Thursday, July 22, 2010

No, Darwinism Did Not Cause the Holocaust!

Above: Bodies outside Mauthausen Concentration camp, taken by Russian liberators in May, 1945. Was this caused by Darwinism? Nope - by absolutism!

Given the fundagelicals are too inept and ignorant of scientific principles to attack the foundations of evolution in respect of its science, it's no wonder they resort to other tactics - including outright smears. (Such as imputing or suggesting that the Nazi rise and their elimination of most of Europe's Jews was inspired by Darwinian evolution).

In fact this is the utmost rubbish. But this is the sort of piffle we can expect from those who have neither a scientific background, or knowledge of history. Yet, as with the case of the recent incident in which a US Agriculture worker was fired (based on a 7-second internet clip put up by a Reich wingnut), too many citizens take the easy way out. As opposed to thinking consciously of what they accept, and from what sources. (And here note, I am also not letting the Obama Administration off the hook for this fiasco. Rather than jumping in and condeming the woman employee they also ought to have vetted the actual, FULL speech delivered to the NAACP!)

But let's now look at the facts. At heart the error made by fundies in associating Darwinism with the Holocaust (or Nazi aggression, war crimes in general) is that they mistake Social Darwinism for Darwinism proper. The former is actually a non-scientific offshoot that was developed by a British philosopher, Herbert Spencer, and he was actually the person who coined the phrase "the survival of the fittest". Darwin never used it himself, though yes, at various points in his writings he did note that such human behavior as warfare could (in a perverted way) lead to better adapted human outcomes.

In a way he was correct, since had the Japanese or Nazis been victorious in WWII, we'd likely all be in slave labor camps, dying of starvation or from nerve gases - there'd be no global trade, no major technology benefits (other than mass gas chambers), no men going to the Moon, and no enormous food production such as transpired with the Borlaug crop revolution. Thus, given the defeat of the inferior - less adapted side, yes, we can all be thankful it worked that way!

But that is not the point of evolution, which Darwin always emphasized applies in broad context, not just to humans. One had to take the entire fabric of evolutionary ties via DNA, applicable to all species. This was what had motivated Darwin's voyage on The Beagle in the first place, and also led to his great work, The Origin of Species (which I doubt not one in 1 million fundies has actually read cover to cover- though they sound off endlessly on evolution and what they think they know about it. But without actually having read this landmark book, they know nada).

But little known in the annals of Social Darwinism, is how it actually got its leg up in the United States in the late 19th century through a power-mongering Evangelist preacher named Rev. Josiah Strong. It probably started with his controversial book, Our Country - Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis, this is according to author Richard Hofstadter, in his Social Darwinism in American Thought, American Historical Association, 1955).

In this work, Strong's genius was to arrive at a "potion" blending Herbert Spencer's Social Darwinism (increasingly finding favor with wealthy elitists and arch-capitalists) with Christian virtue, and a strict, constructionist view of The Constitution. As Hofstadter notes (p. 178):

"His uncanny capacity for assimilating the writings of Darwin and Spencer to the prejudices of Protestant rural America makes the book one of the most revealing documents of its time. Strong exulted in the material resources of the United States, but he was dissatisfied with its spiritual life"

Like Spencer, Rev. Strong pooh-poohed services for the poor and disabled as encouraging a fundamental weakness in society which induced corruption, sloth and all the other vices. People needed to be put through a "caldron" and - if they survived- they'd find God, spiritual life and work for their own wealth instead of bleeding it off the state. Interestingly, in the early 1930s the Nazis in Hitler's Germany made similar arguments, and used them as a basis to rationalize exterminating the "unfit" - who (just as Rev. Strong regarded them) were unable to make contributions to German society. Little surprise then that the very first mass exterminations were of those regarded as "deadbeats", such as jobless beggars, Gypsies and homeless people.

One of Rev. Strong's favorite sayings, taken from Herbert Spencer, would do a Nazi proud:

"If they are sufficiently complete to live, they do live, and it is well that they should live. If they are not sufficiently complete to live, they die, and it is best that they should die."

The capper was tying the amassing of great wealth to Christian virtue. Thus, one's wealth immediately became a barometer for one's morality or spirituality. The Rev. Strong had accomplished what might have been deemed impossible in Jefferson's era: tying political motives, agendas to evangelical religious concepts.

