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Do We Choose Our Politics?
Posted: 17 February 2008 11:06 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I’ve alluded to this in other posts, but I don’t think I actually discussed it (unless I forgot!)  Let me explain what I mean by way of an example.  I’m a straight male.  It boggles my mind that a gay male doesn’t find the female body sexually attractive.  I can’t understand the gay’s point of view.  I could discuss the aesthetic merits of the female form and the compatibility of body parts between male and female to a gay man until we are both frustrated.  It just makes sense to me that women are the way to go.  I’ll never come around to his way of thinking.  He’ll never come around to my way of thinking.  It’s obvious that each of our brains are “wired up” (for lack of a better term) to see things differently.  Each point of view is held so strongly that I truly believe neither the gay man nor myself have any choice in how we view sexuality. 

I’m also a libertarian.  It boggles my mind that others don’t find liberty and freedom an attractive prospect.  I can discuss various political issues with conservatives and liberals until we are all frustrated.  It just makes sense to me that liberty is the way to go.  It makes sense to a liberal that government control of some areas of life is the way to go.  Generally, I’d disagree with the liberal.  It makes sense to a conservative that government control of other areas of life is the way to go.  Generally, I’d disagree with the conservative.  And generally, the conservative and the liberal would also disagree with each other.  But just as with the gay man above, none of us will come around to the others’ way of thinking.  We just don’t understand why the other can’t see our point of view. 

With that in mind, is it possible that the politics of conservatives, liberals, libertarians and others are “wired up” in our brains to the point where we may not have had much of a choice in how we view our politics?  Granted, with politics there might be a bit of “nurture” as well as “nature,” whereas with sexuality it is probably all “nature” and no “nurture”—although a conservative would disagree, going back to my original point!  But whether it is environment or brain chemistry, the end result could be our politics may not be fully our own choosing. 

So what do others think?  Were you fully, 100% in control of how you came to choose your politics?  Or could some (or all) of it have been beyond your control?

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There are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by the gradual and silent encroachment of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpation.

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Posted: 17 February 2008 11:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Oh if that were true!  I would have voted for Reagan like my grandfather told me too and I would agree with my relatives political views.  I’m a blacksheep, but I see no hardwiring in any of it though.  I think it is a matter of thinking for myself and not letting anyone else think for me or allowing anyone to tell me how to vote.  So, yes, I think I’m 100% in control of who I vote for.

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“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 17 February 2008 12:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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From what I understand, you are asking if there is any way politics might be ‘hard-wired’ into the brain: some of us might have genes that make us more disposed to certain ideologies (socialism, liberalism, libertarianism etc.)  You draw a parallel with sexuality.  I would note that it isn’t at all clear that sexuality is genetically hard-wired: most people seem to experience it that way but scientists have yet to prove it.  What is certain that we seem to be ‘locked into’ our sexuality from a very young age, about 3-4 or even earlier. 

We are not locked in to our politics in the same way as we see people who shift along the political spectrum all the time.  I myself have moved only moderately from socialism to social democracy, but the David Horowitzes, Keith Windschuttles and Daphne Patais of the word have had undergone a much bigger change.  I think people generally change their politics much more than their sexuality.

There are so many environmental factors which determine our politics: our country of birth, class, race, gender, sexual orientation, school we attend, politics of our family, what we read in our spare time, what we study at college, what college we go to, our chosen profession.  These are so important that I think they would outweigh any genetic predispositions that might exist. 

And while I’m not a scientist, I would guess that while we might someday be able to identify a gene that would predispose us to be generally ‘social and pro-authority’ or ‘individualistic and anti-authority’,  there is no way someone could be hard-wired to have specific political values like ‘fiscally conservative but socially liberal’ or ‘strategic Obama voter to keep McCain out’.

Comments from biologists?

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Posted: 17 February 2008 02:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I tend to think political ideology is more nurture than nature, but I’m not aware of anything like empirical evidence for this. I think people due have temperments, predispositions to certains kinds of attitudes or ways of interacting socially, and these may influence the attractiveness of various political ideologies. People on one end of the personal independance spectrum might be drawn to libertarianism, people with a tendancy to be extremely empathetic might be more drawn to liberal ideas, people who are fearful might be sympathetic to “law and order” styles of ideology, but this is all just wild speculation.

