I feel reasonably safe that in america most americans will normally associate social darwinism with all of the horrors of Red Socialist National Socialism and all things darkly ikkyPooh. Never mind the technical problems that may give rise to as a part of the failure to be able to tell the left side from the right side. Since in the main, most american do not really want to take the time to pause and think the matters through. Since what is the point of retreating into mere factualism when that can slow up the process of getting from here to there, and the inevitable, scientifically proven, condemning the evil theyThemThoseType threat of the day.
But the real tragedy that Hofstadter outlines is that things were a bit more complicated. Yes, one can have little problem leaping from the Herbert Spencer holy doctrine of Survival of the Fitest to the clearly logical case that these must be the best of all possible times, since, well, our type are in charge, and thus the natural order of things is being maintained.
Yes, that brand of spencerianism did lead to fascism in many states. It also lead to the underpinning of such wonders as the correct ideological framework for Lysenkoism on the ideological other end of the spectrum.
But the true messy bit also resides in the middle!
Folks need to plumb the true wonders of the Panglossianism! ( cf Candide ) Being the more correct implementation of the sloganering of
The Best of All Possible Worldsthan say Gottfried Leibniz's use of the 'best of all possible worlds' gambolling in his kvetch on Theodicy - which is not the theocratic idiocracy, but the branch of theology that attempts to reconcile the existence of both god and evil. If we were to hop onto the Leibnizian bus, we would of course wind up back in the usual parts of the problem. Whereas with Dr. Pangloss we visit the horrors of the age of reason and with it all of the darkness that comes from secularism and science.
Or more accurately badly done science, done badly.
Hofstadter's little book offers the unpleasant reminder that the liberals were also willing to hop into the Hot Tub with Dr. Pangloss, since, well, clearly these are the best of all possible times! Things are always on the up and up, and moving towards the survival of the fittest! And thus clearly making everything better and better.
In america this allowed americans to tolerate the Klan, the sundowner towns, various horrors of industrializations, since, well, everything will be better some day, when the best of all possible worlds is better fitted in to the survivors! It IS modern! It is Scientific! It must be a part of our manifest destiny.
In Europe, this wonderful ideology gave us flander's fields. Where the fittest would be mowed down by machine guns, blown to bits with ever increasing sizes and weights of explosive devices, as well as the usual wonders of chemical and biological warfare. While in the rear, those safe from this survival of the fittest were, well.... quietly dropping some of the rhetoric about 'every day in some new way'. Yes, I am willing to concede to folks that there might be problems here, given Émile Coué de Châtaigneraie who would clearly influence Normon Vincent Peale - and that the commonality of the rhetorical device 'Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better' - would seem to suggest that some had not quite embraced the fitness being found on flander's field.
We will of course skip over the problems of the inter-war years, since, well those issues in the balkans were, well, you know how such people's are. Not quite as civilized or as advanced as we are. And yes, the soviet problems, well they were reds, and we all know that reds are savages, because of the horror of that whole orientalism thing...
What I find somewhat amusing here is that were we a reasonable species, then in theory we should not have arrived at the horrors of the Norman Vincent Peale Marketting Schpeel of the fifties, or perchance the hour of power series from Robert H. Schuller - but given that the USofA is the land that gave you L. Ron Hubbard, and with any luck this new skool of the 12 vision principle neoThink MarkettingSkink, the process may well carry right on through to the 24.5th century and beyond. ( cf Duck Dodger )
Were I more bored I might take folks on the equally dull and tedious misadventures of the est, T/A, pop-psycho-babble, and their various new age techno-mageries and crazeries, scary bits which we should really leave alone, save of course for such technical publications that will warn anyone using a Hot Tub Time Machine.
Do Not Bother The Crazies,Let us suffice it to say that no truer words were ever shilled than
We left them there for a reason
No one ever went broke betting on stoopid.Since one of the sad tragedies of our american way is that we keep advocating the whole horror of 'one born every minute'.
But the tragedy remains that many americans forget how the spencerian/panglossianism leaked into our america frame work. But it is understandable. The Red Hollywood Elites did so much to sell WWII, and that whole, 'the greatest generation ever', and then the whole cold war thing, it is reasonable that most folks remember only the marketing pitch rather than the tedium of technical talks. They remember the horror of all of those bad people advocating 'ubermensch', you know Thomas Carlyle and his whole Great Man Theory which we are of course all so thankful to Herbert Spencer for so successfully refuting. ( that is like irony, but with technical slight of hand you Nietchean whiners. )
But doesn't that take us to New Historicism and the inevitable collapse of everything because of a citation that would reference Michel Foucault - which really does demand a PostModernIstGodwinLaw that imposes sanctions upon such behavior.
The scary nightmare of decades of futurist horror, whether or not we include the left behind series, remains the problems of uncontrolled science. But I rather fear it is the abuse of 'science' that really is the problem - the labeling as 'science' that which is not science, and then running with it, because, well it is the newest and shiniest of post-modernisms EVER! We have seen that done with the fascist-nazi-ubermenschen, as well as with the marxianist-determinist-socialist-man. I hope we do not go down either of those roads again. But here in america, with the ever crank up able FEAR that some how they will return, there are always calls to have big government protect us from them.
