The sadist in me loves American politics. I get a certain sick joy from watching the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin bloviating ignorantly about matters of crucial importance to their country and the world. I get a dirty thrill up my leg when I hear them ridicule science, boast about their particular brands of Christianity, and resurrect the threats of Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong (apparently all simultaneously reincarnated as one B. Hussein Obama).
A direct product of my Southern-style schadenfreude is an abiding gratitude for the relative lack of brazen ignorance in my daily grind. I’m fortunate insofar as I rarely deal with any overtly religious, anti-science types. The parable of the looming Nazi threat rarely infects my political discussions. In the circles that I frequent (few and far between though they are), Charles Darwin is a kindly old man, not some horrible menace to our national values and our children’s fragile young minds. If it sounds a bit like I’m bragging, well, I suppose it’s because I am.
And so it is with great trepidation that I foolishly enter the circus of the U.S. political debate. I do so because I see something lurking below the surface of the caustic right-wing rhetoric that I find both curious and a little alarming. Behind all the talk of Nazism, Intelligent Design, Death Panels and so forth linger the remaining fragments of what was once a powerful stand-alone political ideology: Social Darwinism.
From what I can gather, it’s been over a century since anyone took seriously the prospect of ‘survival of the fittest’ as a legitimate political principle. But to listen to the American conservative right today, one could be forgiven for mistaking it to be alive and well. Take as a particularly rich example the acrimonious health care debate. Being the glutton for intellectual punishment that I am, I can assure you that this is a fair characterization of a major right-wing talking point throughout much of the debate: ‘The Democrats want to collectivize health care and choose who lives or dies based on a statistical cost/benefit analysis.’
If that absurd charge were actually true, it would be a textbook policy of a Social Darwinist State. Of course, back in the day, Social Darwinists would not stop with the sick and elderly. On the contrary; a true, red-blooded ideologue would probably want to stamp out the human equivalent of Noah’s Ark – your gays, mixed races, and non-white races; your Jews and gypsies; your disabled and disfigured; your political dissidents and grievous criminals; your homeless and transients. The recipe is actually quite simple – just keep killing all humans until everyone left on Earth could be substituted for the cast of “Leave It To Beaver” without anyone noticing.
It is ironic and maybe even a little cruel that the Right has managed to damage the effectiveness of Obama’s promised health care reforms with a whisper campaign designed to tease out fears of totalitarian biopolitics. The reality is that a Social Darwinist would fervently oppose any form of social safety net that helped ‘inferior’ humans nurture their offspring and, worse, enable them to reach breeding age! Forcing sick people into bankruptcy and home foreclosure is a far more Darwinian set-up for a society, and one that the non-corporatist Left overwhelmingly rejects.
Fear not, nerds. Next post will be back to good ol’ dry philosophy. No Palin, I promise.