Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Social Darwinism (2)

How you approach the concept of History decides the kind of life you live and the kind of person you are.

Many people in our world today think of History as an endless loop of subsistence living and eventual death; and from that point they diverge into religious conceptions of an afterlife, too many to discuss. The point being, though, that they have a sense of endless repetition of Human life, one generation living after the next without any real change possible, without any real sense of progress beyond ones own salvation in the afterlife. The idea of life is something like "the circle of life".

Those without a religious outlook see life as linear, as life and then non-existence. "I was not, I was, I was not."

Let's consider History itself, regardless of the personal. There are those who do not grasp the concept of History as progressive, who see it as simply there eternally or so, an endless circle of Man, if in different bodies. Ones life is the same as those who were before and as those who come later. Life is set and determined and cannot and should not and must not change. History is ended and there is only life to live for the sake of oneself in communion with the universe. Anything that threatens that universal order is evil.

There is an outlook that History is changing, but at a glacial and geological pace, that Man is not capable of making anything happen of any genuine significance, that evolution is measured in terms of millions of years rather than in days and years.

History can be seen as something Men can change by their will and determination and talent. Those men can become revolutionaries and social activists, some utopian and totalitarian and murderous in their pursuit of perfection and the fulfillment of their gnostic dreams of the end of history and the Heaven on Earth they so desire to create.

Some feel that History is not exactly linear but dialectical, that it moves one way now and in the opposite direction next, then combining into a new synthetic mode that splits into its internal contradictions and begins the dialectic all over again.

One man I met suggests that "History is bunk." forget about it and get on with the tasks at hand; leave aside all that introspective and myopic nonsense and pass the ammunition.

All of it decides how we live and who we are as individuals and societies. History is in our hands to change or it isn't. It is in our hands to change and we should or we shouldn't. That we can make history in our time or we cannot. Your outlook on your abilities to make your own life in our time determines how you will live and act in the world. Social Darwinists were split into numerous kinds of actors in this context. Out of their valuations of History we live today with the aftermath of those who reacted against them. We live with the residue of those who feel that Man is not capable of determining his own life and history but that it is in the hands only of those who can see beyond the fog of assumptions, who can rise above the cloud of unknowing to see the Truth, that they can guide the masses by changing the environment of the masses so the masses will react to social conditions in the same way any living thing reacts to its environment, covering for warmth, shedding for heat,and so on. People are determined by their surroundings, and to make history conform to ones idea of its right, then one can make conditions such that people will move accordingly. Those who were Social Darwinists and those today who are determinists share the idea that people have not much choice in their lives outside of how the material world treats them and how they are given to react. That is history. Those who are special and insightful and gifted will know what the lesser among us do not; and the gnostic, he who has knowledge, will create the world for Man in the beneficence of the Gnostic's vocation. The Gnostic believes in the changeability of History but not in the sense of progress. He believes only that Man can be bettered in behaviour and reaction but not in essence, that man is essentially evil, and that the only hope of Man is in his adherence to the Plan that is made for him by the gifted Gnostic. Man will always be an animal but he might behave better if he's provided with a nicer barn to live in. That's not really Progress.

There are those who are revolutionaries. We in the West are, mostly, those ourselves. We have proof of our revolutionary status in obvious terms: the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, not to mention the technological revolution we are currently experiencing, and all the other revolutions of daily living, revolutions in thought of all kinds from child rearing to feminism to food production and house-cleaning liquids. We are revolutionaries and unashamed. "Revolutionary" is a cliche. But it is true that we are very revolutionary, and that we are unlike any other people in our Human history. We accept and even demand revolution as a way of life.

Revolution as history is a volitionary attitude. We do not accept X as given and permanent. If we don't like X we work to change it. We are not content. Our understanding of History demands that we change it to something we would prefer, and we accept that it is us who must do the work of change. That attitude puts us at odds with those who would not merely halt change as it is now but who would turn back our changes to Human conditions and the volition of Man. those who would stop our revolutions are both reactionaries and "Progressives" who would turn back our revolutions to a time of the Golden Past.

