I don't feel safe in this world no moreIt's a handy shortcut to use "Social Darwinism" or "Darwinian" to describe the cut-throat, dog-eat-dog business practices that Mitt Romney and other selfish, uncaring Wall Street SOBs feel is acceptable, even ethical, because "that's the way the world works." The great Charles Darwin said so.
I don't want to die in a nuclear war
I want to sail away to a distant shore and make like an ape man
I'm an ape man, I'm an ape ape man
I'm an ape man, I'm a King Kong man
I'm an ape ape man, I'm an ape man
— The Kinks
We'll probably hear more references to Social Darwinism now that Romney has selected Paul Ryan, since the schoolboy hard-on he's had for Ayn Rand's objectivism is sometimes compared (mistakenly) to a competitive Darwinian world where only the strong survive. It's a political philosophy that, in order to remain top dog, sanctions lies, dishonesty, and the kind of "rational" yet unethical bullshit Karl Rove probably prays to every morning—be the lion instead of the gazelle. Voter suppression anyone?
Heck, even the President used the shorthand term to describe Ryan, who's been trying to run away from Rand's "virtue of selfishness" manure, even though, as recently as 2009 he said her books set his course in life. Just like Darwin and Rand are mistakenly joined, so too is "Social Darwinism" off-base. Chuck D would've been horrified by anyone comparing his biological findings to the management practices of manipulative Gordon Gecko-y turds who think the 19th-century naturalist gave them carte blanche to steal grandma's pension because, you know, "survival of the fittest" and all that crap.
Here's how many times you'll find "survival of the fittest" in the initial 1859 edition of Darwin's Origin of Species: None. Nada. Zilch. He didn't invent the phrase (dunderhead Herbert Spencer did), so let's call out the political assholery that misinterprets Darwin's "natural selection" to justify stepping on anyone or anything perceived as weak or unfit. Often the darlings of Social Darwinism are the same creationist goobers who don't believe the science underlying Darwin's monumental book, but they're more than happy to misuse his theory to support their "might makes right" political and economic agendas.
Social Darwinism is neither.
It's not social because it destroys nations, states, neighborhoods, and families. And it's not Darwin because he didn't believe in a kill-or-be-killed cosmos. Social Darwinism is a convenient tool invented by late 19th-century "invisible hand" boogerheads like Spencer (yeah, they twisted Adam Smith too)—forerunners of Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, and other ethically challenged greedmonsters. The solitary Darwin, who had to be prodded into publishing Origin, rarely responded to his many, many critics, so like a lot of rightwing, market-sucking propaganda, out! out! damn facts, and the notion lingers that Darwin's ideas justify political and economic backstabbing and manipulation.
Let's not help it. When the phrase appears, that's a teachable moment to both vindicate the troubled yet remarkable Darwin, and to expose the lie of rank laissez-faire, piss-in-your-face social policy.
It's not surprising few people question the misuse of Darwin because hardly anyone reads Origin of Species anymore, not to mention his later big fat book, The Descent of Man (1871). During the 150th birthday celebration of Origin in 2009, I recall hearing that only 30 percent of scientists have read it, and it's certainly not a bestseller with the public. I can't imagine it's taught much outside ecology classes, where I've used it. Yet many people hold strong opinions about the book they've never read, and that misunderstanding allows fascists, racists, imperialists, and economic determinists to invoke Darwin's name, and reputation, to market abhorrent social ideas he never thought. Charles Darwin experienced much and suffered a lot, physically and emotionally, and out of that experience flows a genuine connection to and affection for everything. That's what we should celebrate.
Here's just three things Darwin said, which progressives should champion, own, and throw in the face of heartless wankers who use Social Darwinism to justify stomping on the throats of the poor, powerless, disenfranchised, and anyone else who doesn't buy their sick ideological bullshit.
1. Diversity matters: In a healthy ecosystem all of the parts matter, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. Indigenous peoples have understood this for millennia. Remove one piece, like the snail darter or spotted owl, and the entire system might collapse, which is why "radical environmentalists" like Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act. Imagine getting that passed today! We've known for centuries that crop monocultures destroy soil and lead to ecological disasters like the Dust Bowl. In Descent of Man Darwin, like his American contemporary Thoreau, extends that idea to human cultures. All people, indeed, all species, matter, regardless of religion, ethnicity, age, bank account, or ability. Ecologist Aldo Leopold said, "To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering," and Gandhi turned the concept into a social movement. A sign evolution is working is that it produces more diversity, not less. The bigots, eugenicists, and other ethical gnats who exploit Social Darwinism to justify ridding the world of "weak" races and "lesser" classes couldn't be more scientifically wrong or morally corrupt.
The truth of the principle that the greatest amount of life can be supported by great diversification of structure, is seen under many natural circumstances. In an extremely small area, especially if freely open to immigration, and where the context between individual and individual must be very severe, we always find great diversity of its inhabitants. — Origin of Species
2. We care. Instead of the competitive "rugged individualist" Marlboro Man bullpuckey that supposedly built the nation, it's cooperation that underlies most human advances. The GOP's been pushing the old cowboy meme with their "I did build that" carnival of gosh-doggedness, but any sentient being with two synapses to rub together knows the President was right, and Romney's just pissing on an out-of-context word ("You didn't built that"). If "might makes right" and "survival of the fittest" and the Wyatt Earp individualist crapola were indeed the guts of the universe's operating system, humans would've died out long ago. We're not stronger or swifter than countless species, and our senses are not as developed as many others. (Dogs can smell at least 1,000 times better than us, maybe a lot more. I'm glad I wasn't a dog on Sunday's flight home.) Sure, there's competition in nature, but nature only takes what it needs. Darwin said cooperation, indeed, care and love for one another, socialism in fact, is what helped Homo Sapiens endure. Practice not only random but regular acts of kindness.
As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races. — The Descent of Man3. Goodness grows. That happy dude Hobbes wrote about life being a short and brutal butt-kicking for most people and, sure 'nuff, until last century many folks had few rights, especially women and the landless. "Hey! Let's burn that gal because her tits floated! In the name of god!!" People bought the idea of the .0001 percent owning everything, including their ass, because "that's the way the world works." God said. We see rights developing in documents and laws like the Magna Carta, Iroquois Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Civil Rights legislation, and with each generation the family of equals grows. In my lifetime women, African Americans, the LGBT community, and even animals and plants have been invited onto the ethical homestead, although, no shit, we have a long way to go. But that train has left the station, and the "sacred hoop" expands.
In however complex a manner this feeling may have originated, as it is one of high importance to all those animals which aid and defend one another, it will have been increased through natural selection; for those communities, which included the greatest number of sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring. — The Descent of ManToday's Republican party, the mostly crabby white guys who want to destroy the social safety net, are anything but Darwinian.