Role Reversals

Elias’ latest post gave me a little epiphany this morning. He mentions social Darwinism as a feature of the Paul Ryan budget proposal, the not-so-subtle subtext of course is that conservatives believe in social Darwinism and that makes us bad, bad people. But if that is true, one must then conclude that liberals do not share this belief. This is the point that struck me. If conservatives do believe in social Darwinism i.e. “…the strongest or fittest should survive and flourish in society, while the weak and unfit should be allowed to die,” then doesn’t that mean that liberals believe in social intelligent design? The definition would be something like,

“Social success as we know it cannot happen through random natural processes. Man can only achieve success through the intervention of a higher power.”

We can speculate just what form that higher power takes. I suspect he wears a red, white and blue suit and has a large wallet – but that’s just my guess.

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118 thoughts on “Role Reversals

  1. This is admirable striving towards offensiveness, but I think you could have gone further. If you’re going to latch onto the “picks winners” aspect over the “protects losers” aspect, why not postulate “social eugenics” as the liberal opposite to social Darwinism? This not only lets you emphasize the “playing God” part of your analogy, but gets you closer towards fulfilling Godwin’s Law. That’s how you win on the Internet.

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  2. But wasn’t the “social Darwinism” thing meant itself to be a response to the ubiquitous use of the word “socialist?” I’d prefer we cap it here, so that in three months we’re not having the Hitler arguments.

    That being said, the ID quip was pretty damn funny, Mike.

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          • Or, let me put it this way- it’s certainly possible to argue that Ryan’s budget is a misguided mess without claiming it’s really an experiment in social Darwinism in the same way it would be possible for conservatives to criticize the bank bailouts as misguided or wasteful without positing that the play was a result of Obama’s underlying faith in state socialism.

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            • I’m not so sure. I think it’s fair for critics of the Ryan Plan to say it’s an experiment in social darwinism based on the a mere understanding of the policies, whether the Plans advocates consciously think this or not. I also think it’s fair to say that some of Obama’s actions under TARP were an example of faith in state socialism. Or rather, not faith so much as recognition that state intervention could restore stability to various sectors of the economy.

              But I also think that advocates of the Ryan Plan would reject the social darwinism charge since the premise of the Plan is that laffer curves and rising tides will actually improve the material conditions of everyone effected by the policy. So, the Plan – for its advocates! – is the opposite of social darwinism since there are no losers.

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              • Perhaps. My problem is that, when you call Obama’s programs “socialist”, the argument isn’t that they call for state interventions in a way that brings us one step closer to state socialism; instead, the argument is that his underlying objective is to destroy the capitalist system and replace it with socialism, which seems a bit silly. With the Ryan plan, calling it “social Darwinist” implies that it’s underlying motivation is a belief that the poor are genetically inferior and should be made to perish as quickly as possible for the health of society. It’s a bit more than a mere problem with the welfare state. If people think that Ryan was motivated by his belief that poverty indicates genetic inferiority, fine. I suspect he was motivated by more benign ideas.

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                • Ditto what Rufus is saying here.  There’s a big logical leap between saying “the state shouldn’t do fund so many social services” and “those people should die.”

                  There are at least two conservative ideas that fill that gap; 1) the state is not the only means for caring for others, and b) state programs actually breed dependence, rather than actually helping people.

                  I have no quibble with liberals arguing that those ideas are wrong. But wrong or not, those are things conservatives believe, and the belief in them does mean that the real underlying intent is not “let the weak die off.”

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                  • Eh. Social Darwinism doesn’t necessarily require the belief in literal extermination of the weak. As Obama and most libs use it, it refers to the idea that success in the American marketplace is a consequence of natural forces and that it’s ill-advised — and ultimately in vain —for the state to interfere in such a manner that would change the end-result of this natural competition.  So the emphasis is on the idea that success is overwhelmingly the consequence of biological (including temperamental) traits, occurring within a context relatively unencumbered by human interference.

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                    • Not really although there are certainly similarities. The point is: Obama is arguing that a conservatism that doesn’t sign-on to the post-New Deal consensus is a conservatism of social Darwinism. It’s a well-worn critique of libertarianism and its many iterations from the left-of-center in America — it just hasn’t been used so explicitly by a Dem of Obama’s stature in about a generation.

