June 24, 2004


In my attempts to understand the way people think, I started wondering about the nature/nurture split. It started with thoughts about another topic entirely, for much has been said about the biological vs. envioronmental influences in relation to homosexuality. I then started to wonder about how nature/nurture applies to politics.

We've all met siblings who have vastly different political leanings, despite being raised in the same household and having relatively similar life experiences. Even siblings who are still young -- those who haven't gone off on their own to encounter the world -- can have wildly different worldviews. One sibling works for the military and the other writes a dissertation on the virtues of Mandela and Khadaffi. How can this be?

Bunker's post was food for thought, which led me to The Motivations of Political Leftists and then to Why Are People Leftists?; these took me two days to read and digest. I then found a paragraph that echoed my questions: Leftists Are Born That Way, which is filled with interesting links that lead only to abstracts. I ended up with more questions than I have answers.

I know of people who were Leftists but abandoned their worldview; many of them were prompted by 9-11 to reevaluate their beliefs. But for many of us on both sides of the spectrum, 9-11 only confirmed what we already thought we knew, though it taught us monumentally different lessons. I personally have leaned Right for as long as I can remember, and I simply hid my more right-of-center views from my college friends. My worldview started to really solidify even before I cared at all about politics; it was fueled by the anti-Americanism I experienced in France and at the riots in Goteborg, and by an epiphany at a lecture by Dinesh D'Souza, among other things. Only later did I get into blogging and current events...and the military.

But where did it originate? Other people endured the hate and garbage in France, yet it didn't have the effect on them that it did on me. I must've already had the seeds of right-leaning ideas before I hit this point. But where did they come from?

I'd say both of my parents are fairly conservative, though we never talked about politics when I was growing up. I can't remember ever having a conversation about voting or foreign policy or anything of the sort. Did they somehow influence me in a subconscious way? Or was I born right of center and just viewed everything through that lens?

We talk about knee-jerk reactions, but isn't that just following your gut? The first blog I ever saw was U.S.S. Clueless and I immediately felt at home. Even before I had studied anything concrete about how the world works, I simply nodded my head in agreement and felt deep in my instincts that what Den Beste writes is true. No one had to teach me that; in fact, much of what we encounter in higher education these days should have persuaded me just the opposite. How was I not convinced?

I sure don't have the answers to these questions. I have always leaned a bit right of center; what about you? Do you think you were nurtured into your views or have you always felt this way? Did you have an epiphany or a gradually developing worldview?

Posted by Sarah at June 24, 2004 01:10 PM

Hi Sarah,

Nice post! Here is my story -

Personally, I was raised a Democrat, and always voted straight Democratic ticket (except once or twice I voted for Scott Klug). Then came the world view blender commonly referred to as 9/11. I can't say that my world view changed instantly, because it didn't. However, it did cause me to start looking for information on the war, and the Internet was available. I mostly stayed with the major media (didn't know of blogs, - they were still pretty much unknown at the time). For a long time I was aware that the media doesn't portray the world clearly, but was able to get enough perspective from enough different sources to be able to develop at least some sense of what was really happening (preceding the battle of Afghanistan). Then I started noticing (around the end of the battle of Afghanistan) that I would see the same exact article posted at all the major media, and noticed that they were just reprints of AP articles, and finally found out about blogs (I think maybe from Austin Bay and/or Strategy Page). Which led me to Instapundit and from there was led to Eject! Eject! Eject!, (Courage) and U.S.S. Clueless. and like you felt like I had hit the mother lode of wisdom. These peoples ideas just resonated within me and made an extreme amount of sense to me. I'm not sure now if I will ever vote straight Democratic again.

Posted by: Ron - WI at June 24, 2004 02:52 PM

Ahh... the classic nature vs. nurture, a mainstay of psychological debate. I'll speak for myself: up until a few months ago, I avoided politics. "There are so many different sides, each with their own slant," I would think to myself, "that how can I possibly learn actual facts?" I finally took to heart the thought that politics will affect what I do in my career. From there, it was a slippery slope right down to the realization that politics affects darn near everything. So here I am at your blog and various other places, trying to gain some sort of insight. The rest of my family was never very politically inclined, for reasons I actually haven't asked about yet (I should). The war in Iraq, however, has recently caused my father to gain an interest in politics.

From Bunker:

If any of you are leftists (not to be confused with sincere liberals) . . .

It's this sorta thing that makes me go... wha-huh? I will come out and give words similar to what rfidtag expressed on Bunker's post: this business of Left/Right/Liberal/Conservative/etc. pidgeonholing ultimately counteracts rational discussion. When people organize themselves and band together under these labels and then attempt to talk about issues, it seems that the natural tendency is for folks to defend their groups. "After all," someone might hypothetically say, "you're Left and I'm Right, so we don't agree by default, or else we'd be in the same group!" This is simplistic and undermines the truth that opinions are malleable just like the world is malleable; we are not discrete little blocks in stacks. No, I don't expect these labels to go away; we are human, and humans naturally want to have information compartmentalized in their brains for convenient storage and retrieval. From this viewpoint, however, political labels are like stereotypes. They may derive from some form of truth, but they are incomplete. Even worse, those who feel loyalty to their label are more likely to dismiss opinions that don't fit their own "party line."

