Missing data: taking looks seriously

I recently watched some YouTube videos created by men who are discussing their observations of their personal social failings particularly with respect to attracting female interest in a way that can lead to a relationship.   As I discussed in earlier posts, this is a persistent preoccupation of mine, for personal reasons that I am genuinely curious about how other men adapt to conditions I find myself in.   With the topic of MGTOW, I recognize that from the outside it looks like I qualify for such a label, but comparing notes with their observations (many of which are quite well argued with evidence of data and theories) I find my situation is very different.

When I encountered the term “Forever Alone” or FA, I immediately admired that phrase to describe my life.   My life has a lot in common with their discussions.  In particular, I experienced the frustrations of never getting past the first introductory date.   Something was off, but I could never explain it.   The FA argument of it being the result of looks makes a lot of sense, but while I admit that I am not strikingly handsome, I have always thought of myself as being handsome enough.   Something more than looks must have been behind my frustrations.   Whatever the explanation, the label of FA suits me now because I have accepted that my identity is to be forever alone.   I spend no effort to change that status.

That said, these discussions still fascinate me.   Part of that may be an eagerness to find something I can add to their discussions.   It would be nice to offer some advice as most of the content creators are younger then myself: maybe my experiences can illuminate some wisdom.   I realize I have none to give.  The situations surrounding my experiences were completely different.

Instead of imparting my wisdom in the hopes of helping them, I am gaining wisdom from their discussions even where perhaps they didn’t intend it.

They label their topics as being related to their personal frustrations, using terms like incels, forever alone, black pill, etc.   However, the content of many of the videos is actually about the importance of a person’s appearance to that person’s prospects of success, socially as well as economically.

A frequently cited evidence (debunked here) about a dating site’s data showing a strong correlation between perceived looks and personality, with a conclusion most people judge personality on photographs much more than they judge textual descriptions.   I have in the past used dating sites (and unsatisfactory results), and the only thing I hated most was the explicit encouragement to upload not just one photo, but lots of photos in different contexts.   Multiple photos will expose different poses that give more opportunities for finding something attractive, but the explicit explanation is that the photos will illuminate your personality: a picture being worth a thousand words.

Intuitively, this makes a lot of sense, and I recognized it at the time.   Seeing a person in some activity not only demonstrates interest in that activity, but the person’s expression and the expressions of the others exposes how well suited that person is to that activity.  Even if a person is competent, if the other expressions show signs of rejection then this is not a party one would want to be invited to.

A lot of discussion about looks concerns physical looks, and that discussion is frequently driven by the author’s perception of his own flaws, whether it is height, body frame proportions, facial features, asymmetries or deformities.   It is hard to determine whether these self-assessments are realistic, and in many cases it appears they are more attractive than they claim.

There is a second claim that seems much more compelling and also matches that correlation chart of highly correlated perceptions of looks and personality despite access to at times extensive text self-descriptions.   Eventually people do meet in person, and that meeting will often fail to spark interest in a followup meeting.   A similar correlation appears to be in play in these encounters, but it is the corollary to the first observation.

Looks can be a turn-off when the actual personality contradicts the expected personality based on looks.   I also find this to be intuitive.   When meeting people for the first time, there is always a self-defense of recognizing the frauds or manipulators.   A lot occurs in that initial encounter and most of that is non-verbal.   When the non-verbal messages don’t match the verbal ones, people are going to be suspicious.

I think this is natural, but I think people can learn to get past it.   Those who master this will becomes salesmen, politicians, etc.   Most people don’t have this training or intuitive skill, they will react negatively to any incongruities between expressed personality and appearance cues of personality.  These are the people in the pool of potential partners.

The impediment of getting people together is the mismatch between appearances and actual personality.   The impediment is discrimination based on appearances.

In modern discourse, we often hear of discrimination based on race, sex, sexual-partner preferences, or whatever.   I don’t recall ever seeing this happen based on the criteria presented.   I have seen discrimination, and I have experienced it personally (in both directions), but it is never based on these group-identifiers.   My observations of discrimination has always been individualistic: a contradiction between an individual’s personality with the other person’s perception of that personality.   In most cases, the conflict is never resolved, and I suspect it will never be resolved.

Also in modern discourse we hear of the concept of unearned privilege based on appearances based on the same categories that are supposed to drive discrimination: race, sex, etc.   Again, I never see this in my life based on these broad categories, but I do see inherent privilege.   That privilege comes from the congruence of ones personality with his appearances.   In particular, people are naturally attracted to people whose actually personality matches the expectations based on appearances.

This should not be surprising.   We expected professional people to present themselves professionally.   When we go to a doctor’s office and see a person in a medical coat, we don’t expect that person to be a fellow patient.   Similarly, when we see someone with a well-toned body, we expect that person to have a certain dietary restrictions and exercise habits.   A person dressed in style will behave accordingly.    Appearances do convey important cues about personality.

