General Question

rojo's avatar

Social Darwinism - Sceptic or Believer?

Asked by rojo (22066points) October 26th, 2012

Either way, why?

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86 Answers

Crashsequence2012's avatar

TOTAL believer.

Humans are animals.
Forcing them to behave as though this isn’t the case leads to disaster on the larger, general scale.

Increasingly Government interferes with this natural process.

There’s no wealth redistribution in a wolfpack.

KNOWITALL's avatar


wonderingwhy's avatar

I believe it’s at work and that the general idea of political/social competition yielding an improved end result can be applied beneficially. However I don’t believe it’s the best, or even a good, method to drive a society or even necessary as an applied, large-scale, stratagem. In fact, I believe it can significantly hinder social progress if allowed to “roam” unchecked, particularly over a large, diverse, spectrum.

ragingloli's avatar

Completely against it.
Humans are social animals, whose success as a species is the result of cooperation and resource sharing, not an “every ape for himself” mindset.
Social darwinism is also immoral.

tinyfaery's avatar

Darwin was specific that his theories did not apply to society. It’s science/biology, not sociology.

I’ll refrain from saying what I think about people who talk out of there asses.

Seek's avatar

*Their asses (Sorry, Gailcalled moment). ^_^

“Social Darwinism” is a horrible term for a disgusting practice, and I hate that it has so corrupted the name of one of my personal heroes.

tinyfaery's avatar

How about they’re asses?

flutherother's avatar

It’s a useful theory to have when promoting inhuman policies. It removes any lingering feelings of responsibility or guilt.

Crashsequence2012's avatar


Social Darwinism is a concept.

How can a concept be immoral?

Ill cut you some slack ‘cause your former leader, Adolf Hitler, was a social Darwinism boy.

ragingloli's avatar

Hitler was a Lamarckian, not a Darwinist.

BhacSsylan's avatar

Social Darwinism is immoral depending on your mindset, because of the actions it suggests and results to which it leads. From a humanist perspective it’s highly immoral, because it leads to great harm. Also, it is based on a set of faulty assumptions, the most basic of which was stated by @Crashsequence2012 and refuted by @ragingloli. We are not a loner species, and haven’t been for many millions of years. And to assume that biological concepts necessarily translate to society is just lazy.

Also, the wolf pack behavior line is also pretty silly, and based off of old, incorrect understandings of wolf pack behavior. Wolves are actually highly social animals and their hierarchy is based mainly off of age and breeding status, not physical dominance. So, try again.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

It is preposterous. When people fail, they blame circumstances. When people succeed, they credit themselves and hard work.

When misguided a-holes succeed, they believe themselves better than others, and invent theories of why it was inevitable that they were to be successful.

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_Whitetigress's avatar

I believe Darwin didn’t feel he was anywhere near being finished with his studies. If there’s anything science is unveiling, it’s that human society is constantly evolving. Even within a major society there are small pockets of societies and those who interact within differ from the major.
So since there is no way for me to deny the fact that humans are socially evolving, as well as physically, there’s no need for me to be a skeptic about, “Social Darwinism.” I just hate how his name is used as if he was some martyr for scientific research on evolution, dominance, survival of the fittest etc. He is the poster boy but there are many scientist who were involved in the development of the idea on evolution. In fact, evolution isn’t something that that disproves beliefs. It just happens and that is that. The fact that we have to use someones name in front of a phenomena that is undeniable upsets me in the sense that we are still thinking that we are in total control of our current lives.
I have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m watching re-runs of the New Orleans vs Miami game! Rar!

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augustlan's avatar

Not a believer. Sure, we’re animals… but part of what makes us human is the ability to rise above our basest natures. We don’t roam around, acting on our animal instincts willy-nilly, and it’s a damn good thing, too. We reason. And reason tells most of us that what is good for humanity as a whole is good for us individually, too.

Coloma's avatar

I agree with @augustlan
We train our dogs to be less doggy in their behaviors, same goes for us. If a dog can learn to not bite the hand that feeds it, crap on the carpet and manage to master over riding some of it’s natural impulses in service to remaining in good social standing with it’s human pack members, so can we. lol

Luiveton's avatar

Social Darwinism makes me feel like we’re within a society of ducks. Honestly, isn’t Darwin such a duck name?
I think I’m going to say skeptic because there’s no point in agreeing with it, if our society as a whole revolves against it. Social Darwinism is just another way of saying ‘survival of the fittest’. And we all know that yes, Biologically speaking we lie within the ‘animal kingdom’, but what makes us stand out as humans is that we don’t necessarily act that way. Sure, overall the richest have a better standard of living when compared to the less fortunate, etc.

But even people who say they agree; here’s an example: assuming you have children, don’t you fend for them? Do you not protect them with all your might? Conversationally speaking, animals don’t don’t do that. They protect their offspring for a certain period of time, but they can kill them sometimes if it means the parents are in danger. Do humans regularly do that? I’m sorry but no matter how much people agree with that view, they will still act like the rest of us. Just my opinion.
It is just a way to rationalize wrong actions. Just another opinion.

