Monday, October 18, 2010

The 'Qualty of Mercy' is Missing in Action, A Casualty of War, Ignorance, Right Wing Idiocy

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

For many years, the American right wing, has militated against anything that makes life worth living or bearable. The GOP has actively promoted the enrichment of an American elite (just 1percent of the population) as it actively pursues the impoverishment of every other class, i.e, those not benefiting from GOP tax cuts.

Ronald Reagan's tax cut of 1982, for example, enriched only the top twenty percent of the total population, the 'upper quintile' as it is charted with the official statistics compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and published by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The trend, though reversed briefly during the Clinton administration, resumed under the Jr Bush.

That just one percent of the total population owns more than the rest of us combined is a recipe for economic collapse as 'elite' wealth is exported to offshore bank accounts where it does not create jobs or pay taxes, where it, in fact, does no good whatsoever to anyone but the dwindling neo-oligarchs who presume to rule over us.

These inequities have nothing to do with merit, as the American right wing would have you believe. Gordan Gecko [see: Wall Street] and Milton Friedman were wrong: greed is NOT good! To believe those official cover stories, you must forget everything that you learned in your first semester of university economics. You must discount, for no logical reason, every major economist from Ricardo to Krugman, from Adam Smith to Karl Marx, from conservatives to liberals, from Nazis to Communists. You must believe that all of them were wrong! You must believe that only Arthur Laffer and Ronald Reagan were correct!

You must suspend all critical analysis and swallow the kooky cult kool-aid that tells you: wealth trickles down! You are expected to swallow this 'pill' and to help you out, the American right wing sugar-coated it and given it a focus-group approved but, nevertheless phony, made up name: supply-side economics.

Supply-side economics is peddled, sold disingenuously. The right wingnuts who support it must surely have known that its result is the continued enrichment of an increasingly tiny elite. Reagan's tax cut of 1982, for example, enriched only the upper quintile. Subsequent largesse has benefited only the top one percent of the population, the so-called 'ruling elite'. It is for the benefit of this elite that 'our' government now wages war for oil and threatens the rest of the world with the world's largest nuclear arsenal,

If the bogus-economics were not enough, the right-wing also promotes the idea that the ruling elite of just one percent is rich because they are better, that they are smarter, wiser, that they are, in fact, deserving of this wealth but you --who work and pay taxes --are not! To those who peddle this crap, I say --politely --fuck you! Let's take another look at the origins of this screwed and utterly fallacious clap trap in 'Social Darwinism'.
"The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes"

—Portia, The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare
Of Darwinism and Social Darwinism

by Robert B. Reich

The Conservative Movement, as its progenitors like to call it, is now mounting a full-throttled attack on Darwinism even as it has thoroughly embraced Darwin’s bastard child, social Darwinism. On the face of it, these positions may appear inconsistent. What unites them is a profound disdain for science, logic, and fact.
The modern Conservative Movement has embraced social Darwinism with no less fervor than it has condemned Darwinism. Social Darwinism gives a moral justification for rejecting social insurance and supporting tax cuts for the rich. "In America," says Robert Bork, "‘the rich’ are overwhelmingly people – entrepreneurs, small businessmen, corporate executives, doctors, lawyers, etc. – who have gained their higher incomes through intelligence, imagination, and hard work."
The only consistency between the right’s attack on Darwinism and embrace of social Darwinism is the utter fatuousness of both. Darwinism is correct. Scientists who are legitimized by peer review and published research are unanimous in their view that evolution is a fact, not a theory. Social Darwinism, meanwhile, is hogwash.
"Bastard Child" at the very least! Social Darwinism does not follow from "Darwinism". Worse, it attributes to Darwin positions Darwin never took. Interestingly, the term "survival of the fittest" was never used by Darwin. It has been variously attributed, but Hofstadter seems to attribute the phrase to rail road men:
Railroad executive Chauncy Depew asserted that the guests of the great dinners and public banquets of New York City represented the survival of the fittest of all who came in search of fortune. They were the ones with superior abilities. Likewise railroad magnate James J. Hill defended the railroad companies by saying their fortunes were determined according to the law of survival of the fittest.

