social darwinism(s)

I’m teaching students about welfare policy next semester and I know that some popular conceptions (along the lines of Charles Murray) will come up that (as a military officer and his boyfriend recently said to me) poor people are poor because of (IQ?) defects, they have more kids than successful people and thus the human race is going down the drain genetically.

I know the evidence against this (e.g., intelligence seems to be rising and people are more plastic than genetic arguments alone would seem to indicate), but in strictly evolutionary terms, one that a social science guy can understand :slight_smile: , does the protection of society “coddle” bad genetics and are we going down hill? I recall people use to say this about eyesight for instance (that humans with bad eyes would have died off, eaten by lions say, had we not invented devices to protect them, thus, eyes are getting worse and worse). I know it’s laughable, but I wanted to hear about the dynamics of evolution agrument against this (supposedly) evolutionary argument.

In terms of intelligence, there really is very little evidence that high intelligence is directly linked to genetics. Besides, it is rather foolish to speak of “going downhill” evolutionarily speaking, since evolution adapts a species to its enviroment, not to some abstract idea of perfection.
Cecil Column

IMHO, this is all going to be moot in twenty or thirty years. All those centuries of eyeglasses, all those millennia of charity, maybe it has built perverse genetic incentives into our societies – but so what? Designer babies are coming. It can’t be stopped. Children with 20/20 vision are going to grow up and reproduce, and their rewritten codes will start cascading through the population; repeat for any trait you’d like.

Up until now, we’ve had evolution; within our lifetimes, we’re going to see something else.

First off, even rudimentary magnifying lenses didn’t appear until about the year 1000, and eyeglasses didn’t come into play until the 16th Century – a little late to escape the lions on the veldt.

Secondly, the developments that increased lifespan (improved hygiene, better nutrition, disease control) were all available first to the wealthy. So by that reasoning, successful people should have had a head start. Therefore, the rich should have already overwhelmed the poor.

A little knowledge is indeed a dangerous thing! It can lead to ridiculous conclusions and in this case to the thoroughly discredited but vicious and destructive concept of eugenics. Google the term and see what I mean. The Nazis were big on it.

A few observations that might help you with your students. Are the poor realy so stupid? Or is it more convenient for capitalist society to foster the idea that if you do not become rich, you must be a loser, and deserve no pity? Or at least, you do not deserve social programs, well-financed schools and other social benefits that would have to be paid for by the taxes of those deserving richer people in our society who all worked sooooo hard for what they have.

If America is a land of opportunity where any boy (or girl) can grow up to be President then we must conclude that those who do not are undeserving scum. Imagine a guy named Miguel Sanchez born July 6, 1946 (same day as George W. Bush) to a drug-addicted 14-year-old Peurto Rican prostitute in New York. Presumably, if he had worked hard and been intelligent, like George W. Bush, he would be President now instead of the present incumbent.

Here is another trick you might want to try with your students. Obviously, we could eliminate many, many disorders, both mental and physical, if anyone with any form of hereditary illness in their genes refrained from reproducing. They do not have to have the disease, just a genetic ability to pass it on. Maybe you could make a list of all the disorders that would include. Then ask students, if any of those disorders existed in their family, would they be willing to be sterilized and forgo offspring for the sake of improving our species? Volunteers please raise your hands.

Since “rich” and “poor” are relative terms, we can argue that the rich have overwhelmed the poor if we compare standards of living in the year 1000 and those of developed nations today.

It has been said that if a welfare recient in western society were to be transported back in time to be a feudal lord in Europe in 1000, they would be pleading to return to their former life within a week!

**Toothaches in your remaining teeth, m’lord? Pull them out and learn to gum your food. And besides, five remaining teeth is very good for an elderly man of 38, like yourself.

Of course the piss in your toilet pan freezes under your bed. Is that not normal in any castle in winter?

Ah yes, scurvy. Our priest will pray for you. They say there is a lot of it every winter. Nobody knows the cause. Perhaps a flux in the air. Oranges? What are oranges m’lord? Potatoes? What are they. Vitamin see? Is that some sort of fruit? Apples? But this is winter my lord, there are no fruit available.

I also regret to inform you that your wife and child died as she was giving birth, m’lord. The doctor bled her several times but it did no good. Ah well, it is the will of God. Most people lose six or seven children out of ten.**

For Chrissake, Scottie, beam me back to the 21st century. [SIZE=7]**NOW!!![/**SIZE]

Actually, there’s mounting evidence that myopia is directly related to literary rate – or rather, the eyestrain caused by reading too close. Random cite:

Plus the obligatory Cecil column.

Your friend is demonstrating a startling amount of ignorance about the poor, docial darwinism, evolution and other topics.
Poor people are largely poor due to a number of factors including bad decision making, environment, local economic conditions and luck. Wealth or the lack thereof is only hereditary at a socioeconomic level, not a genetic one.

Social Darwinism, as I understand it, is a sort of survival of the fittest at the individual or group level. The classical example would be a college fraternity. In general, many more people attempt to join a fraternity than the fraternity will accept. Therefore they can create an “elite” self selected group based on whatever particular criteria they established for themselves. Jobs, finding a mate and high school cliques are also examples of social darwinism.

And as already pointed out, evolution is not about some arbitrary definition of “perfection”. It is about having the qualities that make an organism best suited to survive it’s environment long enough to reproduce.

In our current society, intelligence, drive and ability are far more advantageous than perfect eyesight which can easily be compensated for with relatively minor mechanical or surgical enhancements.

You may be onto something here, m…Might it be advantageous to underachievers in social or work situations to learn to accept and live by Social Darwinist principles? Is there any literature out there on “How to Be a Better Social Darwinist”?

Or does anything but “sink or swim” just defeat the basic principle?

Our brains allow some of us to survive who would be less likely to survive because of physical problems. That’s a fact. However, that makes us what we are! The first time a proto-human used a stone tool to cut into an animal carcass, he allowed “physically weaker” individuals to survive. Do we wish he hadn’t invented that tool, and that we were still wandering around on the svannah with brains no bigger than chimps?

One common fallacy, though, is that we are getting “weaker” as a species because of things like eye glasses. There are still plenty of people with 20/20 vision, and they don’t get penalized because some people wear glasses. Further, if a catastsrophy were to befall mankind, and we were to lose all our technology, we’d still be better off with a diverse gene pool because the guy with poor eyesight might have some other genetic advantage that the guy with good eyesight doesn’t have. The more people, the more genetic diversity. That’s good for a species, not bad.

I should add as a clarification that we needn’t wait for a catastrophy in order to take advantage of the “good” genes that they guy with poor eyesight has. Maybe he happens to be more resistant to HIV AIDS. The larger the populaiton the more frequent mutations pop up. Don’t underestimate the need for mutations in order to survive as a species. Just look at what happened to the Native Americans upon the arrival of the Europeans. Some estimates put that death rate due to lack of immunity to European originting diseases like smallpox at 90%.

It might be advantageous to learn the skills to help you be more successful in a work or social situation.