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                    • Elias,

                      The fundamental problem with that explanation is that you’re transposing history by roughly a century.  Adam Smith explained the value of market forces in 1776, and Darwin didn’t publish his theories until 1859 (and the social “Darwinism” (a terrible phrase) didn’t develop until some time after that).

                      There is an evolutionary aspect of market competition, but it’s deeply erroneous to give it the pejorative “Social Darwinism” term, because a) it is something that has always existed when any kind of markets have existed, and b) it’s intellectual explanation had nothing to do with any of the moral judgements implicit in “Social Darwinism.”

                      And you can believe in free markets while still believing that those who don’t do well in that system deserve a decent safety net.  So let’s please not confuse our concepts.

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                    • Elias,

                      But since that’s an implication that’s obviously going to be taken, it seems like a particularly dishonest political cudgel.  And perhaps I’m wrong, but it appears that liberals on this thread are somewhat defending it, despite its dishonesty. And unhappy with Mike’s proposed counter-cudgel…because it’s not honest.

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                    • I don’t think the eliminationism you’re perceiving is a clear implication. I think what people hear is what I outlined above — basically a very orthodox and unsophisticated libertarianism. I haven’t read any of this thread besides this part right here that I’m engaged in so I can’t really speak to whatever the other pinko commenters are doing.

                      ETA: I think Jon Chait did a better job than I am right now.

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                    • This Well Worn Critique has yet to be effectively answered by either Libertarians or the New Conservatives.  Paul Ryan believes government should not help poor people when he says:

                      The belief that recipients of government aid are better off the more we spend on them is remarkably persistent. No matter how many times this central tenet of liberalism gets debunked, like Brett Favre, it just keeps coming back.

                      This is false at three levels:  Liberals understand the undeniable cost of poverty and the dangers of domestic unrest to any society.   Graf von Bismarck, no pantywaist Liberal he, cynically staved off the Communists by instituting schemes to help the worker and the poor man.    The industrialists did very well under his rule.

                      Nor do Liberals believe the more we spend the better off the poor become.   We believe in schemes which will raise the poor from poverty, not in creating traps of dependency.   The safety net also insulates the rich from massive societal disruption:  once the rich were sensible enough to fear the poor.   This is no longer the case.

                      But the third level of mendacity is the repetition of this lie as a central tenet of Liberalism.   When I see a Libertarian or a Conservative who will grant it to be a lie, it will be a great day.

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                    • Elias–Then all you’re saying is that it’s insider jargon–it has a special meaning to liberals that’s not shared by those it’s supposed to be a criticism of.  And apparently that insider meaning is much softer and more gentle, meaning it’s not even that much of a criticism.  It all sounds rather pointless and self-congratulatory.

                      Blaise–Yay!

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                    • Oh, so Obama’s being dishonest.  Well, dog-bites-man, eh?  But it still sounds like some of the liberals here are trying to persuade us that the term is meaningful. I’m just not particularly impressed. If a president wants to use sound-bites to motivate people, I really don’t expect anything less.  But for intelligent League liberals to try to argue that the sound-bite is really a content-rich dish?  It makes my heart break just a little.

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                    • James:

                      And you can believe in free markets while still believing that those who don’t do well in that system deserve a decent safety net. So let’s please not confuse our concepts.

                      This would, of course be an adequate rejoinder, if not for the fact that the policy prescriptions offered by Paul Ryan’s budget are specifically targeting the “decent safety net” in favor of essentially giving tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires. At which point, what would you prefer as a descriptive solution? Crony capitalism? Hard-hearted fiscal conservatism?

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                    • Elias

                      I think you just argued in support of Mike’s position though you added a mistake of your own into the mix.

                      The free market position is not that relative success or failure is based upon biological traits unencumbered by human interference. The free market position is that relative success is determined by voluntary choices of consumers. Economic success in a free market without coercion and privilege is determined by how much value market participants can add to consumers and those serving them.

                      The progressive position as you just explained it is that the higher power known as the state, when run by progressives, should determine relative success and failure. This on the extreme is socialism and in moderation is just crony capitalism.

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                    • Actually, the other implication that makes the term so tricky is the racist implication. Yes, there’s a certain laissez-faire view of the social safety net that has been called ‘social Darwinism’ by the people who haven’t actually subscribed to it, but I’d say the term has been more often used to describe a number of race theories of the 19th and 20th centuries, including those associated with eugenics, with the supreme exemplar being Nazism. So, on the one hand, you have an idea that the government shouldn’t pick winners and losers and, on the other extreme, you have various sorts of fascism claiming superior and inferior ethnic groups and that the former will naturally dominate the latter if the government doesn’t get in the way. The idea is that there’s a “natural” hierarchy of people that society should reflect.

