Could it be that societies are getting meaner across the world?
Are racists less afraid than they used to be?
You get the feeling that Social Darwinism is becoming more accepted as just a ‘fact of life.’
Social Darwinism applies some of the principles of biological natural selection to how human society operates.
Conventional natural selection can be a cut-throat business and is all part of how biological and ecological evolution operates. Most people think of phrases like ‘survival of the fittest’ when they think of natural selection. This the process by which some individuals of a species out-compete others by being, faster, stronger or ‘better adapted’ to a certain behaviour and thus have a higher chance of survival and a better chance of passing on their genetic characteristics to their offspring. This is also true between species with one out-competing another. A good example of this is the invasive and non-UK-native Himalayan Balsam. As it’s an introduced species, very little eats it, and so it easily out-competes native plants.
It’s long been argued, and is true in many instances, that in the early days of humanity, as humans spread across the globe, that they out-competed many large animal species, resulting in their extinction.
Is it appropriate to apply natural selection to the essentially ‘social’ structures of human society?
You can certainly argue that if one person is outstandingly smart or just damn ruthless, that they can achieve wealth and status in society through their efforts. If someone has an entrepreneurial flare, they may well build themselves a successful business. It seems reasonable that if some people in society show a certain talent, then it’s fair that that should be recognised and that they should accordingly achieve a higher status in society.
I have no problem with talented people succeeding.
However, the opposite side of Social Darwinism is ‘failure.’ And this is where the rise in ‘meanness’ comes in. And it’s that concept in society that it’s ok, not for people to just ‘fail,’ but also to suffer and possibly even die, because they have ‘failed’ in society.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that ‘success’ and ‘failure’ in society are open to interpretation. In certain narrow contexts they apply rather well, for example, sporting events. It’s clear in these that some people/teams win and others loose. Accumulating wealth is seen as success. And simply in terms of the numbers, having a higher ‘number of currency units’ than someone else means relative success. However, it’s widely recognised that wealth doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness. Perhaps you could deem people more successful if they’re happy and with just enough financial resources to get by? Another potential mark of ‘success’ would be to have a range of fulfilling friend and family relationships? It could be argued that the only thing we really have in life is our relationships with other people.
I think some people think that being part of the ‘loosing’ element of society is somehow motivating to that element and that putting people under pressure will force them to work hard and become more successful. In many poor areas, this is far from the case. It’s a perfectly natural human psychological response to feel disempowered; to give up on a society that seems not to want you. This hopelessness can lead to higher levels of drug and alcohol addiction, as can be seen in many parts of the UK.
So, it’s viewed by some people in society, usually those ‘at the top’ and in power, that it is a perfectly natural state of affairs, as dictated by natural selection and our biological heritage, to allow people to live in poverty; to allow people to not have access to health care or good education; because that’s just how society is naturally structured. In a society like that, will we ever see an end to poverty? Ever?
As I argue in my book, humans are now way more than just another animal, open to the unconscious, random and vague swirling of biological processes.
Obviously, we’ve been evolving for millions of years to get where we are today and that biological and ecological heritage will go a long way to shape who we are. But is that all there is? Evolutionary Psychology would say that it is, that the entire contents of our psychology can be explained on a biological and genetic basis. And a large part of our psychology has indeed been shaped by natural selection. But I think there’s an additional and relatively new element to our psychology.
I am not saying that what this is, is a ‘spiritual element.’ Well, not necessarily. There may be a spiritual dimension to the Universe, but in my opinion, that dimension is currently unknowable, if it exists. Interestingly, some religious traditions would claim that only humans have a soul. Could this be analogous to this new element to humanity?
What I propose is that humanity embodies a new form of consciousness, unique on planet Earth, and something quite different and far more complex than other animal consciousnesses on Earth. I discuss this in more detail in my book.
In terms of the argument around Social Darwinism, it means that we are breaking free of our biological constraints – it means that we can choose. We increasingly operate outside of our biological heritage. We are constantly expanding the psychology of what it means to be human. Our consciousness is becoming more complex. We’re like the sci-fi robot that’s broke its programming and has developed free will.
So, Social Darwinism is a choice. Leaving people to suffer and in poverty, is a choice. It’s an easy excuse for the super-rich and those in power to just claim that others have ‘failed’ and it’s somehow their own fault… but that opinion is a choice. Worse than that, it’s an easy get-out to leave a bad situation as it is. It justifies in-action from those in power if they can simply claim that ‘that’s how life is – nature – red in tooth and claw.’
Human society does not necessarily have to be constructed along the lines of our biological or psychological heritage. It can be anything we can bend our imagination to. If we want to do away with religion – fine. If we want humanity to become globally vegan – fine. If some people want to change sex – fine. If we want to eradicate poverty, poor health, low educational standards and a myriad of environmental problems, we can choose to do that. We undeniably have the flexibility to choose any of those things and many more.
So you should be very wary when someone tries to justify inequality on biological grounds. While that state of affairs was true a million years ago, it certainly isn’t now with modern humans.
I cover all of this and much more in my book.
It’s on Amazon here.
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