Globalization has left the world approaching a ‘beige’ state. In North America and much of Europe, the concept of racial purity has been eliminated. We embrace the ideals of diversity: multiculturalism, hybridity, pluralism. The concept of a distinct ‘us’ has expanded beyond race, culture, or ethnic background. Our ideals of unity have shifted towards human interaction, character, and integrity. Our genetic coding is arbitrary to our self-worth and dignity.
Under conditions of aristocracy, divinity, and oppression were we able to change our evaluation of human life. Europe in tyranny of absolute monarchy, in which the few lucky enough born with silver spoons represented the pinnacle of human life. To feed them their moral deserts, would require many to starve. From the late 17th to early 18th century rose a general sensation of revolt. The infectious sensation birthed the English Constitutional Monarchy, French Republic… calculus… and the Age of Enlightenment!
Rousseau to Locke to Jefferson, we begin to discover the inalienable rights of man and their right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (Thomas Jefferson, US Declaration of Independence). We embrace the Age of Reason. No single man is born to an inherent divinity, which succeeds his rights over another. All men are born naked, only bearers of inherent freedom, which cannot be owned by other men, organization, nation, or ourselves. To be truly free, one must relinquish ownership over others and self. We claim autonomy.
However, we look beyond the Age of Enlightenment and encounter the Age of Imperialism – caked with slavery and colonization. We learn through perhaps the most progressive of enlightenment-ists, Emmanuel Kant, to execute actions accordingly, in which all men are ends in themselves, takes dedication, and a sort of hokey, idealistic, vision of mankind. Of course, beyond Rawl’s veil of ignorance some will receive great intellect, others strengths; there is inevitable inequality.
“Natural distribution is neither just nor unjust; nor is it unjust that persons are born into society at some particular positions. These are simply natural facts. What is just and unjust is the way that [we] deal with these facts” (John Rawls, Theory of Justice)
“Survival of the fittest”, we’ve all heard the famous phrase from Charles Darwin. It means exactly what it states and not only is it applicable to animals, but humans too. Social Darwinism applies the phrase to the human race and uses it for political ideals, economic ideals, and societal ideals. In this post, we will be discussing it as survival of the fittest being applied to humans with superior genetic quality specific to a particular race. This can further be classified under eugenics which is the belief and practice of promoting superior genetic quality by getting those with desirable traits to reproduce more, while those with undesirable traits to reproduce less, or not at all. The idea of survival of the fittest from Charles Darwin led to the concept of eugenics which was developed by Francis Galton. Galton took Darwin’s ideas and came to the conclusion that desirable traits were passed on through genetics and that they were based off of biographical studies. Thus, both ideas are interconnected and the examples discussed below imply eugenics and social Darwinism at work.
Before we discuss specific examples, it should be mentioned that fascism and the Nazi’s believed in social Darwinsm but because the ideas of both are so well known, we will be delving into other areas that should be publicized as well. First starting with examples of social Darwinism (therefore, eugenics), we can conclude that imperialism and nationalism directly relate to the ideology. Nationalism is the devotion to one’s nation (in this case nation meaning those with similar ideas, culture, society, etc…). Imperialism is the belief in empire-building. When both of these combine it is easy to see that a nation who is patriotic and building their empire will sometimes dive into eugenics and social Darwinism because they believe themselves superior to those regions that they dominate over. During the age of New Imperialism, the belief of imperialists and nationalists was that nations with white people who were successful at building their empire were the strongest and therefore it was justified to exploit lesser beings based on the concept of evolution and survival of the fittest. The elitists would never adopt customs and traditions of the locals under their empire because their way was inherently better. Imperialist nations such as Britain, Germany, Italy, etc… are prime examples of countries that used social Darwinism against regions in Africa.
Next, we can start discussing eugenics. Sometimes the belief got so strong (mainly around the early 20th century) that countries enacted several policies that included genetic screening, birth control, promoting differential birth rates, marriage restrictions, segregation, compulsory sterilization, forced abortions, forced pregnancies, and genocides. Governments supported the ideas of eugenics and implemented programs to make it possible. Specific examples obviously include the Holocaust, and not so obvious examples include genetic experimentation and reproductive technology. First, the Nazi’s wanted to get rid of Jewish people and they believed that blonde-haired blue-eyed people were superior beings. Secondly, genetic experimentation leads to people trying to create the perfect human and that can apply to races as a whole if there is a strong sense of nationalism. Finally, reproductive technology allows us to somewhat dictate what children will look like. We can find “perfect matches” (i.e. of the same race) and create a child representing the “perfect race”.
Now, many may see these things in a bad light but the questions we need to ask ourselves from all of this are: if a race is perceived healthier and more intelligent, should we work towards increasing the number of people that are of that descent to help humans as a whole? If it helps at least the majority of us survive, can we tolerate it?
As a country, Canada has been able to what many others couldn’t. It somehow managed to embrace and even celebrate multiculturalism and ethnic hybridity.
This means that unlike the “racially pure” countries, we as a whole do not have much of a common identity. Now, make of that what you will but I believe that this is a positive thing. Now we get a chance to create a new more “Canadian” Identity. Will Kymlicka is a Canadian Political Philosopher and an advocator for multiculturalism and minority rights. At a gathering called Congress on the Humanities at Carleton University, he said that multiculturalism in Canada works despite the fact that some believe that it is failing. As Canada was the first Western Democracy to adopt multiculturalism in 1971 it has been well received by most on the basis that it leads to a more vibrant and tolerant society. Although Kymlicka agrees that there are faults to be found in our policies especially those that relate to economic and religious ideals. However as a whole, the system is working very well. We have come a long ways since the days of measuring someone’s worth based on their race or culture and despite the “survival of the fittest” notion, we seem to value human integrity far more than we did before. It has been a long never ending journey with Canada at the forefront of promoting multiculturalism and a common identity.
Jürgen Habermas, a prominent German philosopher has recently opposed xenophobia (fear of people from other countries) in Germany and all over the world especially in Europe where people are becoming more hostile towards their immigrants. In Germany for example it is their Muslim population which has gained quite a bit of attention both domestically and internationally. As these fears become more prominent over Western Europe, citizens are wondering if multiculturalism is a failed experiment but Habermas disagrees and states that they should continue to embrace multiculturalism and not resort to tactics such as relying on the support of right-wing populists like the Netherlands or having a ban on building minarets like Switzerland. Although xenophobia seems to be spreading in some areas of the world Habermas believes that if we get to know people from other countries and we get to experience their culture, then we will realize that this is the best way to live.