Ambigamy

Insights for the deeply romantic and deeply skeptical

A Homely Confession

The author admits to a shameful kind of bigotry.
Jeremy Sherman
This post is a response to Single Midlife Male Seeks Romantic Solution by Jeremy E. Sherman, Ph.D.

This is going to be a harder confession than any I’ve ever made.

I have to confess to an ugly, biased, bigoted, stereotyping, profiling prejudice. It’s worse or at least as bad as racism, sexism, or ageism. It’s probably even the root source of some residual racism, sexism and ageism in me. It is so crass, tacky, and unconscionable I couldn’t admit it if it weren’t that I see plenty of others with it too.

Wait, that’s BS. Bigotry loves company. But forget who else has the same prejudice. This is my confession and really, it’s bad.

My bigotry goes way, way back. What’s worse, I don’t think I’ll be able to overcome it in my lifetime.

It manifests in me treating some people like dirt; others like gods, looking deep into the eyes of some; avoiding the eyes of others, looking forward to time with some; skipping time with others, gullibly believing what some say; not even listening to others, giving $10-people the benefit of the doubt; holding $5-people to exacting standards. And all based on traits people have little or no control over, traits that, at best, have absolutely nothing to do with who is worthy of my attention, and more likely deserve it less than the people I afford it to least.

This prejudice of mine doesn’t just shape my relationship with acquaintances. It shapes how I choose my most intense long-term commitments. It’s one thing to decline someone’s company for the occasional lunch based on some prejudice. But to decide who to join full force with, to spend seasons and years with, to invest my greatest energies with?

It’s embarrassing. 

Like I say, it’s no excuse that I’m not alone in making my biggest decisions based on my bigotry. I only wish I could claim, that like some naïve white man in the old South, I can’t tell I’m prejudiced any better than a fish knows he’s in water. But I know. I’ve known a long time. And still I don’t stop.

If I had been decidedly among those who are disadvantaged by the prejudice I’d be up in arms about it. I’ve been relatively lucky that way. Others who share my bigotry have treated me as a member of the winning class. Like that white guy in the old South, I’m at an advantage, but also at an advantage not admitting I’m at an advantage. We who have this advantage have a pact not to admit there’s a popular prejudice in our favor. 

Like this one woman at the very top of our supposed “superior class” I heard interviewed on the radio: she was asked what it’s like to be in the superior class. The liar said, that there’s no class difference, no prejudice. We’re all equal. She said it as though she was saying something generous and pious. That’s like Mitt Romney saying sanctimoniously that there’s no difference between rich and poor, that we’re all rich, and then exploiting all the special privileges the rich enjoy. 

We winners by my creepy prejudice’s standards sometimes wring our hands in despair about it, and claim to disavow the advantages it confers. We don’t admit that it’s next to impossible to just swear off the advantages. Few if any of us are able to successfully and sustainably abstain from advantages within our easy reach. When people do nice things for the undeserving winners, the winners may not take all but they’ll certainly take some. They can’t even know all of the advantages they’ve enjoyed. Men in a sexist society can’t help but enjoy some of the benefits they get from being paid more than women. White abolitionists in the old South must have enjoyed some benefits of being white also.

I’m probably just stalling here.

OK, enough beating around the bush. Here goes. I’m lookist. I’m intensely lookist. I give special treatment to attractive people, and attractive women in particular. It’s like they have a sexy little chunk of kryptonite in their cute little hip pockets that affects me at a hundred paces, radiating some magical wave that makes me stupid, dumb, and gullible, ready to make time and give everything.

I’ve had this weakness all my life, since my pretty mom gave me so much love, since I noticed that young girl with her hair in the bandana at the skating rink in the early sixties, or those coed college students on the bus who wore the white stockings, or the girls on TV who danced in those go-go boots. I probably had it earlier than all that, maybe even in the womb. Or earlier. I mean I’m not of the first generation to be bigoted in favor of the attractive. Not that the sins of past generations are any kind of excuse for my unconscionable double standards.

I even think that I’m being generous in my chivalrous attention to attractive women, as though somehow it indicates that I’m a good guy for being kind to them when I’m really mostly kind of drunk on their kryptonite. True generosity isn’t bigoted.

I know this guy who wants to do away with all rank so we all treat each other as exactly equal. I think his campaign is pitiful, hopeless, ridiculous, and entirely unworkable. Gifts are unevenly distributed at birth and besides, for good reason, we aspire to live in a meritocracy, in which the people who have more talent, skill, and natural ability get to go further.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote a short story about the ridiculousness of trying to address the injustice of meritocracy by make the world’s playing field entirely flat. The people born strong and graceful were shackled into weighted chains to keep them from overpowering and outshining the weak and graceless. The sharp-witted were fitted with earplugs that played car crash sounds at random intervals to keep them from out-witting the dull. The attractive had to wear uglifying clothes and masks to keep them from out-classing the homely. It is not the society we want.

This anti-rankist campaigner I know wouldn’t go for it either, but he wants something equally unworkable. He believes that all of us, on the count of three, should simply drop our rankism so that no one is disadvantaged.

People who make radical, moral proposals like that forget a fundamental fact of human life. Talk is cheap; actions speak louder than words, talk is not walk; saying is not doing. Hence we’re stuck with a Moral Paradox: The more you moralize, the greater your risk of hypocrisy. People who claim we can and should just abandon rankism will simply find ways to ignore their rankism, like that supermodel I heard interviewed on the radio who said as if generously, “Me, beautiful? No more than anyone else. We’re all beautiful.”

Fact is some of us are more attractive than others. We can pretend that it's all in the eye of the beholder, that attractiveness is a total mystery, that there isn’t general consensus about who’s attractive, that everyone is equally attractive to someone, that we can all on the count of three ignore the kryptonite in attractive peoples’ pockets. None of that is going to work.

You might ask, why should it? I mean, if we believe in a meritocracy, what’s wrong with attractive people enjoying and exploiting an advantage?

I have an answer to that question. The difference between meritocracy and bigotry is in whether the trait being ranked is a good cue for what has pragmatic merit. When choosing a partner with whom to make a family, with whom to invest one’s life efforts, with whom to talk and negotiate and work things out, the shape of a butt or the twinkle in an eye should not be the decisive factor it has been for me and for a great many others I know. I’ve been in partnerships I never would have put up with had it not been for my lookism.

And before you say, “I could have told you that” or if you’re a woman say, “Yes, you men are so pitifully petty,” please check to see whether you don’t have a comparably irrelevant prejudice. Many of us pretend we don’t, but do.

No wait. This is my confession; not yours. I’ll stick with my uncomfortable point: I’m a looks bigot.

Jeremy Sherman is an evolutionary epistemologist studying the natural history and practical realities of decision making.

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