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A Camberwell Tale - Genes of a Conservative By: Rick Heller
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Here in Camberwell, we like to think of our town as New England's most progressive community. We pride ourselves on our diversity. But including conservatives in the mix wouldn't be practical.

As Jessica Kaminsky scanned news briefs in The Cam, she came across an intriguing item titled, "Birth Defect Causes Conservatism." According to Camberwell University's student newspaper, a Camberwell geneticist had found a link between political conservatism and a defective gene on chromosome 11.

Jessica, a senior, popped into the science library, and found the original paper in Nature Genetics. Dr. Alan Sofkin had pinpointed a polymorphic gene which might account for a quarter of the heritability of conservatism. But Sofkin's paper did not characterize the variant gene as defective; that bit of editorializing had been added by someone at The Cam.

Jessica made a copy of the article. This was the ammunition she needed. Now they'd have to listen, she told herself, as she drafted a proposal for affirmative action for the University's most under-represented minority: conservatives.

Though nurtured in a liberal environment, her nature rebelled against it. Jessica, who'd grown up in Camberwell, didn't know anyone in town more conservative than she.

Her parents considered her the bad seed. When she told them she'd cast her first presidential vote for Bush in 2000, they rewrote their will. Dad said, "I'll be damned if I let you inherit my money without even paying an estate tax." Now, they were leaving everything to the ACLU.

But where did her conservative genes come from? Both her parents were socialists. But Mom and Dad were pretty loose in the 70's, so who knew if a little bit of foreign DNA had snuck in?

It took months before Jessica's proposal came up for a hearing. The Admissions Office's wood-paneled Abbie Hoffman Room was an intimate setting, with a conference table in front and some thirty padded chairs set out in the audience. But Jessica was disappointed at the turnout; besides herself, only one other seat was occupied. The three panelists outnumbered the audience. At least the meeting was being filmed, she thought, so maybe someone was watching out in the dorms.

"We might as well get started," said a woman with very short brown hair. "I'm Joan Kimby, Assistant Dean of Admissions. At my sides are Professor Ted Hatcher of the School of Public Affairs and Associate Professor Emily Chu of the School of Engineering. Why don't we start with a statement by the originator of this remarkable proposal, Ms. Jessica Kaminsky."

Jessica stood up. "If I told you there was a minority group on campus that feels isolated and even persecuted, would you be concerned?"

They looked concerned.

"If I further told you that members of this minority group are born this way, that some might even consider them to have a birth defect, would you not stand up for them? Then stand up for conservatives."

They looked less concerned.

"It's difficult to be a conservative here," Jessica said. "There's a guy on my floor who calls me ‘Boots.’ He says it's short for 'jack-booted fascist.' I've complained, but no one listens."

"Excuse me," interrupted Professor Chu. "Who said you had to be a conservative? It was your choice."

"That's the traditional view," Jessica said. "But new evidence suggests otherwise. There is a genetic basis to our nature. We demand equal treatment."

"Baloney," said Professor Hatcher. "You bring attention to yourself. If you keep your mouth shut, you won't run into problems."

"Not in Camberwell," Jessica said. "For instance, in high school, we had to sing 'We Shall Overcome' every morning in homeroom. When Mr. Williams caught me with my mouth shut, he said, 'Jessica. If you don't sing, you must lip-sync.'"

"Let me raise the issue of practicality," Dean Kimby said. "How do we know if an applicant has the gene? Will we require blood samples? If not, someone could pose as a conservative. Everyone is looking for an edge."

"I don't buy this genetic determinism for one minute," Hatcher said.

"We do have Dr. Sofkin in the audience," Dean Kimby said. "Could you explain your findings?"

Jessica looked over at the only other person in the audience, a man with curly black hair and round eyeglasses.

"Certainly," Sofkin said. "The gene in question comes in two known varieties. People with the gene that contains a repeated section of DNA are physiologically slower to adjust to changed environments. They instinctively prefer the status quo."

"We have a left-wing tradition in Camberwell," Professor Hatcher said. "Ms. Kaminsky is the oddball, the one who isn't happy with things as they are. Does she have your gene?"

"Only a blood test can tell," Sofkin said. "But in my estimation, a non-conformist like Ms. Kaminsky exhibits the very opposite of the conservative personality trait."

"So by conservative," Professor Chu asked, "you don't necessarily mean someone who's in favor of guns or school vouchers?"

"I mean someone who dislikes change," Sofkin said.

"What basis does your study provide for affirmative action for someone like Ms. Kaminsky?" Dean Kimby asked.

"None," Sofkin said.

"I think we've heard enough," Dean Kimby said. "All in favor of the proposal for affirmative action for conservatives?"

There was silence.

"All opposed."

All three panelists chimed in.

After approving affirmative action for women, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Gay and Lesbian and Bisexual and Transgender People, children of poverty, the disabled, the over-50, and veterans of anti-war demonstrations, the affirmative action for conservatives proposal was the first one ever turned down at Camberwell University.

Rick Heller is a comedy writer who lives in New England near the fictional town of Camberwell. He also produces the Smart Genes weblog.

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