It’s in the Blood?

 

I first saw it in the news nearly five years ago, this stuff about linking one’s genetic make-up to one’s tendency toward liberalism or conservatism. The idea stuck with me. Do our politics really radiate from our cells?

Virtually all of my dearest friends are liberals. We have lots in common. We laugh together. We commiserate. In many ways, we connect. Unless you count politics, economic theory, and religion, we get along great. I make sure our conversations never get near these topics, but it’s hard to hide it completely. True friendship is rare enough, I say; let’s try to maintain it.

My friends are not dumb people. Most of them are highly educated in both book learnin’ and life. So I can’t just brush them off as “uninformed.” (Although I’m pretty certain they think that of me.) The truth is, I spend much of the day reading things on the Internet and wondering, “How could someone possibly believe this is true? How can someone with a brain agree with that?”

It’s easy for me to believe that Joe Biden is a doofus who doesn’t understand America or middle class living. It’s harder for me to believe the same about my college friends or my relatives. Does anybody else struggle with this? Do you avoid politics with your liberal friends? Do you debate them? Have you converted anyone?

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  1. Profile Photo Member
    @DuaneOyen

    One famous writer said that political views, for the most part, arise from our family background (“born Republicans”), though for the most part, he was referring to early socialization rather than genetic makeup:

    But I struggle with the same issue as does Ursula. I have good, and smart, friends (and relatives) who just know that Bush Was Evil, so all of the news is read in the light of that revealed truth. And they do not want to waste time on contrary evidence. Or logic, or rational thought, or contrary data.

    To quote Berkeley law Prof. Phil Johnson, “When you just know that something has to be true, just about any evidence will do.”

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  2. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @PJS

    This is really tough for me. I have many liberal friends who say, with no qualms at all, extremely nasty things about conservatives. It really insults me personally; they know me and know I am am not at all like that. Yet they parrot the lies. I have never observed a single one of them change their views in the face of contrary evidence. My theory is that they are lazy and comfortable in their views, feeling morally superior because they “care” about those less fortunate. As if I don’t. When I ask them why the federal government has to do all the things it does (provide health care, house and feed the poor, etc.), instead of local groups, who are much more conversant with needs and situations, I have never gotten a straight answer, just name calling. Every discussion disintegrates into name-calling (“you’re just selfish”) with these people, so I no longer waste my time. I thought I might find some like-minded souls at the town Republicans, but they are typical New England RINOs. Sigh.

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  3. Profile Photo Contributor
    @UrsulaHennessey
    PJS: Every discussion disintegrates into name-calling (“you’re just selfish”) with these people, so I no longer waste my time. I thought I might find some like-minded souls at the town Republicans, but they are typical New England RINOs. Sigh. · Jun 29 at 2:17pm

    Oh boy, PJS, you’re my neighbor, right? I haven’t dipped my toes into the local waters here yet (bad sign: first mom I met and liked is head of local Democrats, come to find out), but this is not what I hoped for when we moved to a more like-minded town than NYC. Maybe we all should open up local Ricochet chapters. Start a handshake or something.

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  4. Profile Photo Contributor
    @UrsulaHennessey
    Duane Oyen: I have good, and smart, friends (and relatives) who just know that Bush Was Evil, so all of the news is read in the light of that revealed truth. And they do not want to waste time on contrary evidence. Or logic, or rational thought, or contrary data.· Jun 29 at 1:02pm

    Ahhhhh, Duane. You are back!

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  5. Profile Photo Contributor
    @UrsulaHennessey
    Cindy: “Some, but not all, twin and adoption studies find that parents have a modest effect on tobacco, alcohol and drug use, juvenile delinquency, and when daughters (but not sons) start having sex.”

    As a parent of three boys I really struggled with several of the points raised in this article. I have always been interested in the “nature vs nurture” debate, and always felt that “nature” probably had the edge, but this is going too far! · Jun 29 at 12:58pm

    I feel your pain, Cindy. Let’s meet for coffee and a book store run and leave all our kids at home — or in the woods! — to fend for themselves. Since, you know, we’re useless anyway.

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  6. Profile Photo Member
    @MarkWilson
    Duane Oyen: I have good, and smart, friends (and relatives) who just know that Bush Was Evil, so all of the news is read in the light of that revealed truth. · Jun 29 at 1:02pm

    Duane, what an insightful way to put it. It seems like many people’s opinions about specific issues are strongly influenced by impressions they have of the people involved. If Bush is Evil, then the War on Terror is just a silly war on an emotion. When Obama the Healer escalates it, it’s an example of his decisiveness in the face of complex circumstances.

