Political Gene-ius

3

I often think it’s comical
How Nature always does contrive 
That every boy and every gal,
That’s born into the world alive,
Is either a little Liberal,
Or else a little Conservative!
(WS Gilbert “Iolanthe”)

When I, aged 30, first met my Father we didn’t discuss cricket, and I have no idea whether he was a fan or not. But then I had no idea he was a Shakespeare fan until I learned he had somehow carried a volume of the Collected Works in his army kitbag all through the Middle East and New Guinea in World War 2, so perhaps he did love cricket.

My grandfather (yes, the one in the photo top right) certainly did play, and love, cricket, and was, apparently, a very handy fast bowler, even up to being in his Forties. I once proudly owned, and wore, his cricket cap from when he played in the County Durham competition, 100 years ago, but lost it in circumstances which remain painful.

He died not long after I turned seven. Before I was old enough to seriously appreciate cricket, and long before television, let alone direct tv broadcasts of Test Matches, came to Perth. Cricket could be followed, from England, on the radio in the early 1950s, and that was that. One of my many regrets about his early death was never being able to watch cricket with him. Both of us would have relished the experience.

But with no direct transmission from either father or grandfather, how did I get my love of cricket?

What used to be called the “lower vertebrates”, fish, amphibians, reptiles, generally speaking, fertilise eggs, lay them somewhere appropriate, and then piss off. Consequently the young, when born, are equipped to completely fend for themselves. All of their behaviour patterns are encoded in their DNA, and on hatching they simply seek shelter, food, and eventually mates in ways that were innate, not learned. [It's worth noting though that some species in all these groups have separately evolved live births, and others, after laying eggs, guard them until hatching, and then guard the young for a while. In such species it is possible the young do learn some behaviour associated with, say, feeding, from the male or female parent].

The “higher vertebrates”, birds and mammals, show considerable variation. All the birds (and three of the mammals) lay eggs of course. But there are some, the cuckoo species, that dump their eggs into the nests of other species to raise. There are some, all ground living types (emus, chickens, ducks etc), who have “precocial” young, with down cover, born ready to move off with their mother. Most others have young born naked and totally helpless, needing total care in nest from parents until their feathers develop and they can fly (and even then care continues). They therefore have a mixture of innate behaviours and learned (or at least modified) behaviours

Mammals also vary. Some, notably the herd/flock species, are up and moving within a few hours of birth and following the mother in the rest of the mob. Others are born completely helpless, and remain so for long periods, weeks, months, even years. The ones who develop quickly have less chance (and need) to learn from parents (though they will learn a great deal), those (notably the apes, including us, learn a great deal from the parents and have fewer purely innate components (though far more than we realise).

Well, in brief, we are into the nitty gritty of the “nature-nurture” debate – what part of a species, say Homo sapiens sapiens, behaviours are genetic, inherited, what part are learnt? Not simple, as the evolutionary history above shows. Certainly there are fundamental things – eating, drinking, danger, comfort, athleticism – that are strongly genetically based. Then there are superficial things – religion, taste in music and art, social unit structures, political beliefs, and, yes, sport preferences – that are strongly based on the context in which you are raised.

But, on the one hand the genetic ones are modified by upbringing (eg particular food preferences, response to dangers, how fit you are), and on the other, even some of the superficial socio-culturally-based ones have some genetic basis it has been found. Studies of twins raised separately for example show some tendency for them to be similar in their strength of religious belief (though the form strictly related to household raised in). Musical abilities are well-known to often “run in families”. And more recently (for example) studies show tendency towards respectively right and left-wing political beliefs have some genetic component (though again, the particular form this might take being related to up-bringing). Wonder if the otherwise inexplicable gun love in the US is part of this inheritance?

Interestingly, though not surprisingly perhaps, both the religious and political tendencies are related to serotonin production and the brain’s response, and since music also causes serotonin reactions, it may well be that is also related to the abilities of, say, the sons of JS Bach.

Anyway, all of that may help to explain (though of course there would be many other factors), why a religious believer might suddenly appear from an atheist household, or a fervent Young Republican from a Democratic one, or a genius musician from a non-musical family. May also explain why musical ability is rare, why the irrational belief in religion persists to damage societies, and why roughly half of the voters in most countries keep voting for conservative parties that will damage their interests.

Oh, and it might just explain why I am watching a cricket match on tv while I write this! There being more things in heaven an earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy, or made a fault in our stars.

3 comments on “Political Gene-ius

  1. Eric Snyder says:

    Welcome back David!!

    “why a religious believer might suddenly appear from an atheist household” Maybe they gave “design” serious thought rather than an effect of seratonin.

    “why the irrational belief in religion persists to damage societies” Of course, “irrational belief” in anything tends to damage society. Rational understanding, however, tends to benefit individuals and society.

    “conservative parties that will damage their interests” I can’t speak for other countries (and don’t intend to) but in the US, more conservative policies produced better education, better health care, and more opportunity for all people; hardly damaging individual’s interests.

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  2. Buff McMenis says:

    Many years ago I met a young man who I quite liked. So I went out with him and he said to me “If you want to see me on Saturday you will have to come to the cricket. I paly cricket on Saturdays”. Cricket? Moi??? And so I said yes. Well, I went .. I read a bit of my book, had a sleep, read a bit more, yawned .. a lot! So he said to me “Why don’t you score? Give you something to do.” OK, so I did .. and many many years later I’m still a damned great scorer with colour-coded abttin/bowling, every ball noted as to what it was, who faced it and who bowled it, catches taken, extras noted, etc. I LOVE it! I’ve actually scored International for the WA Cricket Union as well as my kids teams, my husband’s teams, Inter-Association teams, in fact .. higher levels than my husband has actually played, which I have pleasure in reminding him of now and then! :-) But we are both Left wingers although he tends more Green these days as he is dismayed with the centralisation of Labor. As am I but I won’t give up on Labor just yet! By the way, my parents and their friends were staunch Liberals .. I used to be referred to as “Their little Pinko”.

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  3. Colin Samundsett says:

    Oh, the mysteries – so multifierous
    That I know not what I’m at.
    Complexities so numerous
    From a humble cricket to a bat.
    If my thoughts could be but simple
    I would then perhaps refrain:
    Oh to be an Antechinus,
    What a way to go -
    For those with no frustrations -
    If your guess what I do mean.
    Guess that’s enough to bowl me from the scene.

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