Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Politics are in our DNA - why societies evolved to have both conservatives and liberals.

Sebastian Junger points out an evolutionary rationale for the presence of both liberals and conservatives within a group - that over our evolutionary history such heterogeneity has proven to enhance a group's ability to compete with other groups. One could wish that respect for these deep roots of our current political polarization might ameliorate the culture of contempt that currently prevails between red and blue America. There are now numerous studies correlating conservative or liberal orientation with basic biological differences, notably studies on young adults showing correlations between political orientation, brain structures, and genetics. Such differences can be shaped by different socialization processes (such as strict versus nurturant family values). Yudkin reviews differences in core beliefs (on how dangerous the world is, on personal responsibility, on parenting philosophy, etc.) between conservatives and liberals to suggest that the sides are more aligned on many issues than they realize.

Here is a clip from Junger's article:
If liberalism and conservatism are partly rooted in genetics, then those worldviews had to have been adaptive — and necessary — in our evolutionary past. That means that neither political party can accuse the other of being illegitimate or inherently immoral; we are the way we are for good reason. Every human society must do two things: It must be strong enough to protect itself from outside groups, and it must be fair enough to avoid internal conflict. A society entirely composed of liberals risks being overrun by enemies, and a society entirely composed of conservatives risks breaking apart over issues of inequality — “social justice,” as it’s now termed.
Put those groups together, however, and you have addressed the two greatest threats to human welfare: enemies and discord. The task for every society, from the earliest Homo sapiens of Africa to Americans of the 21st century, is to accommodate different values and worldviews into one ethos. It’s not easy to do, but our own genetic diversity clearly demonstrates that it’s possible. Otherwise, one set of values would have gradually dominated the other until there was no political discord at all, just a broad, flat uniformity. That may sound appealing at the moment. But in the long term, what a great loss that would be.

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