It was used during imperialistic ages to rationalize invading other countries. And in other cases it demonstrated ‘racial superiority’. Or so I’ve read.

Coloma's avatar

@Luiveton Haha…I have a goose named ” Marwyn”!

Buttonstc's avatar

I’m in the Sceptic tank :)

Coloma's avatar

Well…just take a gander at my goose and his best Sheeple friend, enjoying a little fence line chat. When the goose lies down with the lamb. They have managed to transcend the social gap between species. Marwyn shares his corn with her and she shares her oat hay with him.
She provides shade and he provides a warning when the coyotes are lurking.

I’d say it’s a cooperative arrangement indeed. ;-)

LostInParadise's avatar

What I love about the term social Darwinism is that it is so frequently favored by those who oppose the idea of evolution. Like @ragingloli said, natural selection occurs between groups, favoring those who care for their own

Crashsequence2012's avatar

@ragingloli :Well duh.

Thas was the basis for the broadest part of his agenda.

However. there is the following story regarding Hitler.

He received a letter from a subordinate. The letter stated that this office believed he could easily perform his duties better than his immediate superior and requested that Hitler fire the superior and promote the subordinate officer to the position:

History claims that Hitler’s reply said in effect. “I suggest you TAKE the position for yourself employing whatever means you find effective.

This, my friends is an example of sweet Social Darwinism.

BhacSsylan's avatar

@Crashsequence2012 And your point is… what, exactly?

And the guy using social darwinism lost, so by social darwinist standards, social darwinism is unfit.

OMG paradox!

Crashsequence2012's avatar

My point for those that comprehend.

emilianate's avatar


There is a very simply answer to your question. Ask yourself why should one be altruistic? If you cannot come up with an answer without resorting to a logical fallacy,(list of logical fallacies) then there is your answer for why there should not be any societal support for the maladaptive. Ayn Rand explains this in detail from her works. Here is a small sample link

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LostInParadise's avatar

@emilianate , Let me see if I can follow your logic. People should not have children. Soldiers should not risk their lives to save their comrades. Nobody should do volunteer work or give to charity. Mother Theresa was a misguided fool. Nobody should answer questions on Fluther.

Fortunately, the real world, for all its cruelty and inequality, is still a kinder, gentler place than Randland.

Crashsequence2012's avatar

Randland please.

emilianate's avatar


The burden of proof is on the claimer. If altruism ought to be then prove it without the use of logical fallacies.

rojo's avatar

I fear this is a set-up @emilianate. No matter what anyone says to disagree with you, you will claim the use of a logical fallacy.
And, while I can infer that you are a believer from your post, if you were to truly answer my question, it would be to give me your viewpoint on this matter and not to demand that I justify a position that I made no claim to.
And, while you are at it, why don’t you express your point of view and justify it without using logical fallacies just to show us how it is done?

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emilianate's avatar


My viewpoints and proofs are simple.

Logical Fallacy: a fallacy in logical argumentation.

Why should I act altruistically if all answers for why one ought to be altruistic are based on logical fallacies? The answer is I shouldn’t and I don’t because it’s a fallacy. How does this relate to Social Darwinism? If I don’t act altruistically then Social Darwinism becomes a default. Why? You may ask? In order to answer properly, I have to define a few concepts.

Social Darwinism: The theory that individuals, groups, and peoples are subject to the same Darwinian laws of natural selection as plants and animals.

Natural Selection: The process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring.

Maladaptive: Not providing adequate or appropriate adjustment to the environment or situation

Now, based on the definitions, when I live next to some maladaptive people, what happens when I don’t act altruistically? It means I left a maladaptive person subject to the laws of natural selection (Social Darwinism). What happens then is out of my hands. It could be that you come along and save the person from being subject to the laws of natural selection, or the person figures out how to survive on his/her own, or doesn’t and ends up being washed away. The point is Social Darwinism is an automatic default for me or anyone who does not act altruistically.

Those that do act altruistically are essentially combating the laws of nature.

LostInParadise's avatar

No offense, but I think you are less self-centered than you would have us believe. If, for example, you saw somebody crash his car into a wall and there was nobody else around, I am confident that you would care enough to call 911.

rojo's avatar

I do not have a lot of time right now and for that I apologize but the most obvious flaws I note in your argument are the following:
The assumtion that all reasons for altruism are based on logical fallacies.
The assumtion that by acting altrusively you are not acting in an evolutionary manner.
The assumtion that you are not the maladaptive.
The assumption that altruism is not a part of human nature.

emilianate's avatar


1. Well if you think I’m assuming there are no logical explanations, then take on Ayn Rand’s challenge. Answer, logically, the why? Why one ought to be altruistic? No philosophy that champions altruism has ever been able to justify it logically, so you’d be quite the genius if you could pull it off. The main fallacies were covered in the link I gave you. Try to avoid all of these when you answer list of logical fallacies

