Social Darwinism



Columbia as you all know is building a new campus down to Manhattan Ville and the first building built is a huge commitment to what they call mind brain and behavior just supposed to sort of find out how people actually operate one of the endearing but also horrible things about 19th century thought was how many innovative thoughts were entertained on the basis of virtually no no hard knowledge and speculation me you know once it was repeated enough and acquired disciples speculations of the most unlikely sort came to be thought by many people to be truths and those that I'm interested in today are those that deal with one of the hardest topics for contemporary historians to deal with and that is human inequality oddly enough if you go back to historians of 200 years ago from the early 19th century they have very few problems with human inequality it was manifest and it didn't bother them very much they might think that slavery was a bad idea for various reasons but that did not mean that they ascribed equality to those people who were enslaved Abraham Lincoln for example was strongly in favor of having the African American slave population repatriated to Africa he did not think that they were assimil in the United States because they were different we now have a pretty much at universal commitment in this country though not worldwide to the notion of equality although it is time and again inequality that has to be appraised with respect to some sort of norm for example is it it should there be an equality of riches you know or should there be an equality of opportunity so that people are free to be poor or rich according to their opportunity should there be an equality of color or gender or any number of things and the issue of difference is now perhaps as vexing as any that we have because there are incompatibilities between the assumption of equality and people's perception of the real world if you go back to 1800 the real world trumped philosophy people said there was inequality and they often imputed to it a certain scientific substance I have a book for example entitled Negro mania it's published around 1800 and what it is is a collection of articles meant to to show the stupidity of people who claimed that Africans were equal to white people and they were from some of the most distinguished natural ists and philosophers and thinkers of the time because everybody you know had some interest in the topic and it was felt that the argument for equality was preposterous it was a fanatic fringe view that any right-thinking person observing the real world would repudiate but when you look at the notions of inequality that you had in 1800 they're very different from the notions of inequality that you have in 1900 and it's that change that comes in this period of the late nineteenth century that this chapter and the new Power Balance is devoted to that I want to talk about and it is the change that we generally label as social Darwinism in 1800 you had in the scientific world particularly of Natural Science observational science you had a passion for for classification this goes back at least to the 17th century in some respects to the 16th and it was manifested in the desire to give every species of plant or animal a scientific name that would distinguish it from every other species and to classify those species with him within families within general so you had a you had an individual animal it would belong to a species the species would belong to a genus the genus would belong to an order to a phylum etcetera and you had a great sort of tree like structure of all of all being botanist zoologists entomologists were fascinated by classification and some of the most famous scientists the time were known for the collections I had in their identification of previously unknown Plast animals this was something that as I say it's largely 16th century because it was the the European travels in foreign parts the new world and the the parts of Asia that they reached by sailing around Africa that stimulated them to to create these these classifications and to try and put everything into some sort of an order humans of course were then subjected to the same sort of classification if you had humans who looked as different say as a rose looked from a tulip it's dealing strictly on a visual basis then how could one not classify the humans you could classify them according to appearances you know hair color or texture skin color shape of the skull stature abilities to do certain things and seeming disabilities to do other things and of course in this classification as in all of the others you have an enormous amount of of arbitrariness and I think it's one of the things that that have taken generations to iron out is the question of whether classifications of organisms are our sound or whether they are or were they simply notional when Linnaeus the Swedish botanist who for whom we have from whom we have borrowed our practice of giving three part names two species carl linnaeus was interested particularly in classification of plants and he he wrote out in very highly sexualized terms depending on the the number of stamens that a plant had so you'd have a well you'd have some plants that were sexually differentiated with the female plant in a male plant like date trees others would have one pistol in one stamen they're sort of monogamous and you had the bigamist plants that have two stamens and finally you get up to sort of gangbang plants where you have a lot of staples and in the 17th century there were people who were concerned that young ladies in england should not study botany because it was a science that bordered on depravity and this was largely because of Linnaeus's decision to classify things according to number of stamens and them to to characterise the classifications so the classifications were always to some degree suppositions or conjectural and the same thing with humans how many races were there how many different types of people were there well how do you how do you label them how do you classify them this kind of thinking by the time you get to say to the middle of the 19th