Saturday, September 21, 2013

Equal Opportunity for the Ugly

When I was about ten years old (in the 1950's), my foster father and I drove out to run some errands. On the way, we were stopped by a black traffic cop who was directing traffic at an intersection. I had never seen a black man before, so I was not a little stunned and curious. All I saw was a black man in a blue uniform blowing his whistle. My foster father, however, stunned me even more. He muttered, "Damn niggers are taking over the world!"

I gave him a shocked look that must have looked to him like a reproach, because when we got back home, he took his belt to me.

On another occasion, when I was about the same age, the family had "company" over for dinner. Someone asked me – because the subject must have been race, but I don’t recall the particular details – it must have been one of my foster folks, "What color are we, Ed?" I answered, "Beige."

Wrong answer. It earned me another session with the strap after the company left.

But this column isn't about race or color-blindness. It's about the new egalitarian push to grant ugly or homely people – race optional – their "fair share" of entitlements and a generous dollop of "social justice." It's about the educational and cultural establishment taking their belts to human esthetics and all measurements of value. And by "belt," I mean government force.

The issue of ugly people has been gathering steam since at least 2011. Stanford Junior University law professor Deborah L. Rhode, in her 2010 book, The Beauty Bias, began thumping the war drums about the "injustice of appearance in life and law." I quote from the synopsis of her book, in which Rhode or her publisher's copywriter noted, after claiming that the annual global investment in appearance is in the neighborhood of $200 billion:

Many individuals experience stigma, discrimination, and related difficulties, such as eating disorders, depression, and risky dieting and cosmetic procedures. Women bear a vastly disproportionate share of those costs, in part because they face standards more exacting than those for men, and pay greater penalties for falling short.

That was Rhode's liberal/left call-to-arms. Next, she gets to the totalitarian nub of her opus:

The Beauty Bias explores the social, biological, market, and media forces that have contributed to appearance-related problems, as well as feminism's difficulties in confronting them…. Appearance-related bias infringes fundamental rights, compromises merit principles, reinforces debilitating stereotypes, and compounds the disadvantages of race, class, and gender….The Beauty Bias provides the first systematic survey of how [existing] appearance laws work in practice, and a compelling argument for extending their reach….

Rhode's book was published by the Oxford University Press in May 2010. It was favorably received by Publishers Weekly, the Christian Science Monitor,, and a passel of notorious distaff gender studies entities. I was surprised not to see the Huffington Post and other liberal/left blog sites endorse the book. In the reviews, she is cited as "the nation's most cited scholar on professional responsibility."

Responsibility to whom? Or to what? You fill in the blanks. If individuals aren't permitted to establish their own esthetic values – even if they enter an employer's calculations of what he finds suitable for employment, or for a wife, or for a work of art, then who or what will establish them for him?

In April 2013, Daniel Hamermesh's book, Beauty Pays, appeared from Princeton University Press to the acclaim of Publishers Weekly, the New Yorker, the New York Journal of Books, Forbes, the Daily Mail, and an audience of obedient critics responding to liberal/collectivist autosuggestion. Hamermesh is a professor of economics at the University of Texas-Austin and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His work has been subsidized by the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies, and he has written on the economic aspects of "beauty, sleep and suicide."

He missed one major realm of research: the economic impact of picking lint from one's belly button.

From his book synopsis:

Most of us know there is a payoff to looking good, and in the quest for beauty we spend countless hours and billions of dollars on personal grooming, cosmetics, and plastic surgery….

Including former Speaker of the House Nancy "Let's see what's in it" Pelosi, a soul-mate of Hamermesh, who has spent a fortune on plastic surgery and/or Botox injections to present to the American public a mask of motherly and despotic benevolence.

The first book to seriously measure the advantages of beauty, Beauty Pays demonstrates how society favors the beautiful and how better-looking people experience startling but undeniable benefits in all aspects of life….

What happened to Rhode's book? Wasn't it the first one to seriously measure the advantages of beauty? But, we quibble. In a Huffington Post interview of September 2nd, 2011, Hamermesh reveals his premises.

