Saturday, June 27, 2009

You can't believe in anything: A sort of review of Social Darwinism in American Thought

or:

why I'm not a socialist even though I'm a socialist.
http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/misconceps/images/misconceptions_social.gif
So I'm reading this book by Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought. People often unfairly blame Darwin and his promotion of the Theory of Evolution for the dissemination of the ideas of social darwinism, perhaps best understood through this chilling excerpt from Herbert Spencer, "If [people] are sufficiently complete to live, they do live, and it is well they should live. If they are not sufficiently complete to live, they die, and it is best they should die".

Social Darwinism as a 'scientific' theory does not come from Charles Darwin, Spencer was expounding his positions 7 years before the publication of The Origin of Species. Charles Darwin merely provided Sepncer's followers a means of couching their dogma in pseudo-scientific terminology.

Spencer and his people were sort of the bastard children of the Enlightenment, secular dogmatists no better than the religious who believed that science could perfectly explain all human progression and action, and given this explanation, could be used to perfect it.

The problem, (one of the problems at least) as I see it, is that when people, religious or secular believe absolutely in a system of thought, of faith, of anything they expend their intellectual energy incorporating new information into their systems of belief. This energy should, instead, by spent modifying their systems of understanding to better fit with new information.

Dogmas like eugenics, racism, ethno-centrism, etc, become far more pernicious when their proponants are able to explain them through otherwise sound scientific theory.

To restate/ rephrase, I think you should never try to change new information to fit the way you see the world, you should always seek to change the way you see the world to fit new information.

This requires skepticism on all things unless truly proven to be true, and even then, we should be prepared to reevaluate.

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