5. “Social Darwinism”

5 Apr

Today, President Obama said that the Republican empowerment of the top Rich is  “Social Darwinism.”  I have a scientific background and a long term interest in evolution  (Darwinism), so I was fascinated by this term. In my younger days, I think I was aware of it, but currently did not remember much about it. When I thought about it, I could easily guess the meaning, but did some research on its usage.

First, let me state the basic principles of evolution: survival of the fittest, variation in offspring with new traits that can last at least several generations, and death.  Stated in another way, animals that are best adapted to an environment tend to live longer and reproduce. The “fittest” are most likely to mate and pass their superior genes on to the next generation. If animals did not die, reproduction would diminish and there would be no variation. It is important to also understand that evolution is dispassionate, not good or bad, does not have any goals, and is just a fact of nature. It explains many things about our structure and where we came from, and is one of the most solidly supported facts of science.

Social evolution is something I have thought about for many years, so I was immediately interested in the term “Social Darwinism.” Historically, the term has acquired a very negative meaning. It refers to people who are rich and powerful and believe that they have a right to dominate other classes because they are the fittest. How do they know they are so fit, because they actually are successful, at least in making money.

My writings on social evolution have been purely explanatory, and without any value judgments.  If you look at the principles of evolution just described above, then you can see the application. The fittest groups tend to survive, there is variation in their traits, and members die or retire from the group. The point for me is that it is the “nature” of the world or groups and animals to evolve. Groups that are not “fit” tend to die out.

Obama’s point is that certain rich people look at their success, decide they are the fittest, and justify their greed and misdeeds because it is in line with biological evolution. Of course, not all rich folks are greedy, and many are quite willing to give back through charity and/or increased taxes. And I should clarify that I think there is nothing wrong with being rich, it is the extremes that are disturbing — like the recent major shift of money from the middle class to the wealthy. But the greedy rich should be more cautious because history is replete with accounts of revolutions (violent and otherwise) designed to stop the abuse. The non-rich may not be as “fit” but they have numbers on their side, and good-hearted rich people to help them.

In future writings, I intend to further discuss evolutionary concepts, and their broad range of applications, ranging from micro-organisms, to groups, to giant stars.

I have to add a final thought. Just because a presidential candidate has been successful in business, does not mean that he will make a good president. Business leaders learn to make themselves and their investors lots of money, and basically to ignore as much as possible, employees or citizens that they might harm. And often they ignore the success of the business itself, as long as they can draw money out of it. Presidents have a different and much more complex imperative. They must consider the overall success of the country, all its citizens,  its relationships with other nations, and a Congress that may not cooperate.

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