In my technology newsletters I recently encountered some buzz about clinical evidence differentiating the brainbones of liberals and conservatives – in short, you may be one or the other because that’s the way you’re wired up. There has been a flurry of articles posted on the original research done on this thesis at the University College London – here is an example report, ‘Liberal vs. Conservative: Does the Difference Lie in the Brain?'
Please note that the research is early stage, the sample size is small, and what characteristic attributes it identifies in the opposing ideologues is a reach. For example, “liberals tend to be better at managing conflicting information, while conservatives are thought to be better at recognizing threats, …”. This has been enthusiastically translated by some light thinking progressives to mean that ‘liberals can better handle uncertainty, and conservatives are driven by fear’. Sweet.
On the other hand it is the conservative who promotes social environments that are the most unfettered, exposing individuals to all manner of risk. It is the rightwinger who wants the freedom to be an entrepreneur, to throw his savings into a new start-up come what may. All such ideologues ask for is an ample measure of individual freedom, and a small government that mostly stays out of the way and out of people’s lives. These folks thrive on the possibilities that uncertainty provides, they are the true creators and demand few guarantees from life.
Now I’m not denying that our brains may be differently wired. In fact, in these pages I have outlined such radical differences in worldviews between the conservative and collectivist, that a physiological basis may be the simplest explanation for them (recall Occam and all that). The perverse interpretation outlined above plays right into and illustrates such a possibility.
In the end, we should not leave this little expose by accusing the scientists involved in the research of any premature conclusions. The principal investigator, Dr Ryota Kanai, “qualifies the findings of his own study, acknowledging that political orientation is complex, and can fall into more than just two categories. In addition, the study doesn't answer whether brain structure influences political preferences or vice versa: it's possible that the shape of the brain changes over time with a person's experiences — and with his or her changing political views.”