In 1798 Thomas Malthus published his ‘An Essay on the Principle of Population’. Originally developed as an argument in response to thinkers such as William Godwin, the aspect of the overall argument that has since become synonymous with the name Malthus is that uncontrolled populations will eventually overwhelm the resources that sustain them, and therefore will inevitably lead to mass-poverty and mass-starvation.
In order to understand exactly how this idea came about it is worth taking a moment to understand who William Godwin, one of the men actually cited in the Malthus theory, was and what ideas he had put forward that had prompted Reverend Malthus to respond in such a way.
For many William Godwin is one of the key thinkers behind the development of philosophical anarchism during the transition between enlightenment and romanticism. He was arguably, alongside his wife Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the most influential political thinkers on the revolutionary tendencies of the romantics.
In his 1793 ‘An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice’ Godwin made the case that government as an institution both requires and maintains that the masses under its rule be both ignorant and subordinated. He went on to argue that as people become better informed and knowledgeable they will become more self-reliant and empowered. And a community of such free-thinking equals would logically have less and less need for such hierarchical institutions as marriage, private property and government.
Godwin was highlighting some of the fundamental flaws in the culture of deference to authority in the class-riven society that was early 19th century England. This at the same time as equality, authority, and systems of management were being discussed across much of the planet. And in countries like France and the USA the direct link between political and economic power, and the brutal inequalities that the vast majority were barely surviving were fast becoming the driving force for revolutionary change.
Unsurprisingly, the privileged elite were grasping at any straws that might justify their craven opulence. And it was in this context that the intellectual case for linking certain traits of certain sections of the population with their poverty was increasingly being argued. Darwin, who many say was informed by the work of Malthus and Spencer, is often suggested as being the originator of the concept that “only the strongest survive”. And this is one of those very rationalisations.
Firstly, it is worth remembering that Darwin’s theory of evolution isn’t always presented entirely accurately. Darwin argued that nature creates multiple mutations, and that the mutations best suited to the environment in which they exist and are able to survive long enough to reproduce, will begin the process again from the new mutated starting point.
So the phrase “survival of the fittest”, which is often used as the pretext by which to argue that “only the strongest survive” is not entirely accurate. If anything, evolution postulates the idea that “the most likely to survive are those best adapted to their specific environment”. That could be the smallest, the least appetising, the least nutritious, or simply the luckiest to be born in a predator free environment.
In many cases it is rarely the fittest, and even more rarely the strongest or the most rapacious. Rather it is more likely to be something as simple as having webbed feet in shallow water, camouflage when surrounded by predators, slow metabolisms where food is scarce, or even big ears in dark caves. Many have argued that rather than rapacious individualism, the species that are most likely to survive and thrive are actually those that work together and collaborate, Kroptkin being one of these people.
So why has Darwin’s theory fallen victim to the types of people who chose to misinterpret, misinform and mislead others about it. This is where we come into the development of “social darwinism” in 19th Century. While it has been argued that Darwin’s work on nature was largely informed by the likes of Malthus and Spencer’s work on human society, it is rarely mentioned how it was then used to further develop aspects of the works of Malthus and Spencer, specifically arguing that society works in a similar manner to nature. Or to put it more crassly, those at the top of society must be there because they are the “fittest” or the “strongest”.
I can’t remember how many times I have had to argue just how easy this is to disprove over the years that I have been writing. So without going into it all again, the rich know that they are not born superior because if they thought they were there would be no need for “private education”. They know that in a fair race they are almost guaranteed to lose, that is why they rig the system from one generation to the next.
But that is not the end of it. This fundamental lie, that modern society is a meritocracy and that if you are poor it is because you deserve it, has led directly to where we are today.
At the end of the 19th Century Galton developed the theory of Eugenics based on “social darwinism”. Advocates of eugenics argued that the human race could be evolved by weeding out undesirable traits, which coincidentally where the same traits most closely associated with people that the elite found least desirable, more often than not the poor.
As well as ‘breeding’ out disabilities, illnesses and disease, Galton and his adherents sought to breed out crime, poverty and general inferiority among the lower class. And this is where the pathway between capitalism and fascism is probably at is most easy to trace. European fascists where quick to jump on the eugenics band wagon as part of their drive to concentrate power and wealth into a very narrow segment of society, and to defend their privilege from the revolutionary threat from below.
Fascism wasn’t an unprompted theory developed in an intellectual vacuum. Fascism is a reaction by the most psychopathic and sociopathic within an elite when they feel that their privilege is threatened by the masses. It is no coincidence that the far-right politicians and their extreme-right paramilitary pawns have become so vocal and confrontational at exactly the same time that large sections of the liberal arm of mainstream politics shifts significantly towards the progressive left, and in doing so threatens a system heavily rigged in favour of the inherited wealth.
