Political Darwinism?

Social Darwinism comes in many flavors, most of which emerged in the United Kingdom, North America, and Western Europe in the 1870s, and which attempted to apply biological concepts of natural selection and survival of the fittest to sociology and politics. Basically, Social Darwinists argue that the strong should see their wealth and power increase while the weak should see their wealth and power decrease.

The considerable flaws involved with applying natural selection to explain individuals’ success or failure in society have been documented in depth, but there’s one aspect of the issue that troubles me, and that’s the definition of “the fittest.” Is fitness determined by physical strength, by intelligence, by biological resilience… or by something else?

What if, in terms, of natural selection, fitness isn’t intelligence or strength? What if it’s something we’ve not considered before? And what if it applies to politics?

Over the past seventy years, the voters of the United States have historically been wary of overtly intelligent Presidential candidates, and those of high intelligence who have been elected have, for the most part, gone out of their way to downplay that intelligence. Then, there have been presidents who obviously had no need to downplay their intelligence.

When a President asks seriously about whether there are any benefits to ingesting strong disinfectants – any later fallacious claims that he was baiting the press notwithstanding – this certainly isn’t a display of intelligence. Nor is contradicting himself day after day, or denying he said something that millions have heard and that is recorded world-wide. Nor is asserting “facts” that have consistently proven to be untrue.

So what factor does Trump have that overshadows his considerable and obvious faults? What factor is so great that even when he’s botched the handling of the coronavirus crisis that forty percent of the U.S. population still supports him?

Could it just be that the characteristic that spells out fitness in natural selection, or political natural selection, is simply the ability to convince people of the most improbable and factually incorrect explanations of anything?

That would certainly explain Trump… although it doesn’t say much for forty percent of the American people.

13 thoughts on “Political Darwinism?”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    It’s simple: actual survival traits can only be determined after-the-fact, once you’ve been dead for perhaps a generation (distance provides perspective), and your history is as complete as limited information can make possible. You survive, or you don’t. Some may voluntarily help you survive, or they may not. Neither is an excuse for the expansion of government.

    And more than forty percent. Trump is flawed, but the best left-winger (which almost all modern Democrats are) is worse than Trump, because their premises are either flawed or designed for the pursuit of power rather than actual results.

    1. Hanna says:

      Really, just flawed?

      Try an inherently evil, desperately cruel and malicious douchebag, like a lot of the tRump supporting wackjobs today; ignorance is a worse disease than covid-19 will ever be.

      1. Hanna says:

        Willful ignorance and aversion to facts and reason (especially by right-wingnuts) is a worse disease than covid-19 could ever be.

      2. R. Hamilton says:

        Sorry, no. He’s not trying to steal liberty (and $,$$$,$$$,$$$,$$$) left and right like most of the Democrats would. THAT’s the only thing I recognize as evil in a politician. I don’t care if his incompetence kills people (although I don’t believe the case has been made for that), I don’t care if he lets all the poor and underprivileged die, since I don’t want GOVERNMENT to rescue them anyway, but only voluntary private entities to rescue people; but that case hasn’t been made EITHER, since both in the COVID-19 situation and otherwise, his administration has been going out of its way to improve the situation of the vulnerable, in no small part simply by increasing economic liberty and the benefits that follow.

        His mouth is a liability, he says too many random things and rambles, and his asides are often ignorant and detract from focus. His past is somewhat repugnant in personal matters. But I would only prefer someone else IF they still did what he does, but were also better in those areas.

        The narrative that people who REASONABLY support his position on most issues, or Trump himself, are somehow evil, is a product of Democrat and media propaganda, and propaganda is itself evil.

        1. You’re absolutely wrong. Trump is stealing liberty. His acts and those of the right wing reduce the freedoms of everyone except the wealthy. For you, it’s clear, freedom only exists if you have the wealth and position to enjoy freedom. The right wing closes polling places, making it harder, if not impossible, for the poor to vote. That’s not stealing freedom? Despite study after study showing that voting fraud is minimal, if not non-existent, the right wing enacts requirements for “identification” that are expensive and time-consuming for the poor to obtain. If that’s not stealing freedom, I don’t know what is. I honestly don’t know what world you’re living in, but you’ve either got blinders on or you think freedom is something that should be largely if not entirely enjoyed by the rich.

