An RX for Social Darwinism

The Republican controlled US Senate just voted to proceed to debate Trumpcare—a major step in the repeal and/or replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Following like docile sheep, most of the Republican Senators, who indisputably place party before country, voted “yes” not even knowing what’s in the bill!

There are no “profiles in courage” among Republican Senators who voted to debate a bill that would, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), take health care away from upwards of 20 million Americans, obliterate protections for pre-existing conditions, and raise healthcare premiums across the board. Put more bluntly, if you get horribly sick, good luck finding insurance coverage. If you don’t have the funds to pay for expensive cancer treatments or for assisted living, or for a nursing home, we’ll just let these “lesser” people wither away. The strong survive. The weak sicken and die, which enables the “fit” to pad their already overflowing bank accounts..

If you think I’m being harsh, consider the position of US Congressman Tom Reed (R-NY). In a June 24 Politicususa article Sean Colarossi reports that Reed…

“…said on Saturday it doesn’t bother him too much that 20,000 more Americans will die under the Republican health care plan as long as less money is going into Medicaid.”

Mr. Reed’s comments bring to mind a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s monumental film Dr. Strangelove. In the film, the President has called an emergency situation room meeting to discuss how to deal with a renegade nuclear attack ordered by an insane Air Force General, Jack D. Ripper. General Ripper illegally sent B-52s to obliterate the Russians with 40 megatons of nuclear bombs. Enter Air Force Chief of Staff General Buck Turgidson, played by the legendary George C Scott.

“[Turgidson advocates a further nuclear attack to prevent a Soviet response to Ripper's attack]

General "Buck" Turgidson: Mr. President, we are rapidly approaching a moment of truth both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, truth is not always a pleasant thing. But it is necessary now to make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless *distinguishable*, postwar environments: one where you got twenty million people killed, and the other where you got a hundred and fifty million people killed.

President Merkin Mufley: You're talking about mass murder, General, not war!

General "Buck" Turgidson: Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.”

If it is passed by the Republican controlled congress, Trumpcare may well result in a massive uptick of thousands if not millions of unnecessary deaths. Considering its unpopularity, why would any sane politician vote for such a politically and socially destructive bill? Why is it more important for Republican legislators to extend tax breaks to the wealthy than to save human lives?

What difference does it make if 20,000 people die if we are able to cut Medicaid?

What difference does it make if three million people die if we are able to extend tax breaks to the wealthy?

You might think that such poisonous thinking is social insanity, but the notion of social winners (who have earned health care) and social losers (who don’t deserve heath care) has a long history in the United States.

It’s not a pretty story, but it’s a tale well known to anthropologists.

Around the turn of the 20th century, the United States was a fundamentally racist society in which the rich (white people of means) led lives very different from the poor (immigrants and African Americans). Back then many of our elites followed the dictates of Social Darwinism in which British philosopher Herbert Spencer mangled the findings of Charles Darwin to suggest that natural selection applied to human beings and that the fittest, in this case, White Europeans, were better able—physically, intellectually and emotionally—to adapt to the world. The strong and the fit would survive. Those who lacked fitness would sicken and die—ridding the world of inferior traits. Spencer’s ideas gave rise to a scientific racism that posited that race was the determining factor in social fitness. Franz Boas, the founder of American anthropology used science to publicly refute these socially destabilizing ideas. Although these toxins never disappear, they have reemerged strongly in the alternative realities that motivate the me-first attitudes of President Trump and the Republicans who rule congress. From an anthropological perspective, Trumpcare is a path back to the gilded age in which income inequality, reinforced through financial and immigration policies, created a stark society that juxtaposed a slim minority that enjoyed unimaginable luxury to an ever-increasing majority that confronted misery and death each and every day. In that time, the wealthy used the ideology of Social Darwinism to reinforce their social, economic and political power.

From an anthropological perspective, Trumpcare is a back to the future move to socially engineer a society of winners, the “fit,” who are strong, and losers, “the unfit” who are weak. In this sophomoric mix, our cherished social contract will be lost, millions of our citizens will suffer and our society will be ripped to shreds.

Is this the legacy we want to bequeath to our grandchildren?

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