Ignorance or Arrogance? Altruism or Survival of the Fittest?

“Those who can induce to believe in absurdities can induce you to commit atrocities.” Voltaire

I often ponder over this quote. Why? Because in the most part I think it is so very true.

I look around at the things that are happening in the world today and I wonder just how it is that people can do the things that they do. The answer I keep coming up with is that somewhere in their minds they must believe that it’s OK to harm, oppress and discriminate against others.

I used to think that the only kinds of belief systems that could regularly induce such behaviors were those born out of ignorance. Now I’m not so sure. Now I think that those kinds of belief system might just as easily be born out arrogance.

After all, it takes a very particular kind of willful arrogance to keep denying those with differing forms of ability and different sexual orientations, the right to control and decide their own lives.

It takes a particular kind of arrogance to ignore the homeless, the unemployed, the desperate and the destitute within our communities. Yet this is what people do. This is what governments do.

So what sort of belief system promotes the idea that not having enough money, power or control,  means that you haven’t worked hard enough  for it? What sort of belief system  places the blame for  economic, social or personal hardships squarely on the shoulders of those individuals who must carry them?

Is it capitalism? Is it disablism? Is it classism? Is it racism? Is it sexism?

Is it ignorance or is it  arrogance?

My vote these days goes to arrogance.

It seems our world is being shaped more and more by a “survival of the fittest” mentality. The structure of society is constantly being underpinned by policies that seek to ‘blame’ individuals for their own position within society without taking into account the socially constructed framework in which those individuals exist. Under such policy suppositions incentives to understand minorities and to help those less fortunate within our communities are slowly being whittled away.

Along with this trend we now have non-governmental organisations rallying their followers to sit in judgement en mass over others in our communities in an attempt to define and confine the rights of those deemed ‘different’.

You can see how this might happen under the  mistaken and arrogant ‘survival of the fittest’ belief that ‘other’ people are made poor,powerless or irrelevant,  by their own actions.

The flip side of the ‘survival of the fittest mentality’ also means that if someone is doing more poorly than you in society, they are less likely to provide you with any kind of challenge. Therefore if another person is doing badly they become less competitive.

In an increasingly cut throat society, many people can  now be seen to  have a vested interest in oppressing others for this very reason.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I believe that people are inherently bad. It’s just that I  don’t believe that people are being encouraged to be good either.   Even the way we view  those people who are out there doing  good deeds, in the form of altruism,  has fallen prey to the ‘survival of the fittest’ construction.

Altruism has been given  a modern and somewhat uncomfortable face lift. Many within the realms of philosophy suggest that altruism no longer  exists in its once perceived pure form.  For at the base of altruism, it is argued,  lies the understanding that doing good for others makes the ‘doer’ feel good.

Therefore altruism is merely the act of making oneself feel good. In short altruism has become a sign of unabashed self interest.

So are philosophers who perceive altruism in this way right?

What does it mean for society if, even in doing good for others, we are only trying to do good for ourselves?

What happens when we  seek to deny or do ‘bad’ towards others?

Do we feel bad whilst doing bad?

Given the rise in the number of people trying to oppress each other it would seem not.

 

The Medicalisation of Difference, Homosexuality, Women, Pregnancy and Birth

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Kate Cregan (2006), in her work “Mapping The Human Body”  sites the example of the non existence of  homosexuality until it was labelled and defined by the medical fraternity in the late nineteenth century as a clear and present example of the  very capacity of the medical system to both construct label and define it’s meaning.

 

“Homosexuality became known in a medico-legal way within particular knowledge systems that there after have controlled its meaning” (Cregan, 2006 :46). Deborah Lupton (2003) in her work  ‘ Medicine as Culture’ also draws attention to the way in which the medical establishments definitional power is at play in the twenty-first century siting the medical professions latest assertion that genetics may be able to predict illness as  evidence that“ the knowledge base of scientific medicine has encroached even further into defining the limits of normality and the proper functioning and deportment of the human body” (Lupton, 2003:1).

 

According to Lupton (2003) this desire for the control and regulation of the human body is particularly pertinent to pregnant women enmeshed within  a health system that  seeks “increasing  control over women’s bodies” through  medicalization and surveillance (Lupton,2003:158).

 

The regulational and  definitional power with which medical institutions control and regulate the female body can be seen clearly in Karen Lanes work on pregnant women.   Siting Ulrich Beck’s analysis of risk in the modern world, Lane shows how the very notion of ’risk’ has now, through a medically induced process, become synonymous with the biological acts of both pregnancy and of giving birth, so much so than women who choose not to give birth in a hospital setting are often accused of not caring for or risking the health of their unborn babies ( Lane, date, page).

 

The irony that  for hundreds of years giving birth has been regarded as a ‘natural’ biological act that has now been medicalized beyond the point of individual choice for the women concerned, indicates the immense capacity of  medicalised perceptions to invade and persuade social thought and individual behaviour (Lupton,2003: 159). As Norbert Elias noted  “this kind of dictum ignores the wide variability  of bodily development and leads to  the patholigisation of what are essentially natural bodily functions” ( Cregan, 2006: 30).

 

The control mechanisms set in place within the debate over the safety of homebirths are themselves defined by the medical establishment that provides the very power base with which it seeks to regulate and control the human body and clearly earmarks how in  “post modern embodiment, we have internalized the control mechanisms that are set in place by various authorities of delimitation institutionally legitimated epistemologies”  (Cregan, 2006: 59).

 

The fact that pregnant women even feel the need to seek medical permission to engage in a home birth  provides proof of just how medically regulated and controlled such biologically natural processes have become and reinforces Foucault’s initial observation that such definitional capacity “results in a more subtle and diffuse power by which we internalize regimes of control and learn to self-regulate our selves through the regulation of the body” ( Cregan, 2006 :41).