Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Political Genetics

Imagine this! In the nation of jittery politics in the midst of a crucial national election to be decided TODAY, I learn that politics is in part controlled by genetics. I thought I was so good to get myself informed and as objective as I could to prepare to vote. But I might be kidding myself.
Catching up on the Sunday (11/2/08) papers I read in the Ideas section of the Boston Globe an article by Eve LaPlante about new brain research that suggests that political bipartisan politics, aka red or blue, is influenced, if not determined, by one's inborn response to threat.
Who knew? I thought I was a liberal Democrat because of my response to my parents' staunch Republican overkill, their FDR paranoia, and the like. I remember when I snuck into the Town Hall in Canton, CT. to change my voter registration from Republican to Democrat, I looked around every corner to make sure my father wasn't lurking there to see the heresy I was committing. I was even a little proud of my carefully reasoned rebellion.
There's a new scientific group called political physiologists. There isn't space here for much detail, but it seems that brain research studies indicate that so called political liberals react less vigorously to threatening stimuli and are quicker to provide a new response, read change. Conservatives, au contraire, are more easily startled by such stimuli and have more difficulty switching to a new response. It's all about "blink-startle" and sweat, both measurements of responses to stimuli.
In the old nature/nurture debate it seems that politics is more of an inborn instinct than we thought. Liberals tend to support less protectionist policies like abortion, gun control, open immigration. Conservatives tend to support more protectionist policies like capital punishment, school prayer, the Iraq war. and conservative. This I know, but I thought it had to do with culture, geography, religious leanings, and whatever your parents said.
As a liberal I of course love this new finding, no matter how inconclusive. Why? It leaves room for nuance, ambiguity, new life and, I admit, divine grace. Safety isn't the highest value. It expands the horizons; it douses worn out stereotypes, such as: liberals are soft in the head/touchy feely and conservatives are strong, steady and rational.
The other thing I find hopeful about this new complexity is that obviously we do need each other. Conservatives, for example, in the Church help the community preserve the finest art, or spiritual practices, or the most elegant old language for certain occasions; whereas, liberals can foresee atrophy unless some things die by choice to make room for new souls and new occasions. Instead we mostly call each other, silently or aloud, "dummies" and wring our hands.
It takes great grace not to try to make lemonade out of your own or your neighbor's "lemons"—just for your own comfort. But there is spiritual health in communities that can accommodate reds and blues in the same pews without loss of integrity and maybe a bit of love.
Talking and listening help.