2. You made a straw man argument (logical fallacy). I never made a comment on the evolutionary manner of altruism.

3. How am I assuming that I’m not maladaptive, if I have and continue to adapt to my environment and situations?

4. You made another straw man argument (logical fallacy). I never commented on altruism not being part of human nature.

ragingloli's avatar

funny that the list of fallacies is by itself one big massive straw man fallacy

LostInParadise's avatar

What argument is there for not being altruistic? By your own standard, you cannot use an evolutionary argument. In terms of your own life, if you create a reputation of uncaring and indifference, expect to be treated in kind. If you tell me that there is an advantage to acting as if you are altruistic then I will tell you it is the deed that counts.

emilianate's avatar

Burden of proof is on the claimer. I made no claim. The altruists do.

ragingloli's avatar

It is rather simple. You should be altruistic because in the long run it will be beneficial not only to society, but also to yourself.
Being altruistic fosters and encourages a society in which people help those in need of help, which ultimately means you will be helped when you need it.
Conversely, altruism also encourages a society where negative acts against others are discouraged, meaning for yourself that you are less likely to be attacked, stolen from, killed, raped, etc.
On the evolutionary level it means that a society that protects and helps each other, and does not ransack his fellow man whenever he deems it beneficial to himself in the short run, has a greater chance of survival, both for the group as a whole, as well as for the individual within that group, which in the end leads to a much increased probability of reproduction, which is the ultimate evolutionary goal of any individual being.

emilianate's avatar

So far I count 2 logical fallacies in what you wrote.

An appeal to the masses
An appeal to pity.

I’ll have go through the list to see what other fallacies were made.

ragingloli's avatar

No where in my argument is there an appeal to emotion nor an appeal to popular belief.
It is nothing more than a logical demonstration of the beneficial effects of altruism on collective and individual survivability.

emilianate's avatar

Another fallacy is the threat of violence.

ragingloli's avatar


ragingloli's avatar

All that there is the logical consequence of a lack of altruism, which, to spell it out for you, is the fact that someone that is not altruistically minded will be much more inclined to harm you for his own benefit. That is not a threat, but a natural consequence of your advocated mindset.

emilianate's avatar

Sure there is. Read what you wrote. If I don’t sacrifice myself, I’ll be attacked, stolen from, killed, raped, etc. That is a threat of force, not reason.

ragingloli's avatar

No it is not.
When I tell you that you will die if you jump of a cliff, that is not a threat, but a warning and a prediction of the inevitable consequences of jumping off a cliff.
In the same way, telling you that you are more likely to be harmed in a non-altruistic society is not a threat, but a prediction of the logical and inevitable consequences of non-altruistic societies.

emilianate's avatar

No, somebody else might die. You don’t know if I’ll be the one killed in a non-altruistic society. I could be on top of the evolutionary plank. The maladaptive would die.

ragingloli's avatar

It is not a matter of certainty, but a matter of increased probability (Learn the difference), not just because of one member of that society might come after you, but because a lot of them might. And if it were the case that you were on top of the bell curve, they all might come after you because they want what you have, and if you are especially unlucky, they all come at the same time.

emilianate's avatar

Too many assumptions and the probability is just as high in an altruistic society since you don’t know how much people are more altruistic vs non. Depends on the location, population density too.

emilianate's avatar

Appeal to probability – assumes that because something could happen, it is inevitable that it will happen

emilianate's avatar

Naturalistic fallacy (is–ought fallacy, naturalistic fallacy) – claims about what ought to be on the basis of statements about what is.

ragingloli's avatar

Too many assumptions and the probability is just as high in an altruistic society since you don’t know how much people are more altruistic vs non.
Nonsense. There is direct, real life evidence of that being true.
Compare the crime and poverty rates of the highly altruistic western societies to the highly chaotic and non-altruistic societies of central africa for example, especially somalia, where all government and societal union has collapsed.

Appeal to probability – assumes that because something could happen, it is inevitable that it will happen
Again, nonsense. Nowhere have I asserted that is is inevitable that you will get assaulted, only that it becomes a lot more likely that you will.

“Naturalistic fallacy (is–ought fallacy, naturalistic fallacy) – claims about what ought to be on the basis of statements about what is.”
Jesus fucking Christ. That is what YOU HAVE DONE by claiming that because darwinian principles rule in the animal and plant world, that it ought to rule in human society as well.
You see, I am now convinced that you just throw around accusations of fallacies without actually knowing what you are talking about.

LostInParadise's avatar

Here is the flip side of @ragingloli ‘s argument. Suppose you live in a society that does have some altruism like. for example, the one you actually live in. If you are self-centered, you will develop a reputation for not caring. People will treat you in kind. As the Holy Bible so nicely phrases it (note, I am just using this as a quote, not an argument): “As you sow, so shall you reap.” And watch out if you ever need help, because people will say to themselves, why help someone who doesn’t help anyone else?

emilianate's avatar

You cannot use the probability argument if you don’t know that the high probability will certainly cause X to happen.

