The Corner

RE: DADS AND CADS

Jonah:

To take your last point first: Are you suggesting that if I hold a certain opinion about politics and society, and if I then read a sheaf of research studies that seem to me to be sound, but that contradict my opinion, then I should hold on to my opinion and ignore the science? Sorry, no sale. If the science & the supporting arguments seem good to me, I’ll modify my opinion. I prefer even a cold and pitiless truth to a comfortable falsehood. And I will readily admit that some of the stuff coming out of the human sciences nowadays has a cold & pitiless quality to it. Truth is truth, though, and shall prevail.

All your other points can be tackled by careful studies teasing out the various influences of genetics, parental influence, and group socialization. These studies are done by comparing results involving identical twins raised together or apart, fraternal twins raised together or apart, non-twin siblings raised together or apart, and so on. My understanding (which I’ll certainly admit is not comprehensive–this is not my field) is that when such studies are done–and plenty have been–they suggest that adult personalities are determined 45-50 percent by genetics, 45-50 percent by group socialization, the balance by “other,” which includes parenting style, accidents, and some random “noise.”

The fact, for example–and I am sure it is a fact–that good parents are more likely to have good children (with “good” defined as easily socialized to bourgeois norms) by itself tells us nothing about parenting styles. For all you know, the attribute “good,” as defined, might be 100 percent heritable! In fact it is not; but it is not 0 percent either.

Similarly with your other points. Both political and religious attitudes are heritable at quite high levels. For attitudes to organized religion the heritability is 46 percent. I forget what it is for political orientation, but it’s high. The pioneer here was Abraham Tesser back in the mid-1990s, but there’s been lots of work since then. A google on “tesser” and “heritability” would be a good start if you want to look into this.

Of course, which ACTUAL RELIGION (or politics) you end up practising will indeed depend on your surroundings in early life, with the parents decisive in most cases (I should think). It’s an epiphenomenon. The intensity with which you practise, though, is a feature of your personality, and highly heritable.

Of course parents should do their best for their children. As I said in the original post, they should most of all strive to ensure that their children have a good-quality outside-home environment to socialize into, because outside-the-home socialization is a huge determinant of adult personality and life outcomes, far more important than parenting style. (There isn’t much you can do about the kids’ genes… though this may not be the case for much longer.) There are other things you can do too, to make a difference at the margins. What needs knocking on the head is the widespread fallacy that the adult personality is determined by parenting style, and by very little else. This just isn’t true.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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