The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Friday, June 24, 2005

Social Darwinism and the one-balled man

One of the reasons I vacillate between left and right wings of the spectrum is my attitude toward the concepts lumped together under the umbrella term "Social Darwinism."  Actually predating Darwin, and the creation of a guy named Herbert Spencer, the survival-of-the-fittest idea applied to social context (and later in economic context with unfettered Capitalism) is a great idea, and seems to hold true down to the protozoan level: those more efficient and effective organisms, social systems, individuals, methodologies or groups will thrive, and the lesser will fade away.  and I think about 50% of me agrees with that.
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The problem is that ol' debbo called the level playing field.  I've seen incredible martial arts systems die out because they didn't know how to promote themselves. The McTaekwondo domnating the strip malls in the 90's were hardly "superior"--but man, they knew how to  promote themselves.  In fact, you could get our ass kicked rather roundly trying to make a lot of that stuff work (this is not to criticise REAL TAE KWON DO--a brutally effective and aesthetically astonishing Korean art--which barely exists in America).  but there is this thing called Gresham's law that states counterfeit money will drive out good money...adn the same thing can happen in other arenas.
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I've know a lot of people who believed in Social Darwinism, that basically, the people how are on top deserve to be on top, the people on the bottom, er...well, it's not PC to come right out and say this any more, but, well, they deserve to be there.  And if there are a disproportunate number of the "others" there, well...too bad.  Reality is harsh, ain't it?
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Of course, I've always found it interestng that people tend to justify the positin of whatever social class or group they are born into.  I.E.--wealthy people tend to think that rich people are rich because, well, they're better.  Poor people tend to think that poor people are poor because they are more honest, and have better values.  The people who believe that government shouldn't interfere in social process are those already at or near the top.  those who think the government should get involved in every aspect of our lives, and "level the playing field" tend to have been nearer the bottom.  And so it goes. 
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I remember stories in the Science Fiction field like "The Marching Morons", takign the position that because smart people breed less than "less smart", we will be swamped by stupidity.  Let's not note that, for the last sixty years, the average I.Q. (whatever the hell that is) has actually gone up (if anyone has contrary information, I'm sure they'll let me know!).  What is interesting is how much of a classic this story is, how most of my friends and associates in the SF field nodded their heads sagely and agreed this was a classic piece of work, and basically agreed with it.  I'm not sayign that they were wrong.  What I AM saying is that they combined this with the comlete lack of non-whites in SF--either as writers, readers, characters, cover images...the comments by John Campbell (verified by two independant sources) that black Africans, even in the future, would not be capable of developing or sustaining a technological civilization AT THE SAME TIME Campbell is counted as the single most influential SF editor by a large chunk of the field...and yet SF readers like to think of themselves as being progressive and open-minded about racial issues.  I can't tell you how many panels I've had to sit on and disabuse folks of that notion.
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In other words: everyone wants to think that thier group is where they are because of their positive qualities.  and every group likes to think that their group are oepn, loving, realistic, and the blessed of god.  I'm telling you, put these things together, and ANYTIME you have a group with numerical or political or financial advantage, they will use it in ways large and small to keep and increase their power, simultaneously acting pious as hell.
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There was a deifnition of hubris in Greece that went something like this: to rob someone, or beat them, is one thing.  To then crow about the fact that you did it is a greater crime.  But do you know what human beings do?  Do you know what absolutley common behavior justifies the lower, deeper circles of hell?  To rob someone, beat them, piss on them...and then tell everyone that the victim is just "naturally' smelly, broke, and crippled.  THAT is what people do.  They justify it because that is the only way they can live with themselves. Tall, White, upper-class, educated, Christian, lean-bodied, heterosexual males are pretty much at the top of the social pyramid in America, and oftimes sneer at the "special interest" groups tryign to steal tax money for their own pork-barrel interests.  but you know what?  Secretly, most of those in that group are part of a less-advantaged sub-group.  Take any one of them, and make them gay, or non-white, or past 50, or take their jobs, or make them disabled Veterans, or women, or whatever, and suddenly they're screaming for help just like the people they castigate.  In other words, human beings tend to take their blessings and consider them to be their due, just for being born.  And to ignore any aspect of their history that goes against that.
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so Social Darwinism works...to a point.  Because human perception will promote inferior skills and goods into positions of power, and we will justify our advantages and consider them the grace of God--and permission to destroy the competition.  but the opposite position is no better--if you hobble the most capable among us, and 'tax the rich until they're dead", I think you DO create a kingdom of the impotent, in which the one-balled man is king.
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I remember talking to Jerry Pournelle once, and his positin was that society shouldn't provide basic goods and services.  My position was that every citizen should be guaranteed a basic education, room, board, and medical treatment.  He said: "why in the world should we do that?"  I said, "We need to provide at least the level of social service one would get in a State prison, because all I have to do to get those things is kill you. " Jerry looked at me curiously, and said he'd never thought of that.
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You want the lowest among us to feel enfranchised inthe system--otherwise, what motivatin do they have not to simply kill you to get heir basic necessities?  On the other hand, anyone who knows me knows I believe in individual initiative and responsiblity.  to the max.  THIS is what we need to teach our kids in school--how to succeed.  and in the twelve years of public school education, I received not one hour of genuine success coaching, the principles that actually lead peole to success.  Not one hour.
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if I was to do the 'Poor little me" thing for a minute (and I think I may be permitted.  It's my blog after all) I'd also note that in those twelve years I never received an hour's teaching on African history.  The white kids in my class received thousands of times more reinforcement about their blessed advantages and heritage.  I had to search high and low for any scrap of self-esteem, and if my blessed mother hadn't brainwashed me with "the Power of Positive thinking" and "Psycho-Cybernetics" and "Think and Grow Rich", I'd probably be just as dead or broken as many of the kids I grew up with.  and I had no role models in the Science fiction field, and they put a white guy on the cover of my book.  And I was told that if I wrote stories about people who looked like me, no one would buy them.  And had scripts turned down not because of quality, but because of the race of the characters.  For thirty years I've struggled with this, while staying more focussed, more directed, more obsessively optimistic (and anyone who knows me will verify this) than any human being has the responsibility to be.  And at every turn, what I meet are people COMPLETELY OBLIVIOUS to the fact that this is what I've gone through.  erpetually astonished when I tell them, show them, prove to them.  "Wow!  I thought we'd gotten beyond that!"  No, we haven't. And women, and the elderly, and the poor,a nd the disabled, and gays ("does megastar XX really think it would hurt his career if he came out of the closet?  What nonsense!") and any other group...and as individuals, that includes most of us...get screwed.
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But if you can make it into that "upper" group.  If you can talk the talk, and dress that way, and shut up about where you came from, and agree that "anyone who has what it takes" can make it, then you can get the goodies. there would be nothing wrong with Social Darwinism as a theory if combined with sufficient compassion and honesty.  But while most of the people I know ARE compassionate, Honesty is hard to come by.  We praise our birthrights, and rationalize away our personal failures.  When will I believe we are honest enough for Social Darwinism to not be an excuse to simply steal and kill and piss on the people we've hurt while blaming them for their wounds?  When the average person is in a healthy relationship, has a healthy body, and a healthy career, that's when.  Because all it takes to have those things is honesty, clarity, and hard work over time.  Gee--isn't that what the Social Darwinists say it takes to succeed?
It's harder than it looks, friends.  It's harder than it looks.

1 comment:

Martial Arts Equipments and Weapons said...

Well, I'd say another source for martial arts weapons would be martial arts