          1. R. Hamilton says:

            Freedom consists of pursuing your needs and harmless desires yourself with minimal interference, NOT of having them provided for you; although individuals or organizations may if they wish CHOOSE to assist you; I’ve done that, on occasion.

            The right, or at least the part of it I identify with, has NO interest in excluding any legitimate voter from voting, but is very distrustful of the long history of dead people voting for Democrats, and other anomalies. Of course, a Democrat probably takes it as an article of faith that there’s no voter fraud, because it overwhelmingly benefits Democrats. Chicago has been Democrat run for ages, and came up with the saying “vote early, vote often”. They don’t even hide it. I’m told the Arkansas county where I was born (late 50’s) reported zero votes for a Republican candidate, but there were certainly at least two (my parents). Given that crossing those in power there at the time wasn’t necessarily healthy, they left not long after, despite having a nice piece of land there. Then there’s the folks that go to old-age homes, doing vote-by-mail assistance. If someone is sufficiently non-senile that they understand what they’re doing, fine. But if they don’t understand, nobody should be collecting votes made by holding their hand and guiding the pen as the collector desires.

            A number of states already have (a) mobile DMV units (state DMV or MVA being what usually issues ID), and (b) at least some can help you get the documentation you lack, with both assistance and waiving of fees. I have no problem expanding that to aid any legitimate voter with problems obtaining ID, but if that’s still too difficult, if voting must be so easy that there are ZERO difficulties for anyone to do it, then they must not want to vote that badly. I’ve seen many times that old people and folks in wheelchairs (of various colors) who valued their vote, took the trouble to vote, in person, regardless of weather; and most of the poll workers are retirees, volunteers.

            People who want everything given to them, everything made easy for them, should receive none of their needs or desires unless someone voluntarily CHOOSES to aid them.

            Still, I think that it’s a false dichotomy that paints full enfranchisement as in conflict with fraud-free voting. I think both could be achieved, at reasonable cost (although a lot of the electronic voting systems fall short of being properly secure, but that’s somewhat independent of conventional voter fraud concerns – and a lot of vote fraud isn’t necessarily the voters, but the vote counters, btw).

    2. Sam N says:

      What does any of what you said first have to do with expanding government?

      What premises are flawed? All of them?

      Of course its designed to pursue power like any political belief. With out power the status quo cant resist change and the agents of change cant effect it.

      1. R. Hamilton says:

        Free stuff is either magic thinking (violates laws of conservation or thermodynamics), or economically unsustainable at a large scale. Small amounts of free stuff, VOLUNTARILY donated, are quite different from a government program.

        And the pursuit of power comes with playing sugar daddy, buying votes with promises of handouts and pork.

        And what change do you think you want? Free healthcare, college, food, shelter, clothing, etc for everyone? Save the planet even more than it needs saving at the cost of destroying the economy? Be real. Those changes are power grabs. A robust economy gives anyone with a reasonable degree of ambition expanded opportunity. If achievement is not enough to meet needs, ask for voluntary charity or do without.

        Economic status aside, if one can identify specific systemic barriers affecting certain groups, I’m probably ok with eliminating them, with the least intrusive methods that would work. But in general, I despise ALL groups as groups, including those I could be construed to belong to; I’d much rather problems were identified and dealt with on an individual basis. Specific injustices worthy of redress should IMO mostly be limited to something that can be taken to court, something done against a specific individual (or class of individuals in a class action suit) by a specific individual or organization, still existing. No reparations for misdeeds by the dead (my domestic ancestors were all northerners BTW, and at least one fought for the North in the Civil War, so I have no particular skin in that game either way), no equalizing outcomes. IMO it’s enough to mitigate inequalities of _opportunity_, and entirely on the individual to make effective use of opportunity.