If one were to ask me whether I'm Left, Right or Center, I wouldn't be able to answer. I'm new to this, and I'm going about the process of determining what those labels mean. At the very least, I should learn about the labels to figure out what is implied when they are used as insults... and they are used as convenient one-word insults by many people very often. Yet, even after I familiarize myself with the terms, I don't think I would use such words to describe my thoughts as a "package." At the least, I'd strive to avoid it. The only road to really figuring someone out is the long road: discussing a wide variety of issues in a non-threatening way. I feel that I would fall in unexpected places on a number of issues that come up in today's political world. After a long talk with me, some person might try to say that I'm (for entirely random garbage example) "two smidgens to the left of mid-Right" or perhaps a "slightly conservative Anarcho-Neo-Libertarian." But geez, why bother with such nonsense? And then they'd expect me to act the part, and their eyebrows would raise up the next time I gave an "unexpected" opinion. Sometimes, simplify does not mean what it seems.

Posted by: cjstevens at June 24, 2004 03:26 PM

I think the answer to your questions has less to do with nature vs. nurture and more to do with the way people react to new information. To latch on to your 9/11 example, very few people will take new information as it comes in and actually think about it and adjust their world view to accomodate it. Most, unfortunately, will try very hard to adjust the new information to fit their worldview instead. Why? Because its usually much easier to do. 9/11 is the perfect example of this because that's exactly what happened. The leftists in America point to it as proof that we've been to heavy-handed with the world, the rightists use it to justify being more agressive, and the Arabs just lump it right in with their preexisting world view and claim the CIA was behind it just like they're behind everything else.

It's very sad, but unfortunately this is the way 99% of the human race thinks.

Posted by: Russell Newquist at June 24, 2004 06:12 PM

cj, as far as labels go, I'm right there with you on that. In fact, the classic term "liberal" better fits those we now call "conservative", and vice versa.

Most of us don't fit either one well, which is why I use Left/Right to describe those on the edges. The rest of us are tweeners, trying to sort through the blather and make rational judgements. My world view is built from experiences in many different places, and interactions with many different people. I can't say whether I'm left or right, but people tell me I'm **RIGHT** and then are amazed when I say something that doesn't fit their perspective of how I should think on a given topic.

Groups require you to think as they do, or you are somehow less than you should be. An example is the pro-life/pro-choice battle. The options they offer is all or nothing on both sides. A radical can be of any stripe. I want to be a radical in the view of both left and right.

Posted by: Mike at June 24, 2004 06:45 PM

I was always interested in politics. I grew up during the Reagan years and was upset that my dad voted for him. Sadly, minorities, such as Hispanics are taught in the community that it is the democrats that are on your side. In my twenties, I vowed never to vote republican. I considered them white men. I was upset that our Founding Fathers were white men. Though I believed that the government should solve all our problems, I could never fully support the notion of pro-choice. I considered myself a feminist, but I couldn't cross that line. Perhaps, it was my Catholic faith that prevented that acceptance.

Anyway, I didn't vote for President Bush. I have never voted Republican. What changed it for me was that I started to pay attention, especially after September 11. What shocked me was the moral equivalency liberals began to spew, that America deseved it. As a writer, I started to blatantly see the manipulation of words and meanings by leftist liberals who now control the democratic party. Their misinformation about facts puts this country and puts the future of my family at risk. And that I will not stand for. It was because of them that I left the democratic party. As my family could attest, only I could become a republican, because I was to stauchly against them as a party. So for all those liberals out there, young and idealistic to believe if America was gone all would be well, I say, there is still hope for you to wake up and join the fight to preserve the only way of life you've ever known.

Posted by: Moor at June 24, 2004 10:09 PM

Where to begin? Well to start I am a registered INDEPENDENT in the state of NJ. Unlike Bill O'Rielley, (I should call him "O'Lielley", like Franken does, but that would be "shrill"), anyway My world view is not and never has been static. I try to gather as much information there is, then read a little of what both the liberals and conservatives have to say. After reading some opinions I begin to form my own, some times I agree with a liberal opinion. I sometimes agree with a conservative opinion. There are even times when on a particular topic (property taxes for instance) I have agreements with both liberals and conservatives. I think that to maintain a static world view is suffocating. As I learn new things my view will change sometimes subtly, occasionaly radicly. For the longest time after I became a civilian again, I was rather an isolationist, Reagan's paling around with assorted central american thugs, and Pinochet helped me reach that conclusion. Somalia, and Mogadishu convinced me I was right, but then we went ahead into Kosovo, and Bosnia and we actually managed to do something good. 9-11 returned me to the view that we need to be "leaders" in this world. I never have been a pacifist, and I think that radical wahabbism needs to be confronted, I just do not agree with the current method, but that is what makes this nation so great we can disagree, but in the end we usually do reach some middle ground and do what needs to be done.

Posted by: Bubba Bo Bob Brain at June 25, 2004 03:30 AM

What changed it for me was that I started to pay attention, especially after September 11. What shocked me was the moral equivalency liberals began to spew, that America deseved it.

Well, it's interesting to hear Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell described as 'liberals'....didn't they also 'spew moral equivalency', as you so eloquently put it? Or is it only moral equivalency if democrats do it? How about Rush Limbaugh's comparison of Abu Ghraib to 'a praternity prank', 'a Britney Spears concert', 'blowing of steam'? Has that prompted you to leave the Republican party? Or do you agree with their moral relativism in this case?

Posted by: Coriolanus at June 25, 2004 05:28 PM

I got a little long winded, so my comments are here... Paraducks

The short answer is I think there's a little of left and right in all of us.

Posted by: ken anthony at June 26, 2004 01:59 AM