Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Measure of Manhood in Rural Oklahoma

Evolutionary fitness results from successful reproduction. When mates select one another (in animals), they (consciously or subconsciously) try to select mates that have the best genes. Of course, they cannot see these genes, so they must use indirect fitness indicators as a basis for the choice. In birds, these indicators include bright plumage and beautiful songs. These are reliable fitness indicators because a genetically inferior bird cannot produce either of them.

How about humans? Frequently, human fitness indicators in the modern world make no sense. Maybe they are the modern remnants of fitness indicators that did make sense in prehistoric times. For example, a male driving around a loud car does not indicate anything about the quality of his genes, but a male riding a horse in prehistoric times most definitely did indicate genetic quality.

Modern human fitness indicators can be very unreliable and vary wildly from culture to culture. I do not simply mean geographical cultures, but cultures within cultures as well. The fitness indicators in the academic world (number of publications, number and size of grants, number of teaching awards, etc.) are very different from those in society as a whole.

I present here an incomplete list of some of the male fitness indicators that I have seen in rural Oklahoma, for the benefit of those of you who have not been here.

  • Size of pickup truck
  • Amount of fumes coming from pickup truck. The most prestigious trucks have grossly enlarged exhaust pipes and you can smell them a block away.
  • Amount of noise from pickup truck (same comments)
  • Amount of mud on pickup truck. About half the trucks I see are nearly covered with mud. In most cases, the mud is so uniformly spread across the vehicle that I suspect it was deliberately sprayed on.
  • Size of wheels on pickup truck. Supersized wheels and tires may cause damage to the truck, but in the short term it can be impressive to some people.
  • Frequency of spitting on the ground right where people walk (tobacco spittle preferred but not essential)
  • Amount of garbage produced. Sometimes people will dispose of their garbage in your bin, or in your yard, but more frequently they will have overflowing garbage bins on pickup days. This, rather than expensive cars or suits, is the rural Oklahoma way of advertising conspicuous consumption.

Remember that true fitness is related to the number of successful offspring, not just to the number of offspring. In Oklahoma, many males leave behind a large number of offspring but only minimally support them. These children survive but are at a tremendous disadvantage when it comes to having a satisfying life.

Let me close by mentioning a good fitness indicator in rural Oklahoma. A lot of men are proud to be employed, even if it is only to mow lawns. One of the problems Durant, Oklahoma faces is a shortage of skilled labor. But doing a job, frequently under unpleasant conditions, and getting paid for it, is a mark of distinction, and a good one.

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