Darwin and his abusers (including himself)

A friend of mine dropped a recent observation about evolutionary theory — I’d share it, but I don’t know how — to the effect that in the latter half of the 19th century, it got applied as a justification for a lot of really bad stuff.


This got me thinking. It cuts both ways, doesn’t it? I mean, every real great glorious insight can be redirected to squalid ends. Newton gives us the Clockwork Universe. Darwin gives us Social Darwinism. Freud gives us the clinical praxis of adjustment. Marx gives us Trotskyites and tedious dogmatists.


But Darwin in particular is a sad case. This guy who noticed and recorded the exuberance and inventiveness of life, how surprising it is and how unpredictable, how transient and yet how jewel-like every species is, becomes exhibit A for a mingy, narrow, zero-sum view of life, a miser’s harsh war of all against all.


It’s there in him too, unfortunately, a guy of his time. But there’s something more joyous and bouncy implicit in it too. As with anybody who really takes the trouble to notice the gorgeous, incomprehensible, absurdly abundant world around him.

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