By about 1870, political types were starting to reckon with Darwinism.
Darwinism, as everyone back then knew, requires the unfit to be destroyed. Nature makes “mistakes” all the time; it’s just that those mistakes don’t survive long enough to propagate themselves. There are wolf pups born with club feet, for example, but no clubfooted adult wolves. Nature sees to it — “natural selection.”
But that’s only half the picture. Since nature ruthlessly destroys her “mistakes,” pretty soon you get a creature exquisitely adapted to its environment. BUT: what if the environment changes? Nothing in nature is static. Darwin knew that, which is why he supposedly said “It is not the strongest of the species which survives, but the ones most responsive to change.”* To be anachronistic for the sake of clarity: The dinosaur dies, but the wolf survives, because the dinosaur went all-in on bulk and strength while the wolf sacrificed a lot of that for a much better brain.
Humans, of course, went all-in on brains. Indeed — and this is the dilemma that confronted 19th century politicians — our brains are grossly over-powered, at least from an evolutionary standpoint. We’re so capable of adapting to our environment that we’re actually capable of adapting our environment to us. Agriculture alone means that many more of nature’s “mistakes” survive among humans than in any other species.
They survive, which means they propagate, which means that as a species we’ve buried a giant quasi-Malthusian landmine for ourselves. Malthus, you’ll recall, is the guy who said that population grows geometrically while food production increases arithmetically. In other words, this:
On the one hand, this is perfectly obvious. You could chart any population in a given environment this way. We see it every few years in America, in fact, because some state or other is always giving in to the vegans and the anti-gun nuts and the eco-loons. That state bans deer hunting, and in a year or two those self-same vegans and anti-gun nuts and eco-loons are out there crusading to save all the poor deer that are suddenly, for no reason, starving to death all over the place.
On the other hand, this is a Darwinian nightmare, because Malthus was wrong. Oh, populations work like that, all right… for every population except humans. Humans are capable of doing all sorts of things to avert the food crisis. He didn’t live to see it, but Malthus would’ve torn his hair out at the spectacle of the Irish Potato Famine. There really was a crop failure, no doubt, but the “famine” part was almost entirely political:
Records show that Irish lands exported food even during the worst years of the Famine. When Ireland had experienced a famine in 1782–83, ports were closed to keep Irish-grown food in Ireland to feed the Irish. Local food prices promptly dropped. Merchants lobbied against the export ban, but government in the 1780s overrode their protests. No such export ban happened in the 1840s.
Read the Wiki link for the gruesome details — massive, often increasing, food exports, and often from the most famine-stricken areas. Prompt political action couldn’t have saved every life (life, math, and human nature being what they are), but it could’ve saved millions. Ditto every other “famine” in the modern period. The Bengal Famine of 1943 was a consequence of war measures. So was the Ethiopian Famine of the early 1980s (“We Are the World!”). There was plenty of food in Ethiopia. The government wouldn’t allow it to be shipped to the people in need, because it was using starvation as a war measure against its Eritrean rebels (par for the course for commies like the Derg; see also the Holodomor, Mao’s great famine, daily life in North Korea. etc.).
Put a cold eye on this, and you’ll conclude that when it comes to food at least, Malthus was wrong. There’s effectively no upper limit to the human food supply. If there’s going to be a “Malthusian crisis” when it comes to food, we’ll have to elect some commies to do it for us.
Put an even colder eye on that, and you’ll start to wonder: Maybe we should elect some commies to do it for us?
This was the (slightly anachronistic, for clarity’s sake) problem facing the statesmen of the mid-19th century. A few paragraphs back, I wrote that humans’ over-powered brains buried for us a quasi-Malthusian landmine… and here it is. If there are no natural mass die-offs, then the main driver of evolution is removed. Nature’s “mistakes” live, and propagate, and since the poor, improvident, and stupid outbreed the rich and successful — even Malthus knew that** — what you get, in pretty short order, is devolution, a.k.a. Idiocracy. Our brains have so successfully adapted us to our environment that we’re going to adapt ourselves right into extinction.
This was a crisis of foundations, a new one in world history. Mass government rests on the assumption that the great masses of the people can be persuaded to act rationally in their own best interests. Cynicism says they won’t…. but Darwinism says they can’t. Once you reach a certain inflection point — this is the quasi part of “quasi-Malthusian catastrophe” — you’ve got a population too stupid to operate the world its ancestors built.
The eugenicists of the Gilded Age thought they’d reached that inflection point sometime around 1890. I think they were off by about 130 years.
Watching the Great Wuhan Flu Freakout, it’s obvious that no government, however intrusive, can protect its citizens from the sniffles. The Chinese can do whatever the hell they want to their slave population, and they botched it. Not even total, North Korea-style surveillance would work, because carriers don’t show symptoms for a few days. The virus will always get through.
It’s also obvious that the treatment is going to be far, far worse than the disease, because it’s going to be both a) world-destroying, and b) more or less ineffective, because c) even if it works, and the vast majority of Boomers get to play one or two more rounds of golf on a Caribbean cruise before finally kicking the bucket, we’ll remember that for next time. Corona 2.0 will be a lot deadlier than Corona 1.0, and our response will be to blow it off, because remember last time? We put the entire country on the breadline so a few old fossils wouldn’t catch the “97% of people recover from it” sniffles.
Darwinism is a giant crack in the foundation of the modern world. All our government, all our social control mechanisms, all our culture is predicated on an understanding of humanity that is not just wrong, but suicidally so. We all agreed to forget about Social Darwinism in 1945 (thanks, Mustache Guy!) but Social Darwinism surely hasn’t forgotten about us… you know, biology being what it is. Our society is moving heaven and earth to solve the wrong problem, one that can’t be solved anyway….
…. and in a few weeks all of that will be painfully obvious. Time for a second look at Francis Galton, at the very least, before we throw Hobbes and Locke out on their ears and go back to the drawing board.