Hair

For the first time since ninth grade, I have been letting my hair grow out to the point that I actually have to do something with it to keep it out of my eyes. I must admit that a significant factor in this decision was a combination of laziness and frugality. In selecting what I would bring back the US in my most recent move, my hair clippers didn’t make the cut….

Take as long as you need.

That, of course, begs the question: why didn’t I just prioritize my clippers higher than, say, a book I had already read and would cost only a few dollars to replace?

I must also admit that I was a little excited by the prospect of not having a need to keep my hair short and professional. Last fall, I went through a brief phase of interest in Native American cultures. In many, hair is held as sacred. The first person who really valued their tribal culture whom I got to know was a young Cherokee man living in Sweden. He told me that his culture believed that their hair acted as a sort of antenna to the Earth, and if that is true, he is picking up lots of signals. There are many such beliefs among Native American tribes.

I’m not really sure how to write the previous paragraph without sounding patronizing. I feel like most white Americans are going to read that to have a sort of subtext of “That’s what they believe, but of course those are just primitive delusions!” I thought that a way to try to understand it honestly would be to try it myself. I didn’t expect to gain any superpowers, but it’s a low-risk experiment.

However, even the skeptic ought not write off such mystical assertions so easily. I’m not going to argue that there is some energy out there that continues to elude physicists but that long-haired people are tapping into. If that were the case, I wouldn’t expect to see the current world order in which most men with long hair find themselves on the more difficult side of power relations. There is, however, some circumstantial evidence that our hair ought to be treated with a bit more respect than I have given mine for most of my life.

Let’s first take an obvious assertion about where we grow hair and flip it on its head: Why don’t we have hair most other places on our body? We’re the only primates to be so naked. Evolutionary adaptation doesn’t happen without good reason. Why did our ancestors who had genes that coded for a bit less hair survive while their hairier cousins died out?

The most compelling theory I’ve heard is so that we can sweat better. It’s only we primates who sweat primarily for temperature regulation, but if you’ve ever gone for a long run on a summer day, you’ll know that even dripping sweat is barely enough. Our hairy cousins sweat to cool off, but they still wear their winter coats all summer. Ditching our fur allowed us to run through the summer heat of the African savanna. Even a moderately in-shape person can hold a 10-minute mile. A gazelle can get up to a one-minute-mile pace, but it’s going to peter out after 5-10 miles. Then it has to stop to cool down. If a band of humans could get one to break off from the herd and repeatedly force it to run again before it has dumped enough heat, it’s only a matter of time before the poor animal is stumbling in a fever-induced hallucination. Even with a wooden spear, that’s easy meat.

That seems like a very compelling reason to ditch the hair! So why keep any of it? The internet is surprisingly devoid of good answers to the question of why we still have armpit hair and pubic hair, but anyone who has shaved either will have gotten a sense of the slimy, sticky, irritated petri dishes those areas become when skin rubs on skin for too long.

The cranium isn’t in danger of that though, so why have the bushiest of all hair on top of our well ventilated noggins?

The internet has again failed me. The only article I found on a reputable website (Penn State University) was a blog post that cited the New York Times and Wikipedia.

I guess it’s time to start speculating!

My best theory: IFF (“identification friend or foe”). Have you ever tried to describe someone’s face? “They have a nose, and a mouth, and a pair of eyes. Green eyes! but not totally green. Like brownish green. But not as brown as some people, but…” Or simply, “He look … like a man.” It’s difficult! In general terms, faces are all the same. The differences are incredibly minute, but you can recognize a close friend from 50 yards away no problem. We are very highly adapted for recognizing facial features. And what frames the face? Your head hair! It’s part of our identity. Ashley cried when she saw all those flowing locks piling up on the floor. Given that we are such social creatures (and yet creatures of such potential for evil), it’s crucially important for us to be able to recognize each other quickly. A distinctive hair color, or texture, or curls, or braid, or twist can certainly identify a person, and we’re already looking for faces, so that seems like a good place for hair.

But that’s all pretty suspect. Perhaps there’s something else. As I have recently learned, taking care of a head of long hair is not easy. Why have thousands of generations of humans put up with it? There’s got to be a good reason.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll have noticed that I have failed my Slavic barbarian ancestors; I have returned to the style of the modern materialist man: practical.