Dear Darwin: Why we ban other people’s outfits
Vail, CO Colorado
The house and senate recently approved a bill that would ban the wearing of baseball hats in public. Men now found hiding under their favorite teams’ bonnets will be Tasered and hauled off to the clink. This law will be enforced especially at baseball games, where the hats have been linked to the highly offensive acts of peanut-shelling and cheese-slice wearing.
The hats have also been implicated in other aggressive acts. Indeed, cheese-heads who also wear oversize over size “foam fingers” have been found poking popcorn and peanut venders with the fingers, demanding that they “get out of the way or sit down,” or at least give them a beer.
“The poking must stop now,” said a 16-year-old ballpark vending supervisor at Chicago’s Wiggly Field, a doggie park on the north side of Chicago. As he walked and talked, his 3-pound French bulldog snapped at the ankles of nearby dog owners, apparently under the impression that their ankles were fellow bulldogs that posed a threat to its dinner.
The 16-year-old supervisor spoke candidly during the rare interview: “We see the poking as an offense to our sensibilities. It upsets us to think that someone would pick on popcorn peddlers. Bat boys don’t have to put up that kind of abuse.”
He then commented on how men who wear the hats have been known to go two, even three days without showering. “They use their little beanies as refugee tents, riding out their bad-hair days under them, avoiding their mousse-ing responsibilities as long as they can.”
Bulldogs and bad hair aside, legislation being considered in Belgium would make the wearing of a certain piece of clothing a crime. This is the burqa (veil), worn by Muslim women. The ban would apply to women who work in public schools and government jobs.
I’m not going to address some of the obvious issues related to this subject, for example, the fact that all men are terrified of women, burqas or not. Nor am I going to address some of the other concerns: racism, in-group/out-group bias, anxiety, and xenophobia, just to name a few. But, I would like to get to the evolutionary roots of why burqas are banned.
Maybe 7 million years of countless raids, ambushes, invasions, attacks, battles, and some 15,000 wars has something to do with it. Indeed, group-to-group tension and competition has been an unfortunate byproduct of human evolution. Because we humans have such a poor track record with aggression, our brains have evolved to be hypersensitive to the presence of outsiders.
There is a mechanism in the mind that author Rush Dozier calls the “binary instinct.” Natural selection coughed up this instinct to help us determine, in a fraction of a second, whether an outsider is friend or foe. It evolved to protect us against the countless acts of aggression we have committed as a species.
When people look different, whether due to skin color, clothing or because a male teen is wearing a flat rimmed baseball hat tilted to the side, we get nervous.
It’s likely that the binary instinct is the starting point of racism and the banning of souped-up fabric from Joanne’s. Personally, I get nervous around French bulldogs.
Robert Valko is a graduate of Northwestern University and currently is writing two books on evolutionary psychology. E-mail Robert with column ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.