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Watch Out For the Mutes

oct 31, 2009

A ccording to an article in the British newspaper Telegraph, scientists have now claimed to discover the gene for "liberalism." This is not to be confused with the gene for raising taxes, spending trillions of taxpayer money, and running the economy into the ground. No, what scientists in California (where else) say they've found is more like the gene for telling everyone else what wonderful, open-minded, fun-loving persons they are, saving the whales, and plastering the back end of their car with bumper stickers about Gaia, getting us out of The War, getting rid of Bush, and ☪☮e✡is†ing. It is also the gene that makes them want to force us to hire and promote people on the basis of their skin color instead of their ability, to fine the rest of us for not sorting our garbage into separate bins, and to stop us from eating food containing those deadly trans-fatty acids and destroying the planet by emitting that deadly carbon dioxide.

Whew. I smell a Nobel Prize coming, fer sherr.

Homozygotes, those poor devils who have two copies of the gene, automatically become members of ACORN, the left-wing voter fraud organization which in the face of multiple criminal indictments was forced to changed its name, if I remember correctly, to NUTCASES - the National United Team for Consolidating American Social Equality and Stuff.

Of course! It all makes sense now. The authors of this groundbreaking government-funded study (Settle et al., "Friendships Moderate an Association between a Dopamine Gene Variant and Political Ideology", The Journal of Politics 72(4), 1189-1198 (2010)), say that liberals possess a mutated form of the D4 dopamine receptor gene, known as DRD4, which regulates dopamine activity in the brain. This gene, according to several articles in reputable scientific journals, is associated with "novelty-seeking" behaviour. If a person has a variant form of this gene (called DRD4-7R), and if they had a lot of friendships during adolescence, then (according to Settle et al.) they tended to call themselves "liberals."

Those poor devils.

You remember them. They're the ones who always tried, usually unsuccessfully, to be "cool" back in high school. They formed cliques and kept out the smart ones and the strong ones who threatened them. They were the ones who cared, more than anything else in the world, about how others saw them. When it was cool to smoke dope, they smoked dope. When it was cool to wear bell-bottoms (which from my recollection was between January 15, 1970 and January 21, 1970), they all wore them along with their multi-colored tie-dyed shirts and their fake leather sandals. I tried bell-bottoms once, having once been a novelty-seeking kid myself. I still have nightmares about trying to walk with those damn things on. That traumatic experience was enough to turn me into a gun-toting, crew-cut warmonger.

They're also the ones who will say anything--like tell you they're a "liberal"--to convince you of their moral superiority, regardless of whether it makes sense. Get the U.S. out of Wales. Save the Bay. Save the Baby Mutant Aardvarks. Stuff like that. This personality type prides itself on its tolerance of different lifestyles. Usually, though, this is actually nothing more than intolerance of the lifestyles of those who disagree with them, or of those who criticize the alternative lifestyles and their harmful effects.

If the subjects only had the DRD4-7R mutation or only had the large numbers of friends, but not both, they were what we scientists call "normal people." Novelty-seeking behavior is characterized by seeking out the new and unusual in order to affect their mood. Things like taking LSD, playing chicken with oncoming trains, riding on roller coasters, and eating octopus-flavored ice cream. Settle et al. call it "openness to experience," implying that under certain circumstances, it could be a socially desirable trait. But the statistical significance in the paper is fairly low, and the evidence is not entirely convincing. As the authors say, "our p-value of 0.02 on a sample of 2,000 individuals should be treated cautiously." They go on to remind us that geneticists are sometimes skeptical of associations where an interaction exists and a main effect does not, as was the case here. This is true, although the phrase "sometimes skeptical" doesn't quite express it. Such an association is almost always a statistical artifact. See here for a discussion on how the terms "liberal" and "conservative" are consistently misused in the political psychology literature.

Some might argue that it's cruel to make fun of those individuals who, because of a tragic combination of having too many friends and being a mutant, have succumbed to this terrible affliction. Unfortunately, the only cure so far is to stop them from reproducing. We can make jokes, but this paper raises a very serious question: do we as a society really want to go down the road of treating ideology as a disease? A society must have ideological diversity to survive. And liberals provide one public service that moderates and conservatives don't: their bumper sticker-plastered cars give you something to read while you're stuck in traffic. Save the baby mutant liberals.

Related links

Politics in Nature Neuroscience

Psychobabble as motivated political liberalism