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Darwin & Social Darwinism

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posted on Dec, 28 2013 @ 12:01 PM
I suppose this issue has been brought up before. After all, this isn't new information by any mean. There's no secret here. But I'd still like to hear your take on the subject.

Social Darwinism, for the most part, is viewed as a pseudoscience which wrongfully seeks to apply the principles of natural selection to sociology, a theory that (willfully?) misinterprets Charles Darwin's findings to justify doubtful political agendas. Common knowledge is that it was developed by someone other than Darwin himself (Richard Hofstadter or Herbert Spencer are the usual culprits) and that the famous naturalist would "turn in his grave" if he was aware of the application of his ideas to such purposes. This, I found, is something most people unanimously agree on.

And to me, ideas unanimously agreed on are always a bit...suspect.

In his book The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, Darwin applies evolutionary theory to humanity. Biologically, but also relating to social aspects. Indeed, an important part of the book is dedicated to the social implications of natural selection. Here's an an excerpt from the book, on Chapter V :

It has often been objected to views like the foregoing, that the most eminent men who have ever lived have left no offspring to inherit their great intellect. Mr. Galton says,[15] "I regret I am unable to solve the simple question whether, and how far, men and women who are prodigies of genius are infertile. I have, however, shewn that men of eminence are by no means so." Great lawgivers, the founders of beneficent religions, great philosophers and discoverers in science, aid the progress of mankind in a far higher degree by their works than by leaving a numerous progeny. In the case of corporeal structures, it is the selection of the slightly better-endowed and the elimination of the slightly less well-endowed individuals, and not the preservation of strongly-marked and rare anomalies, that leads to the advancement of a species.[16] So it will be with the intellectual faculties, since the somewhat abler men in each grade of society succeed rather better than the less able, and consequently increase in number, if not otherwise prevented. When in any nation the standard of intellect and the number of intellectual men have increased, we may expect from the law of the deviation from an average, that prodigies of genius will, as shewn by Mr. Galton, appear somewhat more frequently than before.

In regard to the moral qualities, some elimination of the worst dispositions is always in progress even in the most civilised nations. Malefactors are executed, or imprisoned for long periods, so that they cannot freely transmit their bad qualities. Melancholic and insane persons are confined, or commit suicide. Violent and quarrelsome men often come to a bloody end. The restless who will not follow any steady occupation – and this relic of barbarism is a great check to civilisation[17] – emigrate to newly-settled countries; where they prove useful pioneers. Intemperance is so highly destructive, that the expectation of life of the intemperate, at the age of thirty for instance, is only 13.8 years; whilst for the rural labourers of England at the same age it is 40.59 years.[18] Profligate women bear few children, and profligate men rarely marry; both suffer from disease. In the breeding of domestic animals, the elimination of those individuals, though few in number, which are in any marked manner inferior, is by no means an unimportant element towards success. This especially holds good with injurious characters which tend to reappear through reversion, such as blackness in sheep; and with mankind some of the worst dispositions, which occasionally without any assignable cause make their appearance in families, may perhaps be reversions to a savage state, from which we are not removed by very many generations. This view seems indeed recognised in the common expression that such men are the black sheep of the family.

With civilised nations, as far as an advanced standard of morality, and an increased number of fairly good men are concerned, natural selection apparently effects but little; though the fundamental social instincts were originally thus gained. But I have already said enough, whilst treating of the lower races, on the causes which lead to the advance of morality, namely, the approbation of our fellow-men – the strengthening of our sympathies by habit – example and imitation – reason – experience, and even self-interest – instruction during youth, and religious feelings.

