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Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Voting with your genes

Politics

Maybe you thought people turned out to vote because they were passionate about a candidate.  Or made rational decisions to vote regularly because their civics teachers convinced them that's what good citizens do. Or their parents trained them to vote.

Turns out your parents have something to do with it, but not because of the way they reared you.

Voting and other political participation is in your genes, it seems. A study by James Fowler and Christopher Dawes to be published in the July issue of the Journal of Politics (and already discussed in the New York Times May 27)  even found the two genes that seem to account for voting behavior. And those genes do the job because they have to do with sociability and handling stress. The MAOA gene influences voting activity directly, while the 5HTT gene needs some other social activity (attending church) to make it kick into gear.

If you've got the right versions of the voting genes, you don't get so nervous when people start to bash about in the political arena, even if they are saying rude and hurtful and stupid things. In fact, you may think it's fun. Fowler and Dawes didn't say that, but it sort of follows logically from what they did say.

Bottom line is the sociability factor. When you've got the genes for having the "prosocial" neurochemical process thing going on, you're more likely to "identify as partisans" and form attachments to groups. I'm thinking it has to do with being a fan of any sort. This year church attendance: next year, the researchers might look at season ticket holding.

Both genes have something to do with serotonin absorption. The efficient metabolizer gene variants apparently are like having your own little Prozac manufacturer right in your own little brain.

The church thing is a little fuzzy to me. But the authors seem to say if you've got the right form of the genes and you actively attend church, you're likely to be influenced by political information received there. The religious right seems to have figured that out long ago.

The Times says "If certain genes make us more receptive to political messages, or more or less likely to vote, then we know the next step society must take: Keep the drugs that target the specific genes out of the hands of political consultants."

But in the meantime, if you're running for political office, attend church, hang out with sociable people, go to soccer games, and attach yourself to people who aren't afraid to get a little nasty when it comes to political talk. That's where the voters are.

And were, in Tosa, a few months ago.

Discussion ring now open. Spirited--but not mean-spirted--discussion welcome! 

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