Biology + Politics @ UNL

Actually interesting:

Next Thursday (November 3) I will be giving a brown bag presentation in Oldfather 538 (at 11:30) to faculty, grad students, and other interested parties.

TITLE: Biology and the Future of Political Science ABSTRACT: Evolutionary and biological principles increasingly are being applied in the social sciences, particularly economics and psychology. Political science has been lagging behind but even this situation is changing rapidly. I [Dr. John Hibbing] will describe these principles and explain how I think they can inform our theoretical and empirical work. I will also describe the role I believe this movement could play in our discipline and in our department. Then, in the second half of the talk I will provide an example of empirical work I have done in this area–specifically, the extent to which political attitudes and social behaviors are influenced by genetics. In the process, I hope to assist skeptics in understanding how genes (sequences of nucleotides in our DNA) could filter through to such seemingly cerebral concepts as social behavior and political attitudes.

Update: Some of Dr. Hibbing’s findings (with my commentary!) are online.

4 thoughts on “Biology + Politics @ UNL”

  1. LOL 🙂

    The message was sent out by Dr. Hibbing, who along with the Graduate Chair do a lot of work on American politics from a genetic angle. Both seem to be pretty cool guys.

    Genetic factors definitely seem to be overlooked by almost all of the literature, especially in the Rational Actor Model sphere but even in constructivism, feminism, realism/liberalism, etc. Viva los biologistas!

  2. My IR prof has made reference to this numerous times, talking about how the traditionally physics based PoliSci theory has change to be more like studying a disease. There's a good title for a blog post: “Political Science as a Disease”

  3. Younghusband,

    Indeed. The most important ability for a disease is the ability to replicate without killing the host. Therefore the most successful political-military movements would be those that can produce genetic offspring while maintaining a population. Clearly dead-murderous ideologies such as Maoism are true failures here, but the analogy does open some questions

    1. How can a 5th Generation movement reproduce itself? Can it somehow reproduce en masse?
    2. Instead of Mao's “fish in the sea” analogy for 4GWarriors, would “viri in the blood” be better? Instead of draining the swamps, counter-insurgents would be performing dialysis? Is that a clearer guide?
    3. Occasionally, some group will cause another “a cancer.” Is this a fingerspitzengefuhl of a political attack? An attempt to imprint a fingerspitzengefuhl, or both? This raises implications that at least some Nazis acted as if they were fighting a 5GW attack.

  4. A good question would be what is it about some political ideas – or memes – that seem to attract a disproportionate number of psychologically disturbed individuals ? You just don't see Quakers, for example, engaging in suicide bombings or genocide but you see it amongs totalitarians.

    Examples here being the Nazi Party leadership class ( Gauleiter and above) or the type of men who flocked to Stalin's faction in the early 1920's ( Molotov, Kaganovich, Beria, Yagoda, Merkulov etc.) Islamist takfiri wack jobs like Zarqawi and so on.

    Perhaps the biology of these individuals creates a state of anxiety that is calmed or alternately, exalted ( alleviating depression) by some ideas more than others ? A certain kind of neuronal rewiring takes place by engaging extreme ideas that remediates a pre-existing deficit ?

    Ask your prof if you can

  5. Mark,

    An interesting question — I'll see if I can ask it.

    My first concern is to what degree psychological illness is socially (or at least academically) constructed. Because autistic children, say, prefer set routines, some observers would say that conservatism and traditionally generally are lesser forms of such a disorder (particularly if you can also say that conservatives aren't empathetic). Likewise, would the failure to draw “obvious” conclusions for a set of facts me sign of a disorder that impairs rational thought? Or what about philosophies that criticize rationality in general (say Boyd's doctrine).

    This isn't as crazy a claim as it appears: I remember reading about the theories of the “authoritarian brain” in high school, which seem to throw all forms on conservatism in a psychological form of fascism.

    My guess would be that if you see any genetic correlation at all, it would have to come from the genetic factors that contribute to feelings of alienation, adoration, and selfishness. All struggle seems to flow from either a need to have Meaning, serve Beauty, or earn Profit. This is true whether we are talking about politics, pianism, or war.

    Hmmm… we are developing a psychogenetic three-factor paradigm of struggle… interesting…

  6. Mark,

    Between the two of us, another student and I asked your question three different ways. Every time Dr. Hibbing avoided a direct answer.

    The first time he answered that the original theorists in the field thought that political persuasion would be associated with personality type — the so-called “authoritarian personality type.” However, this has not panned out. Additionally, Dr. Hibbing assured the class that no matter how much we disagree with them, conservatives are not crazy. However, genetic factors may explain why they are sometimes hard to reason with — genes may explain why they come to issues form such different perspectives.

    The second time was a broader version of the first answer.

    The third time he answered that there was no one gene that explains any behavior. I never implied there was, but I think this was his signal that really wished to avoid answering.

    As I mentioned to Dr. Nexon on another thread (, was worried he would answer to plainly. Apparently the conferences in this sub-discipline are press-embargoes, so attendees may “speak freely.” He also said that “for PC reasons I focus more on intragroup differences than intergroup differences,” and that his experience after being in the New York Times was negative; particularly some attack websites — which he identified as bloggers — oversimplify and misconstrued his findings.

    Dr. Hibbing's lecture was captivating. He is a wonderful speaker, was very well prepared, handled questions deftly (even those he avoided answering), and was generally very personable. The political science program here has been downsizing (as I found out after I arrived), and the purpose of this brown-bag appeared to be a salespich to replace the now terminated “Political Theory” subfield with a “Political Genetics” one (which would also have the advantage of having to hire no new faculty).

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