A most important obstacle in civilised countries to an increase in the number of men of a superior class has been strongly insisted on by Mr. Greg and Mr. Galton,[19] namely, the fact that the very poor and reckless, who are often degraded by vice, almost invariably marry early, whilst the careful and frugal, who are generally otherwise virtuous, marry late in life, so that they may be able to support themselves and their children in comfort. Those who marry early produce within a given period not only a greater number of generations, but, as shewn by Dr. Duncan,[20] they produce many more children. The children, moreover, that are borne by mothers during the prime of life are heavier and larger, and therefore probably more vigorous, than those born at other periods. Thus the reckless, degraded, and often vicious members of society, tend to increase at a quicker rate than the provident and generally virtuous members. Or as Mr. Greg puts the case: "The careless, squalid, unaspiring Irishman multiplies like rabbits: the frugal, foreseeing, self-respecting, ambitious Scot, stern in his morality, spiritual in his faith, sagacious and disciplined in his intelligence, passes his best years in struggle and in celibacy, marries late, and leaves few behind him. Given a land originally peopled by a thousand Saxons and a thousand Celts – and in a dozen generations five-sixths of the population would be Celts, but five-sixths of the property, of the power, of the intellect, would belong to the one-sixth of Saxons that remained. In the eternal 'struggle for existence,' it would be the inferior and less favoured race that had prevailed – and prevailed by virtue not of its good qualities but of its faults."

Am I missing something crucial here? Am I taking his words out of context? Is there something I didn't correctly interpret? If so, please enlighten me.

Because, to me, this sounds an awful lot like Social Darwinism...

posted on Dec, 28 2013 @ 01:52 PM
reply to post by Cathcart

Social Darwinism obviously exists, for example the economic system, education and jobs. Those that disagree, do so so only in the sense that they wish it werent true or wish it didnt exist, thus attempt to mold it. Darwinism applies exactly to humans as it does to animals because humans are animals, the complexities and technologies just make the application more intricate and complex.

posted on Dec, 28 2013 @ 02:15 PM
reply to post by Cathcart

And to me, ideas unanimously agreed on are always a bit...suspect.

However this should not elevate ideas in our esteem just because they are not unanimously agreed upon. When It comes to ideas, it seems to me that most people just take ideas that come their way for granted. Many people trust in the wisdom of the tribe. For most of human history, the continued existence, of the tribe, was predicated upon the successful application of the ideas held by the tribe. However, in times like these, when tribes are mixing and ideas new and adventurous ideas are flourishing, I think it wise to treat all ideas with a critical eye.

As for Social Darwinism and the piece you posted, I think that the author was in speculative mode. Darwinism was a new approach to understanding our origins and there was an eagerness to understand existence by way of these new discoveries. In a way, I think that the hope of finding a TOE was existent even back then. Speculations on how evolutionary principles overlap into human society and culture were a natural outcome of this.

The problem I have with Social Darwinism is not how speculations like the above are or are not true. My problem with SD is how it is manipulated by those in power to justify their continued position OF power. Where it was (and still is) touted by the powerful that Divine Appointment that justified all their actions and position, it became fashionable to use the idea that the rich and powerful were rich and powerful because they were the Crown of Creation, those who were more evolutionarily fit. One lame justification supplanting a previous lame justification.

I enjoy speculations from every quarter. I despise manipulative theories of why one touts himself superior to others.

posted on Dec, 28 2013 @ 03:36 PM
reply to post by TerryMcGuire

I think its less about people in power justifying their power, more that life is every man for them self, and those in power for the most part willed themselves there, thus being 'survivors and fittest'. It does allow them to feel justified in their massive gains and lives of luxury, excess and power because of how the system is established, they earned it and deserved it, or at the very least, got it. Of course things like "old money" and trust funds and the like allow people to gain power and wealth who did little for it, but once again even that has an analog in evolution, as all creatures are born to a species, and an ancestral path that has struggled through the millennial 'earning' their genetic legacy and endowments, some are born as dung beetles, and some lions. A lot of animals have social behavior and collective compassion and care, but an individual must always focus on themselves first, and only when they are taken care of can they look to care for and about others. In the case of that paragraph posted in the OP, it seems to be a behaviorally study of the characteristics of different types of humans, and of course there is a strong relationship between the mental and physical. But there are certainly trends and types and categories of humans and behavior and success, and judgements can be made about what is for better or for worse.

posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 01:52 AM
reply to post by Cathcart

Social Darwinism is a prescriptive philosophy. It proposes that the human species would advance fastest if the law of the jungle prevailed in human societies, allowing the principle of survival of the fittest to ensure that only the most 'superior' individuals survived and reproduced.

