As every schoolboy knows, or as every schoolboy used to know, the United States is governed and overseen by a president, 535 member of the Congress, and nine members of the Supreme Court.

Now consider this information taken from The Sociopath Next Door, written by Martha Stout,  who completed her professional training in psychology at the McLean Psychiatric Hospital, obtained her Ph.D. at Stony Brook University, served on the clinical faculty of the Harvard Medical School for over twenty-five years and also on the academic faculties of The New School for Social Research, the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, and Wellesley College.

About one in 25 people are sociopathic, meaning, essentially, that they do not have a conscience.

And this:

[W]hen confronted with a destructive outcome that is clearly their doing, they will say plain and simple, “I never did that,” and will to all appearances, believe their own direct lie.  This feature of sociopathy makes self-awareness impossible, and in the end, just as the sociopath has no genuine relationships with other people; he has only a very tenuous one with himself.  In general, people without conscience tend to believe their way of being in the world is superior to ours.

Now, we are not pointing fingers here.  But given this observation by this highly respected doctor, we thought it might be interesting to consider her work while reading today’s depressing headlines.  We will begin with this:

One of their chief characteristics is a kind of glow or charisma that makes sociopaths more charming or interesting than the other people around them.  They’re more spontaneous, more intense, more complex, or even sexier than everyone else, making them tricky to identify and leaving us easily seduced.  Fundamentally, sociopaths are different because they cannot love.  Sociopaths learn early on to show sham emotion, but underneath they are indifferent to others’ suffering. They live to dominate and thrill to win.

The result is that the sociopath is able to charm, seduce, or manipulate otherwise intelligent people into doing things they wouldn’t otherwise do.  The sociopath knows when to smile, when to frown, when to laugh and when to cry.  He or she is adept at knowing when to use flattery to gain points with his prey.  And most importantly, the sociopath never has to worry about being betrayed by the look of guilt in his eyes when he lies to others – because he never feels guilty.

Typically, a sociopath is easily bored.  As a result, he has a stronger than normal need for stimulation.  When the sociopath is young, this type of need usually results in the adolescent getting in trouble for truancy, drug or alcohol abuse, stealing, cheating, or minor scrapes with the law.  As the sociopath matures, so does his need for stimulation.  This need drives the sociopath to take bigger and bigger risks, sometimes ending with the sociopath in prison.  Quite often, however, the sociopath is able combine his charming and manipulative personality with his need for adventure resulting in a climb to the top of corporate or political ladders.

This means that they are able to do pretty much anything without feeling any guilt or remorse for their behavior.  This does not, however, mean that the sociopath is not able to tell the difference between right and wrong; rather, he is indifferent to right and wrong.  For most of us, breaking the law, or physically or emotionally hurting someone, comes with an emotional cost – guilt or sadness.  For the sociopath, there is no guilt; there is no remorse; there is no pain for the wronged person or his/her family.

So what makes a sociopath tick?  Well, sociopaths are emotionally superficial.  They have no empathy for others, including family members and mates.  While a sociopath is able to show physical affection to another person, there is no true inner need to emotionally bond with that other person.  Generally speaking, the marriages of sociopaths are loveless, and one-sided.  Often, the sociopath will choose a spouse whom he believes to be an asset, a way to further his career or aspirations, but the sociopath never marries for love because, by definition, a sociopath is incapable of having any true emotions.

A sociopath is driven by the desire to win.  The games he or she plays are unknown to those around him, and as each game is finished, the sociopath tallies his points and moves on to the next event.  During these “games,” the sociopath uses his charms to manipulate those around him to do his bidding.  He is driven to increase the grandiosity of his games after each match.  As a result, the stakes continue to get higher and higher for the pawns involved in each of his games. Finally, irresponsible behavior often accompanies this disorder as well as a lack of remorse for wrongdoings.

Those who are aware of this disorder generally believe all sociopaths are violent individuals, such as serial killers or serial rapists.  This classification, however, is grossly inaccurate.  In fact, many sociopaths are nonviolent, are around us every day of our life, and they impact our relationships and livelihoods in ways most people don’t even realize until it’s too late.  Needless to say, some go into politics.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DXM-IV), a person who possesses a minimum of three of the following seven qualities is considered by psychiatrists to have antisocial personality disorder, also known as sociopathic personality disorder:

Failure to conform to social norms

Deceitfulness, manipulativeness

Impulsivity, failure to plan ahead

Irritability, aggressiveness

Reckless disregard for the safety of self or others

Consistent irresponsibility

Lack of remorse after having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another person

Sound familiar?  Just sayin’.