Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Genetic basis of political party orientation

I've said before that I believe that whether one is conservative or liberal has a genetic component. Some researchers recently looked at whether political party identification has a genetic component and found that it does not, but genes do influence the strength of party identification. (Abstract; Science Daily article)

This makes sense to me. There are conservatives in the Democratic party, and their used to be liberals in the Republican party, and may be again in whatever becomes of the current Republican party. People tend to keep their parents' political party unless something big intervenes, such as all the southern Democrats who became Republicans when the Democratic party embraced civil rights.

It makes sense, at least after the fact, that strength of political identification is stronger than the choice of  party to identify with. In that way it would be like religiosity: which religion is determined mostly by where you're born, but strength of religiosity is mostly genetic.

I should distinguish between kinds of conservatives when I say I think it is genetic:
  • Fiscal conservatives. Serious modern fiscal conservatives want the country to reduce its spending in general (though, since we're all Keynesians now, not during a crisis like today's) and be responsible, dammit. They are concerned about spending ourselves into a debt that paying back will be very painful. Fiscal liberals think we have enough money as a society to do lots of stuff we don't do now, and the society doesn't have to let people have more than two yachts. I'm a liberal, but I have no problem with fiscal conservatives. I just disagree. I think this kind of conservatism can be genetically related as a general sense of duty versus expansiveness. It's not the vote to increase the debt limit that is genetic, but rather the feeling either that if we don't buckle down, something bad will happen, or that everything's cool, so we can start that new social program. It may be related to "Watch out for lions;" "Dude, there ain't no lions here, let's go get some water."

    Note that this serious fiscal conservatism leaves out most of the current Republican party. The "conservatism" in the health care debate was mostly reflexive and disingenuous.
  • Country club conservatives. These are middling to rich, and they would like to be a benevolent aristocracy. Mostly they think they deserve to be where they are because of their own intrinsic merit. Sometimes they are right. I suspect this kind of conservatism is the least genetic. I often like these conservatives, and since they don't care about the social conservatives except as sources of votes, I also often agree with the country clubbers on issues the social conservatives find important.
  • Social conservatives. These are against sinners, meaning abortionists, gays, atheists, adulterers (except one's own, of course), and pornography. I think this is partly genetic, and the zealotry is quite genetic. I am just as sure of my opposite views, because my liberal zealotry, as I have to keep reminding myself, is also genetic. This reminds me of the free will position of a mechanist like me: I can't justify free will philosophically, but it sure feels like I have it. I can justify my liberal views philosophically, but one part of me knows that's a sham, since of course those arguments would satisfy me, regardless whether they are right. My assumptions require it.
  • Neo-conservatives. I think this has a goodly genetic component and is characterized by making up arguments to justify doing the most aggressive, immediately self-serving act possible in the circumstance. As a group, they are as intellectually dishonest as any group I have ever seen, and I'll have no truck with them.

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