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On brains and politics

Dear Editor:I know a family that had three boys. The oldest was a police officer, the middle son is Pentecostal minister, and the youngest had serious problems and was incarcerated. They were only partly Irish and not Catholic, so the one son was not the classic priest. My point is, that even with the basically the same upbringing, the three brothers took very different approaches to life.I contend that those behavioral differences were rooted in their individual genes. The choices they made, that we all make, are very much determined by how we think, and therefore by how our brains work.Recent brain research seems to give some credence to this theory. The researches used scanners to see what areas of the brain unconsciously responded to different stimuli. The main focus was to make more effective use of advertising to consumers. (Isn’t that a happy thought?) As a sideline, they tried some political information. They divided the group into people more liberal or more conservative. Liberals tended to respond approvingly to pictures of leaders such as John Kerry and not to conservatives such as George Bush. But, surprisingly, conservatives tended to respond positively to any well-known leader. There were other tests that proved there were real differences in mental responses to information.I think this research starts to point to why we have the age-old problem, throughout the human race, of an inability to discuss politics in a rational way. I think that people are simply predisposed to see political issues in certain ways, based on their genetic makeup. As I read the letters in the daily papers, or hear people in the call-in shows, I am constantly struck by how different the responses are, even to the same set of facts. The reason must be that people have inherently different “filters” operating in their brains. No doubt “nurture” plays a big part here, but only because “nature” has already provided the mechanisms. I have four conclusions: First, we will need to be more aware of the already enormous efforts to persuade us on political and other matters. Second, we will never achieve a truly harmonious society of humans until we really understand these genetic proclivities. Third, as we move forward with genetic engineering, this will be a hell of a battle. Fourth, don’t be too hard on the right-wingers, they can’t help themselves.Patrick HunterCarbondale


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