Are Right-Wingers a Different Species?

No More Mister Nice Guy Blog asks the question, “Are right-wingers even the same species as the rest of us?

He asked the question in response to right-wing reaction to a story New York representative Louise Slaughter told during the Health Care summit.

I even have one constituent — you will not believe this, and I know you won’t, but it’s true — her sister died. This poor woman had no dentures. She wore her dead sister’s teeth, which of course were uncomfortable and did not fit.

Do you ever believe that in America that that’s where we would be?

How did the right-wing respond? Fox News and Michelle Malkin thought the story was pretty funny. Rush Limbaugh called it the sob story of the day.

I mean for example, well what’s wrong with using a dead person’s teeth? Aren’t the Democrats big into recycling? Save the planet? And so what? So if you don’t have any teeth, so what? What’s applesauce for? Isn’t that why they make applesauce?

Obviously, right-wingers are not a separate species, but…  This got me thinking about what the latest research has to say about differences between individuals on the left and right of the political spectrum. There is some recent evidence that political orientation is related to how the brain functions.

Exploring the neurobiology of politics, scientists have found that liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work.

In a simple experiment reported today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists at New York University and UCLA show that political orientation is related to differences in how the brain processes information.

There also appears to be differences when it comes to morality.

One of the main divides between left and right is the dependence on different moral values. For liberals, morality derives mostly from fairness and prevention of harm. For conservatives, morality also involves upholding authority and loyalty — and revulsion at disgust.

Studies have shown that Liberals are more inclined to break away from habitual responses, to think creatively and to be open to new experiences.

A study of American Christians found that, when it comes to religion, political conservatives operate out of a fear of chaos and absence of order while political liberals operate out of a fear of emptiness,  According to Dan McAdams, co-author of the study,

Political conservatives envision a world without God in which baser human impulses go unchecked, social institutions (marriage, government, family) fall apart and chaos ensues. Liberals, on the other hand, envision a world without God as barren, lifeless, devoid of color and reasons to live.

Liberals see their faith as something that fills them up and, without it, they conjure up metaphors of emptiness, depletion and scarcity. While conservatives worry about societal collapse, liberals worry about a world without deep feelings and intense experiences.

Two studies conducted recently at Cornell show that Conservatives are apt to make moral/political judgments based upon personal feelings of disgust rather than on whether an action might cause actual harm. This helps explain the seemingly intractable differences surrounding issues like abortion and gay marriage.

Liberals and conservatives disagree about whether disgust has a valid place in making moral judgments. Conservatives have argued that there is inherent wisdom in repugnance; that feeling disgusted about something — gay sex between consenting adults, for example — is cause enough to judge it wrong or immoral, even lacking a concrete reason. Liberals tend to disagree, and are more likely to base judgments on whether an action or a thing causes actual harm.

Social psychologists like John Mayer (who coined the term “emotional intelligence”) have tried to categorize the personality types “liberal” and “conservative”.

• View social inequities and preferred groups as unjust and requiring reform.
• Prefer atheists, tattoos, foreign films and poetry.
• Endorse gay unions, welfare, universal health care, feminism and environmentalism.
• Exhibit creativity, which entails the capacity to see solutions to problems, and empathy toward others.
• Tolerate complexity and ambiguity.
• Are influenced by their work as judges, social workers, professors and other careers for which an appreciation of opposing points of view is required.

• Willing to defend current social inequities and preferred groups as justifiable or necessary.
• Prefer prayer, religious people and SUVs.
• Endorse the U.S. government, the military, the state they live in, big corporations and most Americans.
• Are more likely to be a first-born, who identify more with their parents, predisposing them to a greater investment in authority and a preference for conservatism.
• Have a fear of death, reflecting an enhanced need for security.
• Are conscientious – the ability to exert personal self-control to the effect of meeting one’s own and others’ demands, and maintaining personal coherence.
• Need simplicity, clarity and certainty.

Is there a positive correlation between intelligence and liberalism, atheism and monogamy?

The latest scientist to weigh in on this issue is Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her study found that more intelligent people are statistically significantly more likely to exhibit social values and religious and political preferences that are novel to the human species in evolutionary history.  Specifically, liberalism and atheism, and for men (but not women), preference for sexual exclusivity correlate with higher intelligence.

Based on his findings, he proposes the theory of “evolutionary novel” preferences.

Apparently, more intelligent people adopt evolutionarily novel preferences and values, but intelligence does not correlate with preferences and values that are old enough to have been shaped by evolution over millions of years.”

Kanazawa explains that “Evolutionarily novel” preferences and values are those that humans are not biologically designed to have and our ancestors probably did not possess, while those that our ancestors had for millions of years are “evolutionarily familiar.”

Kanazawa said: “General intelligence, the ability to think and reason, endowed our ancestors with advantages in solving evolutionarily novel problems for which they did not have innate solutions.

“As a result, more intelligent people are more likely to recognize and understand such novel entities and situations than less intelligent people, and some of these entities and situations are preferences, values, and lifestyles.”

The study argues that humans are evolutionarily designed to be conservative, caring mostly about their family and friends.

Hence, being liberal, caring about an indefinite number of genetically unrelated strangers they never meet or interact with, is evolutionarily novel.

Kanazawa further briefed that religion is a byproduct of humans’ tendency to perceive agency and intention as causes of events, to see “the hands of God” at work behind otherwise natural phenomena.

