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Jeremy Hardy thinks… about genes

Are our political opinions in the blood?
November 2010

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 HardyJeremy 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.

Dan 11 January 2011, 20.09

On this topic, nobody (including JH) ever gets beyond the point where if you don’t believe in a god it’s clearly stupid to educate children to do so, and where if you *do* then it doesn’t make much sense to let such an apparently supreme fact be anything but supreme. The whole point about being liberal, I take it, is the restriction of the state to matters of harm. Belief in a god is not directly linked to any kind of harmful lifestyle (for the person thus inculcated or others around them), so I can’t see how liberality would allow the state to act against it in any way. If it’s not liberal principles then it’s a mere clash of opinion, in which case I stand as a liberal to defend each from the other equally. Having said that, a totally mixed school (with *lots* of religions, not none) sounds like fantastic training for real life – but that’s not to say the power of the state should make it so.

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