Sexual Selection in Modern Humans: What Will Endure? – English 5 – Essay 4
Assignment: When Darwin wrote “Natural Selections,” he believed that sexual selection was of great importance in evolutionary changes in species. Assuming that this belief is true, establish the similarities between sexual selection in plants and animals and sexual selection, as you have observed it, in people. Paragraphs 10-12 discuss this issue. Darwin does not discuss selection in human beings, but it is clear that physical and stylistic distinctions between the sexes have some bearing on selection. Assuming that to be true, what qualities in people (physical and mental) are likely to survive?
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21 April 2014
Sexual Selection in Modern Humans: What Will Endure?
BBC News recently published an article on the significance of evolution guiding beard trends in men. The author, James Morgan, states that: “The more beards there are, the less attractive they become – giving clean-shaven men a competitive advantage.” The researchers contend that the trend is cyclical, believing we have currently reached a peak in beard popularity and attractiveness, and that beards will begin to disappear from the majority. Whether it is beards, wide hips, colorful feathers, or prominent antlers, there are aspects in nature that assist in the evolutionary process through something Charles Darwin identified as Sexual Selection.
Evolution through natural selection is defined as “a natural process that results in the survival and reproductive success of individuals or groups best adjusted to their environment and that leads to the perpetuation of genetic qualities best suited to that particular environment.” It is clear that merely adapting to the environment is not the only necessary ingredient for success; all animals need to be able to reproduce in order to carry on their advantageous mutations. It does not matter if a creature possesses the ultimate desirable mutations if that creature is not able to reproduce before their death.
One finds that in animals, there is consistency and observability in the sexual selection process. Conversely, there is an astounding amount of uncertainty with humans when you begin to consider aspects such as humor and altruism – traits not found in the animal kingdom. This uncertainty begs the question: which human traits will win out and carry on into the future generations of the species?
In Charles Darwin’s essay on natural selection, he specified that sexual selection “depends, not on a struggle for existence, but on a struggle between the males for possession of the females; the result is not death to the unsuccessful competitor but few or no offspring” (905). In the world of insects and animals, this struggle is clearly evident; males compete for right to the females, and females choose the males with which she will mate. This is accomplished through a variety of processes including domination of territory, direct confrontation with other males, mating displays such as dances and noise making, and even simply the possession of the brightest or most alluring features (Dobkin). These processes are also observable in humans and critical to their reproduction. Their significance, however, becomes more blurred when you include other uniquely human psychological objectives, which can often supersede the natural mating objectives (such as the desire for a successful career). Whereas the process of reproduction is the only thing that drives the motivations of the lower animals, humans are infinitely more complex. This is not to say that sex and reproduction are not human motivators, as they clearly are, but rather to contend that they have evolved to a point where it is no longer their sole concern.
Selection of casual sexual partners in humans is generally thought to be determined by simple evaluation of physical attractiveness. It is the process that is most easily recognizable, although human quantifiers of whether someone is “hot” or “beautiful” have many scientifically measurable components. Waist to hip ratios and indicators of testosterone and estrogen in facial and body construction are not just aesthetically pleasing; they can tell potential partners at a genetic and instinctual level whether the object of their desire is a good candidate for reproduction (Anitei). These qualities can stimulate physical attraction reactions, but do not account for the unquantifiable qualities in humans that drive monogamous relationships and more reliable reproductive partnerships. Humorous ability, charitable nature, and aggressive tendencies (or lack thereof) can all contribute to an individual’s attractiveness, but are not attributes that one can yet easily identify or track through genetics in any significant way.
Regardless of what the successful traits that drive human reproduction are, sexual selection in terms of the future of the species can either be viewed in bleak or optimistic terms. With human advancements in birth control and genetic engineering, desirable mutations and evolution through sexual or natural selection become more obsolete. It is possible that the use (or misuse) of birth control could become the most influential factor. Individuals with responsible traits and higher intelligence will consider the issues of overpopulation and limited resources, choose to utilize birth control, and therefore minimize or even end their genetic line. Those with irresponsible tendencies and an overall lower intelligence will use birth control ineffectively (or not at all) and ensure that their genetic line will carry on or even prosper. This particular idea is featured in the 2006 film Idiocracy, where a man of average intelligence is placed in experimental hibernation. Upon waking, he finds that through this kind of sexual selection, the entire world’s population is now of incredibly low intelligence, making him the smartest man alive. Although the film is entirely fictional and written with humorous intention, the basic idea is one that is seriously considered by many intellectuals and some even find frightening. It may be this trait of irresponsibility that continues the growth and survival of the species (which is the ultimate goal of natural selection), but it may also be the trait that determines their eventual doom.
Another possible future that humanity finds itself at the brink of, is one where its offspring is entirely genetically engineered to possess the most desired traits. Science is already able to manipulate physical qualities such as eye and hair color and has the ability to detect genetic defects. Soon this may include height, metabolism, aggression, spatial reasoning and more. If this genetic engineering is also coupled with the popular idea where birth control is enforced (or even imposed) globally, sexual selection or even natural selection would find itself entirely outdated. At the very least, the definition would need to evolve to include what guides us to intelligently select what comprises humanity’s most desired traits. Would this process even allow humans to remain homo sapiens sapiens? Would homo sapiens sapiens manufacture a new species?
Humans theorize that the earth will have a 6th great extinction event that will prove to be the end of their species. Many scientists state that this extinction, referred to as the “Holocene extinction”, is actually beginning now and cite humans as the main cause. With 1-10 species lost per year, it is unknown whether the Holocene extinction will wipe out humanity. It is believed that, through the great strides humanity is making in science and technology, they can be kept alive by developing the means to flourish on other planets or in space itself. However, such progress cannot be made if production of suitable offspring ceases.
In practice, it behooves humanity to make intelligent choices regarding sexual selection to ensure the longest life for the species. As the most sentient and self-aware species, humans are best qualified to improve upon the process of natural selection – whether it is through genetic engineering, controlled births, or even solutions that have not yet been thought of. The ability to do this is a large part of what sets humans apart from their neighbors on Earth.
Anitei, Stefan. “The 3 Main Physical Factors of the Biological Attraction in Humans.” Softpedia. Soft News, 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2014
Darwin, Charles. “Natural Selection.” Jacobus 897-911.
Dobkin, David S., Paul R. Ehrlich and Darryl Wheye. “Sexual Selection.” Standford.edu Stanford University, 1988. Web. 20 Apr. 2014.
“Holocene Extinction.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Apr. 2014 Web. 18 Apr. 2014.
Idiocracy. Dir. Mike Judge. Perf. Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, and Dax Shepard. Fox. 2006. Film.
Jacobus, Lee A., ed. A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013. Print.
Morgan, James. “Beard Trend is ‘Guided by Evolution’.” BBC News. BBC. 16 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.
“Natural Selection.” Mirriam-Webster. n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.