Social Darwinism is Bad

The most interesting thing I learned this semester is the widespread effects of Darwin’s theory during the Victorian Era. While, of course I’ve known about Darwin’s theory, I’ve never quite known about the extent of the terrible negative impacts of his theory from people’s incorrect interpretations of his work. We see people take Darwin’s scientific discoveries and twist them to support their own in ways that were really dangerous. For example, Social Darwinism is the theory that individuals, groups, and peoples are subject to the same Darwinian laws of natural selection. In the 20th century, this was used to justify political conservatism, imperialism and racism. While Darwin was very concerned with the environment and how it affects evolution, people concerned with Social Darwinism ignored environment and assumed that poor people and non-white races were born inherently inferior to other humans. People translated darwinism into economic terms with the idea that if the state stays out of the economy, the economy will thrive and humanity as a whole will improve; this was used in support of capitalism. In the 1880-90s, scientists started to discover how evolution worked and the concept of Eugenics emerged. This was used extensively by Hitler because he tried to use knowledge of heredity to create inferior view of Jews so that he could exterminate them. In America Eugenics also led to government forcing sterilization on people. We saw the negative effects of Darwin’s ideas in society in many of the readings throughout the semester. For example, in Reuben Sachs the negative perception of Jews is evident. We also talked about the extreme racism Dickens uses in his novels in his depiction of Jewish characters, like Fagan in Oliver Twist. Great Expectations, on the other hand, can be interpreted as Dickens’ push back against the concept of Social Darwinism. In the novel, we see Darwin deny that inherited genetic traits control a person with Pip’s character, for example. Brought up in a working class family, and related to his terrible sister, Pip is able to overcome his condition and become somebody that is educated,respected and kind. Needless to say, I am happy that Social Darwinism has been largely disproved so that groups of people are not oppressed.

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