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  7. Profile Photo Inactive
    @tabularasa

    Ursula: Never converted anyone, but did watch a close friend become an economic conservative (though he remained liberal on social issues). In his case, he finally realized that liberal spending policies and lack of results just don’t make sense. Took him a while but he got there.

    As to your friends who are educated on book learnin’ and life. I’m sure they have lots of book learnin’, but have they really learned the lessons of what Victor Davis Hanson calls the tragic view of life? I wonder. Let’s never forget how Richard Weaver referred to liberals with a rose-colored view of human perfectibility and grandiose liberal plans. He said they were subject to “hysterical optimism.” My Dad, wise but not well-educated, called this type “educated nitwits.” Lot’s of book leanin’, but short on common sense.

    I’m not intending to insult your friends, but there are of lot of those nitwits out there.

    • #7
  8. Profile Photo Contributor
    @AndrewKlavan

    The great W.S. Gilbert of Gilbert & Sullivan fame made fun of this notion of genetic politics in Iolanthe where a guard standing before Parliament sings:

    I often think it’s comical – Fal, lal, la! How Nature always does contrive – Fal, lal, la! That every boy and every gal That’s born into the world alive Is either a little Liberal Or else a little Conservative! Fal, lal, la!
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    @DaveCarter

    Ursula, I can’t remember where I read this, but a study was done after the 2000 presidential election which broke the results down by education level.  Those who didn’t complete high school tended to vote Democratic.  Those with some college, or at least a four-year degree trended Republican in their votes.  Meanwhile, people who had completed graduate degrees tended to vote Democratic.  Put one way, some people are educated beyond all common sense.  Put another way, there appear to be graduate programs that produce the same level of political sophistication as the average high school dropout.  

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  10. Profile Photo Inactive
    @NickStuart
    . Start a handshake or something. · Jun 29 at 2:42pm

    Cool, a Ricochet secret handshake, high-sign, password, and decoder ring.

    The decoder ring would be tuned specifically for use in deciphering “lib-talk”

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  11. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @PJS
    Ursula Hennessey

    PJS: Every discussion disintegrates into name-calling (“you’re just selfish”) with these people, so I no longer waste my time. I thought I might find some like-minded souls at the town Republicans, but they are typical New England RINOs. Sigh. · Jun 29 at 2:17pm

    Oh boy, PJS, you’re my neighbor, right? I haven’t dipped my toes into the local waters here yet (bad sign: first mom I met and liked is head of local Democrats, come to find out), but this is not what I hoped for when we moved to a more like-minded town than NYC. Maybe we all should open up local Ricochet chapters. Start a handshake or something. · Jun 29 at 2:42pm

    Meet ya Starbucks anytime, my town or yours.

    • #11
  12. Profile Photo Member
    @ScottR
    Aaron Miller: …..But even when someone honestly considers an argument and finds it true, it still requires an act of humility and courage to accept a change of mind. · Jun 29 at 9:42pm

    Exactly. That’s why I always try to let my “opponent” save face, often by my not even acknowledging the fact that he’s changed his mind.

    • #12
  13. Profile Photo Member
    @ScottR

    I’ve found the best way to handle political discussions with liberals is to take the Dennis Prager approach: to prefer clarity to agreement. Try to get a clear understanding of where the two of you differ, without (overtly) trying to convert. Many, many liberals have simply never been exposed to conservative arguments calmly and gently and thoroughly presented.

    A little trick I use goes something like this: “Ya, I see your point, and a part of me agrees with that, but another part of me thinks that perhaps (insert well-stated conservative argument here).” I’ve changed some minds with that one. It can be done.

    • #13
  14. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Cindy
    Ursula Hennessey

    Cindy: “Some, but not all, twin and adoption studies find that parents have a modest effect on tobacco, alcohol and drug use, juvenile delinquency, and when daughters (but not sons) start having sex.”

    As a parent of three boys I really struggled with several of the points raised in this article. I have always been interested in the “nature vs nurture” debate, and always felt that “nature” probably had the edge, but this is going too far! · Jun 29 at 12:58pm

    I feel your pain, Cindy. Let’s meet for coffee and a book store run and leave all our kids at home — or in the woods! — to fend for themselves. Since, you know, we’re useless anyway. · Jun 29 at 2:46pm

    Sounds great! Let me know when….