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                    • +1 to Rufus, at least as far as clearing up some of the legitimate objections from conservatives, ones liberals ought to keep in mind when the use the term in an otherwise off-hand or neutral way. I mean, the connotations are horrible. Which is part of the reason it gets used, no doubt.

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            • Just as a quibble, the bank bailouts were first conducted under the Troubled Asset Relief Program under President Bush. (Unless of course President Obama had some sort of magical time-travelling abilities that let him sign it in October of 2008…)

              With that quibble out of the way.

              There’s a substantial difference between calling a program a specific term and calling a person the same way. That is you can fairly describe nationalization of the banks as a socialist program (which it would be) without labeling the politician who advocates it as such. There are different connotations when you move past that to describing a person as a socialist. As Rufus rightly notes below, it implies that the specific person wants to “do away with capitalism”.

              So far as I can tell the description of the Ryan budget as a “thinly veiled social darwinism” isn’t a dig at Paul Ryan himself. Few people (certainly not the president) are describing him as some sort of social darwinist in his private life or beliefs. But as a descriptive of the program I think it’s accurate in that 1. it’s made to further encourage a gap between “winners” and “losers” in the market and 2. the explicit program cuts are made disproportionately made to programs that are made as part of the social safety net. Both features are part of a policy prescription that’s adapted to social darwinism.

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        • I saw that. It’s really stupid.

          Is “social Darwinist” within some bound of propriety that “socialist” violates? I don’t think so. After all, plenty of people call themselves socialists — not President Obama, to be sure, but estimable figures such as Tony Blair and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Members of the British Labour Party have been known to sing the socialist anthem “The Red Flag” on the floor of Parliament.

          But no one calls himself a social Darwinist. Not now, not ever. Not Herbert Spencer. The term is always used to label one’s opponents. In that sense it’s clearly a more abusive term than “socialist,” a term that millions of people have proudly claimed.

          Lots of people call themselves Nazis, and no one calls himself “irresponsible”, so by the same logic calling Ryan’s budget irresponsible is much worse than calling him a Nazi.

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          • I believe he’s pointing out that it’s use is simply a pejorative term.
            It would seem as if references to the predominant fiscal policy of the Left as Goldilocksing is far more accurate than referring to the Ryan plan as irresponsible.

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            • I believe he’s pointing out that it’s use is simply a pejorative term.

              He’s trying to prove that “social darwinist” is beyond the pale, and failing miserably. It’s disappointing. I thought guys from Cato were good at casuistry :-)

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    • Fear is, always has been, and always will be, a huge part of politics.  The party in power will also usually (though not always) be particularly well-served by it.

      That said, for what it’s worth, and all other things being equal, I think the Right needs and uses fear more these days than the Left, though the pendulum may be starting to swing the other direction.

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          • But doesn’t the out-party have more ability to construct boogeymen because they can speculate about scary legislation? The in-party typically has to produce the legislation so they are dealing in more concrete terms.

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            • True enough.  I guess my response to that is just that the party in power gets to look for the craziest people out of power and accuse them of being the mainstream, whereas the party out of power’s ability to be effective is limited to what they can directly pin on the most prominent officeholder(s), who are usually going to be pretty mainstream.

              That said, I’m willing to back off on my claim a little and leave it at “fear is a fishin’ powerful tool for both those in and out of power, and is indeed a tool that is impossible to resist completely.”   I stand by my claim that the Right is currently worse on this front, all other things being equal, for reasons I’ve been talking about on and off for a few years, with the pendulum starting to shift back.

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              • That’s a point I hadn’t though of. The ‘movement leader’ designation. When you’re in power the prez is the top dog and there’s no denying it. When you’re out people can claim whoever they want. I was told less than a year ago that Glen Beck was the leader of the Right. Even though it’s poppycock it’s also very hard to prove a negative in that scenario.

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        • “… the party out of power always benefits from scaring people. Look at the Bush years.”

          Maybe its a bit early here on the West Coast and my coffee has not kicked in, but you were being sarcastic, right?

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      • Stillwater – this isn’t ‘trollery’.  It’s not a fully-developed concept, which is why I put it on the sidebar.