century is beginning to sort of metastasize very unfortunate ways because new currents of scientific thought or what passed a scientific thought come to be common and those new currents seek to to apply science to this classification of people's as opposed to applying simply description in other words you could have Linnaeus who is looking at the number of staples of the stamens or someone else who's counting the number of ribs or something like that that's sort of descriptive science but when you got in the late 19th century sought to be more more scientific by being more engaged with theory and with what we're thought of perhaps as natural laws or what proposes as natural laws the the governing view in this later part of the century and certainly the this this period of cyant izing difference applies in a number of fields it isn't simply a matter of race this is the period when you get the the idea that gender preferences are scientific differences that someone who is homosexual falls into this category someone who is heterosexual that category and you know been trying to explain this in scientific terms or the science of psychology where you try to explain differences of mind according to some notion of of scientific theory this is when Freud e Freudian psychology takes us roots out of biology and and in all of these things you know there there's almost a dearth of what would now pass as science so the key thing for the division of people's that particular aspect of late 19th century science was a notion of evolution evolution associated with Charles Darwin although it was jointly the the conjecture that we call natural selection was jointly arrived at as I've mentioned before in this class by Darwin and Wallace working independently social Darwinism is the term used for the idea that evolutionary theory natural selection applies to differences among social groups up to the level of of races and down to the level of simply nationalities or localities in the same way that it applies to to plants or animals oddly enough social Darwinism was not a term that was used in the late 19th century in fact the term rarely occurs I think the first appearance of the is used once I think around 1877 but it rarely occurs in any literature at all until 1944 and the person who who put social darwinism on the map was a member of the Columbia history department Richard Hofstadter in 1944 he wrote a book called social Darwinism in America from that time on a label was available to talk about things that were considered particularly pernicious and and unscientific about late 19th century thought so some people have said well did Hofstadter invent social Darwinism not really we're actually does exist but it was rarely used until hope chatter did it and he associated social Darwinism with one particular thinker Herbert Spencer philosopher ooh died in 1903 and who never used the word social Darwinism nor was the word social of Darwinism ever used for him until Hofstadter came along Spencer thus becomes sort of one of the great goats of history when you read a let's say a typical world history textbook let's say the earth and the people and its peoples on the chapter on the new Power Balance you'll find social Darwinism attached to the name of Herbert Spencer who never actually you know probably ever heard the term other textbooks some of them use herbert spencer's name in particular and others simply discuss social Darwinism as if it were a that were that was actually recognized say in the sense of Darwin as it was nobody denies that Darwinism was a buzzword and a very important and controversial one in the late 19th century just that social Darwinism was not Herbert Spencer was the best-selling philosopher perhaps in the history of England his books are estimated to have sold over a million copies during his lifetime he was not a professor indeed he was not educated at Oxford or Cambridge he was an autodidact who had done some learning at home he had a smattering of Latin but did not have the classical education that was normal for Englishmen who were in the the upper crust but he was sort of adopted into the the intellectual circle of Thomas Huxley Huxley who of course you know a member of a long-standing intellectual family you know we have you know various other Huxley's coming down to recent times and was a pillar of sort of Oxford Cambridge intelligentsia Huxley probably was the one who coined the word Darwinism because when Darwin received the essay from Wallace that contained all of the theories of natural selection he wrote he wrote to or spoke with Huxley and said now he must give up my last 14 years of work because you know somebody beat me to it and Huxley said don't know we will fix up a meeting we will read your MIT we all read Wallace's material and people will see that you have these ideas first even though you didn't publish them and then Huxley proceeded to call the theory Darwinism which was fine with Wallace because as a autodidact someone who didn't have these high credentials he was happy simply be included in that in that cleek and so was Spencer you know by being a friend of Huxley's and being invited to club meetings and dinner parties you know he did he met George Eliot he met you know eminent figures of the time and he was a person of eccentric and little educated background and yet his book sold like hotcakes and he made his living writing his philosophy books know it's interesting you think now could somebody really become a celebrity as a philosopher with no particular educational background and of course the answer is yes because we we have the figure of Eric Hoffer who wrote the true believer which became a very widely read book about fanaticism and had no impressive educational credentials to write it but when you have an example a case of someone like Hoffer or Herbert Spencer what you see is that there are people who find that particular philosophy instrumental in terms of their own agendas which they hold as members of a more elite class than the particular individual so Spencer was ballyhooed by an intelligent CEO that he did not fully belong to never married had no children did