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Tuesday, February 10, 2004


I was watching ESPN today, and they had a shot on Sportscenter of someone who has become near and dear to my heart: Prince Charles.

"Macarena: 0, Prince of Wales: 1

One of the things which is most striking about this individual is that he seems not to be human, in the conventional sense. Not that he doesn't have the correct number of digits or anything, just that there is clearly something about him which suggests a genetic makeup which is slightly off. Maybe it's the ears. Maybe it's the head. It's just not something I am willing to spend too much time speculating on.

But is this trend within the royal family really something we should be mocking so much? I mean, while it may be pronounced within such a constrictive social class as royalty, this same sort of effect seems as if it should gradually be borne out within the general population to the same degree. Consider a few factors. Attractive people should, if the world makes sense*, be statistically more likely to inbreed than someone who is a member of the general population. This is according to the very simple fact that someone who is attractive has manifestly fewer options to choose from, if they are going to get someone who is "up to their standard." Moreover, because attractiveness is a function of genetics - an arbitrary attractive individual is statistically more likely to be related to another arbitrarily chosen attractive person more than they are a given member of society. As you increase the level of attractiveness, this becomes statistically more likely to what seems to become a statistically significant degree.

Social mobility also provides a mechanism for inbreeding among the attractives. Someone who is attractive is more likely to climb social classes - this isn't just true insofar as there are the automatic admissions (ie: modeling), but just generally a form of subconscious promotion within society. Given two people, the more attractive is more likely to be hired. Or have a tire changed. Or be able to bend the rules. This is not just something which is anecdotally true - it's been pretty well borne out by a number of studies**. This means that the concentration of attractive people towards the upper half of the social spectrum, and therefore the concentration of a given set of DNAs, is even greater.

There are other factors which also feed into this, of course. Someone with a lot of money is likely to be of a higher social class - but this tends to be a short-term, and only very extreme, exception. In two generations, a very rich family will begin to be more attractive (due to acquiring attractive members through marriage and interbreeding) and only move from there. The problem being that the effects of inbreeding also tend to imply a loss of attractiveness - eg, the Vanderbilts. However, this tends to a large part to be undermined at the upper-middle or lower-upper class levels, since within these populations attractive people will still tend to "congregate." The same sort of effect invariably arises for other genetically desirable traits which are strongly influential in the society one keeps. Intelligence being the one which immediately comes to mind. The same sort of thing happens - and possibly even to a higher degree, as intelligence (more than physical beauty) tends to dictate not just the social circle one ends up in, but also the geography one is a part of.

If this effect is, in fact, borne out, it seems to be a pretty great one from an evolutionary perspective. Inbreeding is one of the primary ways recessive genes gain expression in people. Why would one want the upper echelons of a biological population to be the ones whose offspring is being "experimented" on? Well, for one, it means that a trait which is not necessarily beneficial might be allowed to endure for multiple generations. This is generally good as a way of biologically hedging bets - if all your sick, your tired, your huddled masses are the ones getting a trait which they could otherwise not put to good use (Can you imagine if a good CPA had the math skills of some autistics?) then it might die out, despite being useful. On top of this, the Attractives are more likely to breed frequently - so the failures would be negligable, in the grand scheme of things.

In the interest of full disclosure, it's also possible that this is true, but a significant percentage of the population just happens to possess these genes, and so the disproportionate ratio of moderately attractive or plain looking people to attractive or smart people offsets the effect just by sheer volume. That doesn't change, however, the fact that if you happen to be a genetically desirable individual, you're more likely to fuck a distant cousin.

The interesting fact is that this seems also to hold for people who are exceptionally stupid or ugly. Possibly to the same extent, insofar as someone who is either stupid or ugly is less likely to have some mitigating factor which increases their Breedabiltiy Quotient than the analog in the attractive/smart/socially advanced population. On top of this, the lack of mobility and unaffordability of affluent urban living tends to also confine these populations over generations (In the swamps of Alabama, let's say). THIS extreme makes sense - since this is the exact type you want to try out your genetic traits on. Though the propegation into the general population of these traits will be much slower, but safer. I guess this would actually be desirable in conjunction with the Attractives having the same effect at the other end. Imagine the population of humanity as a football, with the bulge in the middle being most people. Traits sort of trickle up and down into the gene pool as a whole from this sort of mechanism.

As always, if anyone knows of an actual study of this, or something I've missed completely, let me know

* = ie, if someone of X level of attractiveness (or who assesses their own level at X, and does so with a small degree of error) generally tends only to be interested in procreating with someone of X+ level. Mismatches occuring due to outside factors (wealth, social status etc...) or misevaluation on the part of one of the individuals. This doesn't take into account "soulmates" as an a priori selective process or the use of any chemical compounds - or plastic surgery.
** = Including, but not limited to, every third episode of 20/20.

cranked out at 12:16 PM | |

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