Tuesday, April 19, 2005

American Darwinism

The truth of the following I cannot comment on, I simply do not know. It is from "The Road to Whatever - Middle-Class Culture and the Crisis of Adolescence", by Elliott Currie, who is also the author of "Crime and Punishment in America". I have not even read the whole book. What struck me is that the passage implies that the Darwinism that is so unacceptable to so many conservatives is nonetheless promoted by them as relevant to society.

The passage deals with the reasons behind the responses of parents to their teenagers' problems. Highlights are mine.

"Thus many of these parents were as constrained by the limits of a fundamentally unsupportive society as their children were. These were, after all, what we might call post-Reagan parents. They began raising children just as many of the institutions that had traditionally helped to make the middle class middle class - affordable health care and housing, stable and well-paying jobs, well-staffed schools, predictable social benefits - were being systematicallly undermined in the name of "market" values. For many of these families, life was far from easy, even in a period characterized by widespread prosperity in the country as a whole. This version of prosperity masked what were often increasingly disrupted and stressed lives, and even at best it could require fairly heroic efforts to maintain. Many parents, in short, were themselves profoundly buffetted by the new American Darwinism, and their relations with their children cannot be fully understood without taking this into account.

"But that is not the whole story. The Darwinian approach to child rearing these parents adopted was rarely simply a response to being harried by social and economic forces beyond their control. It was part of a belief system, a cultural and psychological orientation towards the world - especially towards the bedrock issues of responsibility and mutuality, discipline and nurturance. Most of these parents were not just victims of this belief system but subscribers to it. It was, after all, a worldview shared by the most affluent among them, who did not suffer from significant economic stresses, who could afford help, and who had sufficient resources to buy a variety of services for their children. The rejection of the idea of mutual responsibility, a righteous distaste for offering help, the acceptance or encouragement of a view of life in which a competitive scramble for individual preeminence and comfort is central, the insistence that even the most vulnerable must learn to handle life's difficulties by themselves and that if they cannot it is no one's fault but their own - these were not idiosyncratic views of a few parents but pervasive themes in American society and culture during the years in which these teenagers were growing up. And we'll now see, those themes have also shaped the way adolescents are treated by a variety of institutions outside their families."


I do know of scientific idiots who believe that human society should be arranged as per Nature. Since Nature is Darwinian, humans should not presume to improve upon nature. This is ridiculous, because we create all kinds of things never before found in Nature all the time. The whole point of our strivings is to make human life better than that obtains in nature.

The backlash against scientific Darwinism as a consequence of rampant social Darwinism I could understand; but this is not in accord with political reality. The anti-Darwin brigade, and the social Darwinists are in same political camp.