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DNA Politics: Science and Sociopathy

Are Bill Clinton and George W. Bush sociopaths? Probably not, but since both men’s presidencies gave them control over thousands of nuclear weapons it would’ve been nice to have some hard data on the question before they each took office. Thankfully, in the near future presidential contenders’ DNA will likely be scrutinized for signs of sociopathy.

The rapid fall in the cost of gene sequencing will soon allow scientists to learn much about the genetic components of many human traits by, for example, identifying commonalities among the genomes of sociopaths. Researchers will likely find that genes have a significant influence over who becomes a sociopath. Estimates of the percentage of sociopaths in the human population range from around 1% to 5%, but their desire for power over others probably causes sociopaths to be overrepresented among politicians. At the very least we know that many twentieth-century rulers such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Kim Il-sung and Pol Pot thought nothing of destroying millions to advance their own interests.

I predict that within fifteen years U.S. voters will know which presidential candidates have the genes that predispose them to being sociopaths. Humans shed so much DNA that unless a politician lived in a plastic bubble he couldn’t shield his DNA from prying eyes. Politicians will probably pass laws making it a crime to involuntarily disclose a politician’s genetic traits. But since it would take only one person to leak the information onto the Internet, and given that any serious candidate for President will have many enemies, candidates’ genomes will undoubtedly become public.

Genes will probably predispose rather than guarantee that a child becomes a sociopath. A neurotypical politician, consequently, might be unfairly prevented from being elected President because his “evil genes” didn’t express. But we should tolerate many false positives if they would prevent a Stalin from becoming the U.S. President.

Genetics will tell us far more about a politician than whether he has a conscience. Chinese scientists are currently looking for the genetic basis of genius by examining the genes of adults who have IQs above 145. You can bet that if Sarah Palin could prove she was a genius by releasing her DNA she would do it to counter the mainstream media’s judgment of her. If Alzheimer’s is found to have a strong genetic component then older presidential candidates such as John McCain would probably have their DNA analyzed to see if they would get the brain-wasting disease while in office. True, DNA isn’t destiny, but it probably determines a lot.

If it turns out that homosexuality is determined by genetics then many politicians might be forced out of the closet by their DNA. Because of his mannerisms and alleged hostility to homosexuality some have suggested that presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s husband is gay. Michele Bachmann herself doesn’t have a high opinion of homosexuals and has referred to her stepsister’s lesbianism as “part of Satan.” Now imagine a future in which Bachmann is President, gay rights groups suspect her husband is a homosexual, and scientists find a set of genes that make men highly disposed to being gay. I strongly suspect that in this scenario some gay rights activists would make great efforts to acquire a sample of the husband’s DNA so they could scrutinize it, with the intention of releasing a digital copy of the DNA should it contain “gay genes.”

Even if DNA analysis ends up playing no part in who becomes President, intelligence agencies will almost certainly study the DNA of foreign leaders to predict how they will behave. Before negotiation with a future American President the Chinese Ministry of State Security might look at this President’s DNA to see if he is a narcissist who can be won over by flattery, a sociopath who cares only about his own position, a dullard who can be easily tricked, or an über-empath who would make great concessions to avoid loss of human life.

James D. Miller is an Associate Professor of Economics at Smith College. He keeps a blog called Singularity Notes and is currently writing a book on how increases in human and machine intelligence will impact our economy.

4 Comments

  1. do you think 2017 will be the first genetic-race or we’ll make it different before or even before next year they’ll discover françois hollande has genetics of whale (shaping and flawing) whereas sarkozy has genetics of chimpanze (building and destroying) ?

  2. The problem is how to define sociopathology, psychopathology. I am currently midway through a compiling a brief explanation of anti-psychiatry, which turns notions of atypical behaviour upside down. Some food for thought is: The Martha Mitchell effect. There were actually illegal activities happening at the Whitehouse.

    The problem with these notions by James D. Miller is that scientists and researchers are often insane thus their results merely confirm their biases.

    Genetics regarding human behaviour, (behavioural genetics) tells us about the biases of researchers and nothing more.

  3. well written and intriguing article. i had not previously thought about this possibility but it does seem rather likely. now on to the next question. would it be a good thing?