—Hofstadter, Richard; 1959; Social Darwinism in American Thought, Braziller; New York.
Elsewhere, the term is ascribed to Herbert Spencer who inspired a generation of radicalized, latter-day robber barons. None of them evince the "...quality of mercy" so immortalized by Shakespeare:
[Herbert] Spencer said that diseases "are among the penalties Nature has attached to ignorance and imbecility, and should not, therefore, be tampered with." He even faulted private organizations like the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children because they encouraged legislation.

Social Darwinism and American Laissez-faire Capitalism
An equally fallacious corollary to "Social Darwinism" is often phrased this way: the rich are rich because they are better, work harder and are more intelligent. George W. Bush put it more crudely: “The poor are poor because they are lazy!” In the same vein, the conservative economist [Austrian school] Joseph A. Schumpeter likened recessions to a "douche". When something is 'douched', something else is 'washed away'. Significantly, economic policies enriching but one percent of the population result in the 'washing away' of those who are poor! Those 'douched' include millions made homeless by Ronald Reagan's depression of some 2 years or more. Those douched include the recent victims of both Katrina and a BP oil spill disaster that still exacts a toll upon the livilihoods and habitats along the entire Gulf Coast. But, if we are to believe the latter-day robber barons of the right wing, it is all the fault of the victims for getting in the way of progress and greed! 'Greed is good', they will tell you!

It is not surprising that Spencer's influence continues, not in the field of biology, but in economics, specifically those theories most often associated with the right wing: the American apologists, William Graham Sumner and Simon Nelson Patten.

No doubt, Spencer’s ideas received a major boost after Darwin's theories were published, but unfortunately, the issues have been muddled ever since. Simply, the application of "adaptation" and "survival of the fittest" to social thought is known as "Social Darwinism". Social Darwinism is wrong because it is not only a false analogy, it is also an unprovable value judgment. Real 'Darwinism' --of the biological kind --is, by contrast, verifiable, applies to every species and does not assert a 'value judgment. It merely describes an observed process. When it ceases to describe or explain, it will be discarded like every other failed theory. That has not yet happened.

You will not hear the other side of this story on Fox or Limbaugh. In other words, neither Fox nor Limbaugh or similar ilk will tell you the truth. Part of this 'other side' is found in the work of John Nash, recently the subject of the motion picture, A Beautiful Mind, argued persuasively that not only games but societies and economies benefit more from cooperation and community than from competition. Spencer, and the Social Darwinists took the oppose and unfortunate view, a view which was eagerly adopted by liars throughout the right wing because 'Social Darwinism' lends an imprimatur of respectability to what is, in fact, obvious and false propaganda.

Spencer believed that because society was evolving, government intervention ought to be minimal in social and political life. It is conveniently forgotten that government is but a function of society and responsible to it. Influenced by Spencer, many describe American capitalism metaphorically as a “rational man” making rational decisions in a free but presumably 'rational' market. In practice, however, economic decisions may or may not be rational and the free market is only hypothetical. Some markets have been shown mathematically to be 'irrational'. Moreover, "rational self-interest" is said to work collectively behind Adam Smith's "invisible hand".

Conservatives have worked mightily to force reality into the conservative mold. But models must describe reality —not the other way round. Nash proved that cooperation is often more successful than competition, leading to the inevitable conclusion that societies which justify discrimination, income disparity, and social injustice upon a fallacious Social Darwinism, are apt not be so successful themselves.