It is a very different thing to applying the principles of evolution by natural selection to the study of the human species, as Darwin did in The Descent of Man.

Darwin's speculations in the passage you quoted are clearly based on a Victorian understanding — albeit the most advanced Victorian understanding — of evolutionary biology. The idea that life in the wild is an unremitting war of all against all is implicit in them, along with a very imperfect, pre-genetics understanding of the principles of heredity. Also implicit in them is the assumption that what is good for society and civilisation is good for the human species, leading to puzzlement as to why, if intelligence is so important to human survival, stupid people appear to outbreed clever ones. We know the answers to all these questions nowadays, and can point out where the father of evolutionary biology was ignorant or naïve; we also know why eugenics, as a project, must always be doomed to failure.

Darwin knew none of these things, but he still understood very clearly that the application of the law of the jungle to human beings is wrong. Charles Darwin was no Social Darwinist.

The truth is that the law of 'survival of the fittest' still applies to human beings just as it does to any other animal. But 'fitness' is a tricky thing. It always determined by the quality of an organism's response to threats and opportunities in its environment. Strength and a propensity for violence are no longer indicators of fitness among humans; to succeed (survive and reproduce) in modern society, fertile individuals need traits that will help them acquire wealth and status in a society where cooperation is rewarded as well as competition, where empathy and altruism are as important as aggression, where individuals are limited in the expression of their desire by a powerful social contract. Have you noticed that Social Darwinists are always losers?

posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 04:15 AM
reply to post by Cathcart

I am not very educated in this area, and my thoughts may seem naive and ignorant, but I feel the need to express them all the same.

I have had the (perhaps mistaken?) view that the "fittest" refers to "most adaptable"- not the strongest, not the biggest, but the most flexible and adaptable.

In this extract, I read the view common at that time, that intellect is assumed to be measurable according to how well it restrains and subdues the animal nature and primal drives- with firm and rigid principles and ideas. (such as his example of the Scot “stern in his morality, spiritual in his faith, sagacious and disciplined in his intelligence" .

So the “problem” with applying Darwinism to social aspects of human society lies there, I believe.

Whether a human is of a strict moral self discipline, or completely unfettered primal drives and appetites, they can have a tendancy to be less adaptable to new conditions and experiences. The drives and reactions we all have in the body remain ever the same,
and obviously one can hold the same belief or principle for themselves all their life, applying it in action regardless of changing conditions and environment.

The fittest intellect, then, would be one that is able to sometimes restrain, sometimes let loose; sometimes re-enact a response, sometimes create a totally new one, according to elements it faces. To be changeable; flexible. To use both ideas and primal energy flows together, to create new behaviors.

Darwin mentioned :
"The restless who will not follow any steady occupation –emigrate to newly-settled countries; where they prove useful pioneers. "

These are the ones which will spread their DNA far and wide. They are the fittest minds, and though he feels “ this relic of barbarism is a great check to civilisation”,
I think he is wrong on that point. Civilisation, if it remains a closed circuit, eventually decays. It is the addition of new ideas, new views, fresh blood, which keeps it alive and healthy. Exactly like any organism. So it is the “restless” who go into new lands and bring back new visions and culture which keep the civilisation alive.

Our more recent concepts about “memes” illustrate the importance of the mind which is open to new ideas, and flexibility- which comes back to the OPs feeling that we should never hesitate to “look again” and reconsider ideas, and question them.

I guess what I am saying, in summary, is that I think Social Darwinism does apply, but only if you consider a strong mind as one which is adaptable and flexible, not rigid with self discipline, as was once commonly thought. The view of dualism, as an endless conflict between opposites (in this case, mind and body) has long since been replaced by the view of opposites as endlessly weaving together in creativity.....hasn’t it??

