Evolutionary Politics: the left-right spectrum

The left-right divide in politics doesn’t completely reflect the whole range of human ideology. One dimension is simply not enough and that is the reason why the positions on this spectrum have never been completely stable and shifting. However, people’s position on the spectrum is somewhat predictive regarding their votes, attitudes and behaviours.

What’s more, political views are often tightly connected to people’s personalities. Here are the respective tendencies:

I have argued before that conscientiousness (including higher self-control and forward planning abilities) is a trait that arose with early farming, whereas openness (flexibility in a changing environment) and neuroticism (cautiousness) can be associated with hunter-gatherer types. From a genetic-evolutionary point of view, conservatism can be associated with farmer types and liberalism with hunter-gatherer types.

Hunter-gatherers were egalitarian whereas early farmers started to establish hierarchies. Cooperation and obedience were highly important to them. Farmers also relied much more on tradition due to the routine nature and cyclicity of their work.

This description from Wikipedia fits the two profiles quite well.

As more people are conservatives than liberals, we can assume that more people have inherited farmer traits than hunter-gatherer traits, or put in other words, farmers have been more successful in reproducing than hunter-gatherers.

Of course, this is an oversimplified view. We can also expect mixed types, e.g. people high in both openness and conscientiousness tend to be conservatives more often than liberals. Moreover, there are many other factors, such as environment and gender.

Agreeableness, for example, seems to destroy this neat pattern. However, trait agreeableness is not connected to our ancestral mode of subsistence, but to the caregiving (female) personality profile rather than the provisioning (male) profile. It is therefore not surprising that high in agreeableness tends to yield an economically liberal (helping poor people) but socially conservative (maintaining social order and tradition) result. After all, the majority of people tend to have a farmer profile. On the flip side, a lot of hunter-gatherer males might actually be on the right side of the spectrum despite disliking hierarchy and tradition (being socially liberal), as they prefer meritocracy over a welfare state.

A further complication of the simple liberal/conservative picture is that there is a third personality group due to traits evolved to adoption to a substance economy: pastoralists.

Pastoralists can actually be found anywhere on the spectrum, as they tend to dislike fixed social structures, they might be highly prosocial (more restricted to their own group, though), but they are also more conservative regarding gender roles, hierarchy, refugees and race.

It should be possible to predict the outcome of elections depending on the proportion of each group within a population. In the future, this might even be possible on the basis of polygenic scores.

The American Declaration of Independence is a cornerstone of modern human rights. It was signed mostly by hunter-gatherer minds. America has become much more “formalized” in recent decades. Building walls in order to keep people out is a farmer mentality.

Originally published at http://the-big-ger-picture.blogspot.com on March 17, 2020.