Thursday, April 23, 2015

Genetics: Is That What's Behind Our Political Orientations?

In an intriguing op-ed in last Sunday's Denver Post. Greg Dobbs - former ABC News correspondent- advanced the hypothesis that "a gene, psychological characteristic or personality trait" could be behind our political orientations.  Dobbs' observes:

"My own parents, who my siblings  and I loved and respected, by and large politically were on the right, yet each of their kids ended up on the left. However, I know plenty of families where the kids turned out as their parents' political clones. And yet others where some ended up conservative and some not. That doesn't meant our politics are hereditary, but are they genetic?"

But here he appears to confuse issues, because surely if a trait is "genetic" it is also hereditary. Let us say, using Mendelian genetics, that conservative orientation constitutes a homozygous dominant allele (C) and liberal tendencies the homozygous recessive allele (c).  Then assume the gene  frequencies distribute as the population polling discloses - say indicating a 2:1 ratio of  conservatives to liberals in this country. Then for 200 randomly selected individuals, one would find the genotype frequencies distributed such that 100 are homozygous dominant (CC = diehard conservos), while 50 are heterozygous, e.g. Cc (moderates), and 50 are homozygous recessive (unabashed liberals) = cc = 50.

In my own family, my mother was liberal, dad generally conservative and the five offspring would be designated: 3 CC, 1 cc, and 1 Cc (sister). All the CC members served in the military (Army-Marines, Air Force, Navy) while the lone liberal (me) served in Peace Corps.   A serious genealogy trace has revealed conservatism strongly embedded in our (paternal) family tree going back at least eight generations.   For example, a particular great grandfather born in Rockingham County, Virginia emerged to become one of the most firebrand bible punchers amongst "the Brethren" that 1860s Kansas had ever seen.  Tracing forward the Brethren (and military) connections, as the family spread out to Missouri and Arkansas,  leads  to most of the conservatives fighting for the South in the Civil War.

Meanwhile, my maternal grandfather - who emigrated from Cabuna, Croatia in 1914,  was a dedicated liberal and also a conscientious objector. He detested war and refused entry into WWI - thereby alternatively fulfilling his service in a Wisconsin lumber camp. This choice delayed his application for U.S. citizenship, but eventually he obtained it.

Back to Dobbs' referenced research, including from the University of Nebraska, which found conservatives and liberals responding differently to assorted images (he didn't elaborate on the nature of the images) with conservatives "feeling more threatened" - leading me to suspect they were likely sexual images.

But this bifurcation of response isn't new. Back in 2013, a NY Times Sunday piece, 'A Formula for Happiness' (Sunday Review, p. 1, Dec. 15) noted :

"Conservative women are particularly blissful, about 40 percent report being 'very happy'. This makes them slightly happier than conservative men and liberal women. The unhappiest of all are liberal men- only a fifth consider themselves very happy."

Which elicits the question, 'Why?'. But Dobb's researchers really ought not be that astonished since years earlier  the authors of the book Nature's Thumbprint had already made quite an argument for the case that not only can physical factors be inherited, but also psychological traits, and personality. Note the term "inherited" and they also discussed a possible genetic link.

Most noteworthy was Dobb's citation of a study done at University College, London, which examined the part of the brain (amygdala) that "lights up" on MRI imagery whenever we are anxious or scared.  The researchers found it was significantly larger in conservatives. As Dobbs adds:

"This would help explain conservatives' fears when it comes to guns, health care and Iran."

Thus, conservos are terrified of having the "government" seize all their guns - their amygdalas light up big time-  just as they do with the mention of ISIS or Iran, and "government health care".    They are also "dug in" when it comes to supporting the national security state and are vehemently against any conspiracies (e.g. JFK assassination) that implicate them, as exemplified by the vindictive behavior of Alabama-born, conservative disinformationist John McAdams.

Dobbs ends his piece by writing:

"The upshot of all this is maybe we are blessed at birth with our political proclivities"

Or, cursed!

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