The real privilege is when the personality cues in one’s appearance exactly matches one’s actual personality.   As mentioned above, there are many ways to voluntarily present oneself to conform with his internal personality.    On the other hand, there are also cultural constraints that may force a person to present himself contrary to his internal personality.   Not everyone wearing a suit is comfortable in a suit.   Not everyone wearing boxing shorts has any plans of visiting any gym any time in the future.   Many people have to present themselves contrary to their actual personality, or even their actual role.

I recall working in a more formal environment where everyone wore suits.   The office often hosted visitors so everyone was expected to present themselves professionally.   Someone working in IT for maintaining the computer equipment would be wearing a suit.  If that person was the first person seen by a new visitor, the visitor would naturally expect him to be someone to greet.   The expectation of course was that the IT person would respond as helpfully as possible giving the impression that he was indeed the right person to ask.   This would be an act, the IT is the wrong person to ask, and often this will come through in the interaction.   In an instant, the damage of disappointment has been done.   Certainly any future interaction between these two will be avoided, and very likely the overall business relationship has suffered a setback.

The same thing occurs in social gatherings.   Even introductions start long before the actual introduction.   People make their first statements or inquiries based on what the perceived personality they are addressing.   If the actual personality is very different from expectations, the entire interaction fails.   This is not uncommon.

This is not news.   A very early lesson in life is that first impressions matter a lot.  That first impression starts with first sight.  You need to present yourself well in grooming, attire, and body language long before uttering a first word.   You also need to utter the right first words.

The blackpill observation is about the inconsistency of appearances and personality.  For the project of gaining lasting relationships, it is counterproductive to pretend to be someone you are not.   Their observation goes beyond pretense: there are inescapable attributes of our bodies that lie to the public about our personality.   No amount of grooming, dressing, or practice will change our facial features, our height, our bone structures.    These physical attributes inherently advertise some type of quality of personality.   The truly privileged is when that inherent body structure conveys a personality that people expect from that structure.

I recall a discussion about the fact that the population of corporate leaders (presidents, CEOs, directors) have tall heights that are far outside statistical probabilities.   The implication is that their professional success was determined by their height.   This is partially true.   Their success is that their personality met people’s expectation of leadership from someone with that height.  Tall people are not inherently privileged (despite the female dating profiles demanding mates 6 feet or higher).   We will just a readily discriminate against a tall person who fails to exhibit leadership qualities as we will discriminate against a short person who demonstrates leadership.

Looks do matter a lot in social and professional success.   What really matters is that our looks match our personalities and aptitudes.   Many of us do not live up to our appearances.   We can try to compensate with changing things we can control, but we can not escape the messages sent by our height, our skeleton, and especially our facial features.   The alternative is to work on our personality, changing it to match what people expect from our features.   Many of us do that, but we never convince ourselves so it is always an act, and that act will eventually be exposed for what it is, leaving us where we started, alone.

There is an important lesson here for dedomenology or data science.   In particular, most of our data about people lacks information about their looks.   In many social studies, we avoid collecting data about people’s looks.   To the extent we do include appearances, we use exactly the same categories we claim are potential sources of discrimination: skin color, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity.   We do not collect data about a person’s skeletal dimensions, facial features, or other aspects that vary dramatically within the so-called identity groups.

As a result, when our study of the data does show statistical evidence of discrimination, we conclude from the data that it is the result of something as generic as skin color.   I do not doubt there is discrimination, but the actual discrimination is a total assessment of all aspects of a person’s appearance where skin color may have no bearing at all.   There may be a correlations with certain body features with skin color, but the key factor is the body feature — the same body feature with a different skin color would elicit the same discrimination.   Detrimental discrimination occurs when the person’s personality fails to live up to expectations based on the cues of their body shape.

Before the data era, when we used textual descriptions of people in biographies or fiction, those descriptions often went into extensive detail about fine details of the person’s appearance along with commentary about how congruent those features were with the person’s personality.   This reflects an ancient understanding that looks do matter in the way the reinforce or undermine a person’s prospects in life.   It is only in the recent past when we dismissed this, replacing details such as skeletal structure of facial features with overly generic attributes of sex or skin color.

In our data, we have deliberately made ourselves more ignorant of an inherent part of humanity, that part being our assessment of other’s personality and the implications on a person’s prospects when his appearance contradicts his personality.

The recent degradation of political discourse may be directly related to this blindness we introduced in our data.   In particular, the Internet forums of communications are often characterized by anonymous account with default avatars or handles where we have no visual cues of personality.   This is liberating discourse that we otherwise may have dismissed had we made a prior assessment based on their appearance.   We are experiencing the consequences of taking seriously voices we otherwise would have ignored based on appearances, but on body shape, facial features, and body language instead of race or sexual identity.

On the other hand, this removal of the opportunity of first impressions by appearances may be depriving us of some important information.   It does appear that we have builtin behaviors to assess personality based on appearances.   This may be adaptive behavior: judging a person’s presented personality against expectations from his appearance.

The goal of dedomenology, especially in the context of governing by data through a dedomenocracy, is to assess the real personality of individual people.   We are collecting data about what people say and what people do.   For the dedomenocracy project, it is safe to leave out data about what people appear to be?


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