Monday, February 2, 2009

Political Animals

"Conservative: a statesman who is enamoured of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others."

Ambrose Bierce

Mooching as I often do from the Arts & Letters Daily website, I see an intriguing article on the genetic influences upon political attitudes. As James Q. Wilson describes, with recognition of the logistical limitations and theoretical nuances involved in such inquiry, identical twins (who share 100% of the same genes) are significantly more similar (40% in the research cited) in their liberal vs. conservative attitudes than are fraternal twins (who share 50% of their genes as do any siblings). Genetic influence is always about probability and not destiny, so it is not impossible, merely less likely, for twins to differ remarkably in political outlook (or in any number of other attributes).

As Wilson notes, liberalism and conservativism are complex constructs, can apply differently to social, cultural, and economic domains, and do not always match up neatly with Democratic or Republican parties at any given time. He points out the interesting fact that for the past century or so of American history, when people have been more or less free to express their political views, there has been a remarkable 40/40/20 balance of liberals, conservatives, and independents going either way depending on circumstances.

It is tempting to speculate from this that even in remote evolutionary time, human social groups may have benefited from some equilibrium between genes that may promote innovation, mobility, and cultural fluidity and those that my incline toward stability, order, and traditional authority. Too much of one or the other could have predisposed groups throughout history to either fragmentation or rigidity. Just speculation though.

When I think of liberals vs. conservatives, the following values come naturally to my mind; this is simplistic and certainly not black and white, as I find myself identifying with both lists depending on contexts. Liberalism: equality, fairness, freedom to (empowerment), creativity, secularism, idealism, novelty. Conservatism: merit, responsibility, authority, order, realism, religiosity, freedom from.

These are just off-the-cuff associations, and I realize there are overlaps and exceptions. I don't know how well they match up with recent incarnations of Democrats or Republicans; but common sense tells me, as it does many others, that too far either way lies madness.


Anonymous said...

Reminds me of something a friend once said about her parents: Mom stops Dad from turning into a fossil and Dad keeps Mom from evaporating into the air.

Retriever said...

Good post, tho I am a rabid conservative by comparison. :)

If a man is not a socialist by the time he is 20, he has no heart.
If he is not a conservative by the time he is 40, he has no brain.
- Winston Churchill