You’re the one using the naturalistic fallacy, not me. I never said social Darwinisim ought to be. Quote me, where? I said if I don’t act, I left the maladaptive person to the laws of natural selection (that is social Darwinism). Did I tell you to do the same? Nope.

ragingloli's avatar

“The point is Social Darwinism is an automatic default for me or anyone who does not act altruistically.”
If it is the default for you it means that you thing it ought to be.

ragingloli's avatar

You cannot use the probability argument if you don’t know that the high probability will cause X to happen
It IS happening right now in nonaltruistic societies. That is a factual observation.

emilianate's avatar

I don’t think it ought to be, it is. The result of an inaction is Social Darwinism. Did I say you ought not help the maladaptive? No, you can save the maladaptive person from being subject to the laws of nature. I never said you ought not do it.

Ok, I rushed this and didn’t properly explain. I’m going to re-read your answer for why one ought to be altruistic and I’ll give you detailed examples of the logical fallacies of each verse. Give me some time though.

emilianate's avatar


You begin your argument with a contradiction. If you are told that you should do something because it’s in your own interest then you are NOT being advised to be altruistic.

Next, I’d like you to define altruism. Ayn Rand wasn’t criticizing benevolence and good will when she argued against altruism. In fact, she felt her morality of self-interest provided the foundation for both of these things.

Now, for instance, lets say someone is in need, so much need that they require someone to care for them for all their life. You don’t want to do this, and you know it won’t be good for you, but according to altruism, you should. How does this benefit you in the long run? Why does society matter in this situation? Why do your genes matter at this point?

Finally, the argument that the main goal of life is to reproduce. That’s all. No ifs, ands, or buts. Yes, it’s that true that for praying mantis, the purpose of life is to reproduce. The male is eaten while he inseminates his mate, so that she can have enough energy to lay her eggs. The male allows this happen because his sole purpose is to pass on his genes.

How does that apply to humans? While some of us are equipped to reproduce, it doesn’t mean that reproduction is our ‘ultimate evolutionary goal’. In fact, there is no such thing as an ‘ultimate evolutionary goal’, because evolution has no goals. Evolution is not a planned process. It does no engineering. The end products were never visualized. No goals exist. There is no thought of failure or success. There is no seeking of perfection. There is no seeking of anything. Evolution does not do anything. It only happens. As animals we are sexual beings, but that doesn’t mean we only have sex for the purpose of reproduction. This is really easy to prove: people who are infertile have sex, get married, etc; couples who are fertile may also choose not to have children for a variety of reasons.. yet they are still a ‘couple’ and they still have sex. So there are other reasons why individuals unite and have sexual relationships, besides reproduction. If you don’t believe it, try to go up to the first woman you see and ask her if she’ll have sex with you. If reproduction is her ultimate goal, she’ll say yes. (That’s what a preying mantis would do, right, so why wouldn’t a human?)

emilianate's avatar


Just to add a little more.

Consider the first sentence, “You should be altruistic because in the long run, it will be beneficial not only to society, but also to yourself.” Altruism, by definition, is sacrificing one’s self for the sake of others. This is antithetical to the furtherance of the self and in no way could “be beneficial.” I think you’re confusing kindness with altruism, so I’ll point out that kindness and good will towards others are conditional acts, filtered by the virtue of justice. We treat those we judge to be valuable with kindness. An argument could be made that other people in a society are valuable as partners in trade, and thus could reasonably be treated kindly.

Take a look at the next sentence, “Being altruistic fosters and encourages a society in which people help those in need of help, which ultimately means you will be helped when you need it.” To which I would reply, “Says who?” Altruism does not guarantee that you will be helped. Altruism is simply a moral philosophy telling individuals what they ought to do. You’re extrapolating a moral philosophy into probabilities that, in reality, contain far more variables than you’re willing to admit. Furthermore, history has shown altruism to give birth to the most heinous dictatorships (Soviet Russia, Hitler’s Germany) and justify the most deadly actions (the mass slaughter of Jews in the 20th century in the name of preserving the greater society). Far from providing ‘eventual help,’ altruism is much more likely to kill you.

The major problem with confronting what you wrote with logic is that you’re speaking in large-scale terms, i.e. “society.” Why should we be moral? What constitutes a moral action? What constitutes a value? These are all questions that must necessarily begin at the individual level, but the paragraph also mixes concepts and drops contexts which than continues to be built upon assumptions, stretched from nothing, and applied broadly to a society.

Here is the bottom line: altruism is always the sacrificing of the self to others; of higher values for lower values, and in no possible way is that ever beneficial to an individual or a group of individuals because it necessarily truncates values, lives, goals, and minds. No amount of twisted logic could sanction such an anti-individual, anti-life philosophy. And remember, morality is a code of ethics to guide the actions of individuals. “Society” is nothing except for a collection of individual human beings.

Crashsequence2012's avatar

There is no purely selfless act.