Darwin doesn't seem to express a view that his theory applies socially- on the contrary, he seems to observe that it doesn't.... but his observation is due to his view that the "fittest" minds are those which are rigid, rather than flexible. If he were living now, and more apt to consider a fit mind as that which is open and changing (a vehicle for the fittest memes as they evolve) then he might consider his theory as perfectly applicable in social terms. That is my thought in the moment, at least.

edit on 29-12-2013 by Bluesma because: (no reason given)

edit on 29-12-2013 by Bluesma because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 08:20 AM
reply to post by Bluesma

A star for your post. Social Darwinism does not mean 'recognising that human beings are subject to evolution by natural selection.' That is a given; it is beyond dispute. Social Darwinism is the belief that human laws, customs and social institutions should be based on the law of the jungle.

Social Darwinism ignores the testimony of thousands of years of human civilisation, and tens of thousands of years of successful hunter-gatherer societies, which shows that altruism, affection, honesty in day-to-day dealings, cooperation, reciprocity, love of children and care for the weaker members of the social group are part of our evolutionary heritage. It is a child of the early days of evolutionary theory, and it is founded in ignorance.

posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 08:49 AM


if intelligence is so important to human survival, stupid people appear to outbreed clever ones.

Very Interesting because it's true. The thing I wounder is what makes you more intelligent them the next guy how do we rank, rate, see it as . I mean we are simply a product of are environment and in this environment we learn skills to make us survive which then seen as intelligence. If stupid person let's say, are more inclined in their nature to breed then feed their head, surely they are doing really what we are intended to do BREED. And wasting time on pointless knowledge is Stupid?.

Thinking out load here

Great post by the way

posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 10:06 AM
reply to post by coolcatt

The thing I wonder is what makes you more intelligent them the next guy how do we rank, rate, see it as.

I think that's a bit beyond the scope of this thread, but the interesting thing about intelligence is that we all recognise it when we see it. Well, nearly of us...

If stupid person let's say, are more inclined in their nature to breed then feed their head, surely they are doing really what we are intended to do BREED. And wasting time on pointless knowledge is stupid?

The jury is still out on that one.

Thinking out loud here

Good thinking.

Great post by the way

Much obliged, Catt.

posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 12:15 PM
I still think there might be some value to the concept that a society would have it in it’s own interest to consciously, purposely, apply (or recognize) the dynamics of evolution as it could apply to the society as an entity.

This would mean, to me, recognizing the less intelligent parts of the population as valuable human resources. That they are the muscles of the entity. That the society benefits from them being prolific, and in good health, and given specific roles to carry out in the society.

It would mean recognition that the strong willed, yet less flexible minds would be valuable sources of managerial positions over them, to keep them organized and productive. The nervous system, they are.

It would mean recognition that the best leadership for the whole would be the minds that are less rigid in principle, but more open to new ideas, exploration and innovation.

It seems the concept of social Darwinism is most associated with certain ideas that suggest elimination of the less intelligent “muscle” resources, which would be detrimental to the society-entity as a whole.

But there are many different views on what social Darwinism would entail.

The brain to body mass ratio in a human is 1:40… in a dog it is 1:125, in an elephant it is 1:560… the brain is always a much smaller part of the whole. If the intelligent parts of the society-entity make up a smaller population, that is perhaps best for the survival of it. A body with a brain much bigger would lack enough body to carry out it’s many ideas in a concrete way. If a whole society focuses on turning all members into “brains”, and lacks muscle and effective nervous system….. it becomes dependent upon other society-entities who have the those resources. And it’s chances of survival dwindle.

edit on 29-12-2013 by Bluesma because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 01:00 PM
reply to post by Bluesma

