Target Health Blog

Public Health: Cooperation v Competition

November 19, 2018


Caricature of Darwin from 1871 Vanity Fair

Graphic credit: James Tissot - Vanity Fair 30 September 1871Downloaded from University of Oklahoma, History of Science website, Public Domain,

Darwin's fame and popularity led to his name being associated with ideas and movements that, at times, had only an indirect relation to his writings, and sometimes went directly against his express comments. Thomas Malthus had argued that population1) ___ beyond resources was ordained by God to get humans to work productively and show restraint in getting families, this was used in the 1830s to justify workhouses and laissez-faire economics. Evolution was by then seen as having social implications, and Herbert Spencer's 1851 book Social Statics based ideas of human freedom and individual liberties on his Lamarckian evolutionary theory.

Soon after the Origin was published in 1859, critics derided his description of a struggle for existence as a Malthusian justification for the English industrial capitalism of the time. The term Darwinism was used for the evolutionary ideas of others, including Spencer's "survival of the fittest" as free-2) ___ progress, and Ernst Haeckel's polygenistic ideas of human development. Writers used natural selection to argue for various, often contradictory, ideologies such as laissez-faire, dog-eat dog capitalism, colonialism and imperialism. However, Darwin's holistic view of nature included "dependence of one being on another"; thus pacifists, socialists, liberal social reformers and anarchists such as Peter Kropotkin stressed the value of co-operation over struggle within a 3) ___. Darwin himself insisted that social policy should not simply be guided by concepts of struggle and selection in nature.

After the 1880s, a eugenics movement developed on ideas of biological inheritance, and for scientific justification of their ideas appealed to some concepts of Darwinism. In Britain, most shared Darwin's cautious views on voluntary improvement and sought to encourage those with good traits in "positive eugenics". During the "Eclipse of Darwinism", a scientific foundation for eugenics was provided by Mendelian genetics. Negative eugenics to remove the "feebleminded" were popular in America, Canada and Australia, and 4) ___ in the United States introduced compulsory sterilization laws, followed by several other countries. Subsequently, Nazi eugenics brought the field into disrepute. The term "Social Darwinism" was used infrequently from around the 1890s, but became popular as a derogatory term in the 1940's when used by Richard Hofstadter to attack the laissez-faire conservatism of those like William Graham Sumner who opposed reform and socialism. Since then, it has been used as a term of abuse by those opposed to what they think are the moral consequences of evolution. Evolution of humans has relied upon cooperation over 5) ___. In fact, cooperation fuels success. The phrase "survival of the fittest" was not coined by Charles Darwin and has nothing to do with his theories of evolution and survival.

In Europe, Social Darwinism lead to the adoption of eugenics, which interested dictators like Hitler. Hitler was influenced by the twisted ideas of social Darwinism and took them further, into ethnic 6) ___. He felt, if there is no Creator, then it seemed all things are permissible. If there is no God, then there are no ultimate consequences. If there is no greater authority than yourself, then the rules of survival of the fittest are in effect and back the idea that you can succeed by any means by applying the law of the jungle?only the strong survive. Hitler later used some of these ideas, called "7) ___ Darwinism," in World War II to eradicate millions of Jews and others he thought were racially inferior. He said: "Nature is cruel, therefore we, too, may be cruel. I have the right to remove millions of an inferior race that breeds like vermin! Natural instincts bid all living beings not merely conquer their enemies, but also destroy them" (quoted by Hermann Rauschning, The Voice of Destruction, 1940, pp. 137-138). In effect, Hitler believed he could say, he was applying the theory of 8) ___ and only quickening the inevitable end of the weak. This was necessary to make room for a fitter, superior race. It gave him what he thought was a scientific and moral validity for his warped views - and some 65 million people died in World War II largely because of those warped views.

Charles Darwin's work, "The Descent of Man," supports ideas that survival is due to cooperation over competition. Darwin's research shows that "survival of the kindest" is more correct for explaining which species climb the evolutionary ladder efficiently and effectively. According to biologists from Darwin to E. O. Wilson, 9) ___ has been more important than competition in humanity's evolutionary success. Compassion is the reason for both the human race's survival and its ability to continue to thrive as a species. Charles Darwin not only did not coin the phrase "survival of the fittest" (the phrase was invented by Herbert Spencer), but he argued against it. In "On the Origin of Species," he wrote: "it hardly seems probable that the number of men gifted with such virtues [as bravery and sympathy] could be increased through a kind of natural selection, that is, by the 10) ___ of the fittest."

ANSWERS: 1) growth; 2) market; 3) species; 4) eugenics; 5) competition; 6) cleansing; 7) social; 8) evolution; 9) cooperation; 10) survival

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