Websites pour forth heated arguments between liberals and conservative about almost everything—or, as is becoming clear due to brain research, what seem to be arguments but in fact are genetically determined reflexes.
Even before the latest results from PET scans and functional MRI, simple observation convinced the sentient that rationality was not involved in political discourse. The chief evidence is that political adherences tend strongly to cluster together. For example, if you tell me that a man favors capitalism, with high confidence I can predict his attitudes toward China, race, immigration, environmentalism, bombing Iran, evolution, abortion, and so on. If you tell me that he advocates socialism, I will similarly know in advance his ideas regarding these things.
This suggests a genetic origin. The various views have no necessary connections to one another. For example, there is no logical contradiction in being in favor of national medical care and simultaneously of sending heavy weaponry to the Ukraine, or being against abortion but for the legalization of drugs. Yet one seldom sees such juxtapositions. Political views are a package.
This suggests that people start with genetically determined conclusions, and work backward to find supporting evidence.
In terms of evolutionary psychology, the genetic explanation makes sense. While saying so will enrage conservatives, it is clear that conservatism is a Darwinian relic, a selective adaptation to primitive times.
Consider the circumstances of the first barely-human tribes as they emerged from simian darkness on the temporally remote savannas. What psychological characteristics would natural selection give them?
First, intense loyalty to the group and hostility toward outsiders. The former allowed the cooperation needed within the group to survive and the latter a wise response to a savage world. Things that go grrrr in the night are not good, and when the chief means of intergroup intercourse is the tomahawk, it is well to be suspicious.
We see all of this in conservatives. They place high value on patriotism and, in the military, loyalty to the unit. They view other tribes with hostility: the Chinese, Moslems, Russians, Mexicans, Iranians, communists, Jews, hippies, and pacifists.
By contrast, liberals are more welcoming, open, and “laid back.“ This may or may not be a good idea, depending on circumstances, but it is a more-advanced evolutionary position and better adapted to survival in a nuclear age.
Perhaps the sharpest difference between Left and Right is that conservatives lack empathy or, in English, compassion. Evolutionarily this was strongly adaptive, in that being compassionate to a man running at you with a spear does not conduce to survival. It accounts for the espousal of capitalism, which provides a justification for working children to death in foreign sweatshops. Conservatives do not hate the children of Bangladesh. They are just genetically incapable of caring about them one way or the other.
The lack of empathy is neurologically verifiable. Harvard psychologists John Halpern and Alexandra Warmme-Coates performed PET scans on self-described liberals and conservatives. (Their motto is “Truth at Five-Eleven Kev”). When shown a photograph of the mangled remains of a puppy run over by a bicycle, the brains of conservatives showed no response.
In liberals, there was strong activation of the lateral caligulate, which mediates hostile emotions by communication through the posterior lobe of the sagittal epididymus to the occipital canunculus. This stimulates stress reactions such as high heart rate and sweating. These reactions were in fact observed.
When the photo was of the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, liberals showed no response, but in conservatives the prefrontal palpate lit up, an indicator of intense interest.
In primitive times, there was no really effective way to preserve meat. Once killed, a buffalo soon rotted. Natural selection consequently led to the instinct to kill prey when the chance arose. Grab while the grabbing is good. This explains the otherwise incomprehensible acquisitiveness of billionaires, usually conservative. Our buffalo—hedge funds, skyscrapers, and factories—don’t rot, so grabbing the available now results in huge accumulations that the owner cannot practically use.
Among liberals, compassion, not accumulation, is the driving instinct. Examples abound. They favor immigration from Mexico because these poor people just want better lives, favor welfare so kids won’t have to go to bed hungry, want to close the sweatshops and keep the elephants from being slaughtered.
Their compassion is often narcissistic, counter-productive, based on faulty information, and even dangerous. For example, welfare has made blacks into helpless inmates of a custodial state. The desire to be nice to criminals, to abolish harsh punishments, keeps murderers and rapists on the streets. Because the behavior of liberals is genetically determined, they are not concerned with actual consequences. They don’t notice them. Yet the underlying motive is compassion.
Observe further that women are more compassionate than men. This is an evolutionary adaptation to the need to care for children and wounded men. It is why women tend to vote Democratic.
Genetic behavior pervades politics. Conservatives, without compassion, see the problems of blacks and say the hell with them. Democrats, more advanced and kindly, treat them as retarded children. As I write, there is much outrage over the slaughter of a lion in Africa by some dentist. In perfect accord with the genetic hypothesis, Liberals, sympathetic to a splendid animal needlessly killed, expressed outrage. Conservatives, carrying the instinctual baggage of times when killing animals had a purpose, were utterly incapable of understanding why the bunny-huggers were upset. It was just an animal, for God’s sake. Genetics.
Again, the underlying neurobiology can be demonstrated in the laboratory. At Berkeley, Dr. Chupamela Gonzalez and Dr. Louis Lu of the Ev-Psych Department, working on a grant from the Pentagon’s Office of Applied Psychopathy, performed an experiment similar to the one described above.
Liberals and conservatives were shown various photos and asked to say the first word that came to their minds. Shown a towering redwood in a primeval forest, liberals consistently said things like “beauty,” “lovely,” or “spiritual.” Conservatives said, “Sun decks.”
Similarly, shown a photo of a giant squid taken at depth in the open Pacific, liberals said, “beautiful,” “magnificent,” or “Oh…Jesus.” Conservatives said, “Sushi.” In evolutionary terms, this latter shows an adaptive practicality toward the natural world in which food and shelter were scarce.
We observe also that conservatives display aggressiveness and a desire, or at least a tendency, to attack out-groups. In the primitive world, this was adaptive across species: One sees the same thing—band together, attack outsiders–in modern dog-packs, for the same reasons. Republicans, conservative, are traditionally the party of war. Most career military men, and virtually all of the officer corps, glory in war and readily obey orders to attack anyone they are ordered to attack, including their own citizens. The police, also conservative, demonstrate the same aggressiveness and are likely to have the same neural responses, though further research is needed.
It therefore seems to me desirable to abolish websites and publications devoted to politics. They serve no purpose. Vituperation does not alter genes. Nobody ever persuades anybody, and can’t. The tweeters of the Left, and the woofers of the Right, are what they are, and will be. There is no purpose in talking about things. And think of the blessed silence.