I’d like to look at the continuum from imprisoned failed sociopaths to SAPs (socially adept sociopaths). Basically they are all adherents of the credo, ‘you call it cheating, I call it winning.’ The failed sociopaths have problems with the cheating part (i.e., getting caught), the SAPs can be phenomenal at it.
In my opinion across the spectrum they all have characteristics in common. They are all like a child in a candy store. Their wants are as big as their eyes, with the same childhood sense of entitlement. They want everything they see. A low level sociopath will simply reach out and start taking and end up in jail. A SAP will be able to restrain this reaching until safe opportunities present themselves. But the basic desires are identical. There is also a whole panoply of related arrested development characteristics. In my opinion, all sociopaths are in a state of immature sexuality. Essentially they never progress past childhood sex play, orgasms are simply thrown in. Similarly, their personality, reasoning, moral, etc. development are also stunted.
Though they may not choose to do so, all sociopaths in my opinion see nothing intrinsically wrong with seducing a 13 year-old girl neighbor into prostitution, incest, “Dress Grey” raping of a straight or closeted gay buddy (i.e., individuals who would be unlikely to press charges due to the publicity), spreading AIDs with no concern, torturing a child in front of a parent, or a parent in front of a child, viewing others as tissue paper to be used and discarded, etc. I believe this to be true no matter how well educated, well dressed or well spoken a sociopath may be.
What then separates the SAPs from the failed (and caught) sociopaths? I see the situation as being the balancing of two countervailing pressures. One pressure, drive actually, is to reach out, take and dominate. The other pressure is simply the need to get away with it, which has both internal and external aspects. Failed sociopaths lack the internal resources to restrain themselves (apparently, some people, including many professional researchers, consider only these individuals to be true sociopaths — they couldn’t be more wrong). Other sociopaths have the internal resources, but only if the external environment (i.e., the threat of some punishment) necessitates it. The continuum is really a scale of talent at being hypocritical. The advanced SAPs are simply magnificent hypocrites — able to bide their time, be patient, realistically assess their position in the food chain (the concept of the food chain is central to sociopath life stories), restrain their arrogance, desire for dominance and rudeness and wait for opportunities without consequence for indulging their sociopathic wants, etc. Hypocrisy is simply their main lifetool, as swimming is the main lifetool for a fish.
It is always educational, when evaluating a possible sociopath, to note how the individual consistently behaves around those “lower in the food chain” — it can be quite amazing. If a superior is a devotee, sadly they will often believe the sociopath and not their eyes.
Apparently, the current rage in the field is the argument over whether sociopathy is a normal-to-special-trait continuum (similar to tallness) or a present/not present trait (such as blue eyes). It is the latter. The only way that so-called scientists can make the former argument is that they have no idea of what they are talking about. See the story of the five blind men and the elephant. This is quite apparent from the amazing quote from J. Seabrook’s “Suffering Souls, the Search for the Roots of Psychopathy” in The New Yorker, “Unlike most academic psychopathy researchers, Kiehl has spent many hours in the company of his subjects. When he meets colleagues at conferences, he told me, “they always ask, ‘What are they like?’ These are guys who have spent twenty years studying psychopaths and never met one.” http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/11/10/081110fa_fact_seabrook