Friday, September 10, 2010

Major Fail: Social Darwinism Can't Deliver the Goods It Promises

This post is about two articles that get my personal "Five Star Rating", both put to lie the myth of Social Darwinism - the notion that societies, economies, etc. become stronger if they ruthlessly weed out the weak. The articles I refer to are What Darwin Didn't Mean (from the UTNE Reader, basically a kind of Readers' Digest of the US Alternative Press) and Survival of the Nicest (from I tried to give a real summary of these articles, but found I couldn't do so without leaving out sailent points.  So I'll just do a grade school summary of the articles. First, from What Darwin Didn't Mean.

Contrary to popular opinion, rough and merciless competition does not bring out the best in people. In fact, it only makes society worse in the long run, regardless of whatever short or even medium term benefits come its way. In fact, rough and merciless competition usually hurts a society in the long run - namely by making it poorer, less intelligent, and overall weaker. This is because the "weak vs strong", "predator vs prey" paradigms commits the following serious errors against not only society as a whole, but against the "strong and smart" themselves:

1)Encourages unethical behavior

2)Ignores the fact that companies can rake in enormous profits without contributing real goods and service ("fees", excessive "cost cutting", indifference to non-numerically measurable aspect of society's, employees', and a company's well-being).

3) Incentivizes short-term profits at the cost of ignoring the non-monetary long term profitability of a company.

4) Creates disincentives to creative thinking and self-criticism, for it's easier (not to mention more pleasant feeling) to roll out the latest money-maker as quickly as possible than to question whether that money-maker has real sustainable benefit for the company (and hence a solid source of long-term profitability).

Survival of the Nicest is easier to summarize, and in fact is inspired by the above article.  The basic idea is that Social Darwinism is based on a 19th century understanding of how evolution works, and a distorted interpretation of that understanding besides.  Modern research shows that empathy and compassion are also well-founded in the animal world. For example, gorillas and chimpanzees caring for sick and injured members of their troup.  In fact, the modern understandings see cooperation and compassion as being at least as important for survival of a species as competition is.  Therefore, Social Darwinism's kill-or-be-eaten assumptions is based on an oversimple explanation of how evolution works, and therefore does not deserve to be taken seriously as a model on which to base human societies, including our economic systems. This should relegate Social Darwinism to the same ashbin of history in which Communism now inhabits, for both approaches utterly fail to account for the great complexities of human nature.

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