    • #14
  15. Profile Photo Member
    @

    I grew up in Berkeley, attended two Ivy league schools in the Northeast, live in San Francisco, and send my children to a Quaker School… sigh. But what really bums me out is the level of vitriol on Facebook. People feel emboldened to make the most outrageous and outraged statements on Facebook and the level of hostility is palpable. I don’t begrudge anyone their opinion, but I have lost respect for some acquaintances simply based on their demonstrated left-wing orthodoxy and stubborn close-mindedness. That said, I feel that my occasional lefty outbursts on this site (misgivings that the lunatics on the bus may now be packing, for example) are treated by Ricochetians with gentle good humor and benevolent condescension. Good people.

    • #15
  16. Profile Photo Member
    @DuaneOyen
    Trace Urdan: I grew up in Berkeley, attended two Ivy league schools in the Northeast, live in San Francisco, and send my children to a Quaker School… sigh. But what really bums me out is the level of vitriol on Facebook. People feel emboldened to make the most outrageous and outraged statements on Facebook and the level of hostility is palpable. I don’t begrudge anyone their opinion, but I have lost respect for some acquaintances simply based on their demonstrated left-wing orthodoxy and stubborn close-mindedness. That said, I feel that my occasional lefty outbursts on this site (misgivings that the lunatics on the bus may now be packing, for example) are treated by Ricochetians with gentle good humor and benevolent condescension. Good people. · Jun 29 at 7:25pm

    Trace, that is, of course, because we are afraid that you might be packing. So we humor you your little counter-orthodoxies…..

    • #16
  17. Profile Photo Editor
    @RobLong

    Years ago, Milton Friedman once said that his life became simpler and his conversations more enjoyable when he decided to simply accept that his opponent’s arguments were made in good faith. He had spent so much time, he said, arguing about what he assumed were underlying motivations that he rarely had a chance to get to the actual argument. For instance, arguing about global warming often devolves into an argument about how and why the left wants to control what we eat, drive, do. It quickly spins out of control. But if you just grant that, okay, your opponent really does think this is a problem and really does think that something needs to be done — and that’s it; no hidden control-the-world motivations — then you really do suddenly have lots of time and room to tell him he’s an idiot, and exactly why.

    • #17
  18. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller

    Scott, I agree that conservatives are too often angry and confrontational in their debates with liberals. Regardless of the subject, politics or anything else, the surest way to change someone’s mind is to begin by demonstrating sympathy. If the person believes you are genuinely interested in their arguments and concerns, they’ll be much more open to considering your own.

    But even when someone honestly considers an argument and finds it true, it still requires an act of humility and courage to accept a change of mind. Many remain unchanged less because they’re in need of convincing than because they’re in need of the will to believe. No person is merely logical.

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  19. Profile Photo Member
    @AndreaRyan

    I just don’t know how to reconcile the fact that their difference of opinion can destroy my freedom and that of my children. They’re dangerous to my world, yet I like them as a person. How the heck does that work? It’s enough to make me crazy.

    • #19
  20. Profile Photo Inactive
    @outstripp

    Liberals have an impoverished sense of evil. They see the problems of the world as a “lack” of something; awareness, money, power, education, etc. Thus, there can be only two positions: Those who want to improve the world thru raising awareness, transferring money, empowering the weak, and educating the ignorant — and “Those-That-Don’t”.

    Those-That-Don’t clearly must have some selfish motivations and that’s the only evil they can see.

    • #20
  21. Profile Photo Member
    @MarkWilson
    outstripp: Liberals have an impoverished sense of evil. They see the problems of the world as a “lack” of something; awareness, money, power, education, etc. Thus, there can be only two positions: Those who want to improve the world thru raising awareness, transferring money, empowering the weak, and educating the ignorant — and “Those-That-Don’t”.

    Those-That-Don’t clearly must have some selfish motivations and that’s the only evil they can see. · Jun 29 at 11:27pm

    It’s all because they confuse intentions with results. The stimulus bill is intended to create jobs, therefore it has. The healthcare bill is intended to reduce costs, therefore if you oppose it, you are against affordable healthcare. President Obama says he’ll unite the country and solve many of our problems, therefore if you hope he fails at implementing his policies, you hope for the failure of the the country.

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  22. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller

    Most of my friends have always been liberal, too. While some of them are raving loons (enjoyably so when not talking politics), one is among the most knowledgeable and most reasonable persons I know. And no, I have never witnessed any of them change their minds on a political or cultural issue, though a few have at least considered my arguments.

