Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Only, there's no such thing as Social Darwinism. Erik's posts (here and here) on the seemingly Darwinian politics of modern conservativism aren't wrong about the lilt of these contemporary thinkers, but they do a bit of injustice to the historical ones, because there was no such thing as "Social Darwinism" during the Gilded Age. There was such a thing as William Graham Sumner, and his collected essays bear the title Social Darwinism, but those essays were collected in and published in 1963. The editor of those essays was following the lead established by the historian Richard Hofstadter, whose Social Darwinism in American Thought (1944) identified Sumner as the brains behind the social Darwinist movement in the Progressive Era. The problem is that there wasn't a social Darwinist movement during the Progressive Era. I'm not just kicking against the pricks here—as people writing dissertations are wont to do—as will become clear if you ask yourself a simple question: When was the Modern Synthesis formulated? The Modern Synthesis, if you don't know, is the combination of Mendelian genetics with Darwinian evolutionary theory, and represents the moment when the previously theoretical Darwinian model finally found itself a mechanism of transmission. Darwin's theory of natural selection was elegant, but prior to the Modern Synthesis scientists lacked a means of proving that it could exist in nature. When was it formulated? Between 1936 and 1942. Why is that significant? Because prior to the Modern Synthesis there was little consensus as to the driving force behind the development of species. Russian scientists, for example, were working under Lamarckian assumptions about the heritability of acquired characteristics well into the 1960s. (The had an ideological commitment to keeping the Lamarckian faith after the Modern Synthesis, but eventually even they relented.) Point being, during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Darwinian thought wasn't the dominant strain of evolutionary theory. It lacked the evidence required to back up its elegance, and so its status in the scientific community was as tenuous then as its competitors are now. Vernon Kellogg, then president of Stanford (or not?), wrote a book entitled Darwinism Today (1908) that basically argued that there really wasn't any. It devoted itself to explicating "the various new theories of species-forming with ... names, such as heterogenesis, orthogenesis, metakinesis, geographic isolation, biologic isolation, organic selection, or orthoplasty." So why do we associate Darwinism with this period? Because of the Whigs and their history. The aforementioned Hofstadter wrote Social Darwinism in American Thought in 1944 in order to create a bogeyman whose existence would justify the policies of the New Deal. From what Stephen J. Gould called the "maximal diversity" of evoultionary thought during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Hofstadter selected those thinkers whose work contained implications dire enough that politicians in the 1940s could point to them to frighten the masses. Darwinism, as I demonstrated above, wasn't regnant during the period, much less the social application of it, but Hofstadter had handed New Deal liberals their bogeyman and they weren't about to give it up. Ironically, the...
… and I support this message.* I’m not sure why conservatives are panicking about the responses of Romney’s spokeperson, Al Swearengen. They seem rote enough to me: CNN: Governor Romney are you concerned about some of the mishaps of your trip? AL SWEARENGEN: We’re forming a fucking government, you loopy fucking cunt. NEW YORK TIMES: Governor Romney, do you have a statement for the Palestinians? AL SWEARENGEN: You’re the cocksucker. Change the fucking angle. WASHINGTON POST: What about your gaffes? AL SWEARENGEN: Get a fucking haircut. Looks like your mother fucked a monkey. CNN: Governor Romney just a few questions sir, you haven’t taken but three questions on this trip from the press. AL SWEARENGEN: We’re illegal. Our whole goal is to get presidented to the United fucking States. We start answering questions, what’s to keep the United States fucking Congress from saying, “Oh, excuse us. We didn’t realize you were a fucking sovereign community out there. Where’s your cocksucker’s flag? Where’s your fucking navy, or the like?” CNN: Would it hurt to let us … AL SWEARENGEN: … say you’re a pain in my balls that can’t desist from inquiry till told to shut his fucking mouth? CNN: I’d rather not any of that. AL SWEARENGEN: Don’t I yearn for the days when a draw across the throat made fucking resolution. Pain or damage don’t end the world. Or despair, or fucking beatings. The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man and give some back. That’s the fucking sum and substance of it. CNN: So you support— AL SWEARENGEN: I will profane your fucking remains, CNN. *I do so love literature.

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