Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Why We Comb Our Lawns and Fertilize Our Hair
Photo courtesy of roel1943 via Flickr
Ah, did I get that backwards? Brace yourself. Here comes another of my thought exercises, again inspired by my latest reading of The Red Queen-Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley. Another word of warning--random bursts of dripping sarcasm can be found in places you may not always expect it.
Ever wonder why we feel compelled to comb our hair and fertilize our lawns?
We do it to look presentable of course, but why do we want to look presentable?
So others won't think poorly of us of course, but why do we care about what others think of us?
Because people are less likely to cooperate with other people who they don't like, for whatever reasons, duh.
In short, we comb our hair because we are social primates and cooperation is written into our genetic code--lone wolves tend to have harder lives.
Although evolution is based on competition we cooperate within groups to compete against other cooperating groups. A war between two armies is the ultimate competition but within each army you will find the ultimate in cooperation.
It doesn't matter if you wear a powdered wig or dye your hair green. What matters is that your hair conforms to whatever is considered acceptable for whatever reasons in whatever group you identify with.
Enough about hair. Lawns are what interest me and because lawns are largely a man's domain the rest of this essay will be mostly from a heterosexual male perspective.
Study after study has shown that women are rarely attracted by wealth and power. No, they are attracted to rippling abs, tight buns, and robust genitalia. They could care less if a man has a job. It is a mystery why men expend so much time working and maintaining their lawns and homes when they should be at the gym ...wearing spandex to highlight their packages.
Ahem ...lawns (as well as houses in general) are a form of status display. They tell others a lot about you. That brown weed patch juxtaposed next to a perfectly manicured green lawn tells passerby that the owner:
A) Does not care what you think about his lawn.
B) Does not have the means or energy to maintain it.
You can spot where the octogenarians (and drunkards) live in my neighborhood by the state of their lawns and houses.
Women may not realize it, but all men are engaged in an endless battle of one-upmanship. My planter strip (that area of grass between Seattle sidewalks and the street) had gotten out of control over the years. I'd one-upped my competitors years ago by dumping river rock on it and planting pampas grass in the middle of the pile. Boom! No mowing, no fertilizing, no watering, and I received a lot of compliments (from women) on how nice it looked.
However, over the years the pampas grass grew to take over the whole area, preventing people from getting out of their cars and filling the street with shed grass stems, thus degrading my stature. It was time for a new game plan.
Yards and houses as status displays can be a double-edged sword. One runs the risk of inadvertently displaying one's lack of creativity and smarts, which is why rich people hire others to design and maintain their homes.
My neighborhood is filled with examples of attempts to create attractive, yet low maintenance planter strips that back-fired badly. Instead of saying "Wow, this guy is creative and energetic," these planter strips say "Wow, this guy must be an idiot."
This is why rich people seek neighborhoods with covenants that forbid creativity. Best to let people suspect you have no creativity than to do your own landscaping and remove all doubt.
While working on my new planter strip, I was often visited by the other silverbacks in the neighborhood who offered pearls of advice as well as consolation, for the task that lay before me was not trivial. A gas powered weed eater with a saw blade on the end took care of the pampas grass, a pickax took care of the roots, and an ad in Craigslist got rid of the river rock.
I was of course leery of their advice, knowing full well they may be trying to trip me up. I think my new landscaping job is a success because I've notice that the other silverbacks have been spending a lot of time lately working on their planter strips. At a mostly subconscious level, men are a lot like male bowerbirds and lawns are their chick magnets.
So, what gives a manicured lawn higher status than a weed patch? I think it's because it displays one's ability or even willingness to control one's environment. Altering and controlling the environment is the hallmark of Homo sapiens. We alter our environment to suit us rather than adapt to an environment. Beavers do the same thing on a much smaller scale.
Wealthy or powerful individuals are able to commandeer the energies of other people to do their bidding. There are undoubtedly some octogenarians in my neighborhood who are wealthy enough to hire an army of gardeners and others to maintain their yards and homes and because of that I am unable to spot where they live.
This all relates to males attracting females. Human males tend to be mildly polygamous, given the chance. Some guys may fantasize about having a harem, but anti-polygamy laws are a good deal for the majority of men because rich guys historically tend to hog up all the women. Assuming you would not be the odd man out means you probably would be.
I recall watching an investigative piece on television where they visited a town in Utah where some wealthy individual had about a dozen wives. They interviewed another guy who had moved there so he could have multiple wives. Much to his chagrin, after years of trying, he was still single. He just didn't get it.
In the distant past, high-status, rich, powerful people had more children. That's not true anymore but the genes that promoted that behavior still reside inside of us, goading us to do strange things like, maintain our lawns and comb our hair.
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