Fear of Equality, Part 4 03/10/2013


The United States is the Darwinist capital of the capitalist world. A head afraid is a head haunted. A head haunted is a head hunted. Run for your life. Run from the guillotine to a head hunter who saves your head and raises your salary—so you’ll be caught in the red of the fishmarket buying gadgets to distract your fragile imagination that is cut in the red market of blood—running and escaping—running again—changing your resume to update the fear you feel of being unemployed tomorrow—in the streets—and from there to welfare—and from there to begging. – Giannina Braschi, “United States of Banana,” AmazonCrossing, 2011.

Survival of the Fittest

There is one error in Braschi’s otherwise excellent undressing of the Capitalist system in the USA, and that is the allusion that Darwin and the term “survival of the fittest” are connected. The two items are, but more through myth and misconception than in reality. The term, “survival of the fittest” actually originated with a Liberal philosopher named Herbert Spencer in a work he published as “Principles of Biology” in 1864 after he read Darwin’s “On the Origin of the Species.” [1] Since the mid – 1860’s, opponents and proponents of Capitalism have used the terms “Darwinism” and “survival of the fittest” as simple metaphoric codes to express complicated, intertwined  sociological, political and economical realities. In the process, their meanings has been defaced and distorted, producing further misconceptions are misunderstandings that have darkened and fudged any kind of  accurate analysis of our current problems.

But how was “survival of the fittest” originally used, what has it become to signify and is there anything that can be learned from a correct and clear understanding of the concept.

The Original Conception

As I’ve just mentioned, the phrase “Survival of the Fittest” was coined by Herbert Spencer in 1864 after reading Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species. Spencer was a social scientist  with a liberal utilitarian bent who was influenced by the social evolutionary theories of Auguste Comte. The popular belief among these early social scientists was that societies tended to evolved from simple, primitive, superstitious states into more complex, sophisticated, enlightened civilizations. It should be remembered that the md-1800’s saw the Industrial Revolution bring rapid social, technological and economic changes to the developing countries in Europe and America. In the eyes of everyone, society was changing. The mechanical, much more efficient and robust, was replacing the natural, and this was seen as progress.

Different social theories on the significance of this “progression” abounded. Spencer was concerned with moral aspects of society which informed his utilitarian theories. A liberal first and a utilitarian second, Spencer believed that the greatest good for the greatest amount of people in society was subservient to the moral superiority of the rights of the Individual, for society exists for the benefit of the Individual, not the Individual for Society and the Individual should not be restricted or regulated by social institutions. It is somewhat surprising to read what Spencer had to say about what “survival of the fittest.” As a good liberal, he had a basic mistrust of government intervention:

“Thus by survival of the fittest, the militant type of society becomes characterized by profound confidence in the governing power, joined with a loyalty causing submission to it in all matters whatever.” [2]

What this sounds like is Spencer predicting that the more complex society becomes, the more dependent it becomes upon government which will be more concerned with maintaining than the best interests of the people, which becomes reliant on whatever their governments give them. This sounds quite different from the common understanding of this phrase (which we will get to momentarily).

However, Spencer was not above heartlessness when it came to the plight of the poor. The great industrialist Andrew Carnegie who was an ardent follower of Spencer’s works, was reportedly appalled at Spencer’s perspective that there was no moral difficulty in allowing the poor to die since, according to Spencer, they were ill-equipped to compete in the ruthless Capitalist arena (Carnegie was born into terrible poverty). And competition, according to Spencer, was a “Law” of the Natural World, thus it was neither good or bad, just a reality in existence. So much for the so-called “morality” and altruism of the Spencer’s Liberal Enlightenment.

The Evolution of a Theory

Not surprisingly, the two theories which were conceived by Spencer and Darwin eventually borrowed from and fed each other until most people took them to mean virtually the same thing. We know that Spencer published his social evolutionary theories years before Darwin’s Origin of the Species appeared, and that Spencer was intrigued by Darwin’s theory of natural selection, seeing it as a confirmation of his thesis of social evolution through struggle and competition. Darwin’s natural selection theory did not have the benefit of being informed by genetics, the significance s of which would only be discovered at the beginning of the 20th Century. Natural selection proposed that it was the adaptive nature of an organism to its environment that allowed it to survive and produce offspring. While Spencer took Darwin’s “natural selection” as vindication of his thesis that social evolution evolved from struggle, conflict and competition, he seemingly ignored Darwin’s point of the adaptable relationship the organism maintains throughout its evolutionary path, and was content to be a leading light that allowed the Victorian – era Capitalists to rest assuredly that if the Law of Nature was with them, who or what could be against them?

As a good Liberal philosopher, Spencer parrots the official Liberal line:

“Every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man.”

Which would be a fantastic thing if freedom actually existed between men. However, with the emphasis on competition, struggle and conflict, the Capitalist system of economic Darwinism (where the wealthy dominate, subjugate and demonize the poor) guarantees to never, ever allow any type of freedom in the relationships between men to exist, mainly because of the Fear of Equality, which is in essence, the fear of the Group.

The war against the Group is based on fear, and the weapon used against the Group is fantasy. It is the worse kind of fantasy to assert one can speak intelligently of rights and freedom out of one side of their mouth while speaking of social Darwinism of survival of the fittest out of the other. It suggests a mental instability. There is no balance in the scales nor is there an acknowledgement of what everybody knows; the playing field is uneven and most of us will never have a chance to live like the very wealthy lives. While most people accept this as a fact of life, we also accept that survival of the fittest is much like a rigged game in a casino. Or the stock market. The only “freedom” available to people is the amount of freedom that can be bought. If everyone truly had “equal freedom,” human relationships would change and competition between groups would no longer exist. Talk of “freedom” would no longer exist because in its place would stand Equality. A lot of fear must be removed from the definition of Equality first. One way of releasing the fear of Equality is to understand how little we know about principles of “freedom” and other values in our lives and how that ignorance has allowed us to be controlled and manipulated into mistaking falsehood for something real.

NEXT: The Trinity of Fears


[1]  Spencer wrote: “This survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called ‘natural selection,’ or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.” HERBERT SPENCER, THE PRINCIPLES OF BIOLOGY 444 (Univ. Press of the Pac. 2002).

[2] Herbert Spencer; Truxton Beale (1916), The Man Versus the State: A Collection of Essays,