I know that people’s ideology can certainly change, either abruptly or gradually over tiem, somlike most things I would guess there’s a combination of innate and learned elements here, though leaning towards the learned is my intuition.

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Posted: 17 February 2008 02:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Mriana - 17 February 2008 11:37 AM

Oh if that were true!  I would have voted for Reagan like my grandfather told me too and I would agree with my relatives political views.  I’m a blacksheep, but I see no hardwiring in any of it though.

Any such “Political Brain Wiring” would not automatically have to be hereditary.  Even if it were, it wouldn’t pass along 100% of the time. 


What about all the hard-core Democrats who told family members to vote for Carter or Mondale?  If the family member didn’t listen and voted for Reagan instead, were the black sheep Reagan-voters thinking for themselves too? 

Mriana - 17 February 2008 11:37 AM

I think it is a matter of thinking for myself and not letting anyone else think for me or allowing anyone to tell me how to vote.  So, yes, I think I’m 100% in control of who I vote for.

But if it were somehow true to some extent (either by nature, nurture or some combination), then the implications of what it means to our freewill might make it too uncomfortable for some people to accept.  Plus the moral superiority that most all people feel about their politics might be muted.  Think about how conservatives insist that gay people “choose” to be that way.  Once it is accepted that a gay person has no choice in their sexuality, then it becomes more difficult to condemn them.  The same would hold true if a person’s politics was somehow not fully their choice.  The ability (and desire) that people of all political views to feel righteous indignation against people who don’t view certain hot-topic, litmus-test political issues would be weakened. 


Would you tell people they should vote for candidate X over candidate Y?  Thousands of people do that exact thing all the time during election season when they decide to work or volunteer for a campaign.  They do it because they honestly believe it is the right thing to do.  Your grandfather honestly believed it was right to vote for Reagan.  You honestly believed something else.  Where do those beliefs come from?  How are they formed?  And is there any aspect of those beliefs that might somehow be out of our control?  That’s what I would like to know.

[ Edited: 17 February 2008 03:58 PM by Rocinante ]
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There are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by the gradual and silent encroachment of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpation.

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Posted: 17 February 2008 02:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Skimbleshanks - 17 February 2008 12:25 PM

From what I understand, you are asking if there is any way politics might be ‘hard-wired’ into the brain: some of us might have genes that make us more disposed to certain ideologies (socialism, liberalism, libertarianism etc.)  You draw a parallel with sexuality.  I would note that it isn’t at all clear that sexuality is genetically hard-wired: most people seem to experience it that way but scientists have yet to prove it.  What is certain that we seem to be ‘locked into’ our sexuality from a very young age, about 3-4 or even earlier.

Obviously my analogy wasn’t perfect, but I just wanted something similar to get my question across. 

Skimbleshanks - 17 February 2008 12:25 PM

We are not locked in to our politics in the same way as we see people who shift along the political spectrum all the time.  I myself have moved only moderately from socialism to social democracy, but the David Horowitzes, Keith Windschuttles and Daphne Patais of the word have had undergone a much bigger change.  I think people generally change their politics much more than their sexuality.

Yes.  There are even old sayings to verify this:

“If you’re not a liberal when you are in your 20s you have no heart.  If you are not a conservative when you are in your 50s you have no brain.”

“A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged.” 

So yes, changes can - and do - happen with people’s politics.  But what’s to say those changes aren’t a result of some chemical actions in our brains?  Granted, I believe environment plays a role, perhaps even a key one.  But there are so many other well-defined differences between Democrats and Republicans that I think it is very likely some biological component might play some role.

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There are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by the gradual and silent encroachment of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpation.

—James Madison

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Posted: 17 February 2008 08:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Do We Choose Our Politics?

Yes, I certainly think we do.  I don’t see this to be any different than the methods used to choose ones friends.

In fact, I have friends and relatives, of all political persuasions.  I will acknowledge that many folks choose not to choose, or simply go along with those closest to them as they do not feel strongly one way or another.  In addition there are those who will find it easier to simply go with the flow rather than fight the tide.

Especially for a rational free-thinker I would be inclined to say that most of us examine the basis of our political preferences in the same way we examine other beliefs.

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Posted: 17 February 2008 08:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Rocinante - 17 February 2008 02:15 PM
Mriana - 17 February 2008 11:37 AM

Oh if that were true!  I would have voted for Reagan like my grandfather told me too and I would agree with my relatives political views.  I’m a blacksheep, but I see no hardwiring in any of it though.