not create any any succession there was no Spencerian school philosophy but he was terribly successful and he is he is thought to have originated the phrase survival of the fittest which never occurs in Darwin's writings the thing is Spencer's views on human difference are have almost nothing to do with Darwin or Darwin's theory of evolution and social Darwinism has almost nothing to do with Darwin or with Darwin's theories of natural selection and evolution Spencer was coming out of a very different tradition that goes back more to Thomas Malthus who was the philosopher who wrote about the inevitable overpopulation of the earth and everyone dying of starvation or to oghuz Comte who was a positivist and said that you know with you know leadership of scientific thought everything will become better and better Spencer preached the idea of progress that everything was going to become better and he used a notion of evolution because the idea of evolution as a word that is say the use of the word evolution for for systemic change predated Darwin natural selection was something that Darwin and Wallace came up with but evolution was a word that was already there for say two generations or more before in you know in scientific terms compared with Darwin Spencer followed a late eighteenth-century thinker named Lamarck ah and the mark ISM is often contrasted with Darwinism there – yeah they are Lamarque believed that let's say if you had a dog that you trained to be a great sheep herder that the puppies of that dog produced would be better sheep herders than the puppies produced by another dog that had never been exposed to sheep herding because the skills that were acquired during the lifetime of the of the sheep herding dog would be transferred genetically to to the puppies Spencer applied this to to humans so humans as they become as they know more as they become better as they gain greater control of the universe around them they pass this on to their children in evolutionary terms let us say the children are born smarter more able and this is the inheritance of acquired characteristics one thing it's important to remember is that no one in the 19th century had the foggiest notion of what inheritance amounted to it was not even known for example throughout I think right up to the end of the 19th century that that mammals had had eggs and I think the human over was identified in the early 20th century the idea that there would be there had to be some sort of mechanism of inheritance was barely thought of people didn't know about genes obviously didn't know about DNA they had no idea of what the mechanics of inheritance were and they tended to simply go on a on an assumption that what you had in a parent animal would carry over into the into the offspring in not undiminished form but in a form that you could predict when you go into eighteenth-century animal issues and to some degree yet back into 17th century you'll find that all of this is strongly associated with the idea of reading this is when scientific breeding so-called became a craze in certain areas particularly among the the British elite people for example will go back now and look at how many breeds of dog were there in England in 1600 so look at information on dogs maybe well there appear to be maybe six and then you get to nineteen hundred and you have like 125 you know how did you go from having a you know a very short list having very long list over two centuries in time and of course the breeders could tell you because they were selecting characteristics to be transferred genetically although they had no idea what genetically meant transferred by inheritance from the from the adult to the to the offspring that this was all conceived of within an economic framework so that there would be financial advantage to to creating a or perfecting a breed or a variety and there was a craze for particularly fat cows and fat pigs where at fairs you would bring some humongously heavy cow or pig and exhibited and the weight would be published and it would be celebrated and then it would be killed and butchered and you would get to eat this really really really fatty meat because more fat was considered better but the breeders knew that selecting for particular characteristics like super abundant fat was not consistent that it might work for two or three generations what they called in and in breeding was where you would have let's say a fat cow and you would made it with a fat bull and then it would have calves then you would have the the calf the male calf would be bred with the mother and the female with the father and you would in breed as much as possible in order to maximize the characters of the original of the original parents and in an inbreeding did produce in the first generation or to know a significant number of really really fat fat animals but then defects began to show up and people began to realize that that you had to have some breeding diversity even though I had no idea what the mechanism was Mendel and his theories of his experiments with pea plants showing the laws of inheritance was still a century century and a half away so sometimes you would get a clever breeder who would breed an extremely fat animal through in and inbreeding for two or three generations and then sell it to you know Lord so-and-so as a as a bull for his livestock realizing the next generation was going to be full of ruts and phoebs and that it wasn't going to to pan out because the breeders knew a tremendous amount from their from their practical experiences they knew it with large animals of the level horses and pigs and cows they developed breeds of sheep for different qualities of wool and so forth and eventually they knew it for smaller animals particularly Oh chickens Canaries ducks dogs cats so forth and so on pigeons rats breeding became a fascinating hobby and the people who actually superintended the breeding tended to be people from sort of working-class backgrounds but they were often patronized or their products were bought by the elite they didn't keep records except in particularly the cases of big animals like horses and cattle so they could