LostInParadise's avatar

@emilianate , Because of the way society is organized, it can be difficult to distinguish altruism from what you call benevolence. We reward people who act kindly, so something done altruistically can turn out to be beneficial. On the other hand, if you get a reputation for being self-centered, that can work to your disadvantage.

emilianate's avatar

@ragingloli wrote “You should be altruistic because in the long run it will be beneficial not only to society, but also to yourself.”

This quote right here is guilty of the broken window fallacy (logical fallacy). Watch this 3 minute video which explains this fallacy The Broken Window Fallacy and then replace the kid who breaks the window with the store owner breaking his own window (self-sacrifice). Now you have the exact same argument that @ragingloli provided which is guilty of committing this logical fallacy.

Seek's avatar

Oh for fuck’s sake.

Not everything in the universe is a logical fallacy.

Yeah – you suck if you do good things solely for the rewards you’ll reap. Some of us do good things because it’s good to do good things. Makes other people happy. Makes those endorphins rush. Whatever. If you have a problem with it, go live on an island alone somewhere or become a cannibal. I don’t care.

Tell you what, though, cannibal species tend to stagnate in evolution. Think the cockroach, which has remained pretty much unchanged for 280 million years.

emilianate's avatar

That is a pretty irrelevant comment @Seek_Kolinahr since @rojo wanted to understand the reasoning of a social Darwinist.

Seek's avatar

What’s irrelevant is listing a hundred thousand “logical fallacies” every time someone says something you don’t like.

Altruism isn’t necessarily a pay-per-play system. You do something good whether you are rewarded for it or not. The fact that a reward occurs does not negate the altruistic aspect of the act. Even continuing to do good works after reaping a reward doesn’t make you selfish. Some things are done for the greater good. Like raising your dead brother’s kids, or taking in foster kids, or donating food to a soup kitchen. These are things that most animals don’t do (there are exceptions and plenty), but we as humans make the conscious decision to take part in altruistic acts or not. Those of us who don’t will generally not be smiled upon by those close to us. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will not be financially stable. There is also no direct relationship between charity and wealth. Some give all they have when they have nothing, and some give all they have when they have much. Some stingy bastards have everything and some stingy bastards have to steal for the beer they won’t share with you.

emilianate's avatar

That was the point of this exercise though and it helped answer @rojo question. The reason social Darwinism is, is because there is no logical reason for why it ought to be different (why we ought to be altruistic). That is the simple of it.

If logic is irrelevant then there is no more point to discussing this. We can just go into fantasy land.

Seek's avatar

I’m a big fan of logic. Huge. My screen-name is Kolinahr for frak’s sake.

I find nothing logical about attaching a youtube video about “logical fallacies” to every opposing argument. At this point, you’re failing to be either informative or entertaining.

We get it. You think it’s more logical to be a douche than a nice person. Fine. Knock it off with the fallacy crap.

emilianate's avatar

And now you’re guilty of several fallacies.

Ad hominem – attacking the arguer instead of the argument.

Abusive fallacy – a subtype of “ad hominem” when it turns into name-calling rather than arguing about the originally proposed argument.

You’re also contradicting yourself and dumbing down the conversation from reasoning to emotional appeals. Appeal to emotion – where an argument is made due to the manipulation of emotions, rather than the use of valid reasoning

@Seek_Kolinahr “What’s irrelevant is listing a hundred thousand “logical fallacies””

Straw man. I was detailed and specific in my arguments. Clarity is very important.

@Seek_Kolinahr “I’m a big fan of logic. Huge.”

Obviously you’re not. Can’t make up your mind?

Seek's avatar

I still haven’t figured out what exactly the argument I’m trying to refute is. And if you’ll note, I never called you a name. Well, I tried to figure out how to make the conversation interesting at least. Too bad. Seemed like it had potential. Oh well. Unfollowed.

emilianate's avatar

Yes, it’s no surprise you don’t know what arguments to refute when you can’t even keep track with what you type out.

@Seek_Kolinahr wrote “And if you’ll note, I never called you a name”


@Seek_Kolinahr wrote “You think it’s more logical to be a douche

Crashsequence2012's avatar

Read my latest book:

Crash and the Several Fallacies.

You shan’t be disappointed.

Soubresaut's avatar

There was an article, I’ve been trying to recall the name of the author, that we read and discussed in a critical thinking class I took. It was talking about psychological egoism, which is along the same lines as social darwinism—that people are, and rightfully so, logically so, selfish.

The direction of this thread made me think of it—the author too stepped through logical fallacies made discussing the subject, and used them to help build his point. The logical flaws he found, however, were all within the arguments for psychological egoism; which is to say, arguments trying to refute the existence or logic of altruism.

I’ll keep looking for it.


A common reaction to helping other people is a feeling of goodness, of well-being. Many claim that this proves there’s no altruism, that people are merely doing good deeds to get good feelings, which is ultimately selfish. The problem I see with this, and lines of thinking that run similar tracks, is: why, how, would someone who’s ultimately selfish, and doesn’t care about other people, feel good for helping someone else? If you don’t care about them, why feel good for bettering their place in life?

