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Social Darwinism?


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Old 07-17-2009, 08:58 AM
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Social DarwinismSocial Darwinism is a descriptive term given to a kind of social theory that draws an association between Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, and the sociological relations of humanity. Critics of such theories argue that by asserting that societies develop and therefore operate by "natural" laws, the real aim of "Social Darwinism" theories is to rationalize and thereby legitimize the unequal and disproportionate divisions between and within societies. Critics may make note that Darwin's own work never contained the logical and naturalistic fallacies of assuming that the existence of natural processes meant that that they could "naturally" be extended from biological systems to social systems."Social Darwinism" is most associated with the writings of Herbert Spencer, although researchers such as David Weinstein have argued that Spencer was not a "coarse Social Darwinist." (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/spencer/) In Progress: Its Law and Cause (1857) Spencer wrote:"this law of organic progress is the law of all progress. Whether it be in the development of the Earth, in the development of Life upon its surface, the development of Society, of Government, ..., this same evolution of the simple into the complex, through a process of continuous differentiation, holds throughout."Spencer's work also served to renew interest in the work of Thomas Malthus, who is also cited as a Social Darwinist author. Malthus's 1798 work An Essay on the Principle of Population, for example, argued that as increasing population would normally outgrow its food supply, this would result in the starvation of the weakest. Some historians have suggested that the Malthusian theory and similar concepts were used by the British to justify the continued export of agricultural produce from Ireland, even as the Irish were suffering from famine, in particular the Great Famine of 1845-1849.The 1997 book Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond was seen by its author as continuing the debate over Social Darwinism. Diamond formulated a compelling argument that observed differences of technological and social development among populations resulted from environmental factors enhanced by the passage of time.Because Social Darwinism came to be associated in the public mind with racism, imperialism, eugenics, and pseudoscience, such criticisms are sometimes applied (and misapplied) to any other political or scientific theory that resembles social Darwinism. Such criticisms are often leveled, for example, on evolutionary psychology, even though it makes no political or moral claims. Similarly, capitalism, especially laissez-faire capitalism, is sometimes equated with Social Darwinism because it adopts a "sink or swim" attitude toward economic activity. Supporters of capitalism respond that their goal is specifically to avoid ineffective economic behavior, and does not require or condone "letting the weak starve".American DreamThe phrase the American Dream came into the American vocabulary starting in 1867 when writer, Horatio Alger came out with his book "Ragged Dick." It was a rags-to-riches tale of a poor orphan boy in New York City who saves his pennies, works hard and eventually becomes rich. It became the model that through honesty, hard work and strong determination, the American Dream was available to anyone willing to make the journey.The American Dream is the concept widely held in the United States of America, that through hard work, courage and determination one can achieve prosperity. These were the values of the original pioneers who crossed the American plains when Europeans first came to America. What the American dream has become is a question under constant discussion.The origin of the American dream stems from the departure in government and economics from the models of the Old World. This allowed unprecedented freedom, especially the possibility of dramatic upward social mobility. Additionally, from the Revolutionary War well into the later half of the nineteenth century, many of America's physical resources were unclaimed and often undiscovered, allowing the possibility of coming across a fortune through relatively little, but lucky investment in land or industry. The development of the Industrial Revolution defined the mineral and land wealth which was there in abundance, contrary to the environmental riches such as huge herds of bison and diversity of forests, for the original American Indians.Many early Americans prospectors headed west of the Rocky Mountains to buy acres of cheap land in hopes of finding deposits of gold. The American dream was a driving factor not only in the Gold Rush of the mid to late 1800s, but also in the waves of immigration throughout that century and the following. Impoverished western Europeans escaping the Irish potato famines in Ireland, the Highland clearances in Scotland and the aftermath of Napoleon in the rest of Europe came to America to escape a poor quality of life at home. They wanted to embrace the promise of financial security and constitutional freedom they had heard existed so widely in the United States.Nearing the twentieth century, major industrialist personalities became the new model of the American Dream, many beginning life in the humblest of conditions but later controlling enormous corporations and fortunes. Perhaps most notable here were the great American capitalists Andrew Carnegie and Nelson Rockefeller. This acquisition of great wealth demonstrated that if you had talent, intelligence, and a willingness to work extremely hard you were guaranteed at least moderate success as a result. The key difference here from the Old World societal structure is that the antiquated monarchies of Western Europe and their post-feudal economies actively oppressed the peasant class. They also required high levels of taxation which crippled development. America, however, was built by people who were consciously free of these constraints. There was a hope for egalitarianism. Martin Luther King invoked the American Dream in what is perhaps his most famous speech:"Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream." (I have a dream)Horatio