Once that "dog" was let out, it began to increasingly infect more and more political venues- permeating them with its enticing belief system of the "exceptional America". For example, Sen. Albert T. Beveridge before the Senate in 1899, in his own words:

"God has not been preparing the English -speaking and Teutonic peoples for nothing but vain and idle self-admiration. No! He has made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns..He has made us adepts that we may administer government among savages and senile peoples "

Note the choice of words above: the "English" and "Teutonic peoples" - the latter a direct reference to Germans. Note also the words - GOD making them the "Master Organizers of the World". And further - "to administer government among savages and senile peoples". In other words, the blueprint was already being laid for mass genocide, ethnic cleansing and even the Holocaust. (Which idea Hitler, in his Mein Kampf, actually attributed to the American Eugenics movement in the 1920s, and the report of a California black man (in one of the German newspapers Hitler was allowed to read while in prison in the 1920s) killed in a gas chamber at San Quentin).

Certainly, in many respects, the seed of the American Eugenics movement were being laid by Rev. Strong in the late 19th century. There was no issue on that as one reads through his screeds. This meme was reinforced over time as more and more similar speeches invoked "God" intertwined with American purpose, special goodness and "destiny". It was only a matter time - as this twaddle was repeated- that it would begin to insinuate itself into the nation's lore, public consciousness and political zeitgeist. (Even today we've beheld it, as with the recent, dastardly Republican strategy to withhold extension of jobless benefits for millions, insinuating THEY are the one to blame and implying the puny benefits - averaging $309 a friggin' week - would keep them seated at home in front of their TVs! In so doing, they succeeded in insulting millions who, I sincerely hope, will remember that in November!)

The nasty "achievement" of the Rev. Strong was in tying this base "survival of the fittest" to a choice or option declared by God. This provided the necessary template, as it always does, to justifying doing whatever one wanted: invade a poorer sovereign state (after all they are "senile peoples") or overthrow their democratically elected leaders (after all he's probably "godless"anyway) and even gas millions of Jews (after all, they were "Christ killers" according to the Volkisch tradition inherent in German culture since the Middle ages).

All that was left was for one tyrant to come to the fore and actually exploit all this to justify his mass murder. That was Hitler.

As for the millions killed in the gas chambers, Jacob Bronowski provided an excellent insight into this in his stunning BBC series, ‘The Ascent Of Man’. At one point, kneeling on the floor inside of Auschwitz, he beheld the area where the ovens and gas chambers took their deadly toll, saying:

“This was done by dogma. This is what happens when people believe they possess absolute truth.”

In other words, the absolutism ("We're RIGHT, you're WRONG! THE KJV is final TRUTH!") that most religionists embrace without question (as the Rev. Stong did) and which they openly endorse in their blogs and writings, was actually embedded in the concentration camps of the Third Reich.

In his next scene - Bronowski entices the viewer with a possible way out of human absolutism. He references the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (written in its traditional form) on a blackboard. He then extends the meaning, saying it is really a "principle of TOLERANCE". And here he brilliantly introduces two different meanings of the word: 1) the ability to empathize with the views of others, if not agree with them, and 2) the principle in mechanics and physics wherein a measurement is not perfect but has a residual uncertainty. The screw can be tightened to one micrometer, but the tolerance is 0.0001 micrometer - which means not total tightening .

And here Bronowski makes his most remarkable statement of all:

"The Principle of Uncertainty or, in my phrase the Principle of Tolerance, fixed once and for all the realization that all knowledge is limited."

If this is so, then one must concede that humans – with limited knowledge- lack the wherewithal to issue absolute moral laws. In addition, the authors of whatever books they cite (including bibles) also suffer from the same deficiency.

To believe otherwise, or to believe 100% that one special book has ALL the answers to life, its meaning and even "salvation" is to place oneself in the camp of the Absolutist. These, to be sure, are the most dangerous people of all - as we see by examining the accompany photo from Mauthausen concentration camp in 1945.

1 comment:

janidebar said...

It's truly ironic, from reading this, that evangelicalism was at least indirectly responsible for launching the Nazi holocaust. Most people refuse to 'go there' even though these historical facts are out there for anyone to confirm. But I also recall an article by Joe Conason (in 1992) entitled 'With God as My Co-pilot' who interviewed dozens of Christian fundamentalists who sad they wanted to set up concentration camps for homosexuals, abortion doctors, pornographers and atheists. Some even mentioned a desire to throw most of them in gas chambers that used nerve gas like Sarin instead of Zyklon B.

Seems the fundies have more in common with Hitler and the Nazis than many of them know.