Someone above mentioned that ”evolution is not a planned process. It does no engineering. The end products were never visualized. No goals exist. There is no thought of failure or success. There is no seeking of perfection. There is no seeking of anything. Evolution does not do anything. It only happens.
Because there are no goals, I’d also say there are no inherent rules of conduct.
Traits and qualities that manage to be passed on through generations, are passed on. End. This is evolution, we can agree?

Social darwinism is an idea of thought that the selfish personality traits that are ones ultimately the most successful. We can agree?
It gets there by starting with Darwin’s theory of natural selection, which I loosely stated above. (Traits and qualities that manage to be passed on through generations, are passed on.) ‘Survival of the fittest’ is the phrase used to describe the results of this phenomenon. It can be misleading in that the ‘fittest’ are somehow inherently superior, which they’re not. Because there is “no seeking of perfection… no seeking of anything” no concept of perfect, or better, exists. The fittest are, in this context, simply those that are able to pass on their genes, and so the traits and qualities those genes describe, to the next generation. We can agree?
I’m aware this is a severely simplified model. That when we begin discussing evolution on the level of species rather than individuals, much of a species’ survival over time is reliant on the recombination of its particular genetic genre. That a species’ chance of survival is usually predicted by the amount of variation between individuals; more variation generally means stronger chances the species survives. We can agree?
Because, the natural process causing adaptations, that cause speciation over millenia, seems to be dependent on two things (at least on this earth, with life as we understand it):
First, that individuals are slightly different from each other. This variation allows a greater likelihood that someone in the species group will have traits and qualities suited for the particular microclimate of that particular time and location. The longer this process occurs, the more complexity and variety life as a whole experiences. We see both this variety and complexity, in remarkable abundance on our planet.
Second, that there are clusters of individuals enough alike as to allow instances of genetic recombination and generation, simultaneously perpetuating a basic strain of genetics, and continuing the larger effect and strength of variation rather than the longterm instability of stagnant replication.
(We can agree?)
Again, none of this is the way anything is inherently supposed to be. It merely seems to be some ways of describing a macro/general habit of life here.

Let’s now propose scenarios, results of the random variation and mutation.

Some clusters of like-genetics seem to have produced creatures that are tending to stay in group units. There are many reasons this seems to be effective, but can we agree this scenario does exist? Schools of fish, herds of herbivores, packs of hunters. Maintaining groups allows easier means of passing on the basic genetic tenants/blueprint of that lifeform—as well security for the overall genetics. We can agree?

This is interesting.

What if we are to, logically, push it a step further? That one of these species-groups, one of these clusters of similar genetics, the creatures are seen to not only stay in a group but associate with that group: they begin to rely on a group for things they couldn’t do themselves. The packs hunt together, and so the pressure of catching food is dispersed across the group; the herds run away together, and so as a mass, the individuals are harder to pick out. This seems to make logical sense.

What if one of these species-groups, cluster of genetics, begins to further this concept of cooperation? When attacked or encountering a stressor, rear up as one and defend one another? It seems logical that while a few may die, the majority of that cluster survive more often.

None of this is novel, I don’t believe. So if it seems pretty basic—good. I want to make sure we’re on the same page.

I think a key flaw in social darwinism, is it makes an assumption that Darwin never did—survival of the fittest is necessarily and entirely a competition between individuals of like-genetics, that this struggle to beat others in a race to propogate is so strong as to mute out any other factor or challenge. But life is more complex than that, isn’t it? There are so many other factors in play, most of them outside the influence of any given individual.
Another flaw I see is the idea that an individual’s genetics are so unique as to require them to be passed along or forgotten. (The single individual won’t have an exact replication at any rate—great lengths are taken even at the molecular level, for reorganizing the genetic code.) Certainly there’s variation, but there also must be enough genetic compatability/overlap between individuals to be able to have a species. Humans are ~9 billion iterations, with slight variations, of the same genetic concept.

From the perspective of a species, having ten individuals that are wiling (not wanting, but willing) to give up their life to save the other nine is a much more secure evolutionary bet than having ten individuals willing to toss the other nine off a cliff to survive themself. It seems to me, given time, the former would be the one most likely to sustain.

Finally, stepping away, now, from the macro logic of evolution seen across generations:
As an individual that grew up a social creature, I feel more secure, too, knowing that in a group of ten, I can have nine allies, nine friends, nine people who care that I exist, and that I care exist, and that are there next to me (as I am them) to stumble and fight through this whatever-it-is we’re somehow in the middle of, life, together. To me, what’s incredible isn’t altruism, but that the variation of life is so vast that it still includes species where the individuals, their existence is so solitary.

emilianate's avatar

Well first of all, I’m not sure why you kept on going with the evolutionary argument after you made it clear that what is seen in nature, is not what ought to be. This just reaffirms my position, that no logical reason exists for altruism. You’re just describing evolution, fine. I can describe it too…. List of solitary animals

Secondly,you’re focusing on quantity, not quality. There is a famous example of this, the Greek-Persian war where 7,000 Greeks nearly annihilated between 100,000–300,000 Persians before being betrayed in combat. See that was quality vs quantity. Quality was kicking-ass. You don’t need genetic garbage polluting the gene pool. It’s a waste of resources and counter-productive, in my opinion. Evolution is from simple to complex.

