The invocation of Charles Darwin during ideological debate is one of those interesting quirks of modern political life.
Darwinian scripture has been cited to justify a host of progressive causes, from Margaret Sanger’s eugenics to the racial hygiene theories of National Socialism. “Social Darwinism” has lately gone out of fashion, since it tends to militate against the Third World dystopias that have become the mascots of today’s progressives. Nevertheless, Darwinian scorn directed at creationists and advocates of intelligent design is still a staple of political rhetoric among today’s leftists.
Funnily enough, those who believe most fervently in Darwinian theory as it applies to biological evolution are often loath to recognize its application to other information systems. Variations on Darwinian principles can be applied to any system in which memes compete with one another, whether such memes reside in DNA, the human brain, or complex social systems.
Take pacifism, for example.
A brief analysis of human social behavior would conclude that there is a strong selective pressure against pacifism, especially absolute and unconditional pacifism. Those social groups whose political institutions are based on pacifism will sooner or later be confronted and overcome by groups that observe no such restrictions on violence.
Neither great intelligence nor advanced technology is required to defeat a pacifist polity. Fists, cudgels, and knives are more than enough to put an end to a people that refuses to defend itself.
This isn’t rocket science. A few minutes’ application of basic logic leads inexorably to this conclusion. So why does pacifism as a political ideal continue to enjoy such a pervasive vogue amongst left-leaning literati in all Western societies?
The obvious explanation is that pacifism — like all the other destructive ideologies of the Left — is nurtured under the roof of Western military might. Pacifists are free to dispense their noxious fumes because they are hothouse flowers, and would be unable to survive as a political movement in the cold world outside.
If the Darwinian kill-or-be-killed function were actually operating, memes like pacifism, anarchism, socialism, and the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement would have been bred out of the West’s idea space a long time ago. But the rough men who stand ready to do violence on their behalf have kindly allowed such disastrous movements to flourish within the artificial environment of Western culture.
A related example may be discovered in the functioning of the fully mature welfare state.
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State welfare was originally applied within relatively healthy and homogeneous societies. The concept of social benefits was so attractive that it seemed inarguable. To take care of those who were unable to take care of themselves was something we simply had to do.
Christian ethics, originally intended to be a code followed by the individual believer, was extended to the workings of the State. But a fundamental error is embedded in the concept: Christian ethical principles don’t scale up.
If you are a devout Christian and give alms, you are immediately aware of the results of your alms-giving. Prudence limits the scope of your generosity. Your self-interest prevents you from exhausting your wealth entirely on others. If you are scammed by a faux-indigent con artist, you will curtail your largesse towards the same person in the future if you have any sense.
But the State doesn’t work that way. Since it doesn’t own what it gives away, it doesn’t have to act like an owner. If it is being exploited or scammed, there may be no compelling reason for it to halt the process, as long as the system itself is maintained and expanded. After all, more money can always be gouged from the taxpayers to keep the machine oiled and running.
And so we arrive at the situation we have now in the twilight of the multicultural West. Instead of a small percentage, half or more of the citizens of the welfare state may be battening off the collective wealth.
If our society were a healthy organism, it would dispense its vital fluids in modest quantities, and only for self-interested reasons. Small amounts of nectar would be displayed in flowers as a lure for the insects that spread the pollen.
But the current welfare state is like an old tree with split bark whose sap is laid open to the air. The trunk is covered with eager ants — and who can blame the ants?
When you give away a lot of wealth for free, as many people as possible will inevitably find a way to tap into all those goodies.
If you make rules intended to limit participation, shrewd people will find a way to simulate compliance so as to bypass the rules and suck on the sap.
Those who are already in on the deal will try to loosen the regulations to benefit their friends and relatives.
And as long as all that wealth is available, someone will game the system to grab it — it’s only human nature.
What all these self-destructive evolutionary dead ends have in common is an attempt to wish away human nature.
We are all supposed to be modern, rational, secular human beings who live without the crutch of religion. We no longer believe that man is a fallen creature, born with a germ of evil in his soul. We know that people are inherently good and perfectible, and that any flaws can be removed if we simply eliminate damaging environmental influences and the atavistic traditions that bind the human psyche.
Unfortunately, people remain stubbornly imperfect, so that increasingly harsh measures are required to restrain their antisocial impulses. As a result we have surveillance cameras, diversity training, mandatory psychotropic medication, and all the other modern manifestations of Big Velvet Brother. The more intractably human we are, the more extensive the attempts to control us.
But basic human nature cannot be changed, and to achieve his aims Big Brother will eventually have to switch from velvet to steel — re-education camps, forced psychiatric care, removal of children into foster homes, and massive fines or imprisonment for those who resist the dominant ideology.
It’s been a long slippery slope leading down to where we are now. Fifty years ago it would have been unthinkable for a Western democracy to fine or imprison someone for expressing a political opinion. That’s what Communism did, but we were different. We were the Free World.
But no longer. Such incidents are a routine occurrence now in any number of Western countries. They’re nothing out of the ordinary, and don’t generally merit a mention in the state-controlled media.
The good news is that Darwin cannot be thwarted indefinitely.
The artificial Western hothouse that keeps all these dangerous and counterproductive ideas alive is under severe stress. Panes are dropping out of the frame here and there, and the steam pipes are rusted and barely functional. It won’t be long before the baroque orchids inside have to compete on equal terms with thistles and crabgrass outside. Anyone want to place bets on which is the fittest?
Ideas, like species, undergo a process of punctuated equilibrium. A stable, static, seemingly immutable organism continues for a long time with almost no change, and then suddenly a slight shift of the environment induces rapid and unpredictable evolution. We’re headed into one of those discontinuities right now.
Hang onto your hats: our equilibrium is about to be punctuated.