Saturday, April 14, 2012

What is social Darwinism?

I'm on vacation in the Philippines right now, so I seem to have a little time on my hands to write in greater depth than I usually do. So if you need a sleep aid, consider the following:

I read recently that the Republicans had offered up a budget plan written largely by Representative Paul Ryan. Shockingly, our Beloved Leader attacked it, warning the American people that this budget plan would cause cuts in student scholarships, services such as this and that and the other, and just in general destroy society as we know it. He stated that it was a form of “social Darwinism”.

I found that comment to be very interesting indeed. Those are two words that make my little antenna go up. What does “social Darwinism” mean? Why does our Beloved Leader make it sound so bad? If it is Darwinism, why is it just social, and not cultural or spiritual or anything like that? Is there a difference between social Darwinism and biological Darwinism? If so, what is it?

Here’s what I think social Darwinism means. Darwinism is the belief that the organism (and here I mean not just biological organisms, but any object that is subject to change and can be described as existing independent of other objects) best suited to adapt to a new environment will be the most likely organism to survive in that new environment. In other words, a tadpole that can fly will theoretically be better suited to survive in its new environment than other tadpoles that cannot do so.

Now, there are a lot of problems with Darwinism. The biggest problem is, how does an organism that evolves become evolved? What causes an organism to change, much less to change for the better? To say that an organism ‘just evolves’ is an incomplete answer, building that foundation on faith. Why do some of every kind evolve, but others of every kind don’t? What makes these adaptive organisms so special that they can go against the natural law of the universe? Because, in order for an organism to evolve, it must go against the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that every system begins in a certain ordered state and gradually becomes more chaotic with the passage of time unless acted upon by an outside force. Buildings crumble, bodies decay, plant life decays, fallen trees rot away, computers eventually fail, humans and animals gradually get old and die, stone formations are gradually eroded down.

If we were to somehow remove all of human life from Earth for just one hundred years, and then look at the state of the Earth at the end of that time, we would be amazed as to the change. It is only when somebody comes along and shores up a falling wall do buildings remain standing. It is only through preventive maintenance that computers continue running without running into the Blue Screen of Death. Humans and animals continue to get old and die, but exercise, proper diet, and regular doctors’ visits can stave off the effects for a little while. But in each case, if an outside force doesn’t act upon an object, then that object will become chaotic and eventually fail. That outside force, acting upon the original object, causes that object to become more ordered (or at least retain its original system order).

But wait! Can just any outside force cause another object to become more ordered just by acting on it? Logic tells us that the answer is no, otherwise everything that reacts with any other object would be constantly improving. Gears would never wear out, complicated machines would never need maintenance, animals would not need training, children would not need to be taught, gardens would not need to be weeded.

Obviously, an outside force that acts upon an organism in a positive way must be intelligent; otherwise the chances of that outside force increasing the order of the original organism are poor at best, and, I would judge, to be infinitesimally small except in the most extreme cases. Banging on the reluctant machine very rarely makes it work better. (By the way, ‘banging on the reluctant machine’ sounds vaguely naughty. It would also make an excellent album title.) I know that we see that kind of thing happen in movies, but that is a plot point determined by the writers and directors of the film. Interestingly, because we see that all of the time in the movies that we see, we have become conditioned in our expectations of that. In other words, because we have seen it so many times and it is a memorable plot device, we expect it to work in real life. Art influences life.

But I digress.

Obviously, an outside force that acts upon an organism that improves said organism must, at the very least, be directed by an intellect. To deny that there is an intellect behind an improvement in said organism is illogical. The only other choice besides an outside intellect is sheer chance. But sheer chance is not a good enough answer. Not only is it insufficient for a rational mind to believe that things get better simply because of the luck of the draw, the mathematics behind it is insufficient for a rational mind to believe, as well.

The chances of an random action improving the status of an organism are fairly small in and of itself, but the chances of a chain of random actions improving the status of an organism has to be astronomically small. How much smaller, then, are the odds of a string of random actions improving the status of a particular kind of organism? And how much smaller than that, then, are the odds of a string of random actions improving the status of different kinds of organisms? I’ll leave the actual computations to somebody who is willing to slog through all of the necessary research and formulas to come up with the exact odds, but I’m willing to bet that nobody would be willing to bet on those kinds of odds.

I’ve also seen the argument forwarded that there is no intelligent force needed to direct such improvement, that what propels the need for evolution is the sheer desire by either the individual or the entire species as a whole. That is to say, that the organism (or the organism’s species) evolves simply because it wishes to evolve. While this is a thinly plausible explanation for higher species (humans certainly, but also monkeys, birds, and anything that is animate), it falls short when it comes to the lower species (plants and vegetation) and ideas (such as the theory of evolution itself). The problem is especially glaring when it is realized that the only way that any desire to evolve must come from not only self-awareness, but from a form of consciousness that is not evident to any observations made by any person.

So what is left? We’ve eliminated the argument that there is no intelligent force as too unlikely, and revealed the argument that the intelligent changing force as coming from within the organism or species as too ridiculous to merit a response. The process of elimination tells us that there is only one answer that can satisfy the bare necessities of our requirements. That force must be outside of the organism, and able to act upon the organism in such a way that the organism improves because of the actions of that outside organism.

So how does this pertain to our observation by our President that Republicans are practicing “social Darwinism”? As I’ve demonstrated above and despite atheists’ claims to the contrary, evolution (and by extension, Darwinism) can only happen if there is an intelligent changing force that acts upon the organism to be evolved. So the question becomes, what is the intelligent changing force that is at work behind the organism known as social Darwinism?

Since the organism that we are talking about here involves humanity, there is the possibility that social Darwinism does not have an intelligent outside force acting upon it, but is instead directed from within. That is to say, there is the liklihood that the evolution of humans by social Darwinism comes from within and not from without. This, I think, is a special case, mainly because the organisms that are involved in social Darwinism involve exclusively humans and no other organisms.

Nonetheless, our Beloved Leader has stated that Republicans are practicing social Darwinism, with the connotation that this is a bad thing. Our next question is, is practicing social Darwinism a bad thing?

I think what President Subprime McDowngrade is insinuating is that Republicans want to use certain tools within society to push “others” down in a desperate bid to allow themselves better opportunities to survive. In this case, “others” is a rather amorphous idea, one that the audience is supposed to fill in emotionally themselves. “Others", in this case, being any kind of minority (perceived or otherwise), that the audience sees as being victimized by an oppressor. The specific “other” is not important, just the mere presence of the idea of others being oppressed is what is important.

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