Here is an article sent to me by a helpful blog reader and friend.
To summarize, there is apparently some kind of genetic link between cuter facial features and domesticity in animals. When foxes, for example, are bred for friendly and compliant personalities, over generations their snouts get shorter, their ears floppier, their tails shorter and curlier.
The linked article suggests there might be a similar kind of genetic linkage in humans. It relies partly on a genetic study of human beings with Williams-Beuren syndrome, “a disorder linked to cognitive impairments, smaller skulls, elfinlike facial features, and extreme friendliness.”
Extrapolating from this, and using studies of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA, the suggestion is that humans “domesticated ourselves” by preferring mates who were friendlier and less aggressive. As sexual selection decreased the aggressive tendencies in our species, so too the related genes determining facial features gradually made our features smaller and less coarse.
So, I have some thoughts. Bear with me, because I’m tapping this post out the night before it goes up, so it might not be the best organized or best-written.
- I’m not going to question that even in humans, there might be some genetic linkage between elfin facial features and lack of natural aggressiveness. W-B syndrome, and Down Syndrome, both seem to suggest this. It may be that this linkage is so subtle and complex that it only becomes obvious in extreme cases, like with these syndromes. It’s similar to how there is evidence that people with fair or red hair are more likely to be “Highly Sensitive People,” highly sensitive to stimuli of all kinds including social stimuli, sound, and pain.
- Both of these suggestions (I’m not going to call them findings because they are too complex) also dovetail with traditional stereotypes. The quick-tempered redhead, the fine-featured child who cries easily, and the “low-browed” criminal are all types that go way back. Stereotypes do not apply across the board, but they often tell us something about people’s observations of the world.
- But that is also a danger. People, it turns out, have a strong tendency to judge others by their physical appearance. Ugly or unattractive people are interpreted through a grid that assumes they are stupid, aggressive, or unstable compared to more attractive people. I just finished reading an interview, here, with a person who explains from personal experience how we tend to interpret someone without sex appeal as a menace.
- So if people did selectively marry in a way that weeded out Neanderthal facial features, it’s just as likely they were selecting for looks as for lack of aggression.
- And obviously, making judgments about someone’s abilities and character based on their facial features and body shape is not only unjust, it’s usually likely to be mistaken. It would be great if we could tell everything we needed to know about someone just by looking at them, but we can’t. If we try to do so — and resist changing our opinion — we are going to be walking around with a lot of bad information. This strategy will not work well for us.
- This should tell us that there is something missing from the thesis about smaller facial features being associated with less aggressive behavior.
- What’s missing is the fact that human beings are human beings, not just two-legged animals. Our behavior is not just determined by whether we have genetic tendencies to aggression.
- Rather, we are made in the image of God. Thus, we have language, an innate moral sense, and an innate need to be in a family and culture with other human beings. This, not our genetics, is what makes us “domestic.”
- That’s why, as I have pointed out before, you will often meet people in modern times with features reminiscent of Neanderthals, and these people are neither stupid, nor aggressive, nor even particularly ugly. (I mean, just look at the Neanderthal reconstruction at the top of the linked article. Is he not adorable?)
- Also, friendliness is not the only desirable trait in a human being. “Extreme friendliness,” particularly when coupled with cognitive impairments, will not equip a person to survive on their own in the world. What we need is natural aggressiveness, appropriately controlled and directed by our mind, moral sense, and culture. So, completely breeding aggressive tendencies out of our population would not be desirable, even if it were possible.
- Ergo, if the Neanderthals and Denisovans were actually human beings (which I believe they were), we can assume that they were much like us in that they had aggressive tendencies, but they also had all the other standard human equipment that allowed them to control and direct these tendencies. We already know that they enjoyed seafood, intermarried with so-called “modern humans,” and made art.
OK, that’s it from me. I continue my campaign for Neanderthal Human Rights!
Now, go out there, club something, and eat it!