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Is there a liberal gene?

Researchers at Harvard and UCSD may have identified a liberal gene. The idea is that the 7R variant of the DRD4 gene is related to "novelty seeking," predisposing those who have it to be open to diversity in relationships and experience. That, apparently, leads to seeking out such curious specimens as Keith Olbermann.

"No wonder you can't reason with liberals!" I hear conservatives shouting. "How can you argue with biology?" Conservatives might change their political tactics. Ann Coulter, famed author of the "book," How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must), might revise her recommendations in light of these findings by adapting the "What Do You Do When You See a Bear" section of Yosemite National Park's Web site:

If a liberal approaches you, act immediately to scare it away: make as much noise as possible by yelling very loudly....If you are with other people, stand together to present a more intimidating figure, but do not surround the liberal.

The intent is not to harm the liberal, but to scare it from the area and restore its natural fear of people by providing a negative experience....

When a ranger sees a liberal, the ranger may use non-lethal aversive tactics to chase the liberal out of a developed area. During your overnight stay, expect to see and hear rangers patrolling public areas for liberals. You may hear rangers yelling at and chasing liberals. You may also see or hear rangers shooting noisemakers or non-lethal projectiles (such as rubber slugs from a shotgun or clear paintballs from a paintball gun).

Actually, wait, given that description, some Tea Partyers already treat liberals as though they were feral animals.

Also, natural fear of people? That sounds more like conservative predispositions at work. In fact, the researchers also found that the presence of the liberal gene in and of itself doesn't produce an individual with lefty politics -- also critical, apparently, is how many friends those who possess this gene have in high school. The more friends, the researchers speculate, the more exposure to a diversity of viewpoints, experience that apparently promotes liberal views. If true, does this evidence the stereotype about how some conservatives believe what they do because of their barren social lives growing up?

So even if all we are is brain chemistry, our particular experiences still seem to matter. That's somewhat reassuring -- particularly for those of us who want the experience of reading our blog posts to change our readers' minds, not just to rile them up. Still, speaking of the experience side of the equation, the Internet age provides people both with the opportunity to expose themselves to alternate views and with the ability to select content that closely matches their ideological leanings, however formed. Liberal gene or no, I have to worry that's turning civic debate into the rhetorical equivalent of shooting noisemakers at each other.

By Stephen Stromberg  | October 29, 2010; 3:27 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Comments

If there is a liberal gene, this condition can be repaired or bred out of future generations.

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | October 29, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Don't be so sure. To quote the film Twelve Monkeys, "Science ain't an exact science with these clowns."

Posted by: AlexRemington | October 29, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

So now we can truthfully say that liberals are mutants?

Posted by: Illini | October 29, 2010 9:23 PM | Report abuse

and the conservative brain doesn't do nuance. They also get bent out of shape when one points that out.

Posted by: daphne5 | October 30, 2010 1:07 AM | Report abuse

Zzzzzzzzzz, and no one took the bait Daphne. Sorry, maybe you can troll somewhere else?

Posted by: yzermaneely | October 30, 2010 2:22 AM | Report abuse


"Is there a liberal gene?"

Yes defintely, according to Herr Adolph and Dr Eischman.

What a load of BS!

Posted by: benkad | October 30, 2010 3:12 AM | Report abuse

So exposure to a diverse set of views makes people more liberal? Perhaps that is why children who have been brainwashed with Conservative views become more liberal once they move away from their parents or go to college.

Posted by: samsara15 | October 30, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse


There is hope for Stalin's dream of a new Soviet Man. If humanity doesn't fit your theory, better get busy changing humanity.

Posted by: edbyronadams | October 30, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

This is idiotic. Being a liberal is not about seeking novelty. It's not about change for change's sake, it's about change when necessary to get to the right place.

Posted by: flydoc2000 | October 30, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

So the assumption is that liberals are defined by their desire to seek out diverse experiences and relationships? There are few people I know (Conservatives included) who don't fit this description. Are we then to assume that Conservatives don't like world travel? They don't like living in cities? They don't like eating at ethnic restaurants?

The problem with this research, of course, lies in its assumptions. It takes a small bit of common sense to see the problem here.

Posted by: diehardlib | October 30, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Evolution is mutations which enhance survivability of the species. The liberal gene is one of those. The so-called "conservatives" are using up and destroying global resources as fast as they can, like bacteria in a petri dish, and that mindset is a hindrance to survival. Evolve or perish!

Posted by: fingersfly | October 30, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Short answer: No, and I can prove it.

Longer answer: My identical twin brother are on opposite sides of the liberal-conservative spectrum. There, that settles it. No such thing as a "liberal" gene.

But I will say this: What kind of lame researchers are trying to associate a behavior pattern with genetic code, and fail to use identical twins to test the theory, since the twins remove the genetic code as a variable?

Posted by: bjameswi | October 30, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

"But I will say this: What kind of lame researchers are trying to associate a behavior pattern with genetic code, and fail to use identical twins to test the theory, since the twins remove the genetic code as a variable?"

If one identical twin is gay, the chances the other will be are roughly 50%. That doesn't stop either side from making claims about its innate nature or any choice involved.

Posted by: edbyronadams | October 30, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

I suppose I should not be surprised that some commenters choose to ridicule both the research analysis and the people who may possess this gene. Why? If humans are social animals, isn't selection for a trait that allows understanding and acceptance of differences within a species a valued adaptation?

I have recently been wondering if, in fact, people have innate disposition toward a conservative viewpoint or toward a liberal one. There are indicators that suggest such a possibility. For example, why does a person doggedly seem to follow a certain political view and yet - to another person - that view seems without merit. And both will still assert that the well-being of the larger society is the root concern. It would seem that the only reasonable explanation is that some internal make-up of personality suggests one path or the other as "comfortable."

It must be observed that in most things, there is a truth. The truth cannot lead in two unassociated directions; the probability that one of two contrary points of view on a given topic is wrong is extraordinarily high. So arguments "supporting" one position or the other can always be offered. Yet time, the arbiter of all things, will decide in history if we cannot decide now. Gay marriage - only fair. Equal pay - only just. Emissions controls - inescapable. And yet the arguments go on. Do you have means to dispute?

Posted by: Jazzman7 | October 30, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

There’s an old Norse proverb that roughly translates to:

“Only those who wander find new ways to go”.

In other words, only by looking for new ways may we progress.

Sadly and tragically, today’s so-called conservatives are mostly ruled by ignorance, fear of change, fear and fear’s first cousin paranoia. This causes them to be largely immune to realities and just plain good old common sense, and makes them ready fair game for cynical self-serving propaganda. Their normal gut and first reactions are to ridicule anything new or progressive and fall back on smear and name-calling. I pity them for their sincere fear and weep for the damage they are causing themselves and others.

Posted by: gnarlyerik | November 2, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

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