Tip O'Neill, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, once said that all politics are local. He just didn't realize how local.
Try genetically local or personality local. It seems that politics are biological. According to the Sept. 19 issue of Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Douglas Oxley, et. al., showed it is how a person responds to "sudden noises and threatening visual images" that determines the probability of a traditional liberal-conservative split to a variety of topics. Support for either defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism, the Iraq war or foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism and gun control were determined by a physiological response. Go figure.
If proven true with more subjects, it suggests that an individual's political leanings are not crafted from a conscious, thoughtful analysis of the issues but from the unconscious gut reaction to startle or fear. Those who had a higher sensitivity to the noise and images were more supportive of the traditional conservative agenda of increased military dollars, and the associated support for the Iraq war and patriotism. Capital punishment is thrown in for good measure.
Maybe that is why the McCain campaign criticizes Obama for not wearing a flag lapel pin or draws questions of his patriotism. It has nothing to do with fashion or true beliefs but to a flow of hormones.
Now when people talk about the surge it is both an increase in military personnel in Iraq, but also a surge of molecules in the brain.
It is intuitive that individuals who have a heightened sense of fear would want more armies and fewer criminals. Conversely it also seems to fit that if there is less response to scary stimulations then pacifism and gun control would follow. The intrigue would be in what other topics, love children of either side of the aisle or on either side of the divide, are also related to a biological response.
If someone is fearful of change because they are wired or genetically more sensitive to fear in general, then the holding on to the traditions of our fathers would follow. That opens up the whole spectrum of issues that are so passionate to the population.
Are all the intensely held social-conflict topics of abortion, gay rights, marriage and women's equality so critical to each side because it goes to the core of human feelings? Is that why it is so hard or even impossible to agree, because there can be no compromise of the survival feelings within us? It is more than the threat of a sound and sight but it is a threat to self; therefore the personal political power of each subject is a fight to the death.
Now this biological study goes along with a collection of thoughts published in the U.K. Sebastian Kraemer and Jane Roberts edited The Attachment of Politics. In that book the major premise is that we are drawn to a particular political persuasion by how we were reared.
In a very condensed form it goes something like this: We are raised by parents with varying degrees of sensitivities to our biological needs and signals. The secure child is taught to respond to their tensions and is calmed by the parent. For the two types of insecurity there is an avoidant style of managing stress and an enmeshing parent. The former promotes internalization of worries by missing the signals, or is absent. The latter is the type to smother the child so they learn to do little by themselves: The creation of an insecure conservative and an insecure liberal. The secure child-adult doesn't need the fame or the power of politics, so they are not attracted to the fray.Interesting, isn't it? If true, it leads to a world of questions. Does this mean how we vote is a reflection of our mother's care for us the first year of our lives? How does that translate to other conservative or liberal topics? Maybe we shouldn't bother to vote but just be tested with a sudden noise and a threatening image.
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for more than 25 years and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.