Editorial Comment

ARE POLITICS GENETIC?

 

According to a number of online sources including livescience.com, scientists have identified a gene that predisposes us to being nice. In a recent study, published in the well-regarded journal Psychological Science, It found those with a specific gene configuration, they called it “GG” were more likely to exhibit feelings of concern and welfare for others and more empathetic to the plight of people they did not know. If, however, a person is born with the “AG” gene, they are less likely to be “as nice”. Some might argue it is similar to the “XX” and “XY” configurations of chromosomes that specify gender. 
Of course, niceness is as rather subjective concept. The administrators of the study used such criteria as donating blood, volunteering, willingness to report crime and paying their fair share of taxes among others to isolate niceness.
Sampling populations across North America, it was discovered there is about a 50/50 chance of being either “GG” or “AG”, genetically. It almost seems like if you were to sample the same populations, you would probably get a similar ratio of conservatives and liberals. Could politics be genetic?
To be fair, the scientists who analyzed the data did not factor in the political persuasion of their testing subjects. As well, it isn’t as if conservative people don’t exhibit many of the behaviors that are associated with being nice. Still, most conservatives would agree, compared to their liberal brethren, they are more hard-nosed, more tough-love, more personal responsibility and less government responsibility. Some would indeed see this mindset as being somewhat less nice than the liberal values of sharing wealth and helping unfortunates and victims that might fall through conservative cracks.
Although the jury may be out on this count, what would be the ramifications of such knowledge if proven true? What if political leanings, or at least, a predisposition toward right or left are predetermined at birth? What if our attitudes are shaped, not by logic, but by a combination of nature (the genetics in question) and nurture (the upbringing of the person that makes an open mind only a remote possibility).
The most obvious problem is that if people are hard-wired to have the world-view they do, getting consensus between the two sides will be very difficult. Both Canada and the US appear to be more polarized between right and left wing ideologies than ever before. This polarization cripples common sense discourse in any issue discussed across the political spectrum; from the economy to the environment. Good ideas by the other group must be shot down lest the public like the other side more. 
Another concern regarding our political leanings being somewhat predetermined is that it makes it easier to be manipulated by advertising that reinforces the beliefs you’re already predisposed to accept. The genetic link might be why attack ads seem to work so well. It is now more surprising when they don’t work than when they do.
At least, if the correlation holds, it would explain why neither side can understand each other or the arguments they make. Because of the difference in how they process the world, neither group can ever see any positives from the other faction. Obviously, however, neither side  have a monopoly on intelligence. Otherwise, everyone above a certain IQ would vote exactly the same and that obviously isn’t the case. There had to be something deeper, more intrinsic to the psyche, and these researchers may have hit the proverbial nail on the cuticle.
Assuming the “political gene” theory holds true, what then can be done about such an entrenched reality that affects both sides? What’s needed is for people to see the middle ground is the answer and both polarized camps have good ideas and real concerns to bring to the table. Sadly, all too often these voices of reason get shouted down by forces of polarization.
The first step may be to enact laws to stop attack ads. Parties should only be allowed to discuss their own candidate’s platforms, not the other guys’. This will possibly help alleviate the personal nature of political discourse and have it more focused on real issues facing our nations.
In Canada, for example, there’s the issue of the F-35 fighter jets Peter McKay is currently being pilloried for. The fact is that the program going bust was entirely out of Canada’s control. Furthermore, there are only so many options available to the military for state of the art war making machines. It’s not like you can just go to Wal-Mart to buy them.
What we need to do is have a non-ideologically based discussion of what, exactly; Canada’s needs are for aerial strike force capabilities and what is the most cost-effective way of procuring the type of aircraft identified within the expected use parameters. For international political reasons, the F-35 may still be the way to go but why not examine the issue in a mature, thoughtful public way? The reason is because of hyper-partisanship. It makes governments far more secretive by necessity to prevent being a constant target.
One option, in Canada, at least, to make the middle ground more tenable politically, would be a switch to “proportional democracy” wherein seats are awarding to various parties based on their vote count as opposed to a “first past the post” concept we currently use. Some might argue such a plan may condemn us to an endless series of minority governments (that never happens here) much like the struggling governments of Greece and Italy. Can it be any worse than a two-party system that constantly finds itself gridlocked?
Whether genetically linked or not, the political polarity facing the continent is serious. This latest factoid regarding studies on “niceness” may well someday play a role in fixing it. We can always hope.



 
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