- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Social Darwinism

Posted by: bill on March 29, 1999 at 15:53:12:

In Reply to: This weekend's question posted by B on March 26, 1999 at 18:17:01:

: Is the social darwinism that capitalism espouses "right" or "moral?" Why or why not?

Ugh! What a Huge question! (but good)

Well then, here goes:

Capitalism is a man-made arrangement with a set of rules. The rules of this game (at least in the anarcho-capitalist or libertarian variety) inevitably lead to a situation of "haves" and "have-nots". The society becomes divided against itself with the privileged holding at bay, by whatever force necessary, demands made by what are considered failed "wannabe's" (It never seems to occur to the defenders of this ideology that there might be those "be's" that nonetheless despise the particular game of capitalism.

The philosophic underpinnings of neo-liberalism or anarcho-capitalism, rest upon the usual "human nature" arguments. So for example, defense of various inequities within culture is given the scientific cloak of biology via Darwin. This is abbreviated in the phrase: "Survival of the fittest". Thus "nature" weeds out the weak, helpless, infirm, while the strong survive to pass on their genes and thereby increase the "natural fitness" of the race. This leads to a political position that claims to be simply following laws of nature in resisting things like social welfare programs that aid the 'weak', or unions which are seen as nothing but collectivities of the weak. The effort expended on the 'less fit' segment of humanity would be better spent on the 'more fit' minority. These are the elite. Curiously we arrive at situation where the amount of power (in one form or another) one is able to exert over another determines the "degree of fitness".

Several questions leap out. One would be whether this social extrapolation of Darwin is scientifically valid. In other words, are we taking a science from which a theory is derived or politics in search of scientific justification. I suspect the latter.

Often when we read about the roots of the political theory of capitalism we come across Hobbes' quoted description of 'natural man' as having a life "nasty, brutish, and short'. In the "state of nature" life is a battle, a fierce competition of "all against all". It leads to the rationalization expressed as "might makes right". (The ability to reason, consider future consequences, make 'contracts', led to civilization - so it goes) But this is all hypothetical conjecture. It has been pointed out that Hobbes was describing a "state of nature" in which modern 'civilized' man would find himself were he/she somehow stripped of all socialized behavior formed by living in a civilized society. This is almost impossible to discover. The closest we can find to this pre-civilized view might be under conditions imposed NOT from within some 'inherent' tendency, but imposed by outside forces such as "life boat" ethics, or the story of the IK.

There is NO evidence that early man lived in such an ego-centric war zone. This is not to say that early man was some idyllic, pastoral, pacifist, far from it. What it is to say is that the human species is and always has been a social animal. We are Not like Orangutans whose adolescent males leave their matriarchal home setting never to return. What does social animal mean? It means that beginning with extended care for infants, humans gathered together in groups, usually expanding in numbers through kinship. (Extension of this to various forms of reciprocal altruism and other forms of seeming "moral" behavior are a hot topic of study). "Might makes Right" might be a good biological design for a tiger. Not for an antelope. Flight would be a better design for one of those. And as for the survival of those two particular species, the jury's still out. (But it's important to remember, the antelope does Not depend on the tiger). In fact, in terms of "survival of the fittest" or the Darwinian view, it can be readily seen that a trait that inclines individual members of a species toward group membership and sharing can, and in the case of humans does, provide more survival value to a species as a wholethan an individual engaged in more 'Orangutan-like' behavior.

The value of the individual cannot be denied. After all, it is individuals (and individuals through collective action) by which culture is maintained or "advanced". But capitalism, as I see it, is highly anti-social. It seems very suited to the "just win, baby" "nice guys finish last" (and generally male) competitive personality. It might be advanced that aggressiveness is a "natural" trait - deriving perhaps from male competition for the female. Maybe, so what? Why design a culture around a mating ritual! Or greed for that matter. There are other less socially destructive traits. And beside and aside from all that, there's the so-called "naturalistic fallacy" - that is - you can't derive an "ought" from an "is".


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