Revolution, evolution, or devolution. And then there are the Relativists.

How one sees history, even if it's at an unthinking level, determines how one will live ones life. If history is unchanging, then one will not consider attempting to make history different from what has always been and will forever be. And if history is a series of disconnected and random bubbles of social events, as mid 20th century French nihilists have it, then one cannot affect historical change beyond ones time anyway, the past having no connection to future events and people. Everything is relative and isolated and meaningful only to those who live during some set period. These approaches lead to passivity and apathy. Only select groups of gnostics can have any impact on history, they knowing more than others, having insight and therefore the right to power. No linear history means there is no progress and no telos, no meaning, no reason.

Children ask where babies come from. Adults ask where people came from. It is the beginning of history, this question and the creation story. Having asked and perhaps having answered, one will in time have to address where we go from our beginning, why, and when will our existence end. How we address those problems of the mind decide for us afterward how we will conduct our private lives. It comes to the meaning of life. It comes to control over that meaning and purpose. Do you have control or must you accept that you do not? Are you active or passive?

Social Darwinists range across the spectrum of possibilities.

Though many people in the late 19th century would have understood immediately the phrase "Social Darwinism" it wasn't coined until 1944 when Richard Hofstadter used it as the title in Social Darwinism in American Thought . Beacon Press: Boston; rpt. 1962. We live, mostly unaware, with the legacies of Social Darwinism, using phrases from the ideologies therein such as "survival of the fittest," not coined by Darwin but by the nearly forgotten leading light of Social Darwinism, Herbert Spencer. It is that phrase more than any other that we today resist as an obvious evil, one that leads to pain and exploitation of the weaker and the less technologically advanced. It has to do with our conceptions of history, of how we understand the nature of change in Human relations and being in the world. Yes, the phrase is tautological, but it is also essential that we accept it as it is meant and as how we react to it in those terms. That the strong survive and the weak do not is seen today as justification for evil committed against the undeserving. It is a matter of our outlook on history that decides our approaches to the problem of Good and Evil in this question of what to do about the weak and the poor, the rich and the strong. Social Darwinism is with us today even more vividly than it was over 100 years ago, and it is nearly invisible because we live with its mirror image: relativism.

If all people are products of their culture. and if their culture is organic as von Herder and Fiche argue, then all cultures are somehow right in themselves, not open to criticism from outsiders, and within somehow valid as group expressions of the general will of the people. To interfere with a people's Will is likely a bad thing, an imposition of one will unjustly on others. To the colonialist and imperialist, to the triumphalist and the slaver and the filibuster it hardly matters what "others" think or feel. One acts anyway. To the Modernist, action is beneficial to all, not only to the actor himself in pursuit of profit but to the primitive or the weaker or the less developed. Action is good in that it is progressive and leads to higher standards of culture and some enlightenment beyond the usual state of Man's rural idiocy. To crack open a closed system and to bring it the benefits of Modern society is right. In many cases, the idea of right progress is central to Social Darwinism. But not in all cases.

Of two of the leading lights of the ideology of Social Darwinism, Hofstadter writes: "To Sumner as to Spencer, society was a superorganism, changing at a geological tempo. In [Sumner's] view, the social meddlers had been laboring under the delusion that, since there are no natural laws of the social order, they might make the world over with artificial ones; but he expected that Spencer's new science would dissolve these fantasies.... They started from the premise that 'everybody ought to be happy' and assumed that therefore it should be possible to make everyone happy." (Hofstadter: p. 61.)

