Sunday, November 14, 2010

"E" is for evolutionary entropy: Suit jackets and the alpha male

So last night was the first time I really observed the night life in my rural Maine town. I was frightened by the lack of evolution I saw.

Darwin espouses a "survival of the fittest" philosophy in describing evolutionary success,a philosophy that is supposed to explain how animals and plants adapt to the environment in order to position themselves for the greatest reproductive advantage. This is also supposed to explain, at least in part, why we are attracted to the types of people we are. Speaking strictly in terms of evolution, women typically are attracted to large, broad shoulder and big chested muscular men, with strong masculine features, an attraction no doubt linked to the days of the hunter-gather in which these traits may be linked with food and survival in cases of war or famine. This prototypical "alpha male" has somehow survived through the rapid changes in society, even though now the traits that would be linked with personal success may have shifted towards glasses and sweater vests, computer skills, finance skills, and interpersonal relations. With a strongly industrialized food chain, self-sufficiency can be achieved in today's culture with relative ease (including matriarchal and patriarchal single parent families). So why hasn't the perception of alpha male changed, especially in rural Maine I'll use for example the alpha male in this diatribe, based wholly on my observations of the Bangor Maine nightlife last night.

I started my adventure at the Sea Dog Restaurant, a place where certainly the "diverse" nature of this life is on display. I went in tandem with a friend, both of use dressed in suit jackets over dress shirts and jeans. Observing from the corner, we watched a tight t-shirt clad and pot bellied older member of the alpha male herd (who in evolutionary prior cultures was rewarded based on his past successes in the hunt) attempt to exercise quite outdated mating rituals in a group of females. These females were dressed well, with heels and gaudy jewelery defining both their fashion sense and their obviously higher cultural standing (whether perceived or realistic it was difficult to tell) The alpha male strategy, pitiful as it may be, was to use overt tactile contact with one member of the female group in an attempt to separate her from her herd. Oblivious to her obvious distaste with his advances, this male continued his aggressive courting until the entire group dispersed and the man was left to lick his metaphorical wounds.

Intrigued, my colleague and I casually followed the group across the bar to see where their interests were focused. By their behavior and eye movements, it was apparent that they were seeking male companionship. And even more obvious was their predilection for highly muscular and strong featured males, who casually approached after their body language demonstrated an openness to romantic interludes. These men were dressed in t-shirts or tight polo shits predominantly, likely to emphasize those traits they previously observed to be desirable. While 1-2 of the females were being engaged, the others casually observed their surroundings, their glances eventually falling on the two of us dressed in suit jackets. Their surprise at our youthful appearance contrasted with being well-dressed was quite evident; their gazes fixed on us furtively as they tried to figure out what our game was. They obviously did not regard us as potential suitors, more like novelties-->those tourists with the ridiculous attire far outside the cultural norms. But why? I wear a suit jacket with a fair regularity with work, conferences, teaching, and just out to dinner to look sharp. These settings would likely include many of the same people that I am observing in this bar but yet a simple geographical and chronological difference created a strong contextual interference and the perception of the suit jacket transitions from chic and intelligent (signs of high cultural evolution) to that of a mark of "the other".

So what does this say about the alpha male in rural Maine. Are the respected traits still macho bravado, strong physical characteristics, and relentless confidence in the face of failure? Why aren't men with suit jackets even regarded as potential suitors in this environment, even when they indeed may be better suited to provide in the long term (anthropologically speaking of course, not to slight the hard-working folk of Maine, to which I am kin). Can the alpha male ever be dressed in a suit, or are we perpetually stuck in the quaint days of the hunter-gatherer, where muscles and brawn are considered more valuable than being well dressed and culturally savvy. It is a fascinating concept, evolution as being responsible for bar behavior. But I think the influence is undoubted. Even in the face of abhorrent male behaviors (one such behavior I observed was a male walking past a group of females and eying them up and down, as if he were examining a quality steak for marbling), women (statistically and anthropologically, not a feminist commentary in the least) still tend to be attracted to these types, an attraction that they admittedly regret. I have heard more times than I can count: "why am I attracted to jerks" or "why do I always draw in the worst quality guys". Maybe, just maybe, its not a matter of choice. Maybe our genes haven't caught up to the reality that alpha males of the old days are being replaced in cultural standing by other more slightly built men. And in a place like Maine, where that distinction is not as strong, the suit jacket in a bar creates an uncomfortable entropy, a mismatch between the brain desires and genetic desires that confuses both the older alpha males and the females alike. It is difficult to break from the herd and embrace a new cultural norm, and suit jackets just simply aren't as alluring in rural Maine as something would need to be to spark a real cultural shift. The jacket will simply remain as a novelty in Bangor nightlife, something to be worn and perceived as different until one brave herd recognizes that well dressed night life isn't just a Sarah Jessica Parker inspired craze but a true sign of cultural evolution--specifically, the evolution of the alpha male.

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