        To the point though, I don’t have a problem with social darwinism per se but the term is typically used as a pejorative by the Left. I find it kind of an interesting concept because liberals are typically pro-evolution (for the record I am too). The contention though is that this process either cannot be transferred to society or if it can, it’s not fair and the process has to be mitigated. This mitigation is analogous to the concept of intelligent design.

        And let me be clear on the subject of the ‘vibe’ around here lately. I’ve been a participant in the League since the very early days. We go through spells where everyone gets a little more partisan and a little more high-strung. Those cycles are directly linked to the proximity of a national election. It’s unavoidable and it’s normal in any politically-themed site. No different than sports-related forums at playoff time. Suggesting that this is part of some larger problem is overreach.

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        • I don’t see how this post, as presented, is supposed to encourage honest debate. The partisan nature of it discourages honest participation since I’m not at all sure what point you’re trying to make other than to construct a strawman and then tear it down.

          Now, you could have presented this as a tentative hypothesis purporting to accurately describe one aspect of liberalism: that on liberal’s own terms, intelligent design (of some kind but not the kind you’re thinking of!)  is necessary for social systems to maximize individual or collective achievement. The discussion could then go over the terms, in what ways this is uniquely true of liberals, in what ways it fails to be true of conservatives. Now, that post might have been fruitful.

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          • I guess the truth is that I give our readers enough credit to not need things spelled out for them. I also assume enough maturity for them to squelch their own partisan impulses and see the point being made. You seem to have lower expectations.

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                • Except that it’s not remotely thoughtful.  It takes one thing (recognizing the scientific validity of the theory of evolution) and equates it with another (moral agreement with the theory of evolution).  That the sole foundation of the post, and it’s disingenuous because the former doesn’t in any way imply the latter.  That certainly looks like trolling to me, because it invents an inconsistency where there is none.

                  Add to that that Social Darwinism was in its heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s and boiled down to “let the poor die, they’re dragging society down”, and it really looks like you’re trying to start a fight, given that you’re making a post just to imply liberals are being inconsistent by thinking that’s a bad thing.

                  Mouthing off in a highly controversial way, using a disingenuous argument, on a topic you have clearly not bothered to understand anything about – isn’t that trolling?

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                    • The question is whether you take evolution, or in this case gravity, as a blueprint for how society should work.  Are you, for instance, attracted to people proportionally to their mass?

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                    • I’ll answer that! The problem goes back to the naturalistic fallacy. Evolution is a descriptive theory. Social Darwinists make it into a normative theory. That requires lots of argumentation. But what’s even worse is that the social darwinist cherry-picks natural phenomena and – while pointing – says those are the arrangements and states of affairs we ought to pattern socially constructed arrangements after. I think Nob said it best at the bottom of the thread:

                      In many ways [social darwinism] is a deliberate embracing of the Hobbesian descriptive view of the world.

                      So it’s not the liberal who conflates description with prescription, but the social darwininst. And they do so in a question-begging manner.

                       

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                    • The question is whether you take evolution, or in this case gravity, as a blueprint for how society should work.  Are you, for instance, attracted to people proportionally to their mass?

                      There’s a weak attraction for everyone that isn’t anywhere near as strong as other attractive forces.

                      To what extent should society (or the law, for that matter) be able to pressure people to overcome this weak attractive force?

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                    • Evolution is a descriptive theory. Social Darwinists make it into a normative theory.

                      Fair enough… I have no faith in any institution to lay down a normative theory based on things that we know are true.

                      That said, it also seems to me that the moral content of truth is, at best, secondary.

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                    • Fair enough… I have no faith in any institution to lay down a normative theory based on things that we know are true.

                      That gives the social darwinists too much credit, since their theory is actually known to be false.

                      That said, it also seems to me that the moral content of truth is, at best, secondary.

                      Vectors!

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                    • I’ve been thinking about this and I don’t know that it is (known to be false, that is).

                      We discuss (in public, even!) such things as the best way to get third world women to stop having so many children is, of course, to educate them. (We can also discuss access to such things as soap operas/telenovelas.) We’ve recently had discussions over whether or not the earth is experiencing another extinction event (though, granted, on the sub-blogs) and there are any number of discussions of environmental sustainability.

