Saturday, June 25, 2011
Does God Help Those Who Help Themselves?
I'm struck by twin ironies: a) those who most vehemently deny biological evolution (i.e., biblical literalists and fundamentalists) are usually also those who most fervently embrace "survival of the fittest" social darwinism in economics and politics (God Helps Those Who Help Themselves); b) those who most earnestly accept the truth of biological evolution (scientists, agnostics, atheists, intellectuals) are generally those who fight against the social darwinist practice of applying principles of natural selection to non-biological domains.
In other words, despite Christ's admonitions to help the poor, many Christians believe that government should keep "hands off" and allow the rich and powerful to dominate and exploit, since the rich are, presumably, not only the "fittest" but also "God's chosen ones."
Whereas, many non-Christians--myself included--believe that government should adopt Christ-like policies toward those who are economically (but not necessarily biologically) disadvantaged--thereby enabling truly superior people, regardless of their social circumstances, to take their place among the "elect" (and thus increase the survivability of our species).
Though I struggled for years to cling to God and Christianity, I ultimately had to admit that there's very little evidence that God exists, and even less evidence (if that's possible) that such a dubious divinity is able to "help" anyone at all. No, the notion that the exploiters (those who help themselves...to everything) are God's chosen is a self-serving fiction invented and perpetuated by the exploiters themselves. Yes, of course I acknowledge the obvious truth of evolution--of natural selection. But the societies men have created are not "natural." Humans, unlike other species, have evolved to a point at which we are capable of influencing our own evolution. WE can, to some extent, shape the future of our species--in rational ways that actually "go beyond" the nature that has hitherto determined us.
And so--for our own good as a race, shouldn't the forces of civilization--and most especially the power of government--be used to ensure that all people, regardless of their birth status, receive an equal chance to rise to the top? Do I believe that government should artificially place or maintain undeserving people of "disadvantaged" birth in superior positions? Absolutely not. But neither do I believe that superior positions should be occupied by "wellborn" but undeserving scions of wealthy families or by unscrupulous thugs who use violence and lawbreaking to acquire this status.
Some people assert, Ayn Rand-like, that it is "unnatural" for a human being to have fellow-feeling for anyone other than his/her genetic family. In this view, selfishness becomes a virtue because it is, well, a basic animal impulse.
But once again, evolution, in gradually according sentience to human beings, has likewise accorded us that very "supernaturalness" that we sometimes (curiously) call "divine". Ask yourself what we most admire as an ideal: "natural" self-serving behavior typical of other species or "supernatural" behavior that rejects greed and embraces altruism? For some reason (I do not know what, but it must be a good one), evolution has given us a conscience, a super-ego, a sensibility which actually goads us to transcend our purely selfish interests. Perhaps that's why the fundamentalists find it necessary to use GOD to justify their more primitive inclinations to hate, exploit and destroy outsiders. They themselves don't want to take responsibility for this selfishness; rather they must plead that they are only doing "God's will." And, deep down, they feel guilty--guilty because their evolutionary conscience (which they also attribute to God)--keeps telling them that such purely "natural" conduct is, well, WRONG. Somehow, our natural evolution has instilled in us a strong feeling that human survival is best served by defying nature.
Can we say, then, that the truest human "nature" is the rejection of "nature"? How odd. And yet, perhaps not so odd. Natural selection has indeed provided human beings with a way of dominating the world and perpetuating our species: the self-awareness to manipulate our own evolution. Isn't that what we mean by civilization? It is by CONTROLLING nature--and our primitive natural instincts--that we have achieved our dominion on this little planet.
So I reject categorically all the right-wing claptrap about the "evils" of social-engineering and the merits of laissez-faire "market" forces. Civilization itself is social engineering--and government has always been and will continue to be a vital force in engineering the forms of our civilization. It is both asinine and delusional to advocate some sort of return to a Rousseauian (at best) or Hobbesian (at worst) state of nature--where individuals take care of themselves and neither require nor deserve any outside support. Even laissez-faire-ists don't truly believe in laissez-faire: they just mean laissez-MOI faire.
I appreciate, of course, that government can do evil (anti-human action) as well as good (pro-human action). But, in democracies at least, individual humans have, mas o menos, a small bit of power to influence their government. On the other hand, individuals have almost NO (or vastly unequal) power to influence the wealthy exploiters who, according to their own lights, have God's authorization to help themselves to dominion. So I conclude that government (of the democratic variety) is the more human and more humanizing of these two great "engineering forces" currently struggling for dominance in American life.
I will therefore continue to support government in any effort it makes to help those whom the God of the laissez-faire bible-thumping robber barons does NOT (and obviously CANNOT) help. In so doing--even though I have contributed no "genetic" material to human evolution--I may yet have helped passed on "memetic" material that will render our species somewhat more sapiens and, hence, more fit to survive.