and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
December #2

Is it DNA or what we read and watch on TV
that determines our destiny?
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, December 12, 2008

The feast of St. Barbara was Dec. 4, which I celebrate even though there's no food involved as there is with Christmas, Easter and St. Valentine's Day.

I did have something chocolate in honor of my grandmothers, for whom I am named. They both died before I was born, so it was an agreeable choice for my parents, especially since the name was popular during the 1940s.

The youngest person I know of today named Barbara is one of the twin daughters of President George Bush, who was also given her grandmother's name.

I had no interest in my granddaughter being a Barbara. Yet I do like the name.

When I lived in Greece, I was told that "varvara", accent on the second syllable, means "stranger". Not only was I legitimately a foreigner to my Greek friends, but as a libertarian I have often felt like "a stranger in a strange land" (see libertarian author Robert Heinlein's novel) in today's America as well. I wonder if I'd been named, say, "Communitaria", I'd have a different political perspective.

As a child, I noted the similarity between the legend of St. Barbara and Rapunzel: Both were imprisoned in a tower for disobedience. The former became a martyr for her faith and the latter let down her hair so the prince could climb the braids. What, besides the tower, do the two women have in common? The motto, "Don't tell me what to do."

I once asked Republican media commentator Avi Nelson what made people like us different from our opponents, and he said "genetics". Interesting, and echoed by recent scientific theory.

It's true that my first conscious thought, albeit without words, was, "Don't tell me what to do." I once figured this was due to my astrological sign the typical Aquarian's highest value is freedom. But "genetics" works too.

Along with our names, genes, and astrological signs, cultural legends and stories influence our political attitudes. My family's stories must have influenced mine: The policeman grandfather who was fired after he arrested the mayor for public drunkenness; the cousin whose tires were slashed after he drove his truck through the union picket line to his father's factory, which my uncle then moved to Virginia leaving the unions nothing to picket; Croatian relatives who escaped communism by emigrating to Canada.

I was read behavior lessons from Raggedy Ann and Andy, The Bobbsey Twins, and Aesop's Fables. Do children still learn about George Washington and the cherry tree ("I cannot tell a lie."); or Honest Abe walking miles to return change to an overcharged customer in his store? Do they memorize the sayings of Ben Franklin ("Honesty is the best policy." "A penny saved is a penny earned")?

My twin grandchildren don't seem interested in the Raggedy or Bobbsey twins, which I acknowledge are somewhat old-fashioned; they learn behavior lessons from Harry Potter novels and movies. But instead of fighting the gingerbread-house witch or neighborhood bullies, Harry and his friends fight genuine evil.

However, come to think of it, so did Nancy Drew. In "The Secret of Red Gate Farm", I first encountered the Ku Klux Klan; it made quite an impression on a second-grader.

My Thanksgiving column about Pilgrims was followed by a letter to the editor which noted correctly that I was wrong about Governor Winthrop being a Pilgrim leader. I knew he was a Puritan, but was distracted by the historical critique of the socialist Plymouth experiment written by Gov. William Bradford. It was a necessary critique with a valuable lesson about economic choices, so you have to wonder why it was ignored for so many years as children were taught a very different Thanksgiving Day fable. Did we need the national fantasy more than we needed the truth?

My generation also grew up with Walt Disney's Davy Crockett version of the Alamo battle that helped create our image of ourselves as a nation. Later, as an exchange student in Mexico, I learned the story of the Alamo from a very different perspective, one that helped Mexican children create their national image. Now our respective governments work with these images in their attempts to determine immigration policy.

The longstanding debate concerns nature ( genetics) vs. nurture (parents reading to us; schools choosing our literature and history books; our culture, with TV and the Internet having more influence on the generations following mine).

What makes us a liberal, a conservative, a libertarian, or some combination of these? What distinguishes us from the politically apathetic? No one seems to know what factors most influence our political identities, and perhaps that's just as well: Governments would exploit that information if they could.

I have tracked what makes me a stranger in a strange land, and you probably can track your political attitudes too. Each voter has his own path to the polls: Along with our experiences, we individuals take our genes, our names, cultural impressions, maybe even the stars under which we are born, into the political arena.

And that is how Barack Obama became president of the United States.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson's
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.