First responses before I go merrily skipping off to read the links (and make dinner, and figure out something to blog about, and oh dear)...
"About seeking gene quality: while evidently not binary, I do think it's easier to talk about bad quality than good quality."
It is. The point I'm mostly trying to make sure stays central is that easier to talk about does not necessarily equate to more accurate. Game theorists, for example, rely on strict good-bad models, but the models only exist in order to prove something plausible- not to accurately describe the way things actually happen.
If I wanted an easy offhand example, I'd point to body types found among Inuit versus Maasai- one type is optimal for an arctic environment, the other for a desert, and which is "good" and therefore attractive is probably not so much hardwired into our genes (human populations don't differ THAT much genetically) as something cultural norms develop to reinforce.
"I think we both can agree on that phenotype, especially in less developed communities, can provide relatively trustworthy indicators about presence/lack of serious genetic issues: health, symmetry, build and "alpha-maleness" are good examples of them."
I think we do, but we're probably going to get good and hung up on "alpha male" as a term and concept. This is a concept that has gotten revisited a lot in recent years in primatology especially, and it's turned out to be much less clear-cut than first apparent. There are high-status apes, for example, that get all the obvious mating advantages- but not all the males choose to exert a lot of effort fighting their way up the heirarchy, and instead choose to spend their time making friends with some of the females, who later give them mating opportunities without having to beat the crap out of some other guy first. He winds up with a steadier and more reliable supply of offspring than he would if he tried to fight his way through stronger and meaner males that ARE physically and temperamentally suited to be at the top of the ladder. His life is less stressful in the bargain, too.
Given that human societies- hunter-gatherer and non- tend to be less rigidly structured than those ape and monkey societies, I'm even more dubious about "alpha male" versus "beta male" as the way to sort males, especially as we seem to be disregarding female status and heirarchy at the same time even though they exist to the same degree. I'm also wondering if "masculinity" isn't a better term.
"Discriminating good gene carriers from bad ones is so important, that the trait of judging genetic quality based on phenotype was probably strongly positively selected in humans."
Hey look! A point of complete agreement! Shiny!
"Regarding the pursuit of genetic variation as a way to increase genetic fitness, it would be interesting to see if there is any correlation between mixed ethnicities and attractiveness."
I would really, really like to see this as well. It's an inclination based purely anecdotally, but when I'm reading travel writing and journalism involving haring off to exotic places, it seems like the bulk of the praise for the attractiveness of the local inhabitants is for places at which lots of ethnicities have converged and the local gene pool is very mixed- like the Phillipines, the Caribbean islands, and Brazil.
"I also want to, again, stress how closely related status and potential Male Parental Investment are. Granted, the relationship will probably change depending on criteria such as population size, cultural aspects of private property, general resource availability, etc."
I'm pretty sure I know what you mean with this term, but a full definition might well be helpful. The thing is, male parental investment isn't really a binary description either; if we're going to take into account the whole sweep of human culture- and we should- polygamous societies have the most direct reflection of status as a direct correlate to getting mates, sometimes with the woman's wishes not even considered at all. The more mates (and children) a male collects, the more thinly spread he is- and the less actual investment each woman receives. This also opens him up to the scenario I mentioned in the earlier thread- the woman hooking up with the high-status male for the resource stability, but sneaking off to sleep with other males. Call it following her heart (or gonads, and women are just as capable of doing that as men), or call it maximizing genetic variability.
"I do believe that men who exhibit typical alpha male character traits is globally considered more attractive that their opposite."
Defining typical alpha male traits would help here, I think. For example, when I talked about different strategies in heirarchical social primates above, I didn't mention that some of them still lose out- there are different ways for a male to be successful, but it's still entirely possible to be a monkey loser. I think we can definitely agree no one is particularly attracted to those who can't make any strategy work for them.
"It would also make sense to expect women who already have access to plenty of resources would be more prone to select long-term partners based on more sophisticated indicators such as academic degrees, or taste in music. Poor women would tend to focus more on access to resources and less on, for example, their philosophical stand on libertarianism."
Okay, but why does this have to be a biological thing at all? What you've basically just said is that high-status women can afford to be picky and lower-status women have fewer choices because they have economic constraints. This doesn't need to be wired in- and it's arguable that if choices change with economics, then economics are the most likely explanation for those choices.
"I think that addressing patterns showing women's apparent bias in favor of a prospective good MPI as more of a cultural construct than a hard-wired trait leaves more questions unanswered than the other way around. and I think it makes complete sense."
I think I need to clarify the overall point I was trying to make here.
We make the assumption that men are attracted to phenotypic indicators of fitness- young, healthy, and feminine- and I'm arguing that not only does this make sense, but it makes less sense to assume that exactly the same thing isn't true of women- they are sexually attracted to young, healthy, and masculine. If both men and women have status differentials, it makes little sense to assume that status is the primary driver of attraction for women rather than phenotypically-indicated fitness but this factor doesn't figure in for men- especially when female heirarchies tend to be hereditary, women handle most of the child care (making sure the Groklings survive to reproductive age), and therefore a woman's female relatives are providing a major degree of investment as well. That female-relative pattern isn't just isolated to hunter-gatherer villages, it tends to show itself to greater or lesser degrees across a wide variety of human cultural constructs.
Basically, if there are multiple paths to success for both sexes, why assume that attraction is very hardwired at all except toward "healthy and fertile"- with the rest being mostly culturally mediated?