Alger, Jr.Horatio Alger, Jr. (January 13, 1832 - July 18, 1899) was a 19th-century American author, a leading proponent of Social Darwinism during the Gilded Age (1865-1900), who wrote over 130 dime novels, describing how down-and-out boys were able to achieve the American dream of wealth and success through hard work, courage, determination, and concern for others.Poorly written and repetitive, the novels declined in popularity as Alger's target audience grew more sophisticated. Nevertheless, at the time of their writing they were bestsellers, and Alger's books actually rivaled those of Mark Twain in popularity. As the American dream took shape, Alger gave hope for a brighter future to millions of young men who were then living on the brink of society.Alger was born in Revere, Massachusetts to a stern Unitarian minister who wanted his son to follow him into the clergy. He attended Harvard where he studied under Henry Wadsworth Longfellow with the intention of one day becoming a poet. After graduation he found work as a journalist and schoolteacher. Rejected by the Union Army because of his asthma, he took a tour of Europe where he finally decided to pursue the ministry. He took a position in Cape Cod but left for New York City rather suddenly in 1866, ostensibly to pursue a career in writing. Church records uncovered after Alger's death indicate that he was quietly dismissed for having sexual relations with several boys in his parish.The move to New York was a turning point in Alger's career. He was immediately drawn into the work of impoverished young bootblacks, newspaper boys, and peddlers, and even took a young Chinese immigrant named Sam into his home as a ward (Sam was killed in a carriage accident a few years later). It was this world, coupled with the austere values that Alger received at home, which formed the basis of the first novel in his Ragged Dick series (1867). The book was an immediate success, spurring a vast collection of sequels and similar novels, including Luck and Pluck (1869) and Tattered Tom (1871), all with the same theme: the rise from rags to riches. In fact, the theme became synonymous with Alger.Essentially, all of Alger's novels are the same: a young boy struggles through hard work to escape poverty. Critics, however, are quick to point out that it is not the hard work itself that rescues the boy from his fate, but rather some extraordinary act of bravery or honesty, which brings him into contact with a wealthy elder gentleman, who takes the boy in as a ward. The boy might return a large sum of money that was lost or rescue someone from an overturned carriage, bringing the boy�and his plight�to the attention of some wealthy individual. It has been suggested that this reflects Alger's own patronizing attitude to the boys he tried to help.Despite his remarkable literary output, Alger never became rich from his writing. He gave most of his money to homeless boys and in some instances was actually conned from his earnings by the boys he tried to help. Nevertheless, by the time he died in 1899, his books could be found in virtually every home and library in America. His books may no longer be as popular today as they once were, but the moral messages they relayed were an important factor in the development of the American dream in the 20th century.At the time of his death, Alger was living with his sister Augusta. She destroyed all of his personal papers, hoping to avoid scandal in the rigid atmosphere of the Victorian Era.Since 1947, the Horatio Alger Association has bestowed an annual award on "outstanding individuals in our society who have succeeded in the face of adversity" and scholarships "to encourage young people to pursue their dreams with determination and perseverance".(Source: Wikipedia. All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License - see Copyrights for details).Tell me about your "American Dream." What would you like to achieve in your lifetime? What steps do you plan to take to accomplish your goals? Do you think the American Dream can be reached − will Americans ever be satisfied with what we have or will we continually desire more? Is this good or bad? Why?
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Old 07-17-2009, 09:08 AM
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First off, is this an essay for school? Never site wikipedia! it is NOT a credible source!
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Old 07-17-2009, 09:18 AM
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my American dream has changed. now that i am a little older(42), i only hope i can eventually retire one day. i have earned a college degree, but now the economy is making it hard for me to save any money. i think the American dream (which is subjective) can be reached, but it depends on what you define it as. the majority of Americans , i think will continue to consume with no regard for moderation. it is good for the economy that we live in a culture of consumption, because we live in a credit based economy, now that there is a credit crunch, we all see the effects (recession). over all there is opportunity here that many will never know. but Americans are unique in the scale to which we consume.
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Old 07-17-2009, 09:27 AM
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This American just wants peace & quiet.I'm working for myself, so I'm alot closer than most.The "American Dream" of a house you have to scrape with on upkeep all the time, a faux yard, etc isn't mine, so I count myself lucky on that one too.It's in the corporate interest to not have the majority of people reach their dreams (which for me mean spiritual happiness vs temporal) but just buy crap.It's in the government interest not to have the majority of people reach their dreams (as above) because of our Roman bindings that urge the nation to "conqueror" in some fashion. People who have reached their dreams don't add to the tax base.As an aside, when I mentioned spiritual happiness, that doesn't necessarily mean religious.People by nature always want more. Just look at the people making insane amounts of cash, etc and they aren't happy. But with the national debt, standing of the dollar, and price of oil, (to name a few things) we better get used to finding happiness in a different way from the past.
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