“Social Darwinism” Is Bullshit

In the early seventies, I worked as a route-man for a bread company in Texas.  For a couple of companies, actually.  The manager I first worked for had hired me when I was down and out (as a favor to my preacher father, I’m pretty sure), but was replaced by his company (Taystee Bread out of Houston) with a younger man who was, I suppose, seen as more of a corporate go-getter.

The laugh was on Taystee Bread.  The deposed manager shifted to Rainbow and ran Taystee out of town permanently.  (Even at the time I couldn’t help thinking how comic all these bread wars were, what a low-rent farcical version of the corporate competition that we have come to take so seriously in the U. S.  I mean, the movies paint CEOs as glamorous and hard-driving heroes, a la Pretty Woman.  But come on.  Get real.  CEOs are pudgy psychopaths on the whole, without a single interesting thought in their narrow pitiful brains.

But before all that happened, I went with the new manager to a strategy meeting in Beaumont.  He drove us in his new Lincoln Town Car, of which he was very proud.  It was, he assumed, proof of his superiority.

(If you’re over fifty, you might remember what those early seventies Town Cars—boxy wallowing gas-gobblers with plush interiors—were like, and have another laugh like the laugh you had imagining CEOs as dashing.)

He used the trip to hold forth to his employee about what I later learned was commonly referred to as “social Darwinism.”

First of all, the name is completely deceptive.  Depends on a total misunderstanding of Darwin’s theory of evolution.  “Survival of the fittest” is the favored phrasing, and the intended implication is that the financial world is a return to the natural order, when supposedly the bigger badder beast always won.  Trouble is, Darwin never used the phrase.  His notion for the mechanism of evolution was “natural selection,” but neither he nor anyone else has ever been able to say exactly what “natural selection” is or how it works.

“Survival of the fittest” is nothing but circular argument when you get right down to it.  It presumes we know in advance what fitness is, but the only way anyone has ever determined “fitness” is by assuming the survivors must have been the fittest.

There are problems with the meme over and above its logically preposterous circularity.  It is, for example, impossible to determine “fitness” without reference to environment.  A spider that does well in the desert will not do so well in the jungle.  In order to apply the idea of “fitness” to the corporate and financial “jungle,” we have to pretend that that world is a natural environment, that it would not instantly disappear in the absence of tax breaks, lax regulation, and continued special privilege.

What the doctrine really means, how it is usually interpreted, is as justification for hideous and inhumane behavior—amorality, ruthlessness, bullying, unpunished criminality.  It’s the way psychopaths justify their offensive behavior as “normal.”  It’s what they call “a dog whistle,” coded language that on the surface appears to be acceptable, but whose actual intent is clearly recognized by other members of the pack.

The question I have for any proponent of “social Darwinism” is the same question I asked that new manager in his town car so many years ago.  If the world works the way you say, why do you preach with such zeal?  Wouldn’t it be smarter, if things really worked that way, to hide the fact?  To allow the principled fools to go their way in total delusion while you used their gullibility to take everything they had?

The fact is, things DON’T work that way.  The people who claim it does do not preach their perverted gospel because it is truth, but because they can be tolerated only in a world in which most people THINK it’s true.

So next time a so-called “social Darwinist” comes at you with all his bullshit (and it’s usually, if not always, a male who spouts this stuff), just ask him a simple question.  If this stuff is so true, why bother to preach it?

There’s no honest answer.

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6 thoughts on ““Social Darwinism” Is Bullshit

  1. I have read somewhere that if you have the law, argue the law; if you have logic then argue the logic, but if you have neither just argue loudly. A poor paraphrasing but I think it sort of represents the attitude of social Darwinism adherents. Have you ever noticed that these same adherents also blame evil humors, the economy, fate, or just bad luck when the shoe is on the other less-well adapted foot?

    • Hey, Omar! Good to hear from you again. That’s a great quote, or paraphrase of a quote. I’ve heard it too, somewhere, but cannot remember where. Yeah, I’ve noticed that self-described “social Darwinists” don’t seem to appeal to their supposed philosophy when they’re looking like the ones who might not survive. I think their “philosophy” boils down to “Make sure I survive, because I just KNOW I’m one of the fittest.”

  2. In a Scientific American article several decades ago, the author stated, “If survival of the fitest was the most important consideration, evolution would have stopped with single celled bacteria. ” The Social Darwinists like Ann Rand also pretend that human economy is close to 100% efficient when a small fraction of 1% efficiency is much more typical. When even the pre-K students know that corruption rules and virtue is punished, the SD argument can only survive because violence is used against those who expose SD’s lies.

      • I want to thank you for pointing out that social Darwinism really is bullshit because it’s used as a tool to bully those who are weak. And I’m against bullying.

      • I couldn’t agree more. I had somehow missed that the revulsion I feel for “Social Darwinism” (which I note is almost always argued by people who deny science, and who often, at other times, refuse to credit Darwin) is because it is bullying. It is. Like all bullying it is fraudulent at base. You said it quite eloquently, that survival in Darwin’s thesis is contingent upon adaption, not superiority. Superiority cannot be established, by anyone with regard to anyone else. “Survival of the fittest” is a tremendously inaccurate phrase, a tautology. As many biologists have pointed out, in that phrasing fitness can only be judged by survival, so the phrase is meaningless. Evolutionary theory also makes it clear that one species’s adaptation to one epoch may be the very thing that dooms them to extinction when the environment changes. I hope this is true of today’s vicious and lying bullies.

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