Thirdly, social Darwinists aren’t making any assumptions because we’re not saying natural selection ought to be applied to humans. We don’t want to do anything. We actually want to keep things as is because we have no logical reasons to keep things differently. I’m not looking to change my environment. I want to keep the stupid, stupid. The sick, sick, the poor, poor. The rich, rich. All I do is adapt to the environment.

Darwin himself, recognized both sides of the issue. Here is what he wrote,

“The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex of 1882, Darwin described how medical advances meant that the weaker were able to survive and have families, and as he commented on the effects of this, he cautioned that hard reason should not override sympathy and considered how other factors might reduce the effect, thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.”

“The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely that the weaker and inferior members of society do not marry so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage, though this is more to be hoped for than expected.”

emilianate's avatar

Dawkins pointed out another disadvantage to what you argued on (group selection). “If altruism is advantageous at the group level, within any group altruists are liable to be exploited by selfish ‘free-riders’ who refrain from behaving altruistically. These free-riders will have an obvious fitness advantage: they benefit from the altruism of others, but do not incur any of the costs. So even if a group is composed exclusively of altruists, all behaving nicely towards each other, it only takes a single selfish mutant to bring an end to this happy idyll. By virtue of its relative fitness advantage within the group, the selfish mutant will out-reproduce the altruists, hence selfishness will eventually swamp altruism.”

You can also look at it as short-term altruism, but long-term selfishness.

LostInParadise's avatar

If there are two groups of altruists and one has free riders, the one with the free riders is at a disadvantage. It, and the accompanying free rider gene will lose out to the group without free riders. Dawkins is hung up on his selfish gene theory,

In all fairness, there is a dispute among biologists on this issue. E O Wilson, arguably the best field biologist (as opposed to armchair biologists like Dawkins) of the last generation, has changed sides in the debate. His controversial book, Sociobiology, used the idea of selfish genes, but he has since changed his mind.

Soubresaut's avatar

I’m not sure why you kept on going with the evolutionary argument after you made it clear that what is seen in nature, is not what ought to be.” I’m not sure what you mean by this, by reality not being what it ‘ought’ to be. You position is altruism ought not exist then? But then ”This just reaffirms my position, that no logical reason exists for altruism.” If my going through evolution seemed redundant, I am sorry. I was trying to step through the evolutionary process to show that altruism does indeed have an evolutionary logic to it, and to find precisely where the disagreement of the discussion is stemming from. Here: ”What if one of these species-groups, cluster of genetics, begins to further this concept of cooperation? When attacked or encountering a stressor, rear up as one and defend one another? It seems logical that while a few may die, the majority of that cluster survive more often,” and here: ”From the perspective of a species, having ten individuals that are wiling (not wanting, but willing) to give up their life to save the other nine is a much more secure evolutionary bet than having ten individuals willing to toss the other nine off a cliff to survive themself. It seems to me, given time, the former would be the one most likely to sustain,” I had thought I’d stated it outright. There’s an advantage to a species where the members are willing to put the collective, in some cases, first. This isn’t to say we don’t also have selfish streaks; there is evolutionary logic to putting yourself first, surely. But just as surely, in a species where much of the survival is dependent on cooperation, altruism does have a logic. And I don’t see a conflict, as these two aspects do not have to be mutually exclusive: altruism is not martyrdom—which can be seen as the most extreme altruism, rare and so its strength remembered, revered.
So even if a group is composed exclusively of altruists, all behaving nicely towards each other, it only takes a single selfish mutant to bring an end to this happy idyll.” The argument is about altruism, not pacifism—more than that though, because even in pacifism, you can protest exploitation—the argument is about altruism, not meakness, or lack of perception of character, or being incredibly naive. Why would the group put up with such a greedy and disruptive individual? Actually in this case, selfishness and altruism seem to blend together perfectly. What’s good for each altruistic individual is also best for the group as a whole—the bannishment of the one who acts entirely with selfish and destructive-to-others behavior.
And if they did nothing: say there ”are two groups of altruists and one has free riders, the one with the free riders is at a disadvantage.” The free-rider, if truly as destructive to the altruistic population as to eliminate any altruistic predisposition, has harmed the group they lived in and relied on. ”It, and the accompanying free rider gene will lose out to the group without free riders.” Their selfishness has served only to hurt everyone, their self included; how will they pass on that selfish gene? They would need a different social environment, as they can no longer rely on the kinder nature of others to survive. If this was the way life worked, purely naive altruism and disruptive exploitation, I don’t think social species would have lasted so long.
A list of solitary animals doesn’t prove there is no such thing as altruism; merely, there are different situations across the spectrum of species, some needing types of social behavior more than others. (I thought I had mentioned as much at the end of my previous post, perhaps I wasn’t clear. I do have difficultly being concise.) Also I would argue the list doesn’t prove the existence of selfishness, other than that the individual has to fight for everything individually. If that’s selfishness, then by living in a group, you’re not. I was thinking of selfishness as the act of choosing yourself before others; in that case, you could only see selfishness where you could also see altruism. And, in a species where the selfishness actually dismantles the altruism, which as I’m understanding, you claim it inevitably will, you then lose most of the bonds that connect the individuals into the necessary groups.
Further, altruism is not synonomous with self-destructiveness. From all the semantic and hind-sight debates over whether an altruistic act benefitted a person or not, and whether the person knew or was thinking of that benefit or not, it’s easy to see how altruism is often mutually beneficial.

