In a February 2, 2008, cover story in New Scientist, Jim Giles asked whether political leanings were genetic:
“…Across the land, liberals and conservatives are slugging it out, trying to convince each other that their way of thinking is right. They may be wasting their breath.
“According to an emerging idea, political positions are substantially determined by biology and can be stubbornly resistant to reason. ‘These views are deep-seated and built into our brains. Trying to persuade someone not to be liberal is like trying to persuade someone not to have brown eyes. We have to rethink persuasion,’ says John Alford, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
“Evidence to support this idea is growing. For example, twin studies suggest that opinions on a long list of issues, from religion in schools to nuclear power and gay rights, have a substantial genetic component. The decision to vote rather than stay at home on election day may also be linked to genes. Neuroscientists have also got in on the act, showing that liberals and conservatives have different patterns of brain activity.”
The article goes on to tie genetics to political views through the mechanisms by which genetics influence the formation of basic personality types, which are highly heritable. These, in turn, seem to be readily correlated with modern American political party preferences. (The genetic linkage is not limited to Americans, but other nations express the linkage to policy through different political institutions unique to their cultures.)
According to an existing and well-respected personality model, five basic personality axes can be defined: conscientiousness, openness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. The latter two seem to have little to do with political orientation, but the other three axes do show strong differences between Liberals and Conservatives.
Conscientious people are defined as being organized, self-disciplined, and responsible, and likely to follow rules. Conscientious people tend to favor conservative political positions and oppose liberal positions.
Open people are defined as anticipating new experiences, seeing change as presenting opportunities rather than problems, and as envisioning the possibilities of the world that might be. Open people tend to favor liberal positions and oppose conservative positions.
Extroverted people are quick to self-disclose, process information out loud and like to be seen as being busy. Extroverted people also tend to favor liberal positions and oppose conservative ones.
Now, no psychological model can reproduce the complexity of a human being, and the article itself is filled with qualifications and limitations of the various research studies involved. But it ends with a quote that I find very relevant to discussions we’ve been having on Mormon Matters:
“So the guy at the bar [blog] may never agree with you, but perhaps realizing that can be liberating. ‘We spend a lot of energy getting upset with the other side,’ says Alford. ‘We often think our opponents are misinformed or stubborn. Accepting that people are born with some of their views changes that’, Alford points out. ‘Come to terms with these differences, and you can spend the energy now wasted on persuasion on figuring out ways of accommodating both points of view.”
In fact, perhaps God (and/or evolution, if you prefer) designed humanity that way quite intentionally – with separate preferences imparting resistance for society to various “spiritual diseases”. After all, different strains of wheat protect the field from the emergence of a new fungus.
Perhaps, rather than either liberals or conservatives being right or meeting in a middle ground, we actually need to preserve each other to hear truth.
Do we, as spoken of in Genesis and Ether, metaphorically speak to each other with “confounded languages” that prevent communication before it even begins? And do we also need to pray that our languages “be not confounded”?