Every generation seems to need its own universal Theory of Everything, reducing all human experience to a handful of easily memorized slogans. What with astrology, Marxism and Freudian psychoanalysis in eclipse and Rush Limbaugh on drugs, the latest psuedo-scientific fad to capture the attention of the credulous appears to be evolutionary psychology. (I’ve omitted the Bible-beaters, who, like the poor, are always with us. Most don’t claim the authority of science. Active opposition to the visible world is more their style.)

Anyhow, here’s the latest pronouncement from an official-looking Web site called Neuropolitics.org: Liberals like cats, while conservatives prefer dogs. (I’m indebted to Kevin Drum at washingtonmonthly.com for bringing it to my attention.) Accompanied by lots of bar graphs, statistical summaries, brain-scan photos and portentous rhetorical questions, this would come as an unpleasant surprise to the three dogs snoring on my office couch as I write — as I normally lean Democratic.

Actually, two of the three are themselves quite fond of felis domesticus, while Beverly the basset hound’s fierce threats to dismember the cats who dine on our porch are rendered meaningless by the ridiculous ease with which they evade her short-legged charges.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s always tempting to suspect that the Gilbert and Sullivan song had it right: “Nature always does contrive / that every boy or girl born alive / is either a little liberal or a little conservative.”

Indeed, Neuropolitics.org presents plenty of data suggesting biological origins to political differences. According to the numbers, conservatives also eat a lot more beef than liberals, prefer bold colors such as red and dark blue to the dark green favored by liberal men, and are more likely to be athletic.

“The evolutionary value of organizing into social groups to achieve common objectives,” we're told solemnly “is very high. Participation in team sports is an indicator of this tendency, especially in males. Conservative males have a much stronger propensity to engage in team sports.” According to the bar graph accompanying this revelation, something like 65 percent of very conservative men played high school ball versus under 40 percent of liberal men.

(Actually, somebody’s fibbing; both numbers are far too high.)

Neuropolitics.org also features an online quiz asking such puzzlers as whether Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani has a better sense of humor, or, given no other choices, you’d prefer communism, fascism or anarchy. I chose anarchy: Fewer committee meetings, no uniforms. They also asked how often I perform the marital act, and which of three actresses — black, white or Asian — I thought hottest. I chose the one wearing the least makeup.

In return I received a brief neurological profile suggesting an “enhanced dopamine level in your visual cortex” and “an elevation in activity in your right amygdala,” whatever that means. Supposedly, my “cognitive style is balanced between ... left and right hemispheres,” which I took as a tribute to the perfect blend of thought and feeling readers no doubt recognize as the hallmark of this column.

But back to the big issue. Supposedly, “very liberal” women prefer cats to dogs by a margin of 60 percent to 38 percent, while “very conservative” men favor dogs almost equally. “So what is driving the conservative preference for dogs over cats?” the scientists wonder.

“Is it the dog’s pack-oriented nature and prominent submissive behaviors? Could this be an indicator of the conservative’s stronger propensity to organize into pack-like social structures? Conversely, what is driving the liberal’s preference for cats? Does the liberal have a stronger aversion to pack-like hierarchical organizations and an attraction to feline-like territorial-based social organization?”

Sorry, but this is nonsense. Blame my balanced cerebral hemispheres, but I’ve always felt very strongly both ways. People are always asking my wife and me if we’re dog people or cat people. The answer is both. (I’d probably have horses living in the house if the floors would bear their weight.) But we also see our four-legged friends as animals, not anthropomorphic projections in fur coats.

My favorite illustration of the difference between the two species was illustrated by a wonderful New Yorker cartoon a while back. In the foreground, two dogs are depicted reacting excitedly to a turning doorknob. Master is here! Master is here! In the background, a cat snoozes contentedly on a couch, seemingly oblivious, its back to the door. His tail thrashing madly, the larger dog looks scornfully over his shoulder at the cat. “Infidel!” he says.

Politics, however, has nothing to do with it. Scientifically speaking, “liberal” and “conservative” are amorphous, constantly shifting terms that are close to meaningless. At the moment, more Democrats are women living in cities where dogs are harder to keep. If the numbers gathered by the bean-counters at Neuropolitics.org mean anything, that’s basically all they mean.

As a carnivorous, dog-loving, sports-crazed cat-fancier, I beg to differ.

— Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Gene Lyons is a national magazine award winner.©2006, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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