Evolution has no rule over whether a trait is logical or not, and so permitted or not. The mental paths we trace are really for our own benefit, although notice that even in our menal logic-realities, altruism has a place; many places. I wonder why we get so caught up in trying to disprove altruism, if it’s not to assuage some sense of guilt—which comes from where?—or some sense of needing to prove that non-altruistic acts are okay too, are okay as well. The existence of altruism doesn’t negate this, so why try so hard to negate it? Even if altruism seems absurd at times, isn’t it one of our nicer quirks?

emilianate's avatar

You haven’t considered rape. From Wilson, Glenn.

”Human rape may be see not as an aberration but as an alternative gene-promotion strategy that is most likely to be adopted by the ‘losers’ in the competitive, harem-building struggle. If the means of access to legitimate, consenting sex is not available, then a male may be faced with the choice between force or genetic extinction.”

From Jerry Coyne, evolutionary biologist.

“Group selection isn’t widely accepted by evolutionists for several reasons. First, it’s not an efficient way to select for traits, like altruistic behavior, that are supposed to be detrimental to the individual but good for the group. Groups divide to form other groups much less often than organisms reproduce to form other organisms, so group selection for altruism would be unlikely to override the tendency of each group to quickly lose its altruists through natural selection favoring cheaters. Further, we simply have little evidence that selection on groups has promoted the evolution of any trait. Finally, other, more plausible evolutionary forces, like direct selection on individuals for reciprocal support, could have made us prosocial. These reasons explain why only a few biologists, like [David Sloan] Wilson and E. O. Wilson (no relation), advocate group selection as the evolutionary source of cooperation.”

Dawkins suggests that group selection fails to make an appropriate distinction between replicators and vehicles.

Steven Pinker concluded that “Group Selection has no useful role to play in psychology or social science.”

I think the problem with altruism (on a practical level) is that it is aggressive, not passive. This causes arguments-conflicts. For example, government social safety nets (welfare). That is forced altruism, particularly on members who are not altruists. Why would you be surprised to see non-altruists act in rebellion in such an environment? Or more in lines of adapting to this environment by finding ways to change it (get the right people in office to break the system from the inside), or avoid it (tax loopholes/evasion), or out right rebellion, etc. As you emphasized on willingness, it’s absent here, hence the conflict.

augustlan's avatar

It’s not ‘forced altruism’, as you are free to vote for people who don’t support social safety nets, or to leave the country any time you please. Instead, it’s part of the contract you accept by living here.

emilianate's avatar

There wouldn’t be conflict if it wasn’t forced. If the altruists are in power, the social Darwinist rebel. When the social Darwinists are in power, the altruists rebel. The difference is that when an altruist is in power, they exercise that power and expand it. When the social Darwinist is in power, they dismantle power (the power that forces altruism).

If we follow dancing minds arguments that both acts exist and don’t have to be in conflict, then the only logical answer is to not force one upon the other. Social safety net participation should be voluntary. The altruists thus get what they want, and the social Darwinist are not affected. What is illogical with this?

That is what I said. If you get defeated by the votes, there are other ways of rebellion. You don’t need to except the contract or leave if you don’t. That would be illogical for a social Darwinist.

Luiveton's avatar

Is this question still alive?

LostInParadise's avatar

Having legislation keeps the would-be cheaters in line. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that altruism does not work because cheaters exploit the system, and then turn around and complain that altruists enforce standards to prevent cheating.

Your argument in favor of rape could be extended to other crimes. You could say that thieves acquire the resources for survival that they otherwise would not be able to attain. Isn’t it better to provide for the needy so that they do not have to commit crimes to survive? Socialist governments, where the income disparity between top and bottom is much less than in the U.S., have much lower rates of crime, incarceration and drug use.

A unique feature of humans is that we can evolve on both a social and biological level. Steven Pinker, who you quote, has recently written a book, The Better Angels of Our Natture, in which he documents the long term trend toward altruism. We could get into an argument over whether this is due to social or cultural evolution, but I do not see that it makes much difference one way or the other.

rojo's avatar

@LostInParadise the evolution of the human species is as much a cultural evolution as an individual one. Without the culture, we would be just another herd animal.

LostInParadise's avatar

I agree completely. The point I was trying to make, perhaps not very well, is that the selective mechanism of social evolution, works much like the selective mechanism of biological evolution. For the current discussion, there is no need to distinguish between the two.

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