                      Social Darwinism, as practiced, was (indeed!) monstrous and, again, should not be the basis of governmental (or social) policy… but the theory doesn’t seem to be known to be false. It’s just being tweaked. (Yes… vectors.)

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                    • Exactly.  The theory of evolution states what occurs in nature.  It’s not a moral philosophy.  Liberal “support for the theory of evolution” means that liberals (and pretty much all scientists) consider it to be factually accurate and theoretically sound.

                      Mike jumps from there to the idea that liberals regard “Darwinianism” as a moral philosophy and thus are being inconsistent for criticizing Ryan’s budget as demonstrating social Darwinism.  Social Darwininsm is the idea that evolutionary theory should be applied to society by not caring for the weak, so that the strong will prevail and multiply.

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                  • I hate fisking, but…

                    “It takes one thing (recognizing the scientific validity of the theory of evolution) and equates it with another (moral agreement with the theory of evolution).”

                    I don’t even understand this sentence. This had nothing to do with two ways to look at evolution. What I was suggesting is that if the Left is going to use ‘social darwinism’ to describe conservative policy then I think ‘social intelligent design’ is an appropriate way to describe their own policies. The end.

                     

                    “…it really looks like you’re trying to start a fight, given that you’re making a post just to imply liberals are being inconsistent by thinking that’s a bad thing.”

                    It only looks like I am trying to start a fight if you want to believe I am trying to start a fight. An objective reading of the post should reach three possible conclusions:

                    1) That was a humorous off-the-cuff post and I will have a chuckle because I don’t take myself that seriously (ref. comment #3 from Tod Kelly)

                    2) Maybe Mike is trying to make a point that using perjorative terms on either side of the aisle is kind of a crappy way to behave

                    3) Conservatives and liberals have very basic differences in how they view social policy – as Mike has pointed out in several posts.

                     

                    Mouthing off in a highly controversial way, using a disingenuous argument, on a topic you have clearly not bothered to understand anything about – isn’t that trolling?

                    Maybe it’s just me but I usually see trolling as someone trying to ruin an ongoing discussion with inflammatory rhetoric, getingt people off topic, etc. They basically invade and disrupt. Since I started this topic and no one is really obligated to participate, it’s kind of impossible to call it trolling.

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                    • What I was suggesting is that if the Left is going to use ‘social darwinism’ to describe conservative policy then I think ‘social intelligent design’ is an appropriate way to describe their own policies. The end.

                      And – now that I understand what you’re saying (shuffles feet uncomfortably) – I think that’s a valid point. An interesting one. I’m not sure we’d agree on any conclusions beyond that, but it’s certainly an interesting perspective.

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                    • Mike:
                      I think the “intelligent design” isn’t the right term because it implies an origins argue.

                      Rather, if you want…you can probably argue (and I as a liberal would agree) that we believe in Social Conservation. (That is, we want to save those who would otherwise go extinct!)

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        • liberals are typically pro-evolution

          That is, in favor of teaching it as fact, not necessarily in favor of all of its consequences.  E.g. it’s possible to understand kudzu as what happens when you introduce a foreign species into an environment where it has insufficient predators or competitors without thinking “Go, kudzu!  Wipe out that native vegetation!”

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          • I’m ambivalent about evolution. On the one hand, it’s why I’m here. On the other hand, it’s why I have to worry about drug-resistant TB. This is why I am not a liberal: liberals, with their blind love for evolution, simply can’t admit that it was evolution that gave us the Plague and AIDS and also the platypus, which is an abomination, because that would suggest that evolution isn’t an unqualified good, and for liberals it has to be an unqualified good or else maybe conservatives are right and things would be better if we could elect a God and let him or her take control of genetic mutations.

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                  • It absolutely is a Conservative or Liberal position.   Who’s defending this wretched business of teaching “alternative” Creationist unscientific nonsense in the classroom?

                    Sure ain’t the Liberals.

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                    • Oh, I understand that it is an issue, but that doesn’t make it a stupid and nonsensical one. I can’t imagine liberals are sitting around thinking, “I like evolution, and anyone who doesn’t can kiss my ass!” I mean, it’s not like they have a political position on gravity or the equations of General Relativity or the Standard Model, so why the hell would they have one on evolution? That would be nonsensical.  I know some conservatives do have a position on evolution itself, but this is because they see it as merely a harmful idea rather than a physical fact. This is the stupid part.

