Government Bailouts and Social Evolution

January 28, 2009

Many consider Herbert Spenser to be a foundational figure in sociology; he was a key exponent of Social Darwinism. To dangerously simplify his perspective, Spenser believed society evolved from simple and less complex forms to more efficient and complex forms through adaptation. The example I often use to explain the process is a fish hook.

We are both fishing. You’re using a barbed fishing hook and the point of my hook is smooth. The barbed hook keeps fish from shaking the hook off as easily as a unbarbed hook. So, let’s say that for every 10 fish that bite my hook, I can only pull in six. But, for every 10 fish that bite your hook, you land eight. Your method of fishing is 20% more productive than mine!

I notice this and adopt a barbed hook for fishing. I tell my friends and they start using barbed tipped hooks too. Gradually, everyone abandons barbless hooks. Since everyone is using barbed hooks now, more fish will be caught in less time. There will be more food for the village, providing villagers more time to pursue other needs. Here is the crux: the barbless hook factories shut down! Workers in the factory have to find other work.

Many Spenserian sociologists would say values, norms, organizations, and social institutions evolve in a similar manner. Less efficient ways of doing things are abandoned by society for more effective ways. Thus, society evolves and improves itself. What do you think? Select a discussion point below and post your response:

Topics for discussion:
1) Do you think the evolutionary processes described above actually occur in society?
2) Do you think those processes can be applied to the proposed GM bailout or the mortgage bailouts? Why?
3) Do you think we should bailout failing businesses? Why? Discuss the ramifications of your decision.
4) Can you think of another social issue or problem that Spenser’s perspective might be applied to? Explain your selection.
5) What insights does this afford you about Spenser’s perspective?

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  1. The idea behind social evolution as I understand it is to move society forward rather it be towards something negative or positive. In the case of a company that is going out of business there should be no government interference. GM is not the only business that could possibly cease to exist after the economy settles. If the government is going to bail out these companies then we need to declare a different type of government. A good thing can only last so long. Americans have always found a way to survive and prosper no matter the means.
    Take for example technology; if you keep producing and encouraging people to use the technology they will settle and never move forward. Such as checks; when was the last time that you wrote a check? I know that some will say that they write them all of the time, that’s good but, could you not have used a debit or credit card instead. Save a tree and some time, use the plastic.
    In essence let the social evolution occur as it will with no interruption. Don’t keep the old around for the sake of keeping it around.
    Thank you all for your time.

  2. The evolutionary process of industry and knowledge in the human race is inevitable. If it is was not, we would still be roasting our dinner by an open flame on our lawns. Therefore, evolutionary progress is a very real and positive thing. It keeps us from the mundane lives we can become so accustomed to. Though people, possibly many of them, may suffer from the progressive change, they will survive if they have the will to do so. In the end, these changes that occur in society will undoubtedly produce a (usually) beneficial change. Why should we keep an antiquated idea around for fear of change? Correct – we should not. Society will assuredly make the appropriate adjustments.

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