Is it just me, or does anyone else see it as the utmost height of hypocrisy when right wing “Christians” refuse to admit to the scientific fact of evolution, and call the United States a “Christian Nation,” but never seem hesitant to invoke Darwin when looking for an excuse to defend the grossest inequities of our society? Worst of all, both of those men are wildly misrepresented when it comes to what they actually said. Something’s up here, and it smells. Why are so many in our society able to point to personal responsibility as an argument against social responsibility? The fact is, personal and social responsibility are inseparable parts of the same whole. Let’s explore…
We’ve talked before about how un-Christian the so-called “Christian” right actually is. It’s no secret that the biggest promoters of the Tea Party are the religious right. In fact, the best predictor of whether someone is a Tea Bagger is that they are a Republican, and the second is that they want more religion in government. Now, those aren’t necessarily predictors of whether someone is opposed to helping others, but here’s what Tea Baggers do when someone suggests letting a man die because he can’t pay for his health care:
Yup, let him die. I know it’s an older clip, but little else better demonstrates Tea Bagger antipathy toward their fellow man. What’s most troubling is that such a thing would come from people who, by and large, claim to follow the teachings of a guy who said “How you treat the least among you, so you treat me” (Matthew 25:35-40).
The good old Golden Rule applies to every major religion, and almost every major belief system in existence, excluding certain sociopaths and their followers. Yet, many seem perfectly happy to let every man and woman fend completely for themselves, and point to competition and “survival of the fittest” as a rationale for why we shouldn’t be providing for one another. After all, doesn’t natural selection determine who will succeed and who will not? Wouldn’t we, as a society, be doing irreparable damage to ourselves if we allowed weakness to flourish? Isn’t that what was proposed by…
Over the last hundred years or so, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species has been used as a justification for any number of belief systems, including eugenics and Nazism. The most common, of course, bears his name. The funny thing about Social Darwinism, though, is that Darwin had absolutely nothing to do with it. The concept was the brainchild of Herbert Spencer, in defense of social inequality. Darwin himself was actually in favor of people having a sense of social responsibility. In Descent of Man, Darwin posited that a social conscience was an evolutionary benefit, and that it served to strengthen civilization, the existence of which is what put man on the top of the food chain in the first place. After all, it’s not as though a human being, all alone on the wilderness, is anything close to being “the fittest.” We’re relatively weak and slow, have no weapons save those we are able to fashion with our own hands, and have virtually no natural protection against the elements. It’s only because of our advanced intelligence and cooperation that we are able to dominate the planet and exercise our will to a greater extent than any other creature ever has. And since all men are not born with identical abilities, that cooperation means that we invariably help those less “fit” for circumstances as they are at any given time, as they in turn helps when we are in need. And that, according to Darwin, is why “the social instincts lead an animal to take pleasure in the society of its fellows, to feel a certain amount of sympathy with them, and to perform various services for them.” Helping one another is not a promotion of weakness. It is the source of our strength.
You might be asking, dear reader, why do I bring all this up? Well, it all comes down to this:
Now, a lot of people took offense to this statement by Herman Cain, and rightfully so. Cain was basically trying to say that people who were down on their luck deserved it because they had not worked hard enough or something (it’s hard to really discern Cain’s rationale, especially when he says “I don’t have facts to back this up, but…”).
But here’s the thing: we are to blame. All of us. As a society. As a civilization. As a nation. As a culture. As a people. We should blame ourselves. George Carlin, better than anyone ever has, tells us why (in the first minute and a half of this clip)…
That’s right. The public sucks. We suck. When it really comes down to it, there is no separation between social and individual responsibility. We have forgotten that as a people, and that is the single biggest reason we face the kinds of problems we have today. Just as Jesus would say that we treat no one any better than we treat the least among us, a society is no better than the people of whom it is comprised.
We have an individual responsibility to hold ourselves responsible for our society as a whole.
That’s the key thing here. Sure, we have charities. The proponents of “every man for himself” Social Darwinism will tell you that that’s all we need. “The churches can handle it” they say. Well, there was a time when the church was the only entity through which we helped one another, and it failed. That’s why 80% of the elderly in 1920 were malnourished and below subsistence. You know why that’s not the case now? Social Security.
See, that’s why we have government. It exists to exercise our will in the realm of social responsibility. If not as an engine for social responsibility, what the fuck is representative government supposed to be for? Fascist regimes are more efficient for defense. Monarchies are better able to create and enforce laws. Even anarchy, having no government at all, can arguably support more individual liberty than anything else can.
We have a representative democracy so that we can exercise our desire to shape the culture as we wish. Our government is the engine by which we enact our will as a people. That’s it’s specific purpose, and it has no other. We have social security and medicare because we decided it was unacceptable for our elderly to suffer throughout their old age. We have a military because we decided it’s important to maintain a strong national defense. We have public education because we decided it was important for our coming generations to be learned and knowledgable. And when these programs begin to fail, it is because we don’t consider them a high enough priority to prevent it.
I always tell my kids that no matter what, they are guarnteed to get the level of education they demand for themselves. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they will have the degree or credentials they demand, but the will have the knowledge. The same goes for the rest of us. If we want our society to be better than it is, we have to demand it of ourselves.