In A Beautiful Mind, Nash, portrayed by Russell Crowe, is in a favorite watering hole with two colleagues, later termed "negotiants" in his theories. The three young males were distracted by three unattended females. Among them, the blonde, was believed to be the most desirable. Nash immediately saw a mathematical certainty of failure should all three males "hit on" the blonde. Rejection by the remaining unattended females was mathematically certain. Who wants to be treated as a 'second' or 'third' choice? Some fifty years later, Nash still polishes and refines the mathematics behind the only chance that three "geeks" might have with three 'hot' young women. Their only chances lie in cooperation --not competition: is more desirable to be accepted than to accept (!), so with there being reduced pressure to avoid the penalty of the {0,0,0} payoff when there is failure at the first step then the players naturally adapt at equilibrium by becoming "less accepting" and "more demanding." (The demand parameters...rise as the acceptance rate quantities decrease, but this turns out to be at a logarithmic rate).

...the players can be viewed as in a sort of "continuous auction" process where...the players are able to "bid"...and get into the process of cooperation. And this continuous version of the voting process seems probably to be good for generalization to any number of players.
[John Nash from a published email; emphases mine, LH]
The word "theory", meanwhile, is either misunderstood by the right wing or perverted for its propaganda value. There is nothing wrong with "theory", though the word is consistently used by the right wing in a pejorative sense except, significantly, when it is applied to Spencer or, more recently, Milton Friedman and Arthur Laffer. If you should 'theorize', you are called a 'theorist'; but if a right wing partisan (Milton Friedman) 'theorizes', he/she is celebrated. In fact, the negative connotations implied are simply not to be found among those who use the word "theory" either academically or scientifically.

This linguistic abuse is sheer propaganda. The most glaring example is the right wing abuse of the word theory to discredit critics of what is --in fact --an 'official theory' of 911. Inexplicably, hypocritically, and stupidly --those critical of the Bush administration are called 'theorists' but those espousing the 'official theory' are not. In fact, the official theory is shot-through with fatal flaws; it cannot possibly be true; it violates the law of established physics. It requires 'faith' in the impossible.

To believe the 'official theory' you must believe that Hani Hanjour got on board without a ticket, that he walked through what NTSB data states was a locked cockpit door, that he either bailed out or got raptured within seconds of the crash! Neither Hani's name nor that of any alleged hijacker is to be found on the only official list of Flt 77 passengers: the official autopsy report released to Dr, Olmsted via an FOIA request. There are many, many more fatal inconsistencies which utterly disprove the official theory. Any one, however, is enough to bring down the entire rotten edifice. The official 'theory' is, in fact, utter clap-trap for which there is simply no credible, verifiable or admissible evidence in support.

It must be noted that Einstein was, likewise, a "theorist"; so, too, was Newton. Einstein has been confirmed no more times than Darwin; Newton is close enough for mundane applications or "government work". Significantly, neither "theory" has been challenged in court —though both theories may very well be replaced one day by a "theory of everything". There is a political agenda behind the campaign of attacks on Darwinism even as the same constituency supports Intelligent Design --a 'theory' but a baseless one.

Theories are never of a final form. Unlike ideology, real science is self-correcting as new facts emerge from research. Darwin's theories were confirmed by Mendel, accommodated Mendel which, in turn, tended to confirm Darwin. The science of genetics and the discovery of "mutations" confirm Darwin beyond any reasonable doubt. The 'theory' of evolution has, itself, evolved.

Future discoveries will modify our view of Darwin, but that does not discount it. Our view of Einstein, for example, is already modified but in no way discounted. His equations with respect to the effect of near light speeds upon both time and space have been irrefutably confirmed. It is a fact that time slows down as speeds near that of light; it is a fact that matter nearing light speeds contract in the direction of travel.

No one has ever sued simply because Einstein is at odds with a particular dogma. Admittedly, Einstein may have escape bigoted, fundamentalist scorn simply because very few people understood him. It seems that that is still the case. It is certain, however, that no future discovery will ever confirm "intelligent design" —a logical fallacy on its face and quite beyond confirmation of any kind! Theories explain "facts" but facts can often confirm good theories as "fact”, just as facts have confirmed both Darwin and Einstein.