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                    • By the way, I’m ambivalent about gravity, too. It keeps me from floating out into space, but it’s also responsible for most injuries and deaths by falling. I eagerly await my politicians’ pronouncements on the gravity problem: how do we make it safe? Who really benefits from gravity? What role do the multinationals play in gravity?

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                    • That happens to be misinformation.
                      I’m glad I linked to this article earlier so that I can cite it now:

                      The disconnect ceases to be a mystery if you assume that arguments about science are really surrogates for something else. The fault lines over evolution are not merely partisan, for example. Five years ago Gallup reported that only 24 percent of those who attend church weekly accept evolution as fact. But of those who attend church rarely or never, only 26 percent take issue with evolution. That’s because for cultural conservatives, evolution is not about archaeology and genetics.

                      There’s always more than meets the eye.

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                    • Oh, it’s a dead serious issue.  You want to peer into the mind of a Liberal, to hear our secret mutterings on this subject?

                      “Grrrr, it’s always the same with these unscientific types, telling us Liberals we’re trying to ruin society by inculcating our value system on children!   Hasn’t this business of the Origin of Species been settled as a scientific matter?   It’s them trying to turn the Bible into a Biology Textbook!   What’s with this Global Warming fracas?   It’s no longer a matter of conjecture, AGW is a fact.   The only question is just how bad it’s gonna get before we do something about it, but it’s probably too late anyway…”

                      Here’s where I think we can agree:  Conservatives don’t have to be a force for the promulgation of unscientific nonsense in the biology classroom.   But that’s what they’ve become.

                      This goes to my point about how Conservatives evolve:  they simply deny they ever made stands on these hilltops.   Where they should be taking stands, where they’re strongest, rhetorically and politically, they aren’t taking stands.   What this country could use is some genuine Conservatives.   I don’t see very many these days.

                       

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                    • The best science classes that I have been in (and I’ve been in quite a few) are the ones that teach the history of an idea rather then dumping a set of facts.
                      And so, I have no problem in teaching intelligent design or Lamarckism.

                      With global warming, it’s a bit different. Instead of wondering, “Did we do that?” we should be more concerned about who’s going to wipe up the mess.
                      Too much attention is paid to the warming aspect of climate change.

                      Oddly enough, although I had never heard of him, I grew up with something of a Nieztschean view of creationism; that there were no limits on how God may have chosen to create man, and that if evolution were His desired tool in doing so, so be it.
                      So I don’t see the two as mutually exclusive.

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                    • That’s because for cultural conservatives, evolution is not about archaeology and genetics.

                      I believe in evolution and consider 6-day creationism to be rather absurd. The thing is, I don’t believe in evolution because I am a scientist. I don’t believe in it because I objectively evaluated one hypothesis against another and determined that the weight of the evidence strongly supports one side over the other. I mean, I can’t prove that God didn’t put the pieces in places in such a way that we would misinterpret the remains.

                      No, I believe in evolution because I believe the white coats over the white robes. It’s what I was taught, and what I was taught to believe. Or perhaps more to the point, it was who I was taught to believe. And to a degree, who I found more credible for reasons having nothing to do with evolution per se and more to do with the veracity of the Bible as literal and historical truth.

                      So yeah, I’m with science on this. But I have no reason not to be. Give people a reason not to be with science, and with the exception of those who genuinely care about science (which is not most people – not even most believers of evolution), and that changes.

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                    • I always understood that ‘day’ thing to signify ‘an appointed time’ rather than a 24-hour cycle. That’s what makes sense to me.
                      Similarly, I consider the Adam & Eve bit to be an allegory of awareness rather than a record of events.

                      If you’re going to reduce everything to literalism, there’ s a lot of everyday speech that doesn’t make sense.

                      I remember a friend of mine telling me about her dad.
                      Someone had said to him one day, “How do you do?” and he responded, “As a poor man does.”

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                    • A fun theoretical question is “how many planets are there in our solar system?”

                      There are currently known to be eight planets.

                      What’s the right answer? Why?

                      Eight is the correct answer because, from an astrophysics/astronomy standpoint, Pluto has more things in common with Ceres and Eris than with Earth and Mars.

                      The taxonomy of the field, in any particular field, will always be under review and will necessarily be imprecise, but generally speaking you have to have a common understanding or nobody can get any freakin’ work done.