  2. RRCRea says:

    Fitness = the ability to have offspring who surive to produce more offspring. Period.
    If you want to try to shoehorn that into a system it wasn’t meant to describe, then it could be the continuity of a “species” (which could be a state which is political or a nation which is culture, 1 state = many nations). In which case natural selection would be determined by continued viability in the face of selective forces, irrespective of the nature of the variation. For example, if stupid gets the job of survival done, then it is selected for, the “gene pool” distribution adjusts and the “species” continues.
    On the other hand, selection can reduce variation resulting in specialization. Which is great because it allows for the “species” to prosper, but is ultimately almost always a bad thing because when the environment changes, the selective pressure changes and the lack of variation makes survival unlikely.
    So it could go either way. America is increasingly stupid or stupid-appreciative because it is being selected for and it’s going to increase and the “species” will be become more specialized. Or it could be a form of variation currently under selection that could be selected against by the environment.
    But, strangely, R. Hamilton is correct. It is something you can really only determine after the fact. Unfortunately for the species. (Unless you want to start working applied anthropology and sociology where you muddle with the outcome by creating new environmental pressures from inside the system…)

  3. [Comment from Tim]

    believe you are spot on with your assessment that the main character trait is to have the ability to convince. Charisma if you will.

    I have experienced this with a friend who is a very good teacher and used to putting knowledge into unwilling brains. I therefore always check what advice he gives me!


  4. Hanneke says:

    Bullies rule, is what it looks like to me.
    To promote libertarian ideals the limits on individuals and corporations amassing wealth and power at the cost of their fellow citizens were relaxed, and this is the result.
    Money buys power, and power corrupts; it leads to a sense of “inherent” superiority and entitlement.

    Since agricultural civilisation started and became sedentary, and grew into ever-larger clusters claiming larger areas, it’s been harder to walk away from a bully than it was in a small, mobile, hunter-gatherer group, which tends to either split up or walk away entirely.

    When a bully grabs power, whether in a playground, a criminal organisation, or in a political party, most people just stand around and let him do what he wants, or become his sycophants. This is a fairly widespread rule of human behaviour, where people don’t want to risk becoming the target themselves.
    Unless there are good and strong rules and/or authority figures around to put a stop to it, or the group can band together to stop it, the bully can go on getting everybody used to condoning his actions, and slide ever further down the scale of awfulness with less and less people protesting. Bullies don’t want to share; they tend to want to amass more money and/or power and/or followers.

    The 40% are in large part the ones who are looking for a leader to follow, the sycophants and bystanders.

    1. Hanneke says:

      If you don’t set up the rules (and enforce them) to limit the power of individuals in power, and their abilities to monopolize resources to themselves, their offspring and their friends, you will get some kind of powergroup who perpetuate their own power and interest above that of society.

      They set up the rules so that it becomes ever harder to oppose them, forbidding the group to band together against them (e.g. making laws forbidding forming or joining an union and forbidding a union from negotiating better deals for their members).

      They ensure that what they want people to hear gets heard loudly and often, and overwhelms whatever dissenting voices there might be. Mass-media empires which dominate certain areas’ information flows have a large impact on what people know and believe.

      Once one generation has set up this system, part of the next can be stupid but still keep their power. It just gets more and more entrenched within the power-group, like an aristocracy or oligarchy.

      And that makes a very attractive situation for a powerful bully to take over and bend to his own profit.

      He needs some persuasiveness to start, but inherited money and the media attention and strong-arm/lawyer tactics this can buy can provide that. Playing well to the cameras is necessary if your power is bound up in popular appeal, but enough money combined with owning the media can let you get away with (almost) anything.

  5. William Modisett says:

    I stumbled across this string on September 16, a day after Trump appeared on 20/20 with George Stephapolis. I commented to wife and neighbors that Trump was scary. Scary because he sounded like a reasonable man / leader and might convince enough people that they should vote for him to get another term. I believe we elected the best liar that we have ever had in office. Which I think may be the quality that LEM referred to when he wrote “Could it just be that the characteristic that spells out fitness in natural selection, or political natural selection, is simply the ability to convince people of the most improbable and factually incorrect explanations of anything?
    That would certainly explain Trump… although it doesn’t say much for forty percent of the American people.”

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