Fear Is the Answer: Desperately Seeking the Conservative Gene
Novelist H.P. Lovecraft once said that the oldest and strongest human emotion is fear. Which seems pretty accurate. Try to imagine the first generation of Homo sapiens to have developed what we would now recognize as advanced human-level sentience, introspection and awareness of one’s own mortality. With dangerous predators lurking around every corner, the risk of sickness and starvation constantly weighing heavy on one’s mind and absolutely no answers to the simplest of questions, it’s easy to see how the lonely wilderness of the prehistoric world would be an even more terrifying place than we could possibly fathom.
Just as fear once consumed the lives of our cave-dwelling forefathers, fear, it turns out, might someday be the key ingredient if one were interested in genetically engineering the perfect conservative.
According to two independent studies, recently published in The American Journal of Political Science and PLOS ONE, our political leanings have less to do with how we were raised and more to do with how fearful we are. Specifically, people with a wary, watchful disposition tend to be more conservative. During one of the studies, subjects were hooked up to brain scans and asked to participate in high-stakes gambling. The part of the brain that lit up in conservatives’ craniums was the right amygdala, which governs a person’s threat response system. By contrast, liberals more often than not used the insula, which is responsible in part for monitoring social emotions.
But the most stunning part of the study? By merely observing subjects’ brain activity, researchers were able to accurately predict their political preference 82.9% of the time.
Score one for the nature side in the perennial nature vs. nurture debate.
Strictly as a thought experiment, let’s test the accuracy of these studies. What are conservatives afraid of exactly? It’s probably safe to say that, compared to liberals, they tend to be more leery of: immigrants, gays, government takeovers, marijuana, the theory of evolution, women, black people, taxes, Islam, God, no God, socialism, communism, terrorism, science, the liberal arts, the “elite,” the media, subtitles, condoms, university professors, sodomy and ethnic food.
Liberals, on the other hand, are basically fearful of only firearms and climate change. And not getting front-row seats to see Streisand.
In response to these studies and others like it, a conservative might point out — rightfully so — that a strong sense of fear is integral to our survival. The fearful caveman, always on edge, always armed with a sharpened spear or heavy blunt object, no doubt lasted a lot longer in a hostile environment than the less fearful caveman who preferred to practice diplomacy and find common ground with the saber-toothed tiger.
So back to genetic engineering. Already the Chinese are analyzing gene samples obtained from more than 2,200 geniuses who have an IQ over 160, with the understood goal of finding the so-called intelligence gene. If they can single that out, they can determine what makes some people smarter than others and, eventually, replicate such high-functioning intelligence in their nation’s offspring. And once that happens, of course, we might as well rename the Earth China.
Come to think of it, the Future Culturalist refuses to say what the planet’s called in 2099.
In any case, it’s not too far-fetched to predict that the US will eventually single out the fear gene to market to parents who wish to give birth to a conservative son or daughter. (Because, you know, heaven forbid that your children should be allowed to make their own decisions.) Let’s assume for the moment that Republicanism can survive to see the day when fertility clinics start offering genetic engineering services. Modifiable characteristics will likely include hair color, skin pigmentation, height, athleticism and the like. But if clinics were also able to promise parents-to-be a suped-up amygdala and fearful disposition, political affiliation — conservatism, anyway — just might be another customizable attribute.
And forget about any legal or ethical implications of allowing parents to make such important decisions on behalf of their unborn children. If we let deaf parents purposely choose to give birth to a deaf child, surely we’ll let Republicans beget Republicans.
It looks inevitable, then, that once the fear gene hits the fertility market, the US will be overrun by an unstoppable legion of little Limbaughs, Trumps, Coulters and Nugents.
Let’s just hope that Yoda’s wrong about the relationship between fear and the dark side of the Force. Otherwise, we’ll have a much larger problem on our hands than we bargained for.
Posted on February 19, 2013, in Genetics, People and tagged conservatism, conservatives, DNA, fear, fertility clinics, genetic engineering, liberalism, liberals, Republicans. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.