Why You Are a [insert political affiliation]By: hawkgrrrl
How do people form their political views? Many people assume it’s based on how you are raised (e.g. Democrats raise Democrats), your life experiences (e.g. a factory closed in your home town), or which party serves your interests (e.g. rich people are Republicans).
Would you be surprised to find that there is a genetic link to political views? Identical twins raised apart have been shown to have nearly identical political views despite personal experiences and the views and circumstances of their adoptive families. I’ve said before that I believe people change religions more easily than they change political parties. It seems our politics are hard wired, or at least we lean a certain way.
Let’s see about your wiring.
Even as babies, these tendencies have been found to exist; some babies seek new experiences and react with pleasure to them while not minding a noisy environment. Other babies have a marked dislike for noise and are more sensitive to an unstable environment.
conservatives react more strongly than liberals to signs of danger, including the threat of germs and contamination, and even low-level threats such as sudden blasts of white noise. Other studies have implicated genes related to receptors for the neurotransmitter dopamine, which has long been tied to sensation-seeking and openness to experience, which are among the best-established correlates of liberalism.Haidt, Jonathan (2012-03-13). The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (p. 279). Random House, Inc.
The role of nurture
So we all have a natural tendency, whether it is a marked preference or a slight one – we lean in one direction or the other. What happens as we gain experiences in life? Let’s hear about how you interacted with your environment.
From the same source, we learn of fraternal twins, entering school age, each with a different tendency. The girl prefers new experiences and likes to question authority (not frightened of instability), whereas the boy is deferential to authority and creates stability to his environment by not questioning authority. Depending on the environment and individuals they encounter, they may receive different responses from teachers and parents. Those experiences will then shape their feelings about themselves, authority, and how stimulating or supportive their environment is.
For the girl, encountering a supportive environment where she is praised for her questioning may result in less resistance to her surroundings whereas being opposed by people in authority may create a stronger sense of rebellion and rightness in her as she seeks the fringe for like-minded people with whom to band together. For the boy, encountering a supportive environment may result in even more entrenchment, less questioning, and more sense of personal rightness.
they gradually create different worlds for themselves. Even in nursery school, their behavior causes adults to treat them differently. One study found that women who called themselves liberals as adults had been rated by their nursery school teachers as having traits consistent with threat insensitivity and novelty-seeking. Future liberals were described as being more curious, verbal, and self-reliant, but also more assertive and aggressive, less obedient and neat. So if we could observe our fraternal twins in their first years of schooling, we’d find teachers responding differently to them. Some teachers might be drawn to the creative but rebellious little girl; others would crack down on her as an unruly brat, while praising her brother as a model student.
Ibid, (p. 280).
While my parents are pretty conservative, my best friend’s mother was very liberal and feminist, and many of my friends parents were liberal college professors. But I also encountered enough teachers who praised me for being unconventional that I didn’t feel the need to seek out like-minded peers. In grade 5, as we prepared for the class play, I pointed out that there were no decent female roles in A Christmas Carol. It seemed unfair that the largest female role was a complete throwaway part, Belle, Ebenezer’s ex-girlfriend (who only had about 3 lines). My teacher supported me, and cast me in the role even though the boys in class were adamantly opposed to a girl playing the male lead.
The grand narratives
Lastly, as we become adults, our experiences begin to crystallize into one of two narratives that describe our view of the world. Although the below narratives are written from an American perspective, the narratives are based on shared morality that crosses national geographies. See which narrative sounds most like your view.
Once upon a time, the vast majority of human persons suffered in societies and social institutions that were unjust, unhealthy, repressive, and oppressive. These traditional societies were reprehensible because of their deep-rooted deep-rooted inequality, exploitation, and irrational traditionalism.… But the noble human aspiration for autonomy, equality, and prosperity struggled mightily against the forces of misery and oppression, and eventually succeeded in establishing modern, liberal, democratic, capitalist, welfare societies. While modern social conditions hold the potential to maximize the individual freedom and pleasure of all, there is much work to be done to dismantle the powerful vestiges of inequality, exploitation, and repression. This struggle for the good society in which individuals are equal and free to pursue their self-defined happiness is the one mission truly worth dedicating one’s life to achieving.
ibid (p. 284)
Once upon a time, America was a shining beacon. Then liberals came along and erected an enormous federal bureaucracy that handcuffed the invisible hand of the free market. They subverted our traditional American values and opposed God and faith at every step of the way.… Instead of requiring that people work for a living, they siphoned money from hardworking Americans and gave it to Cadillac-driving drug addicts and welfare queens. Instead of punishing criminals, they tried to “understand” them. Instead of worrying about the victims of crime, they worried about the rights of criminals.… Instead of adhering to traditional American values of family, fidelity, and personal responsibility, they preached promiscuity, premarital sex, and the gay lifestyle … and they encouraged a feminist agenda that undermined traditional family roles.… Instead of projecting strength to those who would do evil around the world, they cut military budgets, disrespected our soldiers in uniform, burned our flag, and chose negotiation and multilateralism.… Then Americans decided to take their country back from those who sought to undermine it.
ibid (p. 285).
Narrative A is a heroic liberal story: it’s a story of liberation from authority, hierarchy, power and tradition – the chains that oppress victims from attaining their noblest aims. Narrative B is a heroic conservative story about the defense of liberty (from government constraint). It also touches on the values (fairness, tradition, loyalty, authority and purity) that are either absent from the liberal story or are viewed as a threat to caring for the downtrodden.
Interestingly, Haidt found that while conservatives found much to commend in the liberal narrative, liberals had a hard time comprehending the conservative narrative because they not only didn’t value loyalty, authority, and purity but they often rejected them as oppressive and harmful. While there are liberal versions of loyalty, authority and purity, they differ from what conservatives are loyal to, consider an authority, or view as sacred. For example, liberals have their own heroes and authorities they would be loyal to or show respect for – usually people who (like them) have a heightened sense of care and a desire to liberate people from oppression. And one need only look at the green movement to find a shining example of the value liberals place on purity. However, for liberals these values are still in a back seat to the protection of the downtrodden, whereas conservatives place a similar value on all moral foundations equally.
Generally speaking, those who are independents or moderate have been exposed to a greater diversity of views throughout their lives, leading them to question their own assumptions and natural tendencies and to be more empathetic toward differing views. In a sense, that makes them moral relativists by contrast to those who are firmly liberal or conservative. Those who are surrounded by people whose views are more homogeneous tended to embrace one of the two narratives more strongly, regardless of whether the prevailing surrounding views matched or differed from their own because a person’s own narrative is always heroic – either standing with the crowd or against it.
- How likely are you to change your political views in the future? What would cause such a change?
- Were you born to be a conservative or liberal?
- What impact did your formative years have on your political views?
- Do most of your friends share your political views or differ from yours? I did a Facebook app a few years ago that showed my friends were a near perfect split between Democrat and Republican – not surprising since I’m an independent.
- Do you feel an unbridgeable divide between your views and that of others? What would it take to bridge that divide?