Again, it really isn’t that difficult to demonstrate this argument to be true either. Social mobility is very tightly controlled across generations by political and economic elites through the institutional management of tax avoidance, income inequality, private property and tiered education. And it is in response to the revolutionary struggle against this form of elitism that those same elites invariably end up unleashing the psychopaths within their ranks to counter it.
The reason why I thought it was important to write about this now is because the COVID-19 situation that many of us are now facing is being played out through 3 very distinct strategies pursued by governments around the world based largely on these ideas. I have grouped these current strategies together and called them the WHO consensus, Herd immunity and Neoliberal opportunism.
The WHO consensus has been pursued by the countries that have broadly followed the advice of the WHO and the leading epidemiologists. They have taken a series of steps such as lockdowns, wide-scale testing, quarantining the infected, contact-tracing the spread of the virus, and ramping up public healthcare capacity. All of which are then continued on an ongoing basis. A strategy that relies almost entirely on everyone putting the community before the individual.
The second strategy is Herd Immunity. Herd immunity is an interesting theory that epidemiologists around the world and through recent history have debated at length. Herd immunity falls interestingly into the “survival of the fittest” space. The argument being that by letting the epidemic run through the community it will only kill those who don’t have a natural immunity to it, or are least able to survive it. Therefore whoever is left in the herd, in this case the herd of human cattle, will be immune.
Perhaps this would be an interesting theory to model on a computer game, but to attempt something in the real world is nothing short of a despicable and monstrous mass-slaughter of large sections of our communities. This strategy has a nasty air of the early 20th century eugenicists about it.
The final strategy that has been that pursued by the current incumbents of the USA establishment and, following in lock-step behind them, the most craven of their vassal states has been what I like to call Neoliberal opportunism.
Put simply this has involved floating the idea of herd immunity through off-the-record briefings to the public, pulling back from it when the media turns on them by pretending to have never really taken herd immunity seriously, and instead present their quite obvious use of COVID-19 as an opportunity to siphon public funds into the off-shore bank accounts of their donors and chums as something similar to the science based strategy.
The reality is that the Neoliberal opportunism strategy has been simply the Herd immunity strategy presented as the WHO consensus strategy, in order to embezzle public funds.
Before getting into the whys and wherefores it is worth looking at how these various strategies have worked over the course of the first year since we all became aware of the spread of COVID-19.
Based on the WHO situation reports we can see that the WHO consensus, as typified by South Korea, New Zealand and Germany has had mixed outcomes. Some have imposed the strategy a little more firmly than others. For every 1 million people in their relative populations New Zealand has lost 5 people, South Korea 19 people and Germany 409.
And while the disparities within the implementations of the WHO consensus strategy need looking more closely at, it is worth first comparing them to the Herd immunity strategy championed so publicly in Sweden. For every 1 million people in Sweden the Herd immunity strategy has led to the deaths of 864 people. After only 1 year it is difficult to argue with what the WHO and the leading epidemiologists have been saying consistently and almost unanimously about Herd immunity throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But that brings us to the Neoliberal opportunism of the international cult-of-personality being led by a delusional psychopath with messianic pretensions in the USA. The Republican Party have managed to let COVID-19 kill over 1043 people for every million people in the country. Americans are dying at 50 times the rate of South Koreans.
But the USA is not even the worse. No for that you have to look at what is one of the best examples of the evolutionary limitations of class-based societies. The UK under one of the most elite Conservative governments in recent history has managed to kill 1098 people for every 1 million people in the country while under its protection.
Without getting into the embezzling again, as I covered this at length in my last post, in summary, Trump and his parasitic acolytes have taken the opportunity of COVID-19 to transfer billions of dollars to their mates, while actively pursuing strategies that have killed hundreds of thousands of people. And to make matters worse, they have done this under the cover of a smoke screen of the most ill-informed, uneducated, and hate-filled cowards in our communities running amok.
And now that this is unravelling so painfully and publicly, the real question is where do we go from here? Without getting too caught up in the inevitable spate of damocene conversions which will now begin spreading through the sociopaths that colluded with this psychopath-led cult in the Republican party, it is worth remembering how this all came about, and more importantly who enabled it.
What is currently happening in the US was widely predicted. And while it is natural to want to blame the most vocal members of the far-right and the extreme-right, it is worth taking a moment to widen the focus. The main stream media have spent nearly four years dancing to the tune being played by the cult-leader-in-chief, enriching themselves while our loved ones have struggled, suffered and died. Even now they are beginning the concerted effort to distract attention away from the collusion of the “fascist sympathisers”, the “intellectually inbred toadies”, and the “neoliberal puppets” who sold us all out.
Just as the establishment has colluded so many times before with international fascism in opposing progressive socialism, we are once again watching history repeat itself. And as has happened so many times before, the liberal arm of the elite have already started making the case for more draconian restrictions on free speech and protest, under the rationale of coming together and moving forward obediently, respectfully and without question behind our overlords. How long this continues is up to us.