Monday, October 15, 2007

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Who knew this was a worldwide preference, hardwired into the species?

In the new book "Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters: From Dating, Shopping, and Praying to Going to War and Becoming a Billionaire -- Two Evolutionary Psychologists Explain Why We Do What We Do," author Satoshi Kanazawa presents, as a "truth" that "Women with blond hair and large breasts are considered the most attractive, around the globe, because both are indicators of youth."

This brings up an interesting question, premised around the following: if (one) the reason why the blond mutation caught on in Europe is because blonde women stood out from everyone else, and thus were more often selected as mates, leaving their darker haired peers out in the cold, (two) naturally blond hair appears in all ethnicities from time to time (the blond mutation is not exclusive to Europeans), and (three) human males the world over find blonde women more attractive than other women - then why isn't blond[e] hair common in all ethnic groups, rather than just Europeans? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to look at pictures of people the world over and realize that outside of Europe, black and brown are far and away the most common hair colors, to the degree that blondness in some groups (like sub-saharan Africans, and their descendants worldwide) is considered either unusual (sometimes to the point of being freakish) or proof positive of mixed race. If there is a natural preference for light-haired women, why didn't those that carry the mutation become the basis for significant populations of blond[e]s everywhere?

It's interesting that Kanazawa has no truths that cover people who deliberately thwart what he understands as the universal desire for people to pass on their genes, either through remaining in exclusively homosexual relationships (and not having breeding trysts on the side) or simply intentionally not having children. "You have to remember that science is not personal. ... It's about generalizations; it's not about individuals or exceptions to the rule, although they exist," Kanazawa says. "Science cannot explain exceptions and anomalies." But until global media forms allowed the idea that blondes were more attractive than other women to spread worldwide, the European preference for them appears to have been an anomaly itself - yet Kanazawa has no qualms about elevating it to a truth.

Accurate or not, in the end, once the tempest in the political correctness teapot has spent itself, Kanazawa's book is likely, at best, to end up on the margins of scientific debate. Its basic premise, that many aspects of human behavior are biological instincts, centered around the drive to reproduce and pass on genes, tends to leave people feeling reduced to lust-addled automatons. It is this and similar feelings that fuel much of the emotional resistance to science that touches on human lives. This same premise also says that a certain amount of the in-group/out-group separation that creates so many winners and losers is biological, and impervious to social changes or human effort. Those who have been historically banished to the out-group fear that the in-group will either use such finding to justify unequal treatment, or worse, that it will be found that their out-group status is justified, and that they'll be willingly sacrificed for the "greater good." Kanazawa's assertion that "Laws are consistent with the desire to curb the human nature of other people," is of little comfort - no law has ever driven a behavior to extinction on its own, and there is always a nagging temptation to let nature take its course, rather than attempt to enforce unpopular statutes. Only authoritarian rulers seem to have the will to successfully drive wholesale changes in their societies overnight, using the rule of law as a bludgeon.

Kanazawa pleads with people to remember that it's nothing personal. And in doing so, he shows that while he might live up to opinions of him as brilliant scientist, he's certainly not a historian - where it's been shown time and again that everything is personal.

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