Political invective has become so intense in recent years that some observers wonder if compromise between liberals and conservatives is still possible. There is even speculation that our political differences, which research suggests may be hard-wired into our brains, are a precursor to an approaching split in the evolutionary tree; that some day liberals and conservatives will be distinct species, incapable of reproducing with each other. At which point, judging by the inexorable laws of evolution, one or the other branch of humanity might well become extinct.
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This is perhaps just wishful thinking. But it occurred to me that by combining the tools of market research with sophisticated biochemical testing we might be able to peek ahead fifty thousand years and find out right now who’s on the winning track.
First, fill a stadium with several thousand randomly selected 20 to 30 year-olds. Explain to them that they’ve been chosen to participate in a study of how often young people think about sex in an eight hour period, and that the results are needed to help scientists find a cure for a little known but deadly disease.
Remove any reading material from the stadium, then set up large TV monitors around the arena. Tune a third of the monitors to O’Reilly and Hannity on Fox, a third to Olberman and Maddow on MSNBC and (as a control) a third to cartoons.
Equip every participant with a hand-held transmitter, with instructions to squeeze a hidden button every time they think about sex. No doubt there’d be some self-consciousness about this, but it could be corrected for mathematically.
To keep results from being tainted by social pressures, the participants would not be allowed to speak with each other – a difficult challenge for a roomful of attractive young people, but it could be enforced with mild electrical shocks from the transmitters. (The transmitters would have been temporarily glued to participants’ hands before the study started.) With nothing else to do, participants would naturally drift to the monitors. Their pundit preferences would then be recorded with the help of GPS tracking devices.
As the young people filed out the exits after eight hours, a small amount of skin would be removed with the glue as the transmitters were yanked off by technicians. This would then be matched up with GPS tracking data and subjected to a full range of tests in an attempt to find biochemical markers that correlated with political inclinations.
Such markers could have profound implications. One example of many – reliable markers could provide an alternative to our current dysfunctional system of voting. One can imagine something similar to a pregnancy test being developed – a specially treated paper strip, perhaps, that would turn red or blue when held under a stream of urine, with tiny embedded microtransmitters so votes could be instantly posted to the internet.
But what does all this have to do with evolution?
Well, by cross-referencing the secret button squeezes with political inclinations, scientists could predict, based on level of libido after watching several hours of their preferred pundit, which group exhibited the least interest in acts of reproduction and would thus be most at risk of eventual extinction.
Results from research with nematode worms suggests that if Democrats bred only with Democrats and Republicans only with Republicans, physical differences might start to show up in 20 or 30 generations, with a clear evolutionary winner emerging in as few as a thousand generations. However, some researchers worry that the control group – the cartoon watchers – might have a disproportionate impact on the genetic pool just by keeping out of the way when the shooting started. What effect this might have on our evolutionary future is at this time unknown.