More Blog Reactions to Genetics and Politics

The research is freely available

“We test the possibility that political attitudes and behaviors are the result of both environmental and genetic factors. Employing standard methodological approaches in behavioral genetics—–specifically, comparisons of the differential correlations of the attitudes of monozygotic twins and dizygotic twins—–we analyze data drawn from a large sample of twins in the United States, supplemented with findings from twins in Australia. The results indicate that genetics plays an important role in shaping political attitudes and ideologies but a more modest role in forming party identification; as such, they call for finer distinctions in theorizing about the sources of political attitudes. We conclude by urging political scientists to incorporate genetic influences, specifically interactions between genetic heritability and social environment, into models of political attitude formation.”

And has been blogged before


But netizens are still discussing the recent reportings on the Nebraska Lecture on genetics, behavior, and politics.

What’s new today: Free Republic is all over the place (from amazingly good to amazingly bad), InstructorScribe notes that while genetics probably isn’t the end-all it does play a role. Rational Fool confuses genetic influence with genetic determinism. Rusted Sky notes that “Well – if true that’d open up a whole can of worms..” Technocrat makes a good point about partisanship and orientation.

One particular Free Republic comment, by “Question_Assumptions,” struck me:

I don’t think it’s a matter of intelligence. I think Thomas Sowell puts his finger on it in his book A Conflict of Visions. It has to do with how people view fairness and human nature. If you think an equal playing field but unequal results are fair, you’ll be a conservative. If you think that an equal playing field is unfair if it yields unequal results, you’ll be a liberal. Conservatives are interested in equality of process. Liberals are interested in equality of results. See Thomas Sowell’s book The Quest for Cosmic Justice for a good analysis of why attempts to ensure equality of results lead to disaster.

Fortunately, this question is empirically testable. Using the ultimatum game, one should be able to proceduralize conceptions of fairness concerns and see if they correlate with attitudes. I do not know if this has been done. It’s a fascinating factual question.

Further, one of the lead researchers in genetic factors earlier made a name for himself looking at something similar: the preference of Americans for procedural justice over democratic norms. Fairness is a basic drive and it influences how we think politically. “Question_Assumptions” is asking the questions. Maybe soon we’ll know the answers.

Update: All Evolve looks toward personality. Diecast Aircraft Forum is unimpressed. Julia40 wonders about crossbreeding. Reyner thinks about it because he’s bored. And Skyman corrects me.

4 thoughts on “More Blog Reactions to Genetics and Politics”

  1. For most of our existence, humans lived in relatively small groups (150 to 300), and the environment was the ultimate arbiter. With personal and group survival at stake, reciprocity was the ultimate social strategy: everyone would have been expected to contribute to the extent possible, and status within the group would have been based on contributions and social networks rather than on the accumulation of material goods or legislated advantages. As well, almost everyone within the group would have been (and felt) related.

    The modern world presents an environment very different, yet the “felt meaning” of the constructs of fairness and justice are doubtless hardwired to a large degree. While I agree with Sowell's description of the difference between the two edges of the present political spectrum, I always remind myself that these differing attitudes actually arise from the same emotional underpinnings.

  2. Keith,

    Your definitely right on the adaptedness of fairness. It would be fascinating if this is the hook. How would we measure the different types in a lab environment? I don't know, but I want to.

  3. To me there is much confusion in the writings of these genetics -> political ideology pundits of 1) social philosophy with 2) political philosophy. The first concerns basic attitudes on the proper relationship of humans to one another and to their natural environment on many levels. The second concerns basic attitudes on the best way to achieve and preserve the conclusions of the first. The first is a matter of ideal organization (what one might call society), the second is a matter of implementation & preservation (what one might call governance). Scholars and intellectuals familiar with the western canon or with an inkling for philosophy or social theory will be more apt to recognize the basic difference between these two axes or meta-groupings in the determination of standard political preferences. The genetics->political ideology writers referenced lump these two spectrums together in their understanding of “political ideology,” much to their detriment.