                      Thus, the astrophysicists and astronomers get to decide what constitutes planet-tude and dwarf-planet-tude because they’re the ones that need to be able to transmit meaningful classification information about the planets and the dwarf planets, not the chemists.  Mathematicians get to decide that 1 is not a prime number, because they’re the ones that have to write all of the theorems about prime numbers and they don’t want to start every single one of those theorems with, “except for the multiplicative identity…”

                      Assuming that you believe in the idea that knowledge is usefully contained in classifications, this makes sense.

                      Now, granted, there are problems with any classification system (see: Platypus), but that’s not a deal-breaker.

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                    • Sure it is… but the question comes “how do you know that?”

                      Here’s a question you may find more interesting. Is Saturn or Jupiter closer to the Sun?

                      How do you know that? (I suspect that you’d just be repeating something that you had been taught.)

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                    • When I see these sort of arguments, it always reminds me of Spinoza’s four classes of knowledge delineated in On the Improvement of the Understanding.
                      Nobody really knows when their birthday is.

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                    • Building a taxonomy from one example is treacherous.  When we’ve explored fifty planetary systems in detail, it might be possible to create a sensible taxonomy of the objects they consist of.  Until then, we’re just bluffing.

                       

                      The time it takes one body to revolve around another is related by a pretty simple formula to the mass of the larger one [1] and their distance from each other.  (Kepler first observed this, and given Newton’s law of gravity, it can be derived with a bit of calculus.)  Since it can be observed that Jupiter moves through the sky faster, it must be closer to the Sun.

                      But, sure, since I haven’t done any of the observations myself (though I did do the math once), I’m depending on the fact tat they’ve been repeated many times, giving the same result.  If there were a conspiracy of astronomers trying to fool me about Jupiter and Saturn, I’d be their dupe.

                      1. Assuming it’s far more massive than the other, which is the case with the Sun and the planets.

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                    • Three kinds of knowledge. Spinoza has 3: roughly, perception (including what we get from hearing people talk), reason, and intuition, which would correspond to looking at shit or talking about it, math, and science, respectively.

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                    • Building a taxonomy from one example is treacherous.  

                      It *can* be, sure.

                      When we’ve explored fifty planetary systems in detail, it might be possible to create a sensible taxonomy of the objects they consist of.  Until then, we’re just bluffing.

                      Well, this presupposes that the taxonomy wouldn’t change.  Right now, there’s meaningful differences between Pluto and Earth.  There’s meaningful differences between Earth and Jupiter.

                      Once we have 1,000,000 planets cataloged, it wouldn’t surprise me if “planets” were just the rocky planets and the gas giants were called something else entirely, either.

                      At any rate, the treacherousness of bad taxonomies is largely due to the fact that they can embed bad assumptions.  I don’t think we have enough planets to study to embed many bad assumptions at this point.

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            • … or something like trying to keep endangered species alive.
              If they really wanted to teach evolution all that much, what better way than to kill off some endangered species?
              Incongruity.

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        • To the point though, I don’t have a problem with social darwinism per se but the term is typically used as a pejorative by the Left. I find it kind of an interesting concept because liberals are typically pro-evolution (for the record I am too). The contention though is that this process either cannot be transferred to society or if it can, it’s not fair and the process has to be mitigated. This mitigation is analogous to the concept of intelligent design.

          I do have a problem with social darwinism per se.  It might be descriptively accurate; indeed, it borders on the tautological to  not be descriptively accurate.  But the ought’s and should’s are what get me.  And to me, the ought’s and should’s are the essence of social darwinism.  Without the “…and it’s a good thing” attached to any definition of social darwinism, it’s not social darwinism.

          (Whether it’s accurate to call the Ryan budget social darwinian, of course, is debatable, as others have noted above.  I have no problem with social darwinism being pejorative, although I would have a problem with the indiscriminate, Godwin-esque use of the term as an epithet.)

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  3. Heck, liberals don’t even believe in Darwinism in nature as an philosophical principle.  If they did, there wouldn’t be so much effort put into trying to save the giant panda, a manifestly maladapted species.

    The theory of evolution is descriptive, not prescriptive.

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  4. This reminds me of that Will Saletan’s column about how liberals who are not willing to acknowledge that black people are dumber than white people are flirting with Liberal Creationism. Contrarian, isn’t it awesome?

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  5. I think this post mixes up concepts a bit. Darwinism, as it pertains to natural selection is a descriptive theory, not a prescriptive one. Specifically, evolution doesn’t actually say that this is how things SHOULD be, but rather it’s how things are.

