What Darwin Didn't Mean

We’re so proud of our dog-eat-dog world that we fail to notice that it’s not

| July-August 2010

  • What Darwin Did Not Mean Illo

    Adam Niklewicz / www.illustratorusa.com

  • What Darwin Did Not Mean Illo

Nice guys finish last.  Survival of the fittest. Eat or be eaten. For Americans, such catchphrases strike familiar chords. Stemming from an unwieldy synthesis of social Darwinism and (until recently) trendy Chicago School economics, this ethos claims that mercilessly competitive conditions weed out the weak while preserving and enhancing the strongest members of an institution, a market, or a civilization. Roughness and ruthlessness render us more competitive, thicker-skinned, and simply better than the rest of the pack.

When this belief system bleeds over into the realm of political discourse, it transmogrifies into a paradoxical badge of honor, a disposition toward sink-or-swim hard-heartedness. “The public be damned!” William H. Vanderbilt famously told a reporter who asked the 19th-century tycoon about social responsibility. His sentiments can still be heard today, couched in PR-friendly euphemisms or offered as hearty retorts to the soft communitarianism of Scandinavia, Continental Europe, and Canada.

Of course, there have been dissenting voices. Progressive leaders in charge of the New Deal exemplified this spirit in the early 20th century. But dissenters have rarely questioned the premise of social Darwinism itself.

Even in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown, opposition to the “cachet of the cutthroat” is generally confined to ethical qualms about the suffering and personal cost imposed on hard-pressed individuals and families—deploring the scale of the misery, rather than addressing its roots.

Across the ideological spectrum, prevailing wisdom holds that institutionalized harshness generates a more productive, adaptive, and wealthy society, with “liberalism” left to debate merely whether the resulting human collateral damage is an acceptable cost of doing business. Although moral objections are clearly relevant, the most devastating counterargument to the cachet of the cutthroat is that it is simply wrong.


4/1/2014 12:15:20 AM

A world wide debt cancelling Jubilee is the answer to not steal but let the Hebrew God have HIS way with these international banker gangsters. These evil monsters have stolen money as the fruit of peoples labor for three centuries. The means of stealing has been dishonest currency. Why did Yeshua overturn the tables of the money changers. Bankers who manipulate currency are thieves. As the second chapter of Habakkuk states, the money does not belong to these bankers. Social Darwinism is the path to world government. We all have a dog in this fight. Prosecute the Rothschild family for crimes against humanity. Thousands of trillions of dollars of stolen money over three hundred years should be confiscated NOT taxed.

David Kimball
7/31/2010 9:04:05 AM

The author states, "And finally, it promotes short-termism, the most pernicious incentive." This is the whole premise of Sustainability (Triple Bottom Line/Corporate Social Responsibility/Responsibility Reporting/whatever). Instead of measuring a company on its short term goals, a company needs to be measured on its long term goals which include Financial, Environmental, and Social. The article does a fine job in stating the need to have a paradigm shift from one of competition and control to a paradigm of collaboration and cooperation - whether in school, in business, or in government.

7/29/2010 10:40:36 AM

Thanks for this article- A little poem I wrote on the subject awhile back- Bones It’s said the world is dog eat dog But most dogs would much prefer a bone Be thrown a ball or playing tug of war Where the only score that matters is fun- For when the day is done, dogs know to rest Because the best is yet to come- And though we think we are the brightest Perhaps we can take the slightest of clues Step into each others shoes And sniff out what really matters- Jen Reich© 5-6-10

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