“We do have data from Japan that are highly suggestive.  Here, for many centuries, fair skins have been under parental control and, other things being equal, parents seek attractive brides for their sons.  As elsewhere, members of the upper classes tend to be the luckiest.  This might be expected to lead to selection as the generations have gone by.  Research which I conducted a few years ago (Hulse 1967) indicated that this has taken place, for upper-class high school students have the fairest skins and those of the lower class the darkest, while middle-class students are intermediate in pigmentation.  Furthermore, data from Greece (Friedl 1962) indicate that girls who are considered good-looking marry earlier than, and need not be supplied with as large a dowry as, their less-attractive sisters.  Throughout southern Europe, the upper classes contain a disproportionate number of blondes and near-blondes.  Sexual preferences, though they may be based on social snobbery rather than aesthetic interest, are capable of shifting allele frequencies in human population.”  (Hulse, F. S. (1978) Group selection and sexual selection in human evolution.  In Evolutionary Models and Studies in Human Diversity (Hague) Meier, R., Otten, C. M., Abdel-Hameed, F. (eds.), Moulton Publisher, Paris, p. 33.)

Consider that racism has biological roots with close connections to the evolution of compassion.

Neoteny is a biological process characterized by the emergence of infant, even embryonic, ancestor features in the adults of descendants.  For example, consider that many dogs today look a lot like wolf puppies, some adult dogs looking almost like wolf embryos with hair.  Just as humans can breed dogs by capitalizing on their maturational flexibility, humans have evolved over the last several million years in a neotenic direction with the infant features of our chimpanzee-like ancestors emerging in the adults of the present day.

What is adjusted is the rate and timing of maturation.  The reason chimpanzees and bonobos retain a mere 1.5 % difference in their genetics from humans, less than some variations within a single species, is because what has mostly changed is only the rate and timing of maturation.

In just the way that humans breed dogs to encourage specific characteristics, it has been discovered that wolves and foxes in fewer than 20 years can be dramatically transformed in look and disposition.  The offspring is tame and has the physical features of the very young.  Humans are talented at transforming other species.  Humans are also gifted at evolving themselves.

Stephen J. Gould in his Ontogeny and Phylogeny has outlined in detail over 30 features of adult contemporary human beings that are a direct reflection of our infant ancestors.  This includes upright stature, large brain and head relative to body, small jaw and teeth, curiosity, playfulness and social behavior.  There is also variation within human populations with some peoples exhibiting additional neotenous features that include blue eyes, blond hair, light skin and diminutive features.  Body builds can go in two directions.  Both childlike, diminutive bodies and slim, lanky bodies are features of a neotenous build.

Many humans are attracted to mates that feature these childlike characteristics.  Being attracted in such a way, we encourage the continued evolution of our species in this neotenous direction.  With the recent (last 6,000 years) emergence of stratified society and relatively permanent elites, we have a group of people engaging in almost compulsive human breeding not unlike the way we breed dogs.  Except, they themselves are the subject of their attention.

The elites, whether in the East or West, have for centuries been choosing mates exhibiting neotenous characteristics.  Fair skin has been an obvious, highly desired feature.  In the West, blue eyes and blond hair have been highly valued.  A net result has been the accumulation of light-skinned peoples at the top of the social pyramid with a corresponding deprecation of dark-skinned peoples far below.

Accompanying this evolution in physical appearance has been an evolution in our idea of ideal behavior.

R. A. Fisher hypothesized that when sexual selection compels focus on particular features, what is being selected is not only the features in question but also those individuals with a compulsion to pick those features.  Fisher described it as a runaway feedback loop.  Not just peacocks get picked, but peahens obsessed with males with big, pretty feathers.

Compassionate behavior is often considered the zenith of ideal human behavior.  The focus on compassion as an ideal may have no small part to do with human beings selected to select neotenous features.  When a person is attracted to neotenous features, that person is attracted to the features of children.  In other words, what may be developed over time is a big heart.

Racism and compassion may be connected.  The trick would be to universalize the tendency to be attracted so that the visual cues would cease to have more influence than behavior.

In other words, better we exercise our attraction to another person than our compulsion to judge.

Considering that racism might have biological roots with a close connection to the evolution of compassion, we might start paying close attention to juxtapositions of love and hate.


This entry was posted on Monday, August 17th, 2009 at 10:23 am and is filed under Neoteny, Sexual Selection, Society. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
1 Comment so far

  1. annabones on August 17, 2009 10:52 am

    I think you’re mixing a lot of ideas here that shouldn’t be mixed. The evolution of skin colour has nothing to do with sexual preference or even aesthtics, there is a reason why dark skinned people live in hotter sunnier places while light skinned people in colder darker places.
    If the so called ‘elites’ exhibit preferences for light skin it’s because these ‘elites’ (assuming you’re speaking of the modern world) are white themselves and it’s common knowledge that we tend to prefer mates that look like us (see various evolutionary theories regarding this, including immunological reasons), and that for various historical, political, geographical and economical reasons the white folks have invaded and colonized those hotter sunnier areas of the globe (gross generalization, but bottom line this is the scenario), and established ‘whiteness’ as norm and synonym with high status and power.
    Also with regards to neoteny, this has a lot to do with facial reduction, especially with regards to mandible and maxilla, which is a result of improved food processing methods (like cooking) and a change in diet (not so many nuts for example) than all our other hominid counterparts. Our modern preference for child-like faces in humans can also be explained in numerous ways, some of which include hormone production, health, fertility and good genes in general. However, female preference for neotenous males is only recorded during specific times during the female cycle – and not when’s she’s ovulating – which puts a huge whole in this whole theory.
    Plus there is something very disturbing and ‘highly undesireable’ about suggesting that racism and compassion share anything in common, it’s almost like you’re justifying racism.
    No so-called ‘evolutionist’ would ever hypothesize such a thing.

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