Why is it that so many Americans incessantly defend the rich? Why do they constantly accept these ideas that increase the income of the CEOs while not contributing to theirs in any positive way? What is it that motivates them? More than anything else, the concept of Social Darwinism has brought them up to believe that it’s a “we” and not a “they.” It comes in handy when you want to get away with a lot of bullshit.
Social Darwinism, like its counterpart in the study of biological evolution, describes the Law of Natural Selection, or as many have misattributed it: “Survival of the Fittest.” While explaining that flaw is another topic for another day, it applies perfectly in the sociological sense. Social Darwinism describes “Survival of the Fittest” in terms of upward mobility in society, especially in consideration of class.
Instead of surviving to reproduce like biological Darwinism, Social Darwinism is the idea that those who work hardest, are most intelligent, or are better than everyone else are the ones who make it to the top, while the rest fall by the wayside. Survival of the fittest in this context means that if I’m the best engineer at a company, I’ll be the one who gets promoted because I worked the hardest and deserve it. A meritocracy, if you will, is what many believe America is.
Think of all the cliches you heard growing up: If you work hard enough, you can be anything you want! You can do anything if you work at it! America is the Land of Opportunity!
How much opportunity do you have if your school keeps getting defunded because only those who can’t afford to move away are still there? How much opportunity do you have if your textbooks deliberately misinform you, lest the schoolboard accuse you of indoctrination? How much opportunity do you have if you receive an unequal education in comparison to the affluent?
It’s much easier to teach them the Meritocracy Myths. These myths are what keep people working hard, even when they’re being screwed by the system, taken advantage of, and watch as their benefits disappear and their wages stagnate. They could protest or strike, but so many corporations treat the lower-level workers like replaceable numbers. “Oh you don’t like it? Quit, there’s someone else waiting to take your job!”
Millions of Americans are stuck in dead-end jobs because they feel they have no power. It’s not based on how hard they work for themselves, it’s based on the numbers they need to reach so that the managers, regional directors, and CEOs get a bonus. Someone working for 7.50 an hour sees no increase in their pay if the store makes its bottom line, but the people higher up do. And when the numbers aren’t up, it flows downhill, and their jobs are threatened. What is already unstable, unvalued, and hanging by the goodness of the hearts of the managers in their minds anyway is now even more compromised because of something completely out of their control.
But they keep working hard because they believe one day it will pay off, right? Those who work the hardest succeed? That’s what we were always taught.
Those born into privilege and wealth don’t necessarily have to work hard. I see it every day, being a poor kid at a rich university. A lot of my fellow students have no idea that within their own city, many kids go to high schools that our university representatives won’t even consider visiting. But if their father or mother were a diplomat, sure, come right on in. D-average? How much do they earn? Oh you’ll do fine.
Meanwhile, I had to go back to school for the third time at a community college at age 25, have a 3.8, join Phi Theta Kappa, apply, and commute 100 miles for four years while working the whole time and having a work-study job on top of it.
And what do I hear around campus? My favorite example was hearing some students complaining that their dorm hall didn’t have a doorman. The response was, “why can’t they make the work-study kids do it?”
How are attitudes like this able to survive? Because of the myths we’re taught that keep us in line. We’re not taught reality, we’re taught what feels good and motivates people to work hard. We’re not taught class, we’re taught that everyone is equal. We’re not taught income inequality, we’re taught that working hard means success will come. So why wouldn’t someone working their ass off at three jobs feel like one day it’s all going to pay off and they’ll be living on Easy Street? That’s what they’ve heard their whole lives!
I don’t blame these people, and I certainly mean no disrespect in this aspect. I’ve been lucky enough to have a rich and privileged university throw a few kids a bone, me being one of them, and live in a manner that allows me to see this affluent lifestyle from both perspectives. Most of them aren’t malicious, just oblivious. They too were taught that if they’re rich and successful, it’s because they deserved it. They’re the best, they worked the hardest, and the others who are poor… That’s their own fault.
It’s sure easy to sit on top of the mountain and then say that those unable to reach the top just aren’t trying hard enough. If nothing else, it’s an attitude that makes sure their place on the mountain doesn’t get challenged. Hm, almost like there