    I’d agree that our views are often affected by our genes, but not determined by them. Genes can make one more willful, more patient, more self-centered, better with concepts or with details, and so on. All of these traits affect our perceptions and analyses. I wouldn’t be surprised if some personality traits were proved more common with one political group than another.

    There seem to be some common denominators in the separation between views of the left and of the right. Conservatives believe human nature is constant (or mostly so). Liberals believe human nature is mutable and progresses. Conservatives prefer individual responsibility. Liberals prefer collective action. Basic principles like these can be influenced by genetic personality traits, I think, and have a profound effect on more specific political and cultural views.

    • #22
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    @TheMugwump

    If our politics is based on our genetic make-up, then why is it so common that people switch from liberal to conservative as they age, but rarely if ever the other direction? I would say that our politics is informed by our perceptions and how we answer life’s questions based on those perceptions. As we age we tend to expand our knowledge base and add to our personal experiences. At some point you reach a sort of critical mass whereby conservatism becomes self-evident.

    • #23
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    @DevinCole

    My brother is probably as liberal as I am conservative. Therefore, I avoid political discussion as much as possible with him. It is strange, as we grew up in the same town, in the same house, with essentially the same rules. We value many similar things, like being outdoors, reading, family, healthy living and so on. However, I think dams are an excellent source of cheap energy, and he wants them destroyed to save the salmon. He thinks the government should pay for the less fortunate to have health care, and I think churches or private charities should serve this function. We get along great, but we rarely talk politics.

    I can only take so much, so most of my friends are conservative…

    • #24
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    @Cindy

    Ursula, I do struggle with this. I often have the same thoughts when reading the news. And I struggle with how to talk about these subjects with liberal friends. Or with friends who just want to put their heads in the sand. In the past I have avoided the subject if it was going to cause trouble, but I am finding it harder to avoid the subject during these troubling times. I want my friends to be informed and see it the way I do. It is hard for me to accept that genetics and not education, or environment, or upbringing determine their point of view. But the authors of a WSJ article over the weekend, The Breeders’ Cup, seem to support the theories you have read:

    I will quote below….

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    @Cindy

    “Behavioral geneticists also find that the effect of upbringing on morals is quite superficial. Parents have a strong effect on which religion and political party their kids identify with, but little on their adult behavior or outlook. Some, but not all, twin and adoption studies find that parents have a modest effect on tobacco, alcohol and drug use, juvenile delinquency, and when daughters (but not sons) start having sex. The most meaningful fruit of parenting, however, is simply appreciation—the way your children perceive and remember you. When 1,400 older Swedish twins were asked to describe their parents, identical twins’ answers were only slightly more similar than fraternal twins’, and twins raised together gave much more similar answers than twins raised apart. If you create a loving and harmonious home for your children, they’ll probably remember it for as long as they live.”

    As a parent of three boys I really struggled with several of the points raised in this article. I have always been interested in the “nature vs nurture” debate, and always felt that “nature” probably had the edge, but this is going too far!

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    @alynch1102

    To Rob Long’s point re: Milton Friedman, I have found that my arguments become more effective when I hold course, and avoid the urge to overreact at what I deem a blasphemous encroachment upon civil liberty. Sadly, it took quite a bit of negative reinforcement — aka feeling awkward for getting a bit too fired up for polite conversation — to change my approach. Now I try to maintain a calm and rational tone to the point of excessiveness. The plan is to balance the equation by gaining composure in the hope of preventing the opponent from losing theirs.

    In practice, I do not try to convert any more. My goal is to win small victories. I find a great deal of the leftist shibboleth to be more faith than fact. Because of this, my new goal is to prove why at least one of their core ideals ‘may’ fail to be true under intense academic scrutiny. Even the smartest people may have had Paul Krugman for an Econ teacher and who knows the lasting impact of a curse such as that?!

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  28. Profile Photo Member
    @RobertELee
    Ursula Hennessey: Does anybody else struggle with this? Do you avoid politics with your liberal friends? Do you debate them? Have you converted anyone? ·

    Where possible I try to enjoy my less well enlightened friends without annoying them with facts or logic. Hey, I’ve even been known to learn a thing or two. *grin* Seriously though, I’ve enjoyed lively debate with a group of friends whose view diverge from mine, sometimes greatly. We do avoid areas where we have irreconcilable differences. But though we differ, our respect for each other generally allows us to discuss various topics in a sometimes lively manner without fear of mortally offending each other. And opinions have been known to shift, minds have been known to change. I think maybe it’s the best kind of friendship around.
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