produce new strains of animals without anyone really having any record of how those strains came about one of the most frequently queried examples is where did laboratory rats come from sometime in the 19th century scientists started to use albino rats in laboratory experiments because they were you they didn't bite you they were docile you could you know chop off their limbs or inject them with substances do whatever you wanted I mean it was just a lab rat but it was very different wild rat wild rat is a nasty animal that you don't want to to handle but but the white rats were fine and yet nobody knew where the white rats had come from so you had different thoughts one of them and probably as close to being right is that they derive from the practice of ratting whereby you have rat collectors who would go out and collect 50 or 100 wild rats on the streets of London put them in a in a gunnysack take them to a pit where you would have someone's Terrier and then you would release 50 rats and you would time how long it took the terrier to kill all of the rats and you would bet on that and ranting competitive you know killing of rats what was a craze for the for the for the sporting set back late nineteenth early late 18th early twentieth century early 19th century now among the rats they collected there probably were some well buy no rats because they'll buy an albinism is a characteristic that you find among rats and most other wild animals there are some albinos that get born just as are among humans but by and large they don't live to reproduce because you know here you are in a dangerous predatory environment and you're saying look I am Snow White and the nearest hawk or owl says yeah you sure are you just stand out like a flag your lunch and so the albinos would rarely survive partly because they were white and partly because albinos by and large appear to be extremely docile animals you which meant that they were not good for the ratting business no you want a wrap you dump it out in the bag the Terrier they're barking and yapping and the rat goes runs all over the you know tries to get away and then the terrier comes and breaks its neck and everyone applaud where you don't want a rat that comes out of the back of this gee look at all the people around know that a dog if it just isn't isn't right so it's thought that the white rats were kept aside by the breeders by their adders as pets more or less and then they found that when they bred the white rats with one another they had a strain of white rats that they could sell because they were they sold them for docility while they were selling the truly wild rats because of their excitability so in both cases you're at a commercial got a commercial situation yet for all of the breeding that was done of all sorts of animals no-one ever produced something that was called a species it's very difficult to define a species even down to the present day you cannot define it according to whether you have enter breeding because you have various species that impact will interbreed lions and tigers for example horses and donkeys but by-and-large interbreeding is your most common defining characteristic and no one has created a breed of animal that is unable to produce offspring with the parent population that it comes from so you can think well okay we have a chihuahua and a Great Dane it's hard to see them mating and yet if you were to were to to bring the ovum of a Great Dane in contact with the sperm of a Chihuahua you would produce a dog you wouldn't you wouldn't find that they were incompatible now we realize that this has to do with the number of genes with the DNA etc etc but what was somewhat surprising was that animals in the wild tended to look very much like one another if they belong to the same species whereas deliberately bred animals looked very different from one another so just as a Chihuahua looks different from a from a Great Dane so as people thought about people this became something of a condom our humans a species and if they are a species can all humans interbreed with one another and in fact does that matter supposing they can maybe it's like the lion and the tiger and that they're different species but they do interbreed and then you say well but when we look at a cross-section of humans we find that they look very different from one another but do they look different from one another after the fashion of chihuahuas and Great Danes or after the fashion of say no Wolverines and foxes No is the difference a species difference or the difference of breed and there was a difference a breed how could you how would you how could you understand that one of the things that that occurred to people certainly by the time of Darwin was that if you could breed animals for characteristics you could breed humans for characteristics and you could say well supposing we want to have monstrously fat humans if we get a monstrously fat mother and made her with an Australian fat father we'll get a really really chubby baby why you would want to do that as I'm clear because you don't have a market incentive there's no big market for really fat babies on the other hand there might be a market for extremely tall people in an era of basketball playing and of course this is what has been suggested for the People's Republic of China that they have engaged in in breeding experiments to try and produce exceptionally tall people this practice is generally known as eugenics basically Elle is breached for good so it's good genes essentially and that word was coined by Darwin's cousin Francis Galton he advocated that there should be a general sort of societal effort to breed better people it never became instrumentalized on a large scale although there appear to have been efforts in Nazi Germany to do this there were some experiments or at least thoughts the United States there was even a movie that came out devoted to the two eugenic thinking I have never seen the movie I have not found anyone who ever has seen the movie but it was called the Black Swan and if anyone ever has access to it I would like to find out because my my grandfather bought the the syndication