Kanazawa said: “Humans are evolutionarily designed to be paranoid, and they believe in God because they are paranoid

“So, more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to go against their natural evolutionary tendency to believe in God, and they become atheists.”

If Kanazawa’s theory is correct, right wingers are not another species, they are just not as evolved as the more intelligent liberal, atheist and monogamist (this last applies to men only) among us.

As intriguing as they may be,  I am afraid that I don’t find these biological, neurological, evolutionary explanations ultimately convincing.  I tend to come down on the nurture side of the nurture/nature debate. Against the evidence of science and my own experience, I hold on to the hope the right-wingers can be educated.  If they are really evolutionarily stunted “lizard-brains“, hardwired to act as they do, it is too depressing to contemplate. So much for bi-partisanship.



  1. The above is false, and can be revealed by a common observation – younger people are typically much more liberal and idealistic than their parents. It just so happens that the young know very little about how the world works. Maturity tends to come with increasing age. Does anyone seriously think that eighteen year olds are wiser than twenty-five year olds? Or that thirty year olds are more ethically inclined than fifty somethings? If this is the case, then all we need to is pose all our long-standing philosphical disputes to a bunch of twelve year olds who will of course pronounce wisely on the matter. Why is the article not written by someone in kindergarten?
    There is much to say on this piece; I can only hint at the many deep absurdities contained in it. The remark that more intelligent children will reject God and become atheists is of course true, or rather was often true a hundred years ago. Yet, the modern underclass brute does not believe in God because he has considered it for himself – it is because it is not part of the underclass culture. It takes a certain amount of reading to call oneself an atheist. And hard-faced atheists (I once was one) rarely reflect on the ambiguity of the enlightenment – that man without religious belief will believe almost anything – in England for example I am surrounded by those who still believe that the welfare state is a good thing, almost two hundred years after Alexis De Tocqueville established beyond reasonable doubt that this is not so (make your own parallels with Darwin and religion). Those who still quite literally believe in God are arguably of the same cast of mind as those who cling to welfarism. So it is not true that those on the right are irrational per se. Tocqueville was only twenty eight when he wrote Memoir On Pauperism; and, characteristic for someone yet to reach middle age, expresses his surprise at discovering that there are more paupers in England compared to European nations without state charity. Tocqueville was an empiricist however, who reproduced the self-defeating tendency of the Poor Laws scrupulously. I came to the same conclusions as he did by observing, as faithfully as I could, the impact of state charity among the English underclass. I noted my findings and then only later read what Malthus, Tocqueville, Murray, and Dalrymple had committed to print. That all four authors synchronised almost perfectly with each other, and chimed with what I had discovered independently made me feel confident that I was on the right track. This is neither left nor right surely? It is merely taking an empicirical approach to matters. For the last fifteen years I have set down a challenge to dozens of people, and I am yet to receive an even minimally adequate response: to refute Tocqueville’s moral hazard. It seems this cannot be done. Yet the supposedly more intelligent among us – the left, would be expected to answer most convincingly, and enlighten the rightist dullards. The uncomfortable fact that the left do not seem to have a corresponding rebuttal for Malthus et al is very revealing indeed. Who is kidding who?

  2. The real problem with the “evolutionary novel” notion, at least as applied here, is that evolution is a slow, probably mostly imperceptible process, whereas cultural, political and religious attitudes can shift in single generations and can be attributed to factors and newly opened possibilities that have little to do with the species actually evolving (but which, granted, may eventually contribute to an evolutionary step) and generally have more to do with technology and mobility and other such factors. I guess one could call this a kind of evolution, but it certainly isn’t the same thing that the quoted article seems to mean when it talks about evolution.

    What I found most laughable was this:

    “The study argues that humans are evolutionarily designed to be conservative, caring mostly about their family and friends.

    “Hence, being liberal, caring about an indefinite number of genetically unrelated strangers they never meet or interact with, is evolutionarily novel.”

    It’s laughable because it’s just another one of the countless instances where people of our times love to congratulate themselves for being so much more advanced and caring than people of earlier ages. I’m sorry, but I don’t know any liberals who don’t care mostly about their family or friends, even if their care is not limited to those parameters. Liberals in general (and I am one, to a large extent) show little indication of being much less bourgeois than the rest of the population, and in many cases they give every indication of being more bourgeois, persnickety and snotty than the monster-truck loving, carnivorous, Lee Greenwood-loving redneck who will pull over to help you when you’re car’s broke down on the side of the road and make pleasant, guileless small talk with you as he gives you a ride into town.

    I’m straying from my point, though. What I meant to say was that many cultures with ancient wisdom traditions have been advising care “about an indefinite number of genetically unrelated strangers they never meet or interact with” for thousands of years. On the flip side, tribalism is alive and well even in the most advanced and enlightened supposedly post-tribal nation-states.

    Liberals may read studies like this and feel smug about their status as being at the vanguard of evolution, but even if this does turn out to be truly a matter of evolutionary steps rather than simply cultural and sociological reactions (time will tell), the vanguard would still be virtually neck-and-neck with the slowpokes in the grand scheme of things.

    This kind of stuff is like the person with an IQ of 61 being so proud that he’s so much more advanced than the wretched doofus next to him with an IQ of 60.

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