Tuesday, 22 March 2011

revolution vs evolution: social darwinism and Darwin's theory of evolution

The very nature of rightwing ideology (whether religious, political or, well, ideological) is to present historical events, ideas, entitlements, and revolutions of every type in highly selective and simplistic terms as if they come clear-cut and prepackaged for our uncritical consumption.

Take Newtonian physics, for eg, and its supposed "defeat and invalidation" by Einstein's theory of relativity. No such thing ever happened. Rather, what happened was an evolution of thought (though no less "revolutionary" in and of itself) that made classical physics more refined and general the same way that Newton refined and explained the preceding Coperican conception of astronomy. One did not supplant the other. Where Newton's theory could not "explain" a phenomena (such as the precession of Mecury's orbit around the sun) the other could. But Newtonian physics is still used in shooting rockets into space, in ballistics, in predicting the cycles of the moon and tides on Earth, etc. Physical theories are built upon preceding thoughts, not overthrown.

One should always be weary and leery of revolutionary zeal. The H-word and his conservatives came into power promising a revolutionary change in Canadian politics but things seem to have become meaner, more cynical and less tolerant of differences in colour and opinion. The nature of such "revolutions" is to make things uniform and more hegemonic for the dominating group's interests, usually at any cost. The H-word's revolution was not to gain a better understanding of historical factors that define our evolutionary sense of identity as Canadians but to assert coercive power for a day in the sun and class, not social, gain. This is social darwinism.

The humanist ideal, on the other hand, make claims for a better tomorrow not through revolutions but through collective efforts to understand and gain insights into being human and becoming more humane through conscious deliberation and dialogue. Though the ideal is not (or can never be) achieved in reality, every evolutionary cycle promises a more mature and refined understanding, a better approximation to social justice and peacable (co-)existence.

Where social darwinism is about ingratiation, humanism is about commitment to an understanding that change in the human condition takes time, vision and consciously involved effort. Change is an achievement, not a reward.


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