Nature and Nurture in politics – why so long to recognise?

Are we conditioned by our nature, our biological make up, or our nurture, our family / school / society / friendships etc? The argument is almost as old as arguing itself. And now a new survey of available evidence says, guess what?, that it’s a mixture of the two. An article published in the Economist (The genetics of politics) carries strap line: “Slowly, and in some quarters grudgingly, the influence of genes in shaping political outlook and behaviour is being recognised”.

It’s not really news. Surely not. We are beings with brains. Our brains are networked so that among other capabilities, they create and hold ideas. Some people’s brains hold on to maths concepts really well, others don’t. Some hold on to facts and figures, others have such short-term memory that they find it difficult for these pieces of information to take embed.

Have a look around your communities and you will see families in which all the children whizz at some particular task or activity – academic or athletic. The combined variations in the genes that exist in that particular splash of the gene pool set them up to succeed where others would struggle.

So why all the fuss? Simple really. In The Language of the Genes (1993) Steve Jones displayed a widely held anxiety that all too soon you can move from stating that a person’s intelligence is linked to their genes, to a move that says some sectors of society are more valuable than others. To prevent this occurring he argues that linking intelligence to genetics is silly and dismissed the whole idea saying: “Much of the work on inherited differences in intellect between races is contemptible and most of the rest is wrong.” Well, we can argue whether the research is poor, but that doesn’t mean the concept is flawed… just not proved.

In reality, genes create the capability for biological beings to grow brains. They must therefore have an infoluence of the nature of the brain. I don’t have a bird brain (no I don’t) because my brain genes are different to those in birds. The two are linked. Around the world, variations in genes occur, and it is not surprising that those variations enable people to think differently. Part of that difference could trigger different political thoughts, feelings, and aspirations and affiliations. As such there should be little surprise to find linkage between political thinking and genetics.

Discrimination occurs when we add value to one particular view or affiliation, creating a heirachy and favouring some over others. Racism is the easiest of discrimnations and one that has constantly blighted humanity, be it warring neighbours or enconomically fuelled slavery.

But let’s not allow the appropriate fear of discrimination cloud our view. Both nature and nurture play a role in most parts of life – the way our brains work is bound to be one of them.