Thursday, September 18, 2008

Conservative or Liberal; Right or Left

The L.A. Times has a wonderful article on the idea that people are pre-disposed genetically to be conservative or liberal. At first it sounds a little crazy, but the more I read, the more I thought they were talking about me.

They found to their surprise that opinions on such contentious subjects as gun control, pacifism and capital punishment are strongly associated with physiological traits that are probably present at birth.

But then I noticed that the experiment included 46 subjects. It reminded me of something I've been admonished about on this blog. I took my own individual gun experiences and tried to extrapolate a general theory from them. Of course that's a faulty proposition, or at least it's likely to be. The same problem may exist in this case.

As I read more, though, I realized the experiment was a truly incisive glimpse into the differences between conservatives and liberals. What could be more irrefutable than eye blinks?

In a second experiment, researchers measured eye blinks -- another indicator of fear -- as subjects responded to sudden blasts of noise.

People with strongly conservative views were three times more fearful than staunch liberals after the effects of gender, age, income and education were factored out.

I'm pretty much ready to write this one off as another kooky idea to come out of California. But, I do like this idea:

Fowler said the study added to the growing research suggesting that over millions of years, humans have developed two cognitive styles -- conservative and liberal. Cautious conservatives prevented societies from taking undue risks, while more flexible liberals fostered cooperation.

"For the species to survive, you need both," he said.

What's your opinion? Feel free to leave a comment.


  1. Somebody seems to have forgotten aggressive and avaricious chance takers want to fight that both defended rights and extended the land under the control of their "tribes". It's more than just "a balance of liberal and conservative" whatever "liberal and conservative" mean as they've held different connotations over the years...

    Slightly off topic but I just read it, showing inanimate object control doesn't win the battles of a society:

    This Day in History: September 19, 1775

    The British government halts the practice of using flintstones as ballast in ships sailing to America. Admiral Graves is ordered to search all incoming ships, dump all flintstone ballast in deep water, and confiscate all flints suitable for use in firearms.

    Funny, innit? The Brits pissed in the wind trying to disarm us lot in many a fashion and couldn't succeed with the best armies and navy in the world at that time and many loyalist sympathizers.

  2. this smacks of "evolutionary psychology", and that is a field i tend to scoff at. ev psych folks tend to give complex, deep questions some suspiciously simplistic, pat answers based on a little bit of evidence and a great big heap of just-so suppositioning.

    the idea that there are different "conservative" and "liberal" cognitive styles is not obviously ridiculous, true. but i wouldn't so quickly assume that those are the only cognitive styles we have available to us, or even that any given individual is hardwired from birth to use only a single one style of thinking. those two may be among the styles an individual can employ, perhaps.

  3. I don't believe this.

    I think these views are learned over the years and shaped by one's experiences. My family is the perfect example.

    I'm one of six children and one of two Liberals in the family. We also have two staunch Conservatives and two that are stuck right in the middle. And most of those views were shaped in the formative early adult years when we went to work, went to college or joined the military.

    My sister and I are separated by only 11 months. She (military background) is a Republican down the line on fiscal and social issues. She also married a guy firmly entrenched on the Right. I went the college route and I'm a Democrat down the line about as far Left as you can go. So is my girlfriend.

    Yet we come from the same gene pool.

  4. Earl, You reminded me that my brother has turned out to be quite the republican-talking righty. I don't know how that happened. The last thing I knew, we were stoned watching Saturday Night Live together, laughing like hell.

  5. Heh, I was born into a liberal family in a liberal town (Tho most of my relatives are fairly conservative) Just though the research on issue I do, and my personal feelings I've come to my views.

    I might add that my Father was a conservative in his youthful years...I have no idea what changed him, but I base my fiscal conservatism on his teachings...and then watch him vote against his very principals.

    Still I think while a person's psychology has influence on their political views, I think environment has a LOT to do with political stance.

    People who are fearful or timid as a general rule seek shelter in the masses. This means in a liberal place like Boston, they become liberal, and just a few miles north in New Hampshire they become conservative ect ect.

    Good work on seeing the Forrest for the trees, Mike, in this case such a small sample size totally makes the results irrelevant.

    Would be an interesting study if conducted by an ethical scientist.

  6. I don't think it's as simple as a left/right thing. There are authoritarian and libertarian strands in both left and right. Hitler and Stalin were polar opposites in narrow left/right terms but had a lot in common (like mass murder, for example)...

    Me? - libertarian left.

  7. @ "the purported white bunny":

    No such thing as "libertarian left" that makes you, the "albino rabbit" a leftist not a libertarian or at the very most a TINY "l" libertarian.

    Got to pick one or the other. Libertarian or not Libertarian.

    LIBERTARIAN knows no "right" or "left". It's about minimal government and FREEDOM. It's the WHOLE EFFIN' POINT OF LIBERTARIANISM.

    Delude yourself as much as you want but I'm tossing you out of the Libertarian Party on your ear just like I/we BIG "L" LIBERTARIANS did with Barr.

    That Thomas again

  8. Tom - are you feeling quite well?

    Of course there is a libertarian left, with a long and honourable tradition stretching back to the 19th century and beyond. The problem with the word libertarian is that it has been hijacked by right wingnuts. An American blogger who I have e-mail contact with was puzzled by my self-identification as libertarian. he wrote...

    'Well, around these parts it means upper class asshole who doesn't wantto pay taxes for any social services, but wants to make that soundlike some sort of respectful, rugged positive goal. As far as I cantell, it boils down to "I got mine, screw you."'

    Pity that, it was a good word...

    I have absolutely no idea who 'Barr' is btw.

  9. I feel quite well and I don't believe in the existence of a TRUE LIBERTARIAN left or right as it goes against the concept of LIBERTARIANISM to favor using government to do anything much at all outside of common maintenance of very basic infrastructures.

    No social engineers of nation builders need apply. Those people are who ruined the Libertarian party.

  10. Rabbit, that American blogger you quoted pretty well hit the nail on the head. libertarianism in this country seems to have been hijacked some time ago by randian objectivists, and as you may know, you'll seldom encounter a more juvenile philosophy than theirs.

    bob barr was/is the guy the American libertarian person ran (will run?) for president this year. one of those thankless, entirely symbolic jobs that can accomplish nothing. he's a former republican representative who joined the libertarian party; something of a tradition, among republicans who get too far out on the right wing for even the republicans to stomach.

  11. Wikipedia, where I get most of my information from (that's a joke), says the following:

    The word libertarian is an antonym of authoritarian.

    Sounds left to me. But how does that work with what Nomen said?

    "...among republicans who get too far out on the right wing for even the republicans to stomach."