To me the crucial question is whether we should think of beauty as productive, or as reflecting discrimination. This is a very tough question, since there's no doubt that hiring a beautiful person raises a company's sales. I would argue that beauty's effects reflect societal discrimination, and that is not inherently productive.

It isn't often that one sees a glaring contradiction in the space of one short paragraph. On one hand, Hamermesh says, a "beautiful person" undoubtedly raises a company's sales. On the other hand, because of "societal discrimination," raising a company's sales isn't productive. Go figure.

He was asked to define beautiful and ugly persons.

I wouldn't and can't. It's like pornography – I know it when I see it.

No, Hamermesh wouldn’t dream of revealing his personal measure of beauty and ugliness. These measures, he contends, are a consequence of a societal consensus.

In his August 27th New York Times op-ed, "Ugly? You May Have a Case," Hamermesh reveals his true agenda, which is to correct society's "consensus" with fiat law.

A more radical solution may be needed: why not offer legal protections to the ugly, as we do with racial, ethnic and religious minorities, women and handicapped individuals?

We actually already do offer such protections in a few places, including in some jurisdictions in California, and in the District of Columbia, where discriminatory treatment based on looks in hiring, promotions, housing and other areas is prohibited. Ugliness could be protected generally in the United States by small extensions of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Ugly people could be allowed to seek help from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other agencies in overcoming the effects of discrimination. We could even have affirmative-action programs for the ugly.

Hamermesh looks like a jolly old fellow with a beard who wouldn't hurt a fly. He might have even chuckled at a relevant "Seinfeld" scene. But he didn't write his op-ed tongue-in-cheek or as a suggestion for a Saturday Night Live skit. He is serious. He is proposing that the government employ force to "aid" the ugly.

For purposes of administering a law, we surely could agree on who is truly ugly, perhaps the worst-looking 1 or 2 percent of the population. The difficulties in classification are little greater than those faced in deciding who qualifies for protection on grounds of disabilities that limit the activities of daily life, as shown by conflicting decisions in numerous legal cases involving obesity….

Economic arguments for protecting the ugly are as strong as those for protecting some groups currently covered by legislation. So why not go ahead and expand protection to the looks-challenged?….

You might reasonably disagree and argue for protecting all deserving groups. Either way, you shouldn’t be surprised to see the United States heading toward this new legal frontier.

No, we shouldn't be surprised, especially when entities like Stanford law professor Deborah Rhode are all for anti-discrimination laws that would protect ("promote"?) the ugly and penalize the beautiful, and when there are countless individuals who would readily and shamelessly claim that they were discriminated against because of their looks. And who might be the "we" who would "agree" on who is ugly? An "Ugliness Panel" convened under the aegis of an ObamaLooks law? Perhaps the panel would recommend that people be sent to hospitals to have their looks corrected, to give them a better chance at jobs and life in general.

Rod Serling's Twilight Zone episode, "The Eye of the Beholder," is a classic tale of what our government wardens would have in mind. 

Ruth Graham, in her August 23rd Boston Globe column, "Who will fight the beauty bias?", natters on about the beauty-vs.-ugly issue without committing herself to any legal or "social" remedies.

The galloping injustice of "lookism" has not escaped psychologists, economists, sociologists, and legal scholars. Stanford law professor Deborah L. Rhode's book, The Beauty Bias, lamented "the injustice of appearance in life and law," while University of Texas, Austin economist Daniel Hamermesh's 2011 Beauty Pays…traced the concrete benefits of attractiveness, including a $230,000 lifetime earnings advantage over the unattractive.

So, now we will add "lookism" to the list of ism's and phobias that have sanctioned curative legislation: ageism, heightism, sexism, homophobia, deafism, mutism, Islamophobia, racism, weightism. Have I left anything out? Oh, yes. Speech-impedimentism.

In all the articles I have read while researching this column, I did not encounter a single definition of beauty or ugly regarding the human visage. The writers wrote from their own vague, woozy notions of what those terms mean, yet they are willing to legislate politically correct esthetics based on their approximations of what the terms mean.