about syndication but the publicity rights to the Black Swan back in you know 1909 or something like that so I always grew up in the basement we had a big poster for the Black Swan I had no idea what it was but it's the one movie that was made about eugenics in America yeah and and this became a serious issue what do you do about people who are poor examples of humanity who insist on breeding Darwin talked about this Spencer talked about this Carlton talked about this this was a very big issue and in fact it goes back to Malthus as well here you had people from the most successful and prosperous straight of society saying wouldn't it be good if people who have inferior characteristics stopped reading the flip side of that was is there when you recognize that in Summit we're very explicit I think was it was Darwin it may been called him who said that no no property owner would allow an inferior dog to breed or an inferior horse you simply would you know castrate them or prevent them from breeding because everyone who actually interacted with animals in the 19th century knew a lot about breeding and they simply wouldn't wouldn't permit it for inferior animals and so they said well why would we permit it for inferior humans the response to that that you got from people like Darwin or that intellectual set was that it would be wrong because they're humans but what should we do then about inferior humans they said well we should have welfare and we should recognize a social commitment to to ensuring that people of limited genetic background are not left by the wayside by my society and they said this that this is that this grows out of humane concerns that are certain important point humane concerns that are in themselves a product of evolution so that humane concerns of humans for other humans would be distinguished in this respect perhaps to some degree from humane concerns of humans for animals so you get a problem in here that this is when the humane society and various movements for protection of animals and so forth are gaining clientele in a very mixed response to this some people say you know you should relieve the suffering of the poor but that doesn't mean that you should then you should not put down animals that are unproductive or defective or use them for experiment the humane movement splits at the end of the 19th century over the issue of vivisection because many people who favored humane treatment of animals made an exception for scientific research they said well you know you should not cause needless harm or injury or pain to animals unless you're doing so in the name of research and if you cut up an animal while it's still alive you really find out an awful lot more than if you wait for it to be dead before you cut it up so vivisection the upper crust tended to go with the vivisectionist because they thought that was scientific research whereas people of a no more middling social background felt that this was inhumane and you have a the anti-vivisection society splits from the from the Royal humane society and and all this has sort of has mirrors in this area of of humans let's go back to Spencer Spencer believed that humans were becoming better and better this was a very important Creed in the 19th century held by different people on very different you know conjectures hey for Hegel it was purely a spiritual thing for for Marx it was a class struggle dialectic that was producing better a better society not necessarily better better people for Spencer it was that people were becoming better because as they acquired more more knowledge they passed it on genetically to their offspring and that literally each generation could expect to be superior in to the preceding generation he made a distinction between what he called militant society and industrial society he said that and it very if it's analogous but somewhat different from Marxist distinction between feudal society and bourgeois society militant society a grain dispenser was a society in which people used force to own or dominate other people and that in the course of time they naturally rose above that because as they evolve they realized that there was something more humane so that militant society was destined to pass away and to be replaced by something vastly better which he called industrial society obviously not seeing industrial society and quite Marxist terms and he felt that in the in industrial society what you would have would be everyone being rewarded for their for their efforts through the system of market ownership of production and goods and so on and that this would reach a point where the state would wither away in other words he was a pure capitalist in the sense that capitalism and the market would not only create an equitable society equitable within the with understanding that some people are you know more capable of achievement than others but he also believed that you could do away that with government so that now Herbert Spencer is being revived his reputation that have been shattered by richard hofstadter in 1944 is being restored by the libertarian philosophy in the United States now today yes you you look at libertarians and they say well one of the great pioneers a libertarian thought was Herbert Spencer because he said that the government has no intrinsic role in industrial society the government was important for militant society but in industrial society the market provides everything you need and that other than than defense you really don't have to have a government so he said you know there's no reason for a government to to provide roads or railroads there's no need for a government to provide education there's no need for a government to provide welfare he praised welfare and he said that the haves by being more elevated people will want to give to support the have-nots so he thought that through private philanthropies churches or otherwise the the problem of caring for the needy in a society will be taken care of without any government intervention so from a libertarian point of view because these are right in line with you know kind of you know Class A aim rammed thinking about government