"Facts" tend to be narrowly phrased; theories, by contrast, embrace a wide but finite set of related facts. Darwin and the sciences that followed him are entirely consistent with new discoveries in the field of genetics. [See: Science and Human Values, Jacob Bronowski]

Intelligent design is of a religious nature and people have a First Amendment right to believe it just as I have a First Amendment right not to believe it. I have a First Amendment right to debunk it if I can. And I can! Intelligent Design is bad theory because it explains absolutely nothing and raises other issues which are beyond scientific explanation, thus, a violation of Occam's Razor. Implied it the name "Intelligent Design' is an 'Intelligent Designer'. Who is this 'intelligent designer'? If nothing living or intelligent exists without having been designed first by an 'intelligent designer', then who designed the designer? Who designed the designer of the designer ad infinitum? In short, 'intelligent design' explains nothing; it merely postpones the inevitable, putting at the end of an infinite but meaningless string. Moreover, an unanswerable question which assumes a designer, Intelligent Design is a circulus in probando fallacy. People are free to believe fallacies, but they must not be free to impose them upon other people —especially at tax payer expense!

A fact, for example, is the equation that describes the acceleration of falling objects; examples of theory are both the Newtonian and the Einsteinian view of "gravitation" —seen differently by both. The entire science of genetics confirms Darwin who, interestingly, did not have the benefit of Mendel's research when he wrote Origin of the Species and the The Descent of Man. It was Mendel's research that described the very mechanism by which Darwin’s “traits” are passed on to succeeding generations. Accurate predictions are, in themselves, evidence in support of theories. [See: Evolution in Action, Julian Huxley]

Evolution is often considered to be so true as to be a trivial tautology: what survives survives. Critics of Darwin will often cite the tautology though it does not support them; it supports Darwin. Species which survive, in fact, pass on their genes as well as the random mutations of those genes. This is quite beyond debate. Every farmer who has bred for specific characteristics knows the truth of it. Every cowboy will tell you that if you kill a slow roach, you improve the breed.

Evolution! Adaptation! Natural Selection!

Critics of Darwin raise a strawman. They say that "survival of the fittest" is a circular argument: the fittest are those who survive, and those who survive are deemed fittest. There are a couple of problems with that:
  1. Darwin did not use the term "survival of the fittest"! That dubious honor belongs to Herbert Spencer, a "Social Darwinist" who never understood Darwin, nor was he "social"!
  2. When the term "natural selection" is more properly substituted, the argument is not circular and would be so only if the invalid conclusion that "only the fittest survive" is added! The invalid value judgment –survival of the fittest –is falsely attributed to Darwin. Darwin merely described an observed process and gave it a 'name'. He did not attach a 'value judgment' to it as his critics have claimed.
The proponents of "intelligent design" have erected several such straw men. Evolution, for example, has nothing to do with "coming down from the trees". [See: Richard Leakey's "The Origin of Humankind" ; also: Answers to Creationist Nonsense!]

It has been said that no one has yet produced a new specie by selection. But, indeed, farmers have done precisely that! Consider wheat! Wheat does not grow in the wild. Obviously related to ancient grasses, wheat is clearly the result of an ancient application of "artificial selection." Had wheat evolved naturally, it would be found growing wild like prairie grass. But it isn't and it didn't. It is nothing less than the result of an very ancient application of 'artificial selection' in which was 'created' over time an entirely new species.

Social Darwinism, clearly, is one of many ideas that have harmed mankind. It has provided a rationalization for the perpetual and quite deliberate impoverishment of large segments of our society and, insidiously, it has done so with a baseless theory that is fallaciously associated with Darwin.

In simpler terms, the philosophical basis for the American right wing is this:
"Are there no workhouses? Are there no prisons...then let them die and decrease the surplus population."


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