Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Biology and Liberalism

That's the title of this Kevin Drum post. Here is the main point:
I've never been either a hardcore blank slater or a hardcore biological determinist, but there's no question that I have a pretty healthy belief in the power of genes and biology. As Karl says, this belief tends to be associated with conservatives more than liberals, but that's really very odd. After all, it's pretty easy to fool ourselves into dismissing the benefits of being raised in a rich, stable culture and assuming that everything we've accomplished has actually been the result of hard work and personal rectitude. But what if you believe, say, that (a) IQ has a strong biological component and (b) high IQ is really important for getting ahead in the world? If you believe this and also happen to be blessed with a high IQ, how can you possibly convince yourself that this is anything other than the blind luck of the genetic lottery?
That sounds right to me. And when you accept that, then this should probably follow:

If genetic luck plays a big role in making us who we are, then support for income redistribution from the rich to the poor is almost a logical necessity for anyone with a moral sense more highly developed than a five-year-old's.
Again, that sounds right. That's the conclusion I come to when engaging in John Rawls' "veil of ignorance" thought experiment. Taking myself as an example; I was given a lot of genetic advantages (as I pointed out in my Lady Gaga post). But I don't see a reason why I, instead of being given what I have, couldn't have been born into a poor family in a third world country or even a poor family 30 minutes away in downtown Memphis. If I had been given one of those two situations over the one I got I very likely wouldn't be sitting here typing this post. The same goes for people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. That's a big reason why I'm a liberal.

I posted this because I think Drum is right about how if you accept what the evidence in biology suggests you should probably lean towards embracing liberal policies regarding the poor. But I'm not sure I agree with his belief that accepting biological determinism is seen more on the conservative side than the liberal side in the US.

Perhaps its because there are a lot of Ayn Rand fans on the right. That is the only way I think a conservative can buy into biological determinism and still be a staunch conservative. I guess theoretically you could just believe more strongly in distrusting the gov't. But if you can live with just sitting by and letting poverty persist just because you don't completely trust the gov't then I'm not sure what to tell you.

Drum is probably right that the average liberal wouldn't articulate their political ideology in the Rawlsian manner that I might. But I'm not aware of many liberals that don't fully support income distribution and nearly every other policy aimed at helping the poor. They may not justify their position based on biological determinism. But they hold the position. And for those liberals who do believe in biological determinism I'm not sure why they wouldn't fully embrace it as I have using the arguments Drum and myself have made here.

Maybe I'm just missing something. Or I consume too much elite commentary and aren't familiar enough with the opinions of average liberals. I'd be glad to hear from someone who has an idea.

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