I recently read a story in the Guardian that reported in all seriousness that scientists have discovered a liberal gene. This would mean that certain people are hard-wired to hold certain beliefs because of a propensity encoded in their DNA. It would mean they have innate liberal values because of a gene . . . a gene, presumably, that disappears when they are offered power.
Could there be a more illiberal view than the notion that political opinions are in the blood? In reality, the left can safely stand by our traditional, rational view that environment is usually the determining factor in how we turn out and what we believe. Science is not revealing that human behaviour is governed by genes; people are just choosing to interpret science that way. In reality, whatever we do inherit is subject to environmental influence immediately.
True, there are all those stories about twins separated at birth, but the ones who are completely dissimilar don’t get much press, just as no one ever answers the phone and says, ‘That’s weird, I wasn’t thinking about you just now.’ The behaviour of the people around us has a huge influence on us even before we are born. Little about the human personality can be identified as innate because it’s impossible to have a personality immune from human contact – unless that’s what causes estate agents.
My point is that what happens to us as we grow up, and the circumstances in which we grow up, are the things that shape our outlook. That is why we oppose faith schools and the religious indoctrination of children. Children will believe anything, and it’s not fair to exploit that. Let the god who made them make them with innate belief, and let their educational environment be secular.
Jeremy Hardy is a comedian and writer who regularly appears on BBC Radio 4's The News Quiz and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.