One of the ways the media has shaped the public’s attitude concerning the distribution of wealth and power in our society, has been by the dissemination of a familiar but menacing ideology, an ideology which teaches that human success and failure is determined by evolutionary fitness — ‘the survival of the fittest’ ethic.
This idea sprang from dangerous interpretations of Darwin’s writings, peaked in the age of eugenics and Hitler, and remains to this day in our consciousness because of the language and constructs we continue to use.
And it lives on not simply because it has been passed on over the years through the interactions of citizens, but because versions of it have been repeatedly parroted by powerful voices, regurgitated throughout our culture, and absorbed into the American psyche.
Little time can pass before one hears or sees the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ in the media, and in these spaces which largely escape the critical eye of the scientific community, it’s easy to get away with representing evolution inaccurately.
Defenders of this language might say that it describes the evolutionary mechanism called natural selection and that “fittest” just means the organism best suited to its environment — that can even mean an organism that is weaker or has a shorter lifespan.
But when this concept is used in the media it is often used in a way which expresses that what exists should exist (implying superiority), and that natural selection is the only mechanism or driving force of evolution. Both of these assumptions are false.
And these perpetuated myths about evolution dramatically affect how Americans view their world.
By associating success (e.g. physical, emotional, financial, etc.) with evolutionary value, this ideology ignores historical structures of power and inequality and distorts the public’s understanding of their true conditions.
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