However, Ayn Rand wrote clearly on the subject.

Beauty is a sense of harmony. Whether it’s an image, a human face, a body, or a sunset, take the object which you call beautiful, as a unit [and ask yourself]: what parts is it made up of, what are its constituent elements, and are they all harmonious? If they are, the result is beautiful. If there are contradictions and clashes, the result is marred or positively ugly.

For instance, the simplest example would be a human face. You know what features belong in a human face. Well, if the face is lopsided, [with a] very indefinite jaw-line, very small eyes, beautiful mouth, and a long nose, you would have to say that’s not a beautiful face. But if all these features are harmoniously integrated, if they all fit your view of the importance of all these features on a human face, then that face is beautiful.

Here are examples of what Rand means by harmony (John Singer Sargent's "Lady Agnew of Lochnaw," and the ugly, distorted, and disharmonious (Chuck Close's gallery).

Now since this is an objective definition of beauty, there of course can be universal standards of beauty—provided you define the terms of what objects you are going to classify as beautiful and what you take as the ideal harmonious relationship of the elements of that particular object. To say, “It’s in the eyes of the beholder”—that, of course, would be pure subjectivism, if taken literally. It isn’t [a matter of] what you, for unknown reasons, decide to regard as beautiful. It is true, of course, that if there were no valuers, then nothing could be valued as beautiful or ugly, because values are created by the observing consciousness—but they are created by a standard based on reality. So here the issue is: values, including beauty, have to be judged as objective, not subjective or intrinsic.

The attack on beauty is an attack on values – on values for being values. It is an assault on the good for being the good. The nihilistic nature of this renewed attack is disguised by a profession of relativism. "What's ugly to you is beautiful to me," is the defensive cop-out response by anyone whose sordid tastes in art and literature are questioned.

"There is no lobby for the homely," writes Graham. "How do you change a discriminatory behavior that, even though unfair, is obviously deep, hard to pin down, and largely unconscious…?"

Tentatively, experts are beginning to float possible solutions. Some have proposed legal remedies including designating unattractive people as a protected class, creating affirmative action programs for the homely, or compensating disfigured but otherwise healthy people in personal-injury courts….

Other solutions would require the systemic and systematic lobotomization of men's minds so they are "bias-free" or value-free. This is what is occurring in the nation's schools in esthetics, in history, in politics, in science, to produce a generation of manqués conditioned to have their minds programmed to respond to the state's or the race's or collective's values of servitude and self-sacrifice.

Graham writes:

How to fix this problem depends on what kind of problem, exactly, you think it is. A number of scholars see it as fundamentally a civil-rights issue, with the unattractive a class of people who are provably and consistently discriminated against. It's an idea that seems poised to resonate beyond the academy….

 Where it resonates the most beyond the academy is in the envious, malignant souls of those who are itching to elevate the ugly to the same value level of the beautiful, in order to destroy the beautiful and all beauty.

Ellsworth Toohey, the arch villain of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, articulated the principal method behind the assault on beauty:  “Don’t set out to raze all shrines – you'll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity – and the shrines are razed.”

It is in the name of the mediocre, the nondescript, the ugly, and the average that the nihilists in and out of the academy have declared war on beauty. 


Tim C said...

Close's bio reads remarkably like Rand's descriptions of various zeroes in TF and AS.

Edward Cline said...

Tim C: That's one reason I chose to feature him over other artists who specialize in ugly.

Tim C said...


Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Who is going to allow themselves to be defined as ugly?
And does this mean that people who see themselves as deficient in some way will not be allowed to take corrective measures? How mean and nasty is that?

I am of average looks, I suppose, and have never contemplated plastic surgery. However, I like make-up, good hair cuts, and color. For most people, looking good is a matter of a little self-care, pressing clothes, and taking care of hygiene.

With respect to beauty having some economic advantage, my beautiful daughter gets tired of that. She would be where she is today, beautiful as she is, without that college education in chemistry. One must have brains and use them.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

I destestvauto-correct: my daughter would NOT be where she is today, without her education, despite her beauty. It takes some combination of both.