the trivialisation of such a serious personality disorder – him and the rest of the psychology/psychiatry profession. I did, though. As, I suspect, did many other readers.

How can psychopathy be so entertaining? I should caveat this with the fact that there’s nothing I enjoy more than a good murder – written or on film. Silent Witness’ – which quite frankly probably leaves its actors scarred for life – is a personal favourite. 

Jon Ronson explores the world of psychopathy, and looks in particular at the possibility that around 4% of the top echelons of organisations are psychopaths. This is compared to around 1% of the general population. As they can’t really put the question in a census, I think it’s safe to say that the 1% figure is an estimate. He gives examples of businessmen who allegedly enjoy firing people to the point of pathology, and have statues of predators all over their mansions. Ronson visits prisons and finds most psychopaths to be charming, erudite, expert manipulators. 

This got me thinking. I work in the aid industry. I bet you’re thinking we’re all pretty empathetic, out there saving poor people and all. And to a certain extent that’s true. But I couldn’t help but think, as Ronson went through some of the characteristics of a psychopath, that something struck a chord. On his website, Hare says that:

“As things stand, we do not know the prevalence of psychopathy among those who work on Wall Street. It may be even higher than 10%, on the assumption that psychopathic entrepreneurs and risk-takers tend to gravitate toward financial watering-holes, particularly those that are enormously lucrative and poorly regulated. But, until the research has been conducted, we are left with anecdotal evidence and widespread speculation.” (See full article here).

Hmmmm. Lucrative and poorly regulated? Watering-hole? That sounds familiar. You only have to read ‘Lords of Poverty‘ and ‘Dead Aid‘ to see that these characteristics could well be applied to my industry. And once you’ve worked at country level, you know they can be. Let’s take a few and work it through. Of course, I realise that in doing this, I am being true to form and destroying idealism. Bear with me: I’ve only been back a year. I’ll get idealistic in 2014. 

  • Grandiose sense of self worth. Am thinking about the heads of advocacy at most affiliates of hand relief international. Say no more.
  • Pathological lying. Aid definitely works. That’s what the adverts say. And what we tell ourselves. What do you mean, corruption? What organisational free fall?
  • Parasitic lifestyle. Just thinking of my generous accommodation allowance, flights home and salary whilst I eradicated poverty in Africa. And I wasn’t even working for the UN.
  • Lack of realistic, long-term goals. Millennium Development Goals. Say no more. 
  • Need for stimulation: prone-ness to boredom. We stay in country for 3 years, tops, by which time we understand the country almost enough to begin eradicating poverty in it. We then move on to somewhere else and blithely apply what we’ve learnt, because all poor places are pretty much the same anyway.
  • Promiscuous sexual behaviour. Have you read Emergency Sex?

Of course, I imagine that you could run through these characteristics, and the others, for any industry and come up trumps. Take political leaders. Mugabe? Reckon he must be up there. Idi Amin? Even if the head in the fridge story isn’t true, we’ve all seen ‘The Last King of Scotland’. 

In the UK? Chris Huhne certainly showed some criminal versatility in getting his wife to take his penalty points (although I wouldn’t say this puts him up there with Charles Manson). 

And lastly, failure to accept responsibility for own actions: ref the Afghanistan chapter of Tony Blair’s memoirs.

 

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Last night I was gazing at the lovely backlit trees as I sat in a balmy hillside bar in Kampala when a Ugandan friend interrupted my thoughts.

“You’re looking at those trees, aren’t you,” he intoned flatly. “You should read this great blog – ‘Stuff white people like’ – it’s very funny.”

By “it’s very funny”, I assumed he meant, “it’s uncannily accurate and all about people like you.” He does like to say “Huh, you white people,” to me on a regular basis, for almost anything I do  (I have generously attributed this to his ongoing messy separation from his white spouse).

Nevertheless I was intrigued. I went home and, after checking my Facebook (#106 on the list, by the way), scrolled through the list as E snored beside me. There is a full list of 134 items, and the website has 80,000,000 – yes, 80 million!- hits. My God, are we this predictable? And do this many people find our predictability entertaining?

Yoga and dogs are, apparently, among the many things that White People Like

I scrolled through the list and found, that, to my relief, it was mainly about things white American people like, so there were a fair few that may not apply to Britain, or at least not to me. I don’t pretend to like classical music anymore (now that I am in my 30s – I did for the longest time, though). To the dismay/relief of my American friends (depending on where they went to school) – don’t easily recognise the names of Ivy League schools. I think I can be excused on the having black friends and being the only white person around points, given that I live in a black country and all my expat friends have left and I can’t be bothered to make any more as they’ll all leave again – so I think the motivation there is rather different to the one cited in the posts – i.e. primarily laziness. Still, there were enough in there that resonated and I felt rather embarrassed. Notably #15 – yoga. “Participation in this activity requires large amounts of money and time, both of which white people have a lot of…It gives white people the chance to showcase their $80 pants.” I looked down guiltily at my new hot pink yoga pants, and read on. Also making you feel bad about not going outside:  I do that to E a lot, even though I spend a fair amount of my time sitting on my @ss eating chocolate and watching Hercule Poirot episodes (when he can’t see me). And I do have 3 moleskines, full of shopping lists, which make me feel intellectual just by holding them.

This morning E and I had a bit of a discussion on this – I wanted to verify the list’s accuracy from his perspective. He’s not keen on racial stereotyping, but there were a few bits of the list that he couldn’t resist commenting on:

#116 – Black music that Black People Don’t Listen to Anymore. He glanced warily at my iPod. Enough said.

#128 – camping, “that’s definitely a white thing”.  (He has shown no interest in the gorgeous campsite at Sipi falls that I keep telling him about, and does not seem to think that it would be a romantic trip.)

# 126 – Vespas – “for sure that’s a white thing. You ever seen anyone here on a Vespa?” (this was supported by an uncannily good – although not particularly sexy – impression of a man on a Vespa).

# 69 – Mos Def – this was met with a loud guffaw and no explanation. I don’t know who Mos Def is but am assuming that a lot of people, white and black, do, and that this is funny to them.

However, there were large areas we agreed that some of this stuff everyone liked (i.e. E also liked them so wasn’t too keen for it to be on the same list as some of the other items): The Wire, Facebook, Mad Men (although I suspect that he only pretends to like Mad Men to humour me).

Driving home this afternoon, I saw my first ever Vespa in Uganda. I dashed after him to see who was driving it.

A white Italian guy.

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PS – if all this racial stereotyping is too heavy for you, try a little light relief: http://nonthreateningvampires.tumblr.com/ or http://chickswithstevebuscemeyes.tumblr.com/

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