of society Spencer is right there at the origin so now it's important from a libertarian perspective since libertarians are making a move politically to try and resurrect Spencer and that means attacking richard hofstadter because he's the person who vilified spencer poor spencer who never had any idea all this was going to go on and it doesn't seem to have been a particularly genial person anyway so now when you look at libertarian efforts to rescue Spencer from oblivion you find first they will point out that his philosophy was incredibly popular that he sold a million copies and Hofstadter did not sell a million copies of all of his books put together so he was incredibly popular people in the late 19th century thought his notion of human progress as being a sort of in electable product of the actual movement from generation to generation of the human species which he called evolution but not in a Darwinian sense but rather an old Marcum sense that we get better and better because better children stand on the shoulders of better and better parents due to the inheritance of their superior characteristics from their parents so now you'll find that in the libertarian writings that ha it's pointed out that Richard Hofstadter was a member of the Communist Party and that he was on record numerous times of saying I hate capitalism so now some people are looking on social Darwinism as maybe social Darwinism was a sort of nasty label for practices that the Communists didn't like namely capitalist practices and so you have people going back and trying to revisit the late 19th century and say that Spencer was innocent that he was simply a a proto libertarian a social Darwinism did not exist in that under that name and that the separate sins of the social Darwinists for example the genetics the eugenics philosophy never really grabbed on anyone and that what social darwinism maintained was that a human difference is is wrong social Darwinism is a in this in the traditional construction the post Hofstadter construction it's a failed error ridden philosophy in which the the natural equality of humans is being subverted by the idea that humans evolve in unequal fashion and so now in this conservative rethinking you know people going back and saying well maybe human inequality should not be you know should not be assumed to be a bad thing this may be reminiscent of things just recent weeks or the issue of human inequality has been politicized in this country but it it's quite it's quite broad now of course all of this took place at a time when no one had the slightest idea of what what genetics were known as the slightest idea what actually happened in inheritance and the theories of the late 19th century are often based on extraordinarily flawed and incomplete and weak assumptions about you know about the natural world about humans and animals and plants and yet those philosophies are still around and they still they still play a role you people still feel that that the 19th century was a great cauldron of brilliant new thinking and the deconstruction of that I think is beginning to be underway perhaps with Michel Foucault as a pioneer in that and saying that the scientist of things on sort of pseudoscience of sexuality or mental deviance or things like that inborn criminality and so on that that kind of pseudo scientific description of inequality was a perversion of the Enlightenment rather than a great accomplishment of the Enlightenment but then you had something that was going on in a different direction and it had to do with with quantification because one of the one of the great divisions that arises in the late 19th century is a division between the idea that you can determine things through through quantifying them that you could actually measure difference in a quantitative fashion versus the idea that there are certain things that cannot be measured in a quantifiable fashion for religious people this had to do with things regarding the soul or or divine activity but there were many other people who felt that the things that happen in the mind were not susceptible of of a quantitative measure is why something like Columbia's commitment to a mind brain and behavior future to try and put Columbia and the cutting age edge of scientific thought is is actually a commitment to the idea that you know quantification and scientific study is adequate to understand all theses little late 19th century this was a big a big division so you had the birth of sociology at this time sociology divides into two into two camps of that going into the 20th century particularly by the middle 20th century become quite strongly opposing camps you've one camp that believes in quantification and that increasingly says that poles and you know similar measurements of of human behavior and so forth actually tell you what the human behavior is they tell you something I remember years ago when I first started teaching cc I was struck by the fact that most of the thinkers in the second half of the course would never get tenure today because none of them were quantifiers they were having theories about society humanity and so forth but they didn't they didn't substantiate them in a quantity in a quantifiable method so I thought well we should add a text that will be a pioneer work in applying quantification not simply to the economy which had already been done but to but to social issues so I signed a mail durkheim's book on suicide which is full of graphs about the rates of suicide in France for different different times different places during categories and the category that that he selects as being a crucial variable is whether your Protestant or Catholic do Protestants commit suicide more often than Catholics because why because if they can't confessing in absolution they're eaten up with guilt and being eaten up with guilt they they commit suicide presumably Jews can commit suicide even more because they're always talking about guilt I don't know but it was it was an example of how quantification and all my students can see it a quantification is kind of garbage in garbage out if it's based upon assumptions that are that