There we see a Right Social Darwinism arguing that there is social progress but one that is so slow it's not worth thinking about; and there is the counter, that one must act to improve life in an accelerated evolution, in fact, sometimes in a revolutionary programme. Both groups saw change as unstoppable, but the Right saw it as a matter of increasing commerce and capitalism, and the Left saw it as a matter of social engineering for the benefit of the poor. the one emphasises the actions of the private individual, the other the actions of the gnostic individual. The one is concerned with wealth, the latter concerned with redistributing the wealth there is, hearkening back to the conception of goods as limited to subsistence economies. Thus, we see the Right static party at odds with the Left reactionaries; those who believe in progress through individual actions against those who believe in reaction as the progress of the many. The one is concerned with riches, the other with poverty. Hofstadter continues writing on Sumner:

"If poverty is ever to be abolished, it will be by a more energetic prosecution of the struggle, and not by social upheaval or paper plans for a new order. human progress is at bottom moral progress, and moral progress is largely the accumulation of economic virtues. 'Let every man be sober, industrious, prudent, and wise, and bring up his children to be so likewise, and poverty will be abolished in a few generations.' " (Hofstadter: p. 61.)

Sumner's is a social progressivism that one cannot find in the collectivism of feudalism. In today's terms, Sumner is not considered a social progressive. And yet he most certainly is objectively. His Social Darwinism is one of survival of the fittest in that progress will come to those who are progressive themselves; even those who are poor now will, like most immigrants to the New World, grow rich by their own efforts and talents. Obviously it's true that those who work toward personal progress are successful and those who do not are failures in the usual sense. Economic success is a moral struggle, and winning the economic struggle is winning morality. Increase in wealth is a moral gain as much as an economic one. Socialism is also a moral deficit. The struggle in itself is good and moral. To deny struggle, as the left must do, as they do by denouncing it as theft from a limited resource of common wealth, is reactionary and entirely anti-progressive. Capitalism, in a turn-around of our common assumptions of meaning, is progressive and sustainable. By doing little or nothing by way of public social activism, the Right became the social engins who moved society forward, who created the means of social progress the Left lays claim to.

There is a confusion in the mind of the Left today that there is a struggle for survival in the world, and that by taking profit and creating something useful from nature the capitalist is destructive. There is a Left idea that the spread of AIDS is the fault of multi-national corporations who refuse to give away the medicines the drug companies produce. Yes, then, there is a struggle for survival the average AIDS carrier is likely to lose without the give aways from the drug companies. There is also something to be said about those who carry AIDS. Some of them are very likely rape victims. However.... the struggle for existence is not the over-heated rip and tear today that one can see it as in the mid-19th century factory system in Manchester or in Mayhew's London. Survival in a modern capitalist economy is not that difficult even for the most hard-core unemployed person. Hofstadter continues:

"What is called the struggle for existence in modern society is really a struggle of the means of enjoyment. Only the desperately poor, the pauperized, and the criminal are engaged in a struggle for existence.... The struggle of enjoyment... is in no way analogous either to natural selection or to the artificial selection of the horticulturalist." (Hofstadter: p. 96)

Capitalism creates such an over-abundance of wealth that the struggle for existence is silly. There is no struggle in any meaningful sense. The working classes have won enough that they are a satisfied part of the capitalist system's victory. So we come back to the concepts of activism and progress. If the victors within capitalism are successful, they must be co-conspirators in the general robbery of the masses outside the capitalist world, as seen and understood by gnostic neo-feudalists. Within capitalism there cannot be a real struggle for survival, so there must be a struggle for equality. that kind of idiocy rings hollow in the empty minds of even the stupidest of Leftists; therefore, most fall back on the philobarbarist option of "defending" the barbarian victims of imperialism.