Interesting points, potentially why through the evolution of tech, the mind has created machines or 'artificial bodies' to do the hard and strenuous and physical stuff for it. If we come to the point where we can create artificial bodies then what, intelligence proves kind/champion, a mind over matter type of triumph? Life has always been a tug of war with the beings will/mind and its bodies immediate relationship with the surrounding environment. Humans have the power to change their bodies, minds and environment. And while yes I do agree that physically strong and large and gifted humans are and have been an integral part of civilization, I am a little uncomfortable the way you talk about them as if they were work horses or artificial machines. One of the reasons there may be lots of financial turmoil and upheaval around the world could be the disproportion between people actually physical creating products and services, compared to people using their brain to click on computers, move money around, and stuff like that; though I have not thought that last part out well it could have something to it.

posted on Dec, 30 2013 @ 08:59 AM
reply to post by Bluesma

What you're proposing is the creation of castes: a sturdy worker caste to do the heavy lifting and the dirty, dangerous jobs, a clerical and merchant class to take care of business, and a caste of aristocrats (all right, meritocrats) to tell everybody what to do. It's been tried before; it works, but at immense human cost. In terms of results and productivity, it is also less effective than the present system, in which everyone is free to try their hand at any task that suits their abilities, and where anyone may hope to rise from the bottom of the heap to the top.

If your ideas were realised, what would happen to the children of workers who show unusual intelligence or ability? To train them up to their full potential, you'd have to sever them from their families, their friends and worker communities. The same thing would also have to be done to children of the elite who aren't as clever or capable as their parents. Plato foresaw this in the Republic, where he proposed a similar division of society into occupational castes; in his ideal state, where each was trained and indoctrinated to make the best of their talents and capabilities, children were to be taken from their parents at an early age, to be raised and educated by the state.

This is not social Darwinism, by the way. According to that model, individuals and families must manage as best they can. There is no public education or healthcare, no state support for the poor and disadvantaged. Cripples, idiots and the mad would be shunned; no attempt would be made to help them survive since they might then breed and pass on their disabilities to another generation. People with incurable diseases would not be treated at hospitals. There would be no attempt at levelling playing fields or providing equality of opportunity. People would have to take what they could get. It's a terrifying, Hobbesian vision, which perhaps the Nazis came closest of all to realising. But even among the Nazis, there was a privileged caste ('good Germans', particularly those of 'Aryan' appearance) who were favoured by the state. Not even Hitler had the balls to take Social Darwinism to the limit.

posted on Dec, 30 2013 @ 12:59 PM
reply to post by Astyanax

It was a bit off topic but when I was reading you're post It made a lot of sense to me. Maybe I should of Thought more then commented.

posted on Dec, 30 2013 @ 03:01 PM
reply to post by Astyanax

Your post describes exactly the status of our society today. People arent that free to try their hand at everything, yes big muscled men can become scientists and mathematicians, but its not likely you will see scrawny nerds physically doing large construction projects or working on oil rigs. If people of the working blue collar class has a child with exceptional intelligence, yes they are usually severed from their family, its called college, and its expensive. There is already and has always really been caste and/or class systems.
edit on 30-12-2013 by ImaFungi because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 30 2013 @ 08:47 PM
reply to post by ImaFungi

If people of the working blue collar class has a child with exceptional intelligence, yes they are usually severed from their family, its called college, and its expensive.

In the Republic, children were taken from their children at the age of seven. Plato's proposal was probably inspired by the education of the Spartan ruling class. In Sparta, male citizens were separated from their families in infancy and subjected to an unbelievably harsh and brutal 'education' at the hands of the state. Brutality aside, this is what would be needed to make Bluesma's suggestion workable.

Spartan education

Being separated from your parents at age 18 is not the same thing at all. On the contrary, it's part of the typical developmental model in many social species, including humans; young adults move away from home, often to new communities or to found fresh ones. Adolescents need be separated from their parents; otherwise all sorts of trouble breaks out.

There is already and has always really been caste and/or class systems.

The terms are not interchangeable. You can move out of your class; it happens all the time. Caste is for life.

edit on 30/12/13 by Astyanax because: of class mobility.

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