HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHARLES DARWIN
(Feb. 12, 1809 - April 19, 1882)
It is only fitting that we pay our proper respects to a man that has made such a major impact in just about every aspect of human endeavour. The first time that I ever heard the term: "survival of the fittest", was not in a classroom or in within the covers of some large dusty library book on biology. Indeed, it was on the basketball courts and playgrounds of the housing projects of Brooklyn, New York as we would choose up for pick-up basketball games: "I know we're friends but I can't pick you for this game, I want to win and with you on the team we're gonnah lose. You know, 'survival of the fittest' man!", or when arguing among other guys at the bus stop over the affections of some girl: "Hey man, she likes me better, 'survival of the fittest'. Get over it.". Though, we, as some in academia, knew little about the essentials and details of his seminal work, "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life" much of our lexicon and rationale put forth to explain various social and natural phenomenon can claim its origins to what we may think was put down in this study.
In that single work, which was the result of years of research and painstaking experimentation which took him thousands of miles from home, Darwin influenced many who came to be household names in the world of science. His interests in his extensive voyages throughout the South Sea islands and South America were mostly about geologic formations, plant life, and lower species of animals. His findings were on how "species" of plants and animals "struggle" for survival, their mutations and eventual extinction. Although Darwin was influenced by Thomas Malthus who wrote a famous study on human population studies, the general bulk of "Origin of Species" (shortend term for the full title), made very little mention of mankind. In subsequent works he only hinted that man may be descended from the great apes of the African rain forests. Anthropologists who had been speculating about this for some time eventually revealed this to the religious educated and uneducated masses. The reaction was heated and vitriolic.
Darwin's studies opened the door to researchers in many other fields of science to begin to their own research into areas that were closed to their probing eyes due to an all pervasive religious hierarchy that governed most public and private institutions of that time. Once the hint that man may basically be just another "animal" inhabiting this wonderful planet earth (which by the way had already been found to be just another planet in the solar system and beyond) it was "on", in scientific and in the public press. Religious leaders, politicians, and journalists of all stripes weighed in on the debate. Most insulting to most of Western culture was his referral to the fact that mankind is a "race" and that there is no such thing as "races" of humans as we still use the term to this day. In other words when he referred to "survival of species", he was referring to mankind as a species. In a world in which slavery, colonialism, and the wholesale slaughter of human beings was carried out regularly, simply because they looked different, the idea that these people may be "our brothers" in the eyes of God was scientifically, politically, and morally unacceptable.
The impact of Darwin's studies on us today is too extensive to go into here but suffice it to say that his work has definitely given rise to what has come to be known Social Darwinism. Although its antecedents were present well prior to Darwin's very existence some social scientists of the time figured that they would use Darwin's own study to justify man's inhumanity to man through my old playground buddies' rationale of "hey yah know - survival of the fittest". They theorized that societies are destroyed because of its less fortunate and those that govern need not help out those that cannot compete due to discrimination, or physical/mental handicaps. Like the aristocracy of the sword of feudal Europe, the economically fortunate of 19th Western culture felt that they were endowed with some special rights to rule and to have power of life and death over all of 19th and 20th Century "serfdom". Thus, the Southern plantation owners and Northern Robber Barrons believed that they had a right to steal and to dehumanize other human beings because it was "survival of the fittest". Actually, Darwin was vehemently opposed to slavery and the debasement of any human being.
The field of psychoanalysis owes some of its origins to Darwin in that Sigmund Freud states that it was his readings of Darwin's works that inspired him to delve into the inner workings of human neurology. In fact Freud makes several referrals to Darwin's theory in his earliest works on hysteria and man's sexual development. In his social thesis, "Civilization and Its Discontents" Freud gives his own theory as to the psychological evolution of man and whether we will survive as a species given our strong aggressive tendencies. Freud believed that Darwin delivered the first jolt to a complacent 19th Century view of man as a strictly rational and enlightened being. In his early writings on psychoanalysis Freud felt that his theory would be the knock out punch to the rest of mankind's ignorance.
The last of Darwin's sequels to the "Origin of Species", "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals" was an attempt to erase the last barrier presumed to exist between human and nonhuman animals - the idea that expression of such feelings as suffering, anxiety, grief, despair, joy, love, hatred, and anger is unique to human beings. He connected studies of facial muscles and emission of sounds with corresponding emotional states in man and argued that they express similar emotional states. The book set the groundwork for the study of neurobiology and communication in psychology.
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Oh yeah, don't forget your autographed copy of "The Ackee Chronicles".
Tony VanSluytman - the Author
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Tony VanSluytman - the Author
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