I've long been struck by the idea of childhood diagnosis of sociopaths--of exactly how early and easily we can be spotted. I, myself, was pretty aware of my own differences at an early age. Couldn't describe it back then, but I always saw the difference, that desire to compete fiercely, and even humiliate, break, and if possible, injure the competition in a way that never led back to me, all while playing adults like fiddles. Because of this history, I recently recognized another small sociopath with absolute clarity.
Recently, my wife and I were on vacation visiting friends of ours from grad school. They have a five-year-old boy. It was like looking at a little version of myself. Seeing this kid take joy in first playing with his puppy, and slowly but surely escalating the play and contact to the level of inflicting intentional pain. I recognized on his part that he knew precisely when he was crossing a line--looking up, causing the pain when he thought no adult was looking, and the false regret in his voice but clearly not his eyes when caught. It was like looking back in time into a mirror. He didn't reserve his violence and force for his pet, either, but also targeted both his parents and my wife and I. When his parents tried to use the old parenting canard of "you're hurting mommy and daddy" which usually reduces kids to crying, mewling shame-balls, their son only grinned.
If seeing his joy at this weren't a recognition of my own childhood feelings when I caused physical or emotional pain, the cinch was seeing his uncanny understanding of social dynamics, and the privileged role that most kids occupy in society which saves them from adult wrath. In other words, this child was manipulative beyond his years. Again, something familiar to myself.
By looking at him, you wouldn't think he's growing up in a nurturing, progressive, yuppie household where both parents hold doctorate degrees (or on second thought, maybe you would). His parents were oblivious to their little 'angel' and the intentionality of his aggression. Or at least have developed a practiced obliviousness.
But what surprised me most was how quickly a weekend around a small version of myself stirred up territorial feelings. Those feelings made me think of the practices of male lions direct towards a competitor's cubs. Good thing I live half a country away.