    To me, the basic indexes of a given social philosophy are as follows (admittedly, some are prescriptive, while others are analytical or diagnostic; a world view contains both types of thinking):

    1) Equity: the importance lent to equity vs. disparity of the distribution of existing wealth & the access to means of generating new wealth.
    2) Agency: the degree to which the distribution of resources and rights is explained by endogenous factors (whether controllable or uncontrollable) such as genetic disposition or laziness or exogenous factors (such as class position, social status, group conditioning and access to opportunities). This typically takes the form, in American politics, of radical individualist explanations for all outcomes and conditions pertaining to well-being on the one-hand (the more common bias in the US) and radical social determinism on the other (less common in the US).
    3) Accountability: the degree to which each member or portion of a group should or ought to be held accountable for the conditions and behaviors of other members of a group – ideas concerning the best means to enforce various notions of accountability is a matter of one’s philosophy of governance).

    The stupid comment of the Free Republic contributor reveals his/her simplistic conflation of the Equity and Agency spectra. I, for example, am a Syndicalist with strongly Socialist leanings, and that is why I AGREE with the statement “an equal playing field but unequal results are fair” (this is the very definition of Marx’s Phase 1 Socialism, outlined in Critique of the Gotha Programme, and the distinct antithesis of the privatization, deregulation, liberalization poison panacea of the “free market” fundamentalists, falsely-so-called, who hate nothing more the idea of an “equal playing field”). Under the commentator’s designation, however, I – a Syndicalist with Socialist sympathies – would be branded a “Conservative.”

    The core spectra of political philosophy or attitudes towards GOVERNANCE are:

    1) Centrality: decentralization vs. centralization of command (this is parallel but not identical to the age-old essentialist vs. cosmopolitanism debate, totally ignored by Hibbing)
    2) Hierarchy: lateral vs. hierarchical decision-making & agreement structures
    3) Cohesion: uniformity vs. differentiation of permissible roles, values, beliefs and practices (all of these terms are distinct from one another, but that distinction cannot be here addressed)
    4) Formality: informal vs. explicit or formal coordination & command schemes. This concerns the emphasis placed on implicit allegiances & understandings versus explicit, enumerated codes and contracts.
    5) Flexibility: fixed vs. flexible codes and decision organs. This often concerns the emphasis placed on the preservation of history & tradition as a MEANS of enforcing mores defined in one’s social philosophy, but does not concern the determination of such mores themselves. One could find as many rigid, inflexible traditionalists in hard-line Communist circles of the Eastern bloc nations as conservative Republican capitalists in America, a la Antonin Scalia. The degree of rigidity one places in the application of a more does not relate to one’s predisposition to that more’s content.
    6) Permissiveness: low versus high degree of regulation in the enforcement of laws & mores. Often closely related, but not identical to the Formality spectrum.

    There is no doubt that one’s genetically predisposed aggressiveness, dominance, cruelty, self-protection and suspiciousness traits vs. his/her level of equanimity, agreeableness, sensitivity, trust and sympathy will predispose him/her to a given stance within a range of social philosophies and even political philosophies. The predilection for “disgust,” for example, has been linked by experimental psychologists to conservative social attitudes. The two axes (views on social order vs. views on governance), however, should not be conflated – or Republican ideologues and FARC revolutionaries will keep showing up on the same quadrant of the results field.

    Another matter that is not addressed in these poorly conceived survey paradigms is the role to which differing core attitudes may be fall, due to social pressure and conditioning, within superficially similar political labels. How else, for example, would very similar genetic populations have systematically differing political affiliations based on geographic location (e.g. people of northern European descent in Vermont vs. people of northern European descent in Georgia)? The trick would be to look at the nuances of the way those with superficially similar political ideologies (say, members of the Libertarian Party or members of the Green Rainbow Party) express and emphasize different formulations of their views. These differences of expression, articulation, justification & weighting among individuals of the same stated political party would perhaps begin to reveal the genetic bases of their core views.

  4. Recondite,

    You raise a number of important points, but one I want to point you to (because it is so well documented) concerns “people of northern European descent in Vermont vs. people of northern European descent in Georgia.” Many researchers, who discount a genetic influence on politicla orientation, nonetheless see this as a result of English v. Scotch-Irish folksways.

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