    Social Darwinism on the other hand is a prescriptive theory. It posits that safety nets should be allowed to whither because “society” would weed out the weak and make the strong flourish. In many ways it’s a deliberate embracing of the Hobbesian descriptive view of the world.

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  6. The poor having basic social services is cut is HI-LARIOUS… Hungry kids, prematurely dead parents… such a laugh riot, although not nearly as funny as the joke Mike Dwyer’s joke… Liberals want people not to die? They’re the REAL hypocrites!

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  7. Conservatives can’t be Social Darwinists.  First, they don’t even believe in Evolution.   Bebby Jeezus made the lion and the lamb and put those fossils in the shale, just so He and the angels can have a good laff at the expense of those Scientist Types.   Global warming is just a myth, too.   We don’t have to adapt to anything, according to the Conservatives.   We are the masters of all we survey.  As for the Social part of that Social Darwinism shibboleth, hell, Social is the basis for Socialism and they don’t believe in that, either.

    Social Darwinism is an oxymoron.   It’s one of those pseudo-scientific phrases used only as a pejorative, a useful whetstone against which many a little axe has been ground.

    Society’s a rum animal.   Not many top predators are pack animals but many prey species are.   Society and the Herd are amazingly effective coping strategies when you’re not a very smart animal.   Some animals can graze while others keep a look out for the predators.   A Herd can overwhelm a predator with too much food when they’re giving birth, all at the same time.

    Predators need territory.   Herds don’t much care about territory.   They care about water and available grazing and will travel prodigious distances to get to it.

    We can speculate what form the Conservative Higher Power takes.   Sure ain’t Uncle Sam.   It’s Jehovah the Great ‘n Turrible, the Lord o’ Battles, to whom all good Conservatives pray before meals, especially Congressional Prayer Breakfasts.

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  8. I can’t figure out who said this, or where they said it. I found it at Andrew Sullivan’s but there doesn’t seem to be a link or citation.

    Connecting “Darwin” to this budget is a very smart move by the president.

    Where conservatives say things like “culture of life”, Obama is being very slick connecting the word “Darwin” to the GOP tax plan.  Many older people are a) already convinced Darwin was the devil, and b) are a vulnerable demographic when the budget comes up due to their dependence on entitlements.  If Obama beats the social Darwinism drum enough, Romney will have to say something like “No, we should take care of the weak” (anathema!) or even worse, “Darwin wasn’t that bad”.  Or something mealy-mouthed and middle of the road, which will reinforce impressions of him.  Check.

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  9. I call it socioeconomic creationism, but yeah, pretty much.

    Also, many leftists are socioeconomic creationists in a descriptive sense as well. That is, when they see that some people are rich and some people are poor, they see this as the product of conscious design, rather than the natural outcome of people with unequal abilities engaging in voluntary exchange. When they see that men or women are over- or underrepresented in some field, this must be due to sexism and not to things like differing preferences and higher male variance, and to suggest even the possibility that it may be otherwise is heresy.

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    • Nah.   Rich and poor, according to “many” leftists, are not a product of conscious design.   It’s like planet formation:  a big lump will attract smaller lumps until the whole area is conglobulated together.   Mostly luck, really, this business of being rich.   And big, but I’ve made that point.

      There’s no voluntary exchange for the poor.  They earn money, they spend it on staying alive.   The rich, well, they aren’t immoral or unjust, they’re just rich.  Sometimes, they’re really interested in the plight of the poor.   Guys like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, they plan on spending their fortunes on bettering the very poorest.

      Where do you guys get all the straw for building these Straw Men?   If there were any justice in the world, that straw would be fed to needy cattle.   Liberals actually like being rich.  Lots of us make quite a bit of money and we don’t care if you do, too.   If we see injustice in the world, it’s usually the case that some cabal of people (usually managing other people’s money!) is trying to work out some dodge so they can put it in their own pockets.   This they manage by one of two means:   repealing the law outright, or more likely, arrange for the regulators to never turn up.

      Though this sort of crime is terribly common, the last big heist was in 2008, damned near destroyed the entire world market system, there are some folks who still chalk these criminally-obtained fortunes up to exceptional talent and the virtues of the marketplace.   For all the myths about the rich, the myth-iest is how smart they are, not how lucky they are.

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