From Kelly Wilkins at left-wing mag Counterpunch, an interesting take on Darwinism:
One of the ways the media has shaped the public’s attitude concerning the distribution of wealth and power in our society, has been by the dissemination of a familiar but menacing ideology, an ideology which teaches that human success and failure is determined by evolutionary fitness — ‘the survival of the fittest’ ethic.
This idea sprang from dangerous interpretations of Darwin’s writings, peaked in the age of eugenics and Hitler, and remains to this day in our consciousness because of the language and constructs we continue to use.
The phrase is often and incorrectly attributed to the father of evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin, and though Darwin did use this language later in his life, the phrase was actually coined by Herbert Spencer — an English philosopher, sociologist, and social Darwinism’s most enthusiastic proponent. More.
But caution: Darwin had no theoretical objection to the term “survival of the fittest” and used the term himself in later editions of the Origin.
Many of us are unclear on why leftists ever thought Darwin was one of their heroes. Maybe this is a good time to talk about the fact that there is not a lot of daylight between “there is a grandeur in this view of life” and Spencer’s social Darwinism. From Wilkins again:
It would seem, given the confidence with which the Darwinist message is delivered and the extent to which it is disseminated, that there exists little uncertainty surrounding our scientific theory of life. Yet over the course of the last several decades, science has revealed more about how organisms change, showing us that uncertainties do exist and that we should continue to seek answers. More.
Continuing to seek answers is a major reason to suspect that one is still alive.
We fear that Counterpunch readers mightn’t want to watch this, but it might provide some context:
See also: Richard Weikart, author of From Darwin to Hitler, Hitler’s Ethic, and The Death of Humanity. His books provide a lot of meticulously researched twentieth-century context. Added, copied from combox below: Axel at 3, many left-wingers have a hard time accepting the fact that early twentieth century social movements like fascism and communism shared many roots. Darwinism was one of them. Fascist movements gobbled Darwin up because they were ethnocentric. But the communists, who were internationalists, had a more conflicted relationship with it. Basically, Darwinism won’t do them any good and it is stale-dated anyway. As Wilkins notes, there are better ways of understanding evolution now.
8 Replies to “Left-wing mag slams Darwinism”
Of course, what Darwin meant by what Spencer called “survival of the fittest” was the greater tendency to survive of those creatures better adapted – or “fitted” – to the environment in which they found themselves. It was a descriptive claim about what had been observed. This was distorted by the later eugenicists and the even more extreme racial supremacists into a prescriptive ideology about who should survive or should be allowed to survive.
It should be noted that some of the most trenchant critics of “Darwinism” are right-wing Republicans and Christian evangelicals. There is a certain irony, therefore, in the enthusiasm this group displays for unregulated free-market capitalism which is economic survival of the fittest in its crudest form.
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life
Progressives and Eugenics
I usually defend the left, except with regard to its current aberrant sexual mania, but believe at least one Scandinavian country was very much taken with eugenics, prewar, when it was quite widely popular in the West. Even that astonishing genius, J M Keynes,* was taken by it.
Apparently, Bertrand Russell once remarked :
‘Keynes’s intellect was the sharpest and clearest that I have ever known. When I argued with him, I felt that I took my life in my hands, and I seldom emerged without feeling something of a fool.’
However, there are other equally extraordinary tributes both to his awe-inspiring personality and his egregious intellect, at this Wikipedia link, under a subheading,’Praise’ :
Keynes’s intellect was the sharpest and clearest that I have ever known. When I argued with him, I felt that I took my life in my hands, and I seldom emerged without feeling something of a fool.’
Though I can see a major lacuna in his wisdom, I find it strange that a practising homosexual for most of his adult life, and a life-long agnostic, should have been so brilliantly perceptive. However, I remember reading a comment of his lauding the benefits of our Christian culture, so he was no atheist material.
I found this quote of JMK on Lloyd George and Woodrow-Wilson absolutely hilarious :
‘To see the British Prime Minister watching the company, with six or seven senses not available to ordinary men, judging character, motive, and subconscious impulse, perceiving what each was thinking and even what each was going to say next, and compounding with telepathic instinct the argument or appeal best suited to the vanity, weakness, or self-interest of his immediate auditor, was to realize that the poor President would be playing blind man’s bluff in that party.
On David Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson, in Chapter III, p. 41
Axel at 3, many left-wingers have a hard time accepting the fact that early twentieth century social movements like fascism and communism shared many roots. Darwinism was one of them. Fascist movements gobbled Darwin up because they were ethnocentric. But the communists, who were internationalists, had a more conflicted relationship with it. Basically, Darwinism won’t do them any good and it is stale-dated anyway. As Wilkins notes, there are better ways of understanding evolution now.
Counterpunch isn’t exactly leftist…. more like left-flavored contrarian. They occasionally say unfashionable things.
Well, once God is comfortably(?) dismissed, there is a very large wiggle space to make some gods to take His place. And one comes to discover the wiggles can go in violently stupid directions. Anything goes.
Heartlander @ 2: Nicely done.
Seversky @ 1: Biological survival of the fittest results from random mutations and law-like necessity (so we are told). Why should a more powerful group of people wait for natural selection to remove a less powerful group from the gene pool when it can expedite the process on its own?
Who are you to judge?