There is no such thing as linear history, if the left is correct, there is only incoherent bubble of identity and culture. All of those cultures are equally valid in bubbles of temporality, all relative to each other except those that overpower the weaker, i.e. the Western Modernists overpowering the barbarians. To correct this problem of obvious historical progress, the Left must deny there is such a thing as History, and that there is only cultural stasis being privileged by its members and impenetrable by outsiders; therefore cultures lesser and weaker and special and in need of protection from the stronger, those who would ruin the struggle for survival of the weaker by the fitter, must have power to survive the assaults of our racist Modernity. The progressive Left must deny progress in time to promote relativity of cultural value. No history. No progress. Western capitalist Modernity is simply one model of social organisation among many, and not special or better than any other; but because it is more powerful and because it uses resources, it must then be stopped from taking the limited resources that make up the universe so that all might have their fair share of the limited pie of subsistence. Because capitalism is active, it is therefore bad for those who are not aggressive; and capitalism must therefore be stopped from continuing its course, which is not progress but simply movement to take from the whole of Mankind.

If all cultures are in a state of relative being, there being no "progress" other than random events within social contexts, no telos, no "reason," then for one culture to dominate another is to interfere wrongly in a culture valid in its own terms unjudgeable by another as better or worse, simple one that is not powerful enough to defend itself. In short, it's wrong in a higher sense, to bully. There being no "history" to compare one state of development to another in cultural terms, all states of development are equally valid. But one can see from the Left view that capitalism is not simply a state of development in itself, it is an attack on all other cultures by its very existence. It is an out-of-control predatory culture, and to protect states from it capitalism must be stopped from furthering the harm it does. The Leftist must stop the imperialism of capitalism so all other cultures can continue their internal developments as they will organically. Not only should capitalism not judge other cultures according to capitalist values, capitalism should examine its own harmful acts against other cultures that do no harm to the world, and to Nature itself. It's no longer any good to attempt to restore the "balance" to the people within capitalism, they having sold out to consumerism and now being lackeys and dupes of the capitalist system, the Leftist must protect the new "workers" from capitalism before they too are co-opted into the capitalist vision of life. One must go further than protecting the primitive and promote the primitive as more at one with nature, as more authentic, as more valid than the capitalists. All that seems to be economic progress is capitalism, and that is in itself not historical progress but simply a growth of harm. For the progressive left, turning back history is history. Generic Social Darwinism, the competition for enjoyment of life, is seen as plundering and rape and murder. It is seen as that by the Left as world-wide and growing.

If we deny the fact of History we leave ourselves in a state of passivity. We can at best allow for external influence, for example, economic conditions over which people have no control. We can claim the effects of geography are determinant. We can claim any external force to be the one that makes people live as they do; and so long as will and energy are dismissed as peripheral to social change we will end up with an ahistorical worldview that leads us to insh'allah. If we deny the existence of history we will give the power of volition to others who will lead by Gnostic vision. Even without the vision of History, the Gnostic will claim power to adjust social conditions as a means of engineering behaviour right for all in this view. We see it most clearly in our time in the form of imposed Shari'a. There is no History in Islam, there is only submission and adherence to the Traditions. It is the near-perfect expression of Left social engineering. Without the vision of progressive History and telos, there is only the personal state of farm animal existence as tended to by the manager. The Social Darwinists went both ways in looking for the answers to the riddle of teleological History. Change is imposibly slow in Human life and character and nothing real can be done to make it different; that social conditions can change quickly in a greater economy than in a lesser one; and that social conditions can create a New Man if there is enough focus on the external conditions that make man adapt to his surroundings. At heart it depends on ones view of History. It is or it isn't. One can change it or one must allow the world to change it. change is so slow it will never make a difference. Or that one can chnge things radically by changing the enviornment. Or that change, thosugh possible, is bad and must be stopped before further harm comes. How one decides these questions is fundamental in how one lives ones life as an individual. If no change is possible, you will be passive. If change is bad, you will be a reactionary. If change is possible only through environment, you will be a radical reformer; and if Man himself is capable and right in pursuing Progress, then you will be a revolutionary.

Our Muslim cousins are static; our Left is reactionary; and we Modernists are revolutionary. History will show who wins out. That will be determined by the survival of the fittest.

No comments: