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Can of Worms

If it is true, as Haidt and other social scientists argue, that differences in race, class, gender, and especially ideology do not result solely from social constructs but are instead also influenced to some degree by genetics, i.e., are heritable,


If Charles Murray is right when he says, “evolution continued long after humans left Africa along different paths in different parts of the world, and recent evolution involves cognitive as well as physiological functioning.


What are the “different paths,” and what, if any, are the behavioral, cognitive, and physiological attributes that are characteristic of each? If differences in race, class, gender, and ideology are at least partly genetic and therefore heritable, then what if any other differences are also heritable?  We know, for example, that liberalism and conservatism are heritable.  Could there be subcategories to these two broad distinctions in the same way that there are multiple “aspects” to each of the Big 5 Personality Traits?

For example, is it possible that the patterns of thoughts and behaviors exhibited by the rioters in Ferguson after the Michael Brown decision and in Los Angeles after the Rodney King decision are influenced by, if not attributable to, the genetic inheritance of the rioters?   I picked this example because it’s so easy to see.  I’m sure there are many others. 

Haidt, Murray, and others – well, really, social and brain scientists in general – are opening a can of worms of questions like this. I’d love to be around in a hundred years, or two hundred or three hundred, to see how it all turns out.

Here’s a longer version of this idea, starting with a longer passage from the interview of Charles Murray, quoted briefly above:

Q: The flashpoint of the controversy about race and IQ was about genes. If you mention “The Bell Curve” to someone, they’re still likely to say “Wasn’t that the book that tried to prove blacks were genetically inferior to whites?” How do you respond to that?

A: Actually, Dick and I got that reaction even while we were working on the book. As soon as someone knew we were writing a book about IQ, the first thing they assumed was that it would focus on race, and the second thing they assumed was that we would be talking about genes. I think psychiatrists call that “projection.” Fifty years from now, I bet those claims about “The Bell Curve” will be used as a textbook case of the hysteria that has surrounded the possibility that black-white differences in IQ are genetic. Here is the paragraph in which Dick Herrnstein and I stated our conclusion:

If the reader is now convinced that either the genetic or environmental explanation has won out to the exclusion of the other, we have not done a sufficiently good job of presenting one side or the other. It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate. (p. 311)

That’s it. The whole thing. The entire hateful Herrnstein-Murray pseudoscientific racist diatribe about the role of genes in creating the black-white IQ difference. We followed that paragraph with a couple pages explaining why it really doesn’t make any difference whether the differences are caused by genes or the environment. But nothing we wrote could have made any difference. The lesson, subsequently administered to James Watson of DNA fame, is that if you say it is likely that there is any genetic component to the black-white difference in test scores, the roof crashes in on you.

On this score, the roof is about to crash in on those who insist on a purely environmental explanation of all sorts of ethnic differences, not just intelligence. Since the decoding of the genome, it has been securely established that race is not a social construct, evolution continued long after humans left Africa along different paths in different parts of the world, and recent evolution involves cognitive as well as physiological functioning.

The best summary of the evidence is found in the early chapters of Nicholas Wade’s recent book, A Troublesome Inheritance We’re not talking about another 20 years before the purely environmental position is discredited, but probably less than a decade. What happens when a linchpin of political correctness becomes scientifically untenable? It should be interesting to watch. I confess to a problem with schadenfreude.

Here’s a longer statement of my question above.  

A) Stipulation: Some personality traits correlate with liberals more strongly than with conservatives, and vice-versa. For example, the most widely known of these is the correlation between liberalism and the Big 5 personality trait of “openness.”*

B) Stipulation: Personality traits are heritable.

C) Assumption: people who are mostly on the political left carried out the Occupy and Ferguson protests, and the Rodney King protests of 1992, and the French Revolution of 1789.

D) Assumption: people who are mostly on the political right seldom, if ever, carry out protests that are as confrontational and violent as the above examples.  In some of his presentations, for example, Haidt has argued that some things “could never happen” at conservative rallies (e.g., signs that say F*** the Troops!), because of moral foundations. 

E) Question 1: Since A and B are true, and if C and D are true, then doesn’t this suggest the existence of other heritable traits besides just “openness” that correlate more with liberalism than with conservatism?

F) Question 2: If the answer to E) Question 1 is yes, then doesn’t this suggest the following as candidates for such traits?

a. Having an outlook of perpetual victimhood (vs. self reliance), and/or an outlook of perpetual suspicion of those in power, and/or an outlook of perpetual oppression by “the man.”

b. a tendency toward anger, rage, confrontation, and violence in political protests?

G) Question 3: If the answer to F) Question 2 is yes, then isn’t it possible that events such as the Ferguson shooting and the financial crisis are not truly causes of the destructive anti-social behaviors of the protestors, but are instead merely triggers that set off those behaviors in people who are already genetically predisposed to them?

H) Question 4: If the answer to G) Question 3 is yes, then doesn’t it suggest many things? For example, while there’s no denying that there is injustice and unfairness and abuse of power in the world, all of which demand utmost attention to approaches that could possibly ameliorate them, doesn’t the possibility also exist that:

a. The above mentioned protests are a better indication of the inner workings of the liberal righteous mind than they are of the events that triggered them, and

b. The notion of a “legacy of slavery” is more of an artifact of the liberal righteous mind than it is of the situations and circumstances currently extant in this country, and.

c. The more general notion that “the man” is out to get you is more of an artifact of the liberal righteous mind than it is of any situations and circumstances currently extant in this country and the world? If it is true that people are genetically predisposed to lean left or right, then couldn’t it also be true that they are genetically predisposed to exhibit other behaviors that are typically seen on the left and right? Isn’t there powerful evidence that suggests the overt anger, confrontation, and violence at events like the Ferguson, Occupy, and Rodney King demonstrations, and the French Revolution, are heritable aspects of the liberal righteous mind, just as “openness” is? Doesn’t that same evidence also suggest that the conservative righteous mind is not nearly as predisposed toward anger, confrontation, and violence? If dangerous, violent, anti-social behaviors are a predisposition of the liberal righteous mind, then what, if anything, can be done to reduce such behaviors?

If all this is true, or even partly true, then doesn’t it, shouldn’t it, influence the approach(es) we take to identify the causes, and ameliorate the effects, of the political divide?


* Openness is in quotes because, I suggest, it is a misnomer. The word “openness” is just a label associated with the low end of the scale of threat awareness. It’s just another way of saying “threat UNaware.” The reason this particular label has been chosen, I suggest, is that academic social science is a liberal tribal moral community, which tends to interpret traits more common to liberals as “normal” and/or prescriptively and normatively “good,” and traits more common to conservatives as “abnormal” and/or prescriptively and normatively “bad.” Thus the general perception that “openness” is a positive trait, and the general perception that its opposite is a negative trait. Thus, ALSO, the general but incorrect perception that the opposite of “openness” is “closed mindedness,” rather than its correct meaning of threat awareness.


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