Charles Darwin published his notions on natural selection and the theory of evolution in his book On the Origin of Species in 1859. “Survival of the Fittest” is an off-shoot-idea of that theory supported by other biologists stating that all species of all organisms originate and develop through a process of natural selection of genetic and inherited variations that help an individual organism to compete with its own environmental adversities and competitors of its own race and tribe to survive and reproduce to transfer their genes to the next generation. Animals and plants or even human beings who are poorly adapted to their environment will have less chance of survival and reproduction. In this complex process only the physically fit plants, animals and humans would survive and this phenomenon is called Darwinism. Yet in an attempt to convey his scientific ideas to the British public, naturalists borrowed popular concepts, including “survival of the fittest,” from sociologist Herbert Spencer and “struggle for existence” from economist Thomas Malthus, who had earlier written about how human societies evolve over a period of time. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was a scientific theory focused on explaining his observations about biological diversity and why different species of plants and animals look different.
Initially survival of the fittest referred only to the physical fitness of any organism to survive against all odds. Later this process of natural selection was used to justify certain social, political or economic dynamics taking place in the human society. Thus we have terms like social Darwinism, political Darwinism and economic Darwinism. These three areas can be further subdivided depending on the aspect of human life emphasized at a given point of time. However in the ultimate analysis these three types of Darwinisms interplay a lot though for our analysis they may be treated separately for the sake of better clarity.
Social Darwinists hold the view that the “survival of the fittest” is a natural law that certain people become more powerful in society because they are in a better position in life. Thus a man with a better family and social background will have a better chance to survive and thrive. Such social leaders are seen in every culture and civilization from time immemorial. Eventually through the process of evolution these socially well-to-do people will go through a process of changes physically, intellectually and genetically. Social Darwinism has been used to justify tribalism, racism, imperialism, eugenics and other social inequalities prevalent at various times in the human history. Casteism in India is a glaring example of Social Darwinism. However Casteism cannot be seen independent of other factors like the level of education, gainful employment and economic self-sufficiency. Casteism in India is basically occupational distinction which again is linked with the economic remuneration attached to every type of occupation. Even in the low paid occupations and poor living conditions the law of the “Survival of Fittest” is quite operative. In many other developed countries the so-called sweepers and cleaners of waste are the maximum paid employees. For example in Australia one of the most highly paid people are those who pick up the wastes from the colonies and streets. But in India the same type of work is assigned to a particular low caste people. Even among the low caste people, the law of the survival of the fittest is very much operative. Social Darwinism has been used to justify imperialism, racism, eugenics and several other social evils over centuries.
Political Darwinism is an expression of the survival of the fittest from the political point of view. Leaders emerge naturally in the political arena to capture the political power and to rule over others. The kings and emperors of the ancient times and the present day political leaders at various levels are examples of political Darwinism. Further it is also seen that political life becomes a family occupation inherited along the family line. Again it is our common experience that when an ordinary average educated and economically poor person becomes a politician he begins to acquire material wealth and economic power along with higher social status. A vast majority of the politicians in India have captured political power first and then became powerful socially and economically. India is a hot bed of political parties and politicians. As of this April 10, there were 7 national p arties, 36 state-recognized parties, 329 regional p arties and 2044 unrecognized parties in India. Leaders of each party behave like kings and in the independent India we have a few thousand kings instead of the 565 princes before independence. They command fear more than respect: each one is a “chota-raja” in their area. Leaders of the political parties in their overall behaviour are more like gangsters than gentleman politicians. For the youth, political science with thuggish mentality is the most preferred subject now in the university studies.
In the modern era economic Darwinism has occupied the prime position. Money can buy anything is the type of confidence everyone seems to have and money power operates in every social and political sphere of human life: from individual to national level and from the local to the international level. The millionaires and billionaires are the kings and emperors of the modern political economies in which the elected politicians have become mere pawns who come and go; but the reign of economic kings and emperors will remain; they control the politicians at the national and international level.
Underlying the Indian political Darwinism is the dominant combination of “muscle and money power” which was the characteristic feature of the ancient system of tribal warlord systems which are still prevalent in some of the tribal dominated African and Arab regions. What makes them different from their ancestors is their modern weapons and better communication cum transport systems.
The economic Darwinism is further evolving into a laissez-faire capitalism. Laissez-faire is an economic system in which transactions between private parties are free from any form of government intervention such as regulation, privileges, imperialism, tariffs and subsidies etc. Proponents of laissez faire argue for a complete separation of government from the economic sector. It was Spencer who applied the idea of “survival of the fittest” to the so-called laissez faire or unrestrained capitalism during the Industrial Revolution, in which businesses are allowed to operate with little regulation from the government.
Eugenics is another off-shoot idea of socio-economic-political Darwinism. It is a theory of improving the human race by getting rid of the “undesirables” like the poor, low castes, religions other than the dominant or state promoted, persons with economic liability such as old age, incurables diseases, females at foetus stage and other economically liable categories. Thus eugenics is a combination of socio-economic and political cleansing. The brahminical Hindutva movement is a bold form of Indian eugenics emphasizing the ideology that India is only for high caste Hindus.
We need to refresh our memories on eugenic history in the world. As a social movement it became a key popular socio-political movement in USA in during a period between 1920 and 1940. We would be surprised to know that books and films promoted eugenics, while local fairs and exhibitions promoting “fitter family” and “better baby” competitions around the country. The eugenics in USA prevented “unfit” individuals from having children. In 32 States out of 50 laws were passed allowing forced sterilization on more than 64,000 Americans including immigrants, people of colour, unmarried mothers and the mentally ill.
Adolf Hitler, worst among the eugenicists, believed in the purity and supremacy of the German “Aryan” race and exterminated Jews, gypsies, Poles, Soviets, homosexual and physically or mentally disabled. Turkish massacre of Armenians, mass killings in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda were other major examples eugenics.
India under the present regime with its Hindutva movement is very much in the line of eugenics. The age old caste system with supremacy of Brahmanism, denying reservation to poor among the Christians and Muslims, ban on cow slaughter, ban on beef sale and consumption, sporadically raised slogans demanding Muslims and Christians leave the country, dotting the country with Hindu temples and government sponsored financed mammoth Kumbh melas and other Hindu festivals, neglect of tribal and low caste people, decades long apathy to small and marginal farmers are all expressions of Indian/Hindu eugenics.
(The writer is a Retired Professor of XIM, Bhubaneswar. Email: email@example.com)
(Published on 18th November 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 47)