are opera or E and not necessarily demonstrable so that when did quantification become really crucial in some areas it's it's quite early particularly in those relating to to psychological behavior of animals so that the idea of of reflexes where you ring a bell and the dog salivates because it has been you've created a reflex through through it through exposure and you have that area of Experimental Psychology dealing with animals primarily that leads the idea that you actually can not only predict behaviors and measure behaviors but you can instill behaviors through through this sort of process leading up to old theories say back in the 60s like the Skinner box where you would raise an infant in a box deprived of all human contact and then you would supply all of the all of the contacts under experimental fashion and you would you know end up with the child that you want it to have rather than the one that you were stuck with this was BF Skinner who was the thinker on this wrote a book called Walden – a novel about how perfect society would be if everyone was brought up in a completely regimented parentless society had the idea that you could have guided bombs during World War two where you would simply have a you know you'd have a bomb that would be launched from an airplane but in order to guide it in the the front of the bomb you'd have pigeons and the pigeons would correct the direction of the bomb as it veered according to a compass or an altimeter by pecking no colors as I come up you know too low peck peck the red pick and then of course you'd be rewarded with a you know a bit of corn or something with this idea of conditioned reflex you know leads into experimental experimental psychology the idea of a social psychology that where you could determine things by by polling was initially very very suspect and the the quantifiers were at odds with the the more qualitative theorize errs in the sociological profession throughout the early 20th century it remains a huge huge split in this country you know do polls that are followed minutely by you know by politicians actually tell you something or do they reflect biases that are built into the questioning that produce answers that are desired on the part of the Poehler and of course our efforts to control all this but the other hand you had people who argued very strongly against the idea of quantification and said that you know when it comes to to the human spirit – to the things that make people who they are you cannot really quantify it this you know right now for example history departments still believe that human humans actually make some difference in what they think and feel whereas economics and political science departments are more inclined to think that everything can be reduced to quantifiable variables in my field of Middle East Studies we went through a huge debate on this back in the 80s and 90s over whether culture makes any difference whatsoever and in political science profession which turned against culture there was a widely held conclusion that culture is not a significant variable that a peasant in Indonesia will behave Quanah quantitatively in the same way as a peasant in Brazil or a peasant in in North Korea given given the same stimuli or the same the same inputs and therefore there was no need for people to learn obscure languages or religions or cultures so forth all they had to do was to to run the numbers this kind of came to an end around you know 1991 or so and the person most associated with bringing culture back in was Samuel Huntington who wrote clash of civilizations which led increasingly to the idea that religion really matters and that you know quantitative variables like unemployment rates or education levels or you know budget allocations for this that or the other are are important but they're all conditioned by the religious culture of different people's so this is this debate reading into this is that this debate over over human difference has been going on now for for a long time you you start back in 1800 or so and before when it's assumed humans are different in the same way that's assumed animals are different you can classify them you can describe the differences you don't have to account for the differences you'd say no that person is a yellow person that was a red person one's a black person and you know the yellows always miss layups and basketball and the blacks always stuck the ball and the Reds don't play the game at all I mean it's you know those things were considered simply descriptive because that was how the natural world was dealt with particularly the organic world at that time and it really is in the late 19th century that you had as you had more and more discussion of inheritance and the question of why see if people didn't hadn't perceived that there was progress in Europe they might not have tried to to theorize about why progress occurred so it was not really the 18th century or the early 19th century but in this later period where the Europeans increasingly felt that they were just just a hell of a lot better than everyone else in the world that the issue of Prague on the issue of the reasons for it particularly as they would pertain to two particular social groups or ethnic groups became more and more an issue and when you had someone who had come up with a theory of a natural evolution from from lesser to better that was directly related to the transition from a tort in industrial society which was the fundamental law and he called it a law that Spencer was selling along with it the idea that the rich don't really need to care much about the poor unless they happen to have some spare change this was incredibly popular so Spencer is a very good representative of his time in many ways a better representative of his time than Darwin is because Darwin's discussion ultimately dealt with species and human difference was increasingly thought not to be a species different difference but rather to be breed differences differences between Chihuahuas and Great Danes rather than the differences between foxes and Wolverines and whatnot what Darwin did and Wallace was to say we can see