"the blogger whose youthful effusions have won him bookmarks all over Whitehall ... horribly compelling" - The Guardian
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Those who know Johann Hari best for his vocal support for the Iraq War may be inclined to see him as something of a moderate left-winger. I have highlighted in this series in the past just how extreme some of his views are, and his piece in last week's Independent allows me to show this radicalism again.
Two posts down I touched on obesity. Johann's column looks at the other end of the scale.
The fashion industry feeds off bulimia and starvation.
Just think about how radical and far-reaching are the implications of these words. The argument is not that people obviously display some degree of variability in what they find attractive. Nor is he merely saying that fashion has important implications and influences on what one may find attractive. He actually argues that "no particular type of beauty is programmed into our brains at birth".
It is not an attitude unique to Johann. This is a view famously promoted by the feminist Noami Wolf in a book called 'The Beauty Myth', and accepted widely by fringe figures across the intellectual left who see admitting any role for nature itself in human behaviour as a triumph for the reactionary white patriarchy and an obstacle to their planned social engineering. Homosexual activists also often sympathise with this view because it suggests that there are no natural standards of male or female attractions from which they are diverging - merely a set of covergirls they are able in their wisdom to shun.
And it is a view refuted by all known science.
The quoted passage above is quite typical of a Johann Hari piece: make a bold, ahistorical assertion that strikes at the heart of even the more sympathetic reader's common sense and then pick a trivial historical example for shaky support. What science and history in fact demonstrate is a common set of standards of beauty, which changing fashions build upon but have never - can never - reverse. Nancy Etcoff has written in frankly excessive detail on just how rooted in biology our sexual preferences are. We find attractive those qualities that in combination with our own will produce a healthy baby (one can see again why the Peter Tatchells of this world find this science offensive), because those humans who did not care about such things did not leave enough children to have any descendants today. We are evolved from their more discriminating counterparts.
It is certainly true that if one examines erotic paintings of centuries ago, one will often find unusually large women. But Johann Hari's observation is merely a very small part of a larger evolutionary picture. For while fashions have influenced the size of women men prefered from one time to the next, biology has always dictated the deeper preferences. For obese or anorexic, fat or thin, what the ideal women in ancient erotic art and their modern equivalents all have in common is a hip-to-waist ratio of about 1 to 0.7. What shines through all these fashions is an overarching biological preference for a waist 70% as wide as the hips, because these proportions demonstrate first that she is not already pregnant, and second that she has hips wide enough to bear the human baby's abnormally large head. Men long ago who didn't find these proportions attractive either ended up as cuckolds to those who did, or grieving would-be parents. What they didn't do is leave descendants who survive today.
Could it be that even so sexual and beauty preferences are learned, are social rather than hormonal? No.
British scientists have discovered that human infants are born with an innate concept of what makes an attractive face.
Human beauty standards reflect our evolutionary distant and recent past and emphasize the role of health assessment in mate choice. Given these findings, it is extremely unlikely that human sexual behavior or mate preferences will change to any significant degree during the future, even in the presence of totalitarian measures.
The only 'Beauty Myth' is the left's attachment to blank slate ideology when so much evolutionary science testifies to the heritable sexual and beauty preferences that are beyond the control of even the most ambitious of liberal social engineers.