On the left is the remnant of romance about reason, and the on going hope that if we can just marry freedom with economic opportunity with rational discourse, then the inevitable entrepreneurial arts will fill up everyone's time and none will have spare time left over to engage in folly or foolishness! On the right there remains the core hope that with just a few more crack special panzer divisions of Armoured Flying Submarine Shock Troops to back up the extra special police forces super duper spy network, we can prevent them from having any of those bad ideas that could lead to badness.
One has to respect the right wings artful all american dodge.
One posits as an article of faith that once upon a time we were the ones who were the most fitests, since we of course won the BigOne - thus the Real Problem must be those subversive elements. Or the scary bits of congressional thingie pooh this or that! Amusingly enough at least they opted to play much of this gaming in the space of what is known as 'fresh water economics', and hoping to be able to paste a patina of science onto the subject.
The good news there is that in some respects, well, it is almost as if they were willing to abandon the traditional spencerianisms of evolutionary theory. Save of course the political needs to maintain the coalition with the religious rejectionists, and various folks who, well, still fundamentally wish that the science would maintain their white scientifically superiorisms.
The funny of course is that I feel for the victimized whiteboys, since, well, uh, their natural superiority has been crushed by what, uh how? Clearly were we to believe their Spencerian Ubermenschensims, uh, then.... why exactly are they whining? Oh that's right, they forgot to keep clapping their hands, so tinker belle died? and with it their survival of the fitistisms?
The Religious position, when it is maintained on strictly religious ground remains mostly safe from any serious critical review, because, well, uh, it is not going to wander out into the scary light of critical analysis. But then there are all of them thar folks who want to fight not only against evolution, but ironically, want to turn around and use what are suppose to be arguments from evolution, about why we can not have gay marriages - you know, because marriage is all about replication, and replication is about maintaining the purity of the ubermenschen....
Uh, yeah, uh, right.
And how exactly did we get to the part without the capital gaines tax breaks, because we want to limit the ownership of wives to only one? or four? or some ratio of whole numbers? Ah yes.... those complications and things.
Now do not get me wrong here folks - there are left wing religious wing nuts with all sorts of really equally cool new age variants on the problems with capitale gaines taxes, and how to deal with the modification of things like virii....
So I am not picking solely on the VRRK.
I will confess that as a part of the irrational exuberance that came with the end of the Cold War, and the growing economic opportunities, that there might be some alternative at the end of the reign bow, where the rulings of economics, the scientific economics, would lead us to some alternative than the sort of ugly editions like V.I.Lenin's Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism - since we were suppose to be seeing the wonderful new Internet Economics. So let us be polite, and keep the warm happy thought that most likely Lenin is wrongish. Never mind the appeals to restore our american aristocracy, and all of the things which will be corrected by returning control to those who were, well, the fittest by birth!
If we learned anything from the economic fiasco of the 2007-2009 shadow banking sector lock up, it would seem to be that as a species that hope of reasoning is, well, a tad dim. If not outright mostly missing. That as a species we are not quite the sharpest crayon in the cosmic box. But I see that as a 'learning moment' where we can hopefully find a way to find the limits of reasoning! Where we can start understanding more and more what we as a collection of hairless apes really do in lieu of actual rational thought.
That challenge remains for me the interesting concern. At one end of the process is the hope that as we continue to expand our real knowledge about the real world, we can find real solutions to real problems. That we can find better ways to deal with the problems of The True Believers's, and the true believer's excuses for an ideology. Yes folks, you will need to read up on Dunning Kruger effect since that is going to be a part of breaking out of the dumbs.
In the worst of all possible cases, my hope remains that the folly of tyranny, which can also be manifested in a theocracy, will ultimately suffer the small technical problem that keeps re-implementing itself - namely that it can no longer sustain the technology because it is no longer willing or able to maintain the freedom of thought that provided the science that made the technology possible.
My hope remains that the great virtue of american culture, it's ability to field cranks, and with them to challenge the various received mythologies and zeitgeist, will in the end oblige folks to truly know what they believe, and more importantly why they believe it.
That they can arrive at a place where they are no longer taken in by the neoThink that is just as fail as the oldoThink. That they are not hopping into the next postPostModernism, simply because it is the new pink, or gaga, or what ever hipper than hip coolness we will call it, in that time right before the singularity offers us the totally new game changer buzz phrase generation.
Since they will be striving to live a real life, and not merely adhering to the buzz of how it is suppose to have always been.
Maybe after Technological Singularity there will be no place for Dr. Pangloss, but I doubt it. So we will need to keep finding our own reasons to keep on keeping on, and trying to do the better and the best. Understanding full well, that these are not things handed us by gods or genes. But are the fruit of a well lived life.