posted on Sep, 22 2004 @ 10:00 AM
Social Darwinism, depending on who you are, your politics, and your knowledge of history, this single phrase may conjure up loathing, applause, mirth,
sarcasim, incredulity or introspection. It has been used as an excuse for racism, and repression, and as an explanation for the so called power elite.
For those of you unfamilar with the term It was orginally coined by Herbert Spencer shortly after Chares Darwin's seminal work "on the orgn of
species" and was billed by many as the logical application of scientific principles to social theory. At its core social darwinism as orignally
coined was the idea that "survval of the fittest was as true in human society as it was in biology. The idea being that those who rose to the upper
echelons of society were some how genetically gifted and or superior to those who were poor and disadvanteged. Social darwinism has been used to
justify the crmes of the robber barons in the early 19th century and was also a basic tenet of hitlers "aryan superiority" theory.
The problem with what on the surface seems to be a straightforward and in truth rational theory (that those who succeed have an advantage over those
who do not) is that it is based on a basic misinterpertation of darwins theory of speciation and of the theory of evolution in general. This
misinterpertation stems from the phrase "survival of the fittest" The theory of evolution, contrary to most peoples belief, is not that competition
with other species causes adaptation but rather that competion with members of ones own species causes adaptation, after all who are you more likely
to be in competition with for resources than other members of your species who need the exact same resources. As an examples examine the complex
relationship between wolves and deer. Contrary to popular beef deer did not evolve thier speed to outrun the wolves that prey upon them, rather thier
speed evolved to enable the individuals to outrun other deer in thier species. (when being chased by a predator it is not necessry to be able to
outrun the predator it is only necessary to be able to outrun the slowest member of your own species) Those individuals that were able to outrun other
members of thier own species were able to survive long enough to procreate while those who could not were eaten and did not breed.
The scond flaw in reasoning which has lead to the misuse of Social Darwinism is the idea of what precisly is meant by "fittest" Those of the
victorian and early industrial age were under the misconception that fitness was a constant factor which was consistant in all situations. The truth
of social darwinism is not that those who succeed are more fit to succeed but rather that they are more fit to succeed within the parameters of the
society they live in. While this may seem like a small point it is in fact a hugely important one. As an example let us take a success story of
modern american society, in this case Bill Gates, and transplant him from his own society where his skills and abillities are highly valued, and place
him into a society which is vastly different, in this case a tribe of bushmen in africa. Though the skills he has learned coupled with his natural
abillities has sttod him well in our society his lack of naturally good vision, and other less than ideal physical traits would make him a drain on a
society which is based on the hunter gatherer paradigm. As we can see by this thought experiment the traits which make one successful in one type of
society do not necessarily make on successful in another type of society, which means that while no one can deny that societal competition does ensure
that those who rise to positions of power in a society are most fit to survive in that society we can not say that it is because of any fundamental
superiority but rather do to circumstansial superiority.
Now that we have cleared the misconceptions of Social darwinism we must now address the realites of social darwinism. All societies that exist on
earth have some type of competition between members of those societies for resources. Though the nature of the economic theory of that society will,
to an extent, determine how fervent that competition is, and what form of resources members are competing for, in no form of society can that basic
competition be removed. Even in communistic societies in which the competition is not over economic gain there is still competion over political
currency. As an example in the soviet union while all citizens were given the basic essentials of life I.E. food water etc. those who gained political
power were more able to ensure thier survival and the survival of thier offspring in times of hardship just as in capitalstic societies the rich are
better able to ensure thier survival and that of thier offspring.
Just as within a species the competition for survival amongst the individual members of that species contributes to the overall success of the species
as a whole, the competition between members of a society contributes to the survival of that society as a whole. In addition the greater the
competition between individuals the greater the chances that species or society will be able to compete with other species or societies. As an example
allow me to return to the deer analogy I used earlier, because the competiton between individual deer was great the species as a whole was able to
flourish. Had the pressure not been as great, I.E. no wolves or other fast predators the competition to evolve would not have been as great and as a
result the species would be less well equipped to survive. One need only look at the effects a species which had great evolutionary pressure placed
upon it has when it comes in contact wth similar species whos evolutionary pressure was lesser as in the case of the introduction of the Africanised
honey bee to the americas and its effect on the native bee populaton.
Relating this to modern society to is easy to see why the U.S. was able to bring the U.S.S.R. to financial ruin by forcing it to spend at the same
rate as the U.S. in the arms race of the cold war. Because the competition for the top spots in the American economic structure was so much greater
than the competition for the top spots in the poltical structure in the U.S.S.R it is easy to see why the U.S.S.R. was doomed to economic collapse.
(the fact that economic competition is more valueable to a society than poltical competition had a lot to do with it as well) This also explains why
the U.S. has been able to achieve a dominant position on the world stage today as the competion for resources in america is far more competitive than
in most countries worldwide. (allthough the U.S.'s landmass, resources, and poulation size are also major factors.)
A true understanding of Social Darwinism and any serious thought about it's implications will lead most ratonal people to conclude that by reducing
the level of competition in a society, socialist programs are in fact weakening that societies abillity to survive conflict and strife. The lack of
such europen concepts as universal healthcare and statefunded retirement as well as the comparitive dearth of welfare and unemployment programs in the
U.S., when viewed in this light, show themselves to be, contrary to popular belief, strengths rather than weaknesses.
However it must be noted that the principle of Social Darwinism applies only so long as the competition between members creates value for the society
as a whole. If that competition degrades that society, (for example if the only way to succeed is to kill, maim, or succeed through violence to other
members of that society) Then that competition achieves the opposite effect. An example of this can be illustrated by an examination of Saddam era
Iraq. In that society the only way to advance was to please the dictator, which most often happened by exposing (falsely or accuratley) traitors and
or threats to hs regime, or by acting as a tool of his wrath. In the afore mentoned example competition resulted in survival of the toadyist as
opposed to survival of the fittest. Unfortuntley this always seems to be the case in dictatorial or opressisive regimes.
In summary the key to a successful society is to recognise that competition is not only inevitable but, if harnessed properly , benefecial.