The garden needs weeding.
I like Arts and Letters Daily. Or at least, I used to. Until I clicked through to the most poorly put-together article I’ve ever read linked from there.
Degrading Darwin seemed interesting enough on the surface, as an indictment of the right-wing application of Social Darwinism. I agree, Darwinism has no place in social policy. But the article was just plain wrong in one of its primary targets. I don’t mean “wrong” in the sense that I didn’t buy it, but “wrong” in the sense of being factually incorrect. Truth bears no delay? Evidently falsehood doesn’t either. For example:
Everything about Huxley’s ideology was mankind as a pinnacle within progressive nature – and Victorian Britain lapped it up. This was the very peak of Britain’s journey towards industrialised wealth and colonisation. It was clear to the restless Victorian go-getters that the engine room of their superiority lay in science, engineering and technological breakthroughs. Darwin’s idea of evolution was the perfect embodiment of Victorian progress – as both evidence and proof of mankind progressing in the guise of rationality and reason.
The article posits that Huxley was aligned with Spencer in applying Darwinian principles to the social order. Nothing could be further from the truth. The implication that Darwin’s staunchest defender somehow “didn’t get” Darwin’s theory is beyond wrong; it’s downright insulting.
For a better look at what Huxley was on about regarding Social Darwinism, have a look at Jungle vs. Garden, a section of the online Huxley archive which details his battle with Spencer and those who would apply natural selection to politics. In a nutshell, Huxley thought that humanity had moved past the forces of Darwinism, and now had to look at the hard choices of “tending our garden,” to use Voltaire’s phrase. This exerpt from his 1894 Prolegomena pretty much sums things up:
That progressive modification of civilization which passes by the name of the “evolution of society,” is, in fact, a process of an essentially different character, both from that which brings about the evolution of species, in the state of nature, and from that which gives rise to the evolution of varieties, in the state of art.
There can be no doubt that vast changes have taken place in English civilization since the reign of the Tudors. But I am not aware of a particle of evidence in favour of the conclusion that this evolutionary process has been accompanied by any modification of the physical, or the mental, characters of the men who have been the subjects of it. I have not met with any grounds for suspecting that the average Englishmen of to-day are sensibly different from those that Shakspere knew and drew. We look into his magic mirror of the Elizabethan age, and behold, nowise darkly, the presentment of ourselves.
I hate it when people get things wrong, and slander historical figures that don’t deserve it. Huxley was a brilliant man, and certainly understood Darwinism for what it is: a natural process that did not imply any sort of progress. Progress rests solely in the hands of the gardners, not the nature of the plants themselves.
I was suprised for a moment, because the original article was in Spiked Magazine; I confused it with Spike Magazine for a second. That’s the problem with sharp objects on the web. I wrote a rebuttal letter to the editor, as well as a chastising comment to A&L Daily. When I surfed into the Spike magazine web log, I found that he had just ranted about A&L Daily’s tendency to link to shrill attacks. Shrill attacks don’t bother me, except when they are just plain wrong.
Evidently, falsehood knows no delay either.