Friday, October 29, 2010

Meet DRD4: The Liberal Gene

It is nice to know that I have a gene that predisposes me to sex addition, bi-polar disorder, and being very popular in my childhood.

 The 'liberal gene': An instant guide

Scientists say they have found a gene that pushes some people to the left of the political spectrum. Here's how it works

Your political views might not be entirely something you pick up at school or in talks around the dinner table — a new study suggests you might have been born with them. Scientists from the University of California-San Diego and Harvard, in a paper published in The Journal of Politics, say they have discovered that some people have a genetic predisposition to liberal thinking. What is this "liberal gene" they found, and does it really decide where a person will end up on the political spectrum? (Watch a discussion about the study)

What did the study find, exactly?

That people born with a variant of the DRDR gene might be more likely to grow up be liberals. UC-San Diego geneticist and political scientist James Fowler and his research team analyzed 2,574 participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, looking at their genes, number of friends, and political views as adults. They found that people who had both the 7R variant of the gene and a large number of friends in high school were significantly more likely to embrace liberal views.

How does the gene affect how we think?

It helps determine how the brain processes dopamine, a neurotransmitter that affects everything from movement to emotions to how we perceive pleasure and pain. The 7R variant the scientists studied had previously been linked to seeking out new experiences. "In other words," says Catherine Mayer in Time, "people with the DRD4-7R gene are more likely to be game for a laugh, for a dare, for anything new and stimulating" enough to alter dopamine levels and affect their mood.

What does that have to do with politics?

The researchers hypothesize that people more open to new ideas and more unconventional points of views already tend toward liberalism, and if they are exposed to enough different ways of living and viewing the world, their political beliefs will tend to solidify to the left of center. The authors say their study backs that up. Regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or cultural background, if a subject had the DRD4-7R gene and an active social life as a teenager, he or she was likely to be liberal.

How many friends does it take to nudge you to the left?

Ten. Someone with that many people in his or her close social network — and with two copies of DRD4-7R gene — can move "almost halfway from being conservative to moderate, or from being moderate to liberal." For people without the gene, there was no link between the number of friends and ideology.

Is there a "conservative gene," too?

Presumably. An earlier study of twins suggests that genetics account for about 30 to 40 percent of a person's ideology, and environment another 50 percent. And, the study notes, "psychologists have asserted for many years that social conservatism is heritable." Fowler says it is likely that political ideology has been passed down genetically for tens of millions of years, as being conservative was beneficial in some periods and being liberal helped in others. "If it made sense for us all to be liberal," he says, "natural selection would have made us all liberal."


Conversely, a 'conservative gene' would be associated with having few friends in adolescence, depression, suicide, and a closed-mindedness to new information and experience.  I guess this sounds right.

Of course, the problem with this is what makes one a conservative or liberal in one society might not be universal on the ideological scale (maybe conservatives in Russia like gun control, for example), and what about other ideologies, like Communism, fascism, and Islamic fundamentalism?  Are all of those put in the left/right poles, as well?  It is easy to say that people who are more open are liberal and those who are close-minded are conservative, but what if you were Joseph Stalin in the 1930s (committing your crimes under the guise of progress)?

Still, if true, I suppose we should get ready for the final solution by conservatives for liberals.  Naturally, eugenics will not be far off, or as it would likely be called 'abnormal gene modification,' as those deemed less worthy of life (minus the pre-born and incorporated entities or those with endless amounts of economic resources) would be declared deficient sinners (like gays, the transgendered, and Democrats).  They still believe in the concept, if they were honest with themselves about the issue.

The oddity is the libertarian ethos that is used by conservatives to rationalize their willful hatred of the society in which they live, to the point they would rather see everyone else do without rather than pay the bills.

I have had a theory since grad school that one of the reasons why conservatives tend to be religious is because it gives them their collective justification for being a part of the larger society, a society that their ideology rejects and wants to see subordinated to contract or perpetual war (with the barely hidden hope of bringing about the end of times they delude themselves into thinking is around the corner).  The oddity is their own religion preaches a brand of socialism in its scriptures that would be denounced as Marxist if uttered by an opposing candidate.

I guess this is the Jesus you will not be hearing about on the campaign trail in the Republican Party. For them, Christ hated poor people and thought the unemployed were lazy slackers (like Jesus and his followers were, for the most part). That is one of the things about Christianity that has always baffled me, even as a child (back when I believed in all of this nonsense). How can one be a conservative Christian and get around believing in the divinity of a person who made statements like how the meek shall inherit the earth and that it would be easier to ween the needle through the eye of a camel than for a rich man to enter heaven? I ask that as an open question. Any reader is more than welcome to comment and give their explanation.

No comments: