Why the Battle Over Healthcare is Even More Important than You Think: Health, Personality & Politics

With attacks on provision of healthcare in the US and a ‘crisis’ in the NHS in the UK, the debate over governmental responsibility towards health has been raging once again in the news and across social media. This has made me reflect how this debate should not just be about the health of a nation, the quality of healthcare may dictate the entire future direction of the US and UK. One theory on the relationship between epidemiology, personality and political preference suggests good healthcare creates more liberals, bad more conservatives. I will try to explain why.

You may have heard that fear of death increases conservative behaviour, what you may not know is that nations with the most conservative, authoritarian governments have the highest levels of mortality from infectious diseases.

I’ve written before about how psychologically speaking liberalism is open-mindedness, at least the strongest predictor of liberal political views is the personality trait associated with how open someone is to new ideas and new experiences. And those countries with the highest mortality rate from infectious disease have the lowest average scores for open-mindedness in personality tests. Conversely those nations with lower levels of mortality from infectious disease have on average more open-minded populations and more liberal governments. It doesn’t even have to be an increase in mortality, but merely an increase in an individual’s perception of their risk of contagion or a compromised immune system.

If we put these together it seems that open-mindedness and deaths from infectious disease negatively correlate with one another. Why the focus on ‘infectious’ disease and not other diseases or causes of death? Well there’s no direct evidence why relief from deadly infections cause liberalism, but if open-mindedness includes openness to people who are different from yourself (whether because they look different, act different, believe different things or simply from other places) then it’s not a trait that would thrive when coming into contact with other groups of people brings a high risk of catching something you might die of. This is what has happened in those rich, Western nations with the best healthcare, they have produced the most liberal societies over the past 100 years. Remove that problem by removing risk of death and openness can flourish.

These are not my ideas; I came across it in Geoffrey Miller’s Must-Have, which gives a great overview of this research and reasoning. Randy Thornhill, who helped originate much of the research cited above even goes so far as to suggest the liberal moral progress of the last 50 to 100 years; rights for women, minorities and homosexual men and women as well as the growth of concern for the environment, may have its root cause in improvements in healthcare in those countries in the 20th century. It may be why the hippie movement in the 60’s came after conditions improved post-war and broad spectrum immunisations became available.

All of this is a fascinating lens through which to view the battles over health provision in the US over Obamacare and in the UK over the NHS funding deficit. Obamacare may have its problems, but its namesake may have unconsciously done more than any other president to create more liberals in the future, who will vote for candidates which share his views. Trumps attack on Obamacare and the UK Conservative government’s neglect of or outright hostility towards the NHS will create more conservative-minded people in the long run. Again this is unlikely to be consciously known by either government; to most liberals and conservatives the fight over healthcare is one of helping those in need versus desire for small government, low tax and who is deserving of handouts. But each political stance towards healthcare helps create more people who will share that stance, so if this reasoning from psychology and epidemiology is correct the battle over healthcare is even more important than expected, it’s also a battle for the very future of these nations.

– Matthew Dickinson
The Spiritual Materialist


Conservatives, Fairness & the Hard-work Myth at the Core of Capitalism

Imagine a friend invites you and five other friends over to help paint his living room, he promises a slice of cake he’s baked as a reward. Between you the room is finished over the course of the afternoon and the cake is brought out to be served. The question is how to you slice it? You could all be given an equal sixth slice, but two of the other only turned up two hours in, another pair was messing around writing messages to each other with the paint and you were the only one who got up on the ladder to do the hard to reach bits, surely you deserve a larger slice of the cake? Continue reading

Study: Religious Belief Acts as a Cue for Open-mindedness when Choosing Romantic Partners

Some time ago I wrote about Geoffrey Miller’s brilliant thesis that we adorn ourselves with consumer products, ideologies and religious beliefs that allow us to best display our personality traits as detailed in the Big Five model. This means we try show off our degree of Open-mindedness, Consciousness, Extraversion, Emotional Stability and Agreeableness by our choice of conversation topics, body and home decorations and attendances at religious and secular groups (among many other strange things we do). He further argues that these displays are unique to the human species and are a huge part of what made us evolve our intelligence, sense of humour and other physical and mental characteristics that make us different from our closest animal relatives. These came about through sexual selection, which is usually overlooked or denied as a significant factor in human evolution.

A new study from the University of Otago, New Zealand provides strong confirmatory evidence for Miller’s theory. Continue reading

Religion, Politics & Personality: It’s All about Sex! Part 2

My last post covered Geoffrey Miller’s first book. I summarised his theory that most of the traits that make the human species unique (be it complex language, sense of humour or religious belief) have evolved due to us trying to show off certain qualities to potential mates, leading to sexual selection for those traits. Although what follows is written to be stand alone, you will get more from this post if you read that first, don’t worry I can wait.

In his second book Miller takes what he established about how our minds developed for sexual selection in the past and applies the consequences of this theory for modern society. In particular he looks at what this means for consumerism and develops new theories, as with his first theory the sheer range and amount of human behaviour that these explain and predict is staggering. In my second of this pair of posts I will explore some of these aspects of humanity, as always I will concentrate mostly on what this means for my proposal for a spiritual materialism, but I’m so taken with some of the ideas on display I cast my net more widely than often before. I hope you are equally inspired by at least the potential if not my interpretations, and if not, please, I beg your indulgence.

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What Makes Us Human? It’s All about Sex! Part 1

One of the biggest questions in evolution, and one of the biggest challenges thrown at materialists by believers in a creator, is what makes human’s different from other animals and how can these be explained by natural processes? Over the next two posts I will discuss the works of Geoffrey Miller, who has come up with an overwhelmingly strong answer. Here I give an overview of his first book The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature where he sets out the theory of how we have come to be what we are.

In the follow up I will discuss his second book Must-Have, which explores what this means for modern society and I will look at what these theories mean for my philosophy of Spiritual Materialism. If I have done Miller’s central tenets any justice in my two unfairly brief summaries you will hopefully be as convinced of their merits as very strong scientific theories for their ability to explain so much of what we see, without conflicting with what we know, about human psychology and evolution, and making a vast number of testable predictions. Unfortunately I don’t have the space to present the evidence Miller does for his proposals, you will have to refer to the original works for that.

(There is also a healthy amount of educated speculation based on what we do know, both from myself and Miller, this is included to spark discussion rather than because I am convinced of their certainty.)

Miller’s first wide reaching theory sets out to explain what we see as our uniquely human mental traits (and one or two physical ones too) and thereby very thoroughly covers almost all male and female desires, intentions, interactions and differences. The crux of his theory is that those uniquely human mental qualities; academic intelligence, reasoning, artistic abilities, empathy, humour and ideology, may have developed through evolution of sexually selected traits. Continue reading

Second Nature in Practice: A Critique of Myers-Briggs

In my last post I discussed Edelman’s somewhat opaque theory of ‘second nature’, put forward in the book of the same title. This is a way of separating the generalities of human mental life that can be studied by science and the subjective experiences themselves, our internal intuitions, the flashes of artistic inspiration or the intentions of others we gossip and fret about. As these are the type of individual, passing instances that sciences cannot comment on, and researchers have no desire to, it is a way of emphasising those qualities (or qualia) of being human, those that feel dualistic, that avoids the complaints of scientism and reductionism without divorcing them from materialism. This aims to shed some light on the experience and provide us with a compromise between satisfying that nature of ours without denying the evidence that the mind is what the brain does, rather than arising from some non-material element. I also wondered whether it is in this personal, subjective history that science has some limits when exploring some aspects of human life. Continue reading

Problems for my Stance

One of my favourite things about Darwin’s On the Origin of Species is that he devotes a chapter on difficulties on the theory, another favourite thing is that their have been few objections since that aren’t found already predicted by him.

Following him I won’t just publish things that support Spiritual Materialism on this blog, but also things that don’t. Whether to argue against them or simply admit I have problems. Here are a couple I’ve come across in the past week.

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