The unsexiness of Denzel Washington and the ethics of evolutionary psychology

In a blog on the laws of sexual attraction, Andrea Kuszewski explains why we may be more sexually attracted to people who are not quite perfect, a little asymmetrical. She says that Denzel Washington is extremely attractive and appealing due to his symmetry and overall good health. This would make him a great mate, she explains, because:

Denzel Washington after a performance of the B...

Denzel Washington after a performance of the Broadway play Julius Caesar in New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From an evolutionary standpoint, symmetry implies fitness to reproduce. Animals and organic objects with a great deal of symmetry are generally without genetic flaws, and thus more likely to reproduce and have viable offspring. It would make sense that these are preferred for purely mating purposes.

This must be why so many women want to sleep with Denzel. They are imagining how wonderful their babies might be. If they really wanted to have pleasurable sex, Kuszewski says they would prefer Joaquin Phoenix, who has just the right amount of asymmetry to drive the women wild with desire. She says we like people like Joaquin because, “We visually interpret their features longer, so naturally we form a greater attachment to them, and thus find them more alluring.”

All right, I’m no scientist, but this just doesn’t sound right to me. Can you imagine there ever being a moment in our evolutionary history when someone had to look as good as either Denzel Washington or Joaquin Phoenix in order to reproduce? If that had been the case, I aver there would be far fewer humans on the planet right now. Quite the contrary, it seems the human proclivity to have sex just for pleasure has helped to ensure that the overwhelming majority of people, symmetrical or not, find at least one mating opportunity during their lives.

The other problem I see with the theory is that contraception has not been reliable for most of human history. Women got pregnant, regardless of whether their attraction was based on parental fitness or pleasurable sex. To be sure, humans compete for the best mates, but at the end of the day (or night), they tend to take the mate that is available, and reproduction ensues. If humans are undone by evolution, it will be because of our great success, not our failure, at passing on our genes.

Of course, I’m being a little facetious here. I do understand that the theory only tries to explain why one mate is preferred over another and that it makes no claim that slightly unattractive people are unable to find mates, but I think it fails to explain about as much as it explains. Michael Taft wrote a defense of evolutionary psychology here. I won’t go into his arguments here, as I’m not really trying to discredit an entire field. However, he mentions two good reasons for holding evolutionary psychology theories in suspicion. They tend to reinforce contemporary notions of sex and sexuality (too often in a reactionary manner) and they offer theories that are wholly untestable. We can do elaborate tests to see what kinds of faces people find attractive, but drawing conclusions about our ancestors on this information is little more than conjecture.

Now, I really dislike when non-scientists claim that scientists are misinformed. For example, the people who know the least about climate science are the ones claiming that climate science is a big hoax. Perhaps I am misguided about evolutionary psychology. I will await further education.

About ethicsbeyondcompliance

I hold a PhD in medical humanities with an major emphasis in ethics. I began teaching college-level ethics in 2000.
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