Any such “Political Brain Wiring” would not automatically have to be hereditary.  Even if it were, it wouldn’t pass along 100% of the time. 


What about all the hard-core Democrats who told family members to vote for Carter or Mondale?  If the family member didn’t listen and voted for Reagan instead, were the black sheep Reagan-voters thinking for themselves too? 

Mriana - 17 February 2008 11:37 AM

I think it is a matter of thinking for myself and not letting anyone else think for me or allowing anyone to tell me how to vote.  So, yes, I think I’m 100% in control of who I vote for.

But if it were somehow true to some extent (either by nature, nurture or some combination), then the implications of what it means to our freewill might make it too uncomfortable for some people to accept.  Plus the moral superiority that most all people feel about their politics might be muted.  Think about how conservatives insist that gay people “choose” to be that way.  Once it is accepted that a gay person has no choice in their sexuality, then it becomes more difficult to condemn them.  The same would hold true if a person’s politics was somehow not fully their choice.  The ability (and desire) that people of all political views to feel righteous indignation against people who don’t view certain hot-topic, litmus-test political issues would be weakened. 


Would you tell people they should vote for candidate X over candidate Y?  Thousands of people do that exact thing all the time during election season when they decide to work or volunteer for a campaign.  They do it because they honestly believe it is the right thing to do.  Your grandfather honestly believed it was right to vote for Reagan.  You honestly believed something else.  Where do those beliefs come from?  How are they formed?  And is there any aspect of those beliefs that might somehow be out of our control?  That’s what I would like to know.

The first time I got to vote in my life, as all young people eventually get, my grandfather insisted I had to vote for Reagan. I told him, when I get into the voting booth, I will vote for the person I feel is best.  He was ticked because I was not following his instructions.  I didn’t vote for Reagan.  There was no nature or nuture that, but my own thought processes to think for myself.  IF it were nurture, I would have done as my grandfather insisted I do.  IF it were nature or a genetic component, then I’d be a right-winger like the rest of my relatives.  I do have the freedom to vote for who I want to vote for and I don’t have to listen to anyone.  I cannot in good conscious, rationality, or anything else, vote for a right-winger who will combine religion and politics.  1. It is not constitution 2. Mixing the two has always been a dangerous combination 3. Our forefather were very smart men.  It’s all a matter of rational thinking, knowing I have freedom of choice, and nothing more. There is no nature or nurture, but rather reasoning.  Sadly, I don’t think the right-wingers have the brains they were born with or they weren’t born with any in which to think for themselves or they were programmed by their elders not to think for themselves, which makes their brains worthless until they take control, which they could if they wanted to do so.

No, I would not tell anyone how to vote.  I haven’t told my 18 y.o. son how to vote, but I did provide him the information on various candidates and if he read it, he read it.  Incidently though, he says he did vote for Obama in the primaries. He didn’t state why.  It could be that I’m campaigning for Obama.  I don’t know, but he says he did.

[ Edited: 17 February 2008 08:40 PM by Mriana ]
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“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 17 February 2008 09:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Mriana - 17 February 2008 08:38 PM

No, I would not tell anyone how to vote.  I haven’t told my 18 y.o. son how to vote, but I did provide him the information on various candidates and if he read it, he read it.  Incidently though, he says he did vote for Obama in the primaries. He didn’t state why.  It could be that I’m campaigning for Obama.  I don’t know, but he says he did.

I have to ask.  What would you do if your son came home and said he was going to vote for Huckabee?  And no fair getting out of the question by saying, “That didn’t happen,” “That would never happen,” etc.  If it were to happen, what would you do?

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There are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by the gradual and silent encroachment of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpation.

—James Madison

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Posted: 17 February 2008 11:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I would be shocked, but what can I do about it, except maybe ask his reasons for voting for the man?

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Mriana
“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 18 February 2008 04:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I’m in agreement with Brennen.  I don’t think that much of our behavior is hard-wired or genetic.  Rather, I believe that what we observe and what happens to us as very young children determines a wide variety of things from sexuality, through religion, to social views.  My views have much in common with libertarians, but also with social progressives.  I believe in minimum government interference with our individual liberties, but also that we (combined as government) have the obligation to assist and protect everyone.  I believe I learned the basics of this philosophy from my parents as a small child.  I’ve only thought the ideas through more thoroughly and polished them as I matured.