over very long term how species came into being and that ultimately wasn't very interesting except for creationists who were very upset by the implied undermining of divine creation and a short chronology for the existence of the earth but for people who were not immersed in that particular religious debate what Darwin had to say was of limited applicability because people really weren't that interested in species they were interested in in his descent of man now did humans evolve from from primates and that was certainly an interest but the broad notion of species was less engaging than the immediate perception that everybody had of the difference of breeds so when it comes over social Darwinism in a sense is NaN not Darwinism at all because the the competition is not the competition between the Fox of the Wolverine it's a competition between sheepdogs or maybe a sheepdog on the one hand and uh you know hunting dog in the other hand it's it's a competition between breeds and the survival of the fittest means the survival of the one that produces the most utility so this late 19th century engagement with with human difference so I point out is well after the abolition movement has achieved its main its main achievements this is not this is not the issue of slavery this is the issue of human difference as was increasingly apparent in imperialism as it became more and more intensely engaged in in other parts of the world and interestingly one of the now just finished this one of the most clearest manifestations of this sort of new notion of human difference was the decision in many many parts of the colonized world that people should dress like Europeans because that is what elevated people did so you can have imperialism in the 18th century in India you know Indians not dressing like Europeans early 19th century in India India dressed like Europeans but you get down to 1900 or so and you know we can be superior if we look like that which almost is at the level of dog breeds because one of the hallmarks of dog and cat breeding was to create a an appearance that would be like the most excellent specimens so you see interesting illustrations where you'll have for example the end of the sino-japanese war 1890s you have the Japanese delegation is all in western military costumes whereas the Chinese delegation is wearing you know caps and you know felt shoes and robes and so forth and you go 20 years later and the Chinese officials are all dressing like like Europeans and you get it almost everywhere and I think that it has to do with with these evolving notions of how to to explain or how to deal with with human difference and we still haven't solved these things but I think we'd be further along if we could simply erase the second half of the 19th century which saw such a such an immense flurry of really dumb ideas

20 thoughts on “Social Darwinism

  1. Spencer's philosophy had almost nothing to do with Darwinism? Really? Did Darwin ever disavow Spencer? Not that I'm aware of. And what about this little quote from Darwin (and I'm not quote-mining here – this is clearly Darwin's picture of the future), "“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races." – [Descent of Man] I won't continue the quote because it is simply too offensive. You simply can't draw these hard lines between Darwin, Darwinism, and Social Darwinism, and Eugenics. Perhaps it can be claimed that there is a tighter connection between Darwin himself and eugenics than between Darwin himself and what came to be called social Darwinism, but that is not the same thing as to say that Social Darwinism had almost nothing to do with Darwin or Darwinism. You Just can't excise Spencer that neatly. If Darwin showed us our maker – you can't lament Spencer for applying the implications of that realization to the social order.

  2. … Once in 1983 I had a conversation with my Grandmother who challenged me on the scientific fact that the earth was round … as she believed the earth was square …. she could read and write and worked as a secretary for twenty years for a new car dealership in a sprawling urban area …. I never pressed her on her belief but now in retrospect it blows me away.

  3. If you can't afford live on earth, you will die at a faster rate. We should let evolutional take its course and not help other humans out just those who Benefit one another.

  4. if you're put off by the "ums", just watch this lecture at 1.5x. or 2x if you're really smart. this guy has things to says. Maybe you don't agree with them, but maybe you do 😀

  5. Instead of using the word pernicious this professor should have been more direct and less eloquent and just plain said "socially damaging or hurtful or social evil or corrupt.

  6. Spencer didn't believe that we evolve because "elites" have better children and the "losers" will die off as the prof. implies. Spencer believed that everyone (rich and poor) will mutually benefit through cooperation and by doing so, society improves as a whole. But this can happen only without interference by gov under Spencer's political doctrine of equal freedom. Social Darwinism has nothing at all to do with Spencerism which was assassinated by the intellectually dishonest Hofstadler.

  7. Corrections. Darwin adopted "survival of the fittest" by the 5th ed of OoS. SotF doesn't mean "natural selection." Spencer used Lamarckism as a *corollary* for social evolution. Spencerism can be described as "cultural Lamarkism." Cultural evolution – not biological. Spencerism is "nurture over nature" while so-called Darwinism is "nature over nurture." Two entirely different views. Spencerism has been forgotten. Spencer was NOT a racist and NOT a eugenicist. He was a true humanitarian.

  8. This guy should consider writing his lecture on paper, along with visual media to reiterate his thoughts, and have someone INTERESTING, that doesn't need to gulp coffee, or repeat the word 'uh' as a sort of mantra. A great case for "The Great Courses."

  9. This guy must have tenure. His speaking style sucks, halting, not interesting. Columbia is $50,000/year to listen to this guy???

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