Story of Evolution, Evolution of StoriesBryn Mawr College, Spring 2004Second Web PaperOn Serendip

Capitalist Cranes and Communist Skyhooks

Stefanie Fedak

Darwin and Evolution are inextricably linked in the minds of most people who have had the opportunity to study them in basic biology. However, Darwin's theories of selection and survival of the fittest have been applied to moral, economic, political, and other cultural aspects of society. Dennett briefly touched on some of the political and social ramifications of Darwin's theories in the final chapter of Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Other philosophers and thinkers have also adapted Darwin's evolutionary ideas, in order to apply them in a societal or cultural context. One great example of this adaptation of the biological concept of evolution, is the appearance of Social Darwinism during the 19th century. Social Darwinism, by definition, is the principle that "the survival of the fittest" applies to human ethics and politics just as it does to biological evolution. (1) The theory of Social Darwinism was introduced by Herbert Spencer. The theory was then used by White Protestants, men, and others to proliferate the idea that they were socially superior. However, the context in which this paper will discuss the theory of Social Darwinism is economic. Laissez Faire Capitalism of the early 20th century led to very clear class distinctions in the United States. The Captains of Industry (or Robber Barons, depending on whether you saw them as philanthropists or criminals), subscribed to a concept of "Social Darwinism" which promoted a survival of the richest ideal and was reflected in their business dealings. Men like John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and others justified their incredible wealth with this theory. Following the teachings of Herbert Spencer, Captains of Industry and others like them, believed that competition was in accordance with nature. In a cut-throat Capitalist society it was acceptable for there to be rich and poor. Spencer's theory was applied in order to oppose social reform and government intervention in the private business sector. (2) From Capitalism, came an opposing theory known as Communism. Communism is "the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat." (3) The proletariat is best described as the working class. Their formation was precipitated by the Industrial Revolution, which took place in England during the 18th century. Communism promoted the empowerment of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, in order to gain class equality. Throughout Dennett's work he applies the metaphor of "cranes versus skyhooks" to explain Darwin's theory versus other competing theories. A "crane" according to Dennett acts as a device or "good trick" which builds on an existing foundation in order to speed up design. A "skyhook" is something which is pre-existing. It is mysterious and unfounded; not necessarily a part of the design. (4) With respect to the use of Social Darwinism promoting Laissez Faire Capitalism versus Communism, Capitalism acts as a crane and Communism as a skyhook. More specifically, the main principle of Capitalism is a crane, and the main principle of Communism is a skyhook. Capitalism promotes the concept of equal opportunity, and feeds off of the notion that some people will, by design, be better than others. Communism, however, promotes a society in which all people are socio-economically equal no matter how hard they work. Capitalism is a thriving system, where as Communism (as it was originally conceived) is ineffective. In order for Communism to be an effective system people must deny their desire to be competitive and greedy. These desires are a part of human nature which should not be repressed, which is what makes it a skyhook. Competition, according to Darwin, is what promotes evolution, thus in a societal context if there is no competition then there would be no evolution. Capitalism is a system which we see in practice regularly. Its basis is not an unrealistic design. Equal opportunity for all people ensures that the working class has the ability to become wealthy. The system feeds off of human qualities, like greed and competition, promoting various types of social evolution. It can be argued that Capitalism has led to technological and economic advances, in addition to globalization. The connection between Capitalism and Communism is just another example of a relationship which can be analyzed using Dennett's model of cranes versus skyhooks. Capitalism and Communism are examples of socio-economic evolution. Communism, was an unrealistic and ineffective system which attempted to control government and economy. It is a skyhook because of its overly idealistic principles. Capitalism, however, set into motion a series of political changes, which in turn affected other aspects of society. Thus, in Dennett's model Capitalism is a crane. Works Cited 1. "What is Social Darwinism?" 2. People and Events, "Andrew Carnegie" 3. Engels, Fredrick. The Principles of Communism. October 1847. 4. Dennett, Daniel. Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

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