As an aside, when I was much younger, some of the people who worked at my Berkeley lab were gay.  I enjoyed them and socialized with them.  I wondered how they thought, so for a while I looked at every male I saw and tried to become sexually aroused.  I just couldn’t do it.  As much as I liked them as people, the male body is just plain gross.  The guys got a kick when I discussed it with them, because they said that most heterosexual males couldn’t understand their same feelings about females.

Occam

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Posted: 18 February 2008 07:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Occam - 18 February 2008 04:22 PM

As an aside, when I was much younger, some of the people who worked at my Berkeley lab were gay.  I enjoyed them and socialized with them.  I wondered how they thought, so for a while I looked at every male I saw and tried to become sexually aroused.  I just couldn’t do it.  As much as I liked them as people, the male body is just plain gross.  The guys got a kick when I discussed it with them, because they said that most heterosexual males couldn’t understand their same feelings about females.

Yep, I’ve thought the same way. Reason enough for believing it’s biological or at least not in control of our ordinary sort of volition.

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Posted: 18 February 2008 09:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Occam - 18 February 2008 04:22 PM

I’m in agreement with Brennen.  I don’t think that much of our behavior is hard-wired or genetic.

Are we born as complete blank slates then?  I don’t think so.  There almost has to be some aspects of who we are that are hard-wired.  If some things, why not aspects that determine how we think politically? 

Occam - 18 February 2008 04:22 PM

Rather, I believe that what we observe and what happens to us as very young children determines a wide variety of things from sexuality, through religion, to social views.

Sexuality, almost certainly, has to be hard-wired in order to propagate the species.  This is where the gays will get mad at me when I say their wiring got “crossed” at some point - probably before birth in my opinion.  I’m not making any value judgments.  But homosexuality just doesn’t make sense from an evolutionary standpoint.  Just as most people are born straight, most people are also born with the ability to see.  But if a person were born blind, most people would agree that something went wrong somewhere along the way.  Political correctness prevents any such discussion of homosexuality in a similar light.

Back to brain chemistry and politics.  We wouldn’t necessarily have to be born with any predispositions.  What if the environment one grew up in shaped the growing brain to the point that a person has little or no choice later on in life? 

Growing up for years surrounded by people trying to keep others from having fun could induce changes in the brain that could make a person more likely to be a Republican.  Likewise, someone else growing for years surrounded by people with guilt complexes could induce changes in that growing brain that could make a person more likely to be a Democrat.  Just a thought.

[ Edited: 18 February 2008 09:53 PM by Rocinante ]
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There are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by the gradual and silent encroachment of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpation.

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Posted: 19 February 2008 12:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Quote Rocinante:

Sexuality, almost certainly, has to be hard-wired in order to propagate the species.

  Nah, we’re only programmed to want to have orgasms.  It doesn’t matter who or what we accomplish that with, including our own hand, a vibrator, orally, anally, vaginally, etc.  It just happens that the most convenient way for most of us is with a member of the opposite sex.  And, what do you know?  Sometimes pregnancy occurs.  Since probably 99% of the orgasms we have don’t result in pregnancy, it seems doubtful to me that we are programmed to procreate. 

Occam

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Posted: 19 February 2008 08:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Occam - 19 February 2008 12:01 AM

...we’re only programmed to want to have orgasms.  It doesn’t matter who or what we accomplish that with, including our own hand, a vibrator, orally, anally, vaginally, etc.  It just happens that the most convenient way for most of us is with a member of the opposite sex.

You contradicted yourself.  The most convenient way is not with a member of the opposite sex.  You yourself mentioned a person’s own hand.  That is the most convenient way - as many of people have found out at the end of the long, hard, yet unsuccessful night at the bar.  LOL  So if it were just about orgasms, then the opposite sex wouldn’t figure into the equation to the point where people will do just about anything to make that connection.  The desire to be with the opposite sex is so strong there is no way it could be a choice.  It’s hard-wired for sure.  I’d take that to the bank.

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There are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by the gradual and silent encroachment of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpation.

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Posted: 19 February 2008 08:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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99%?  Is that with or without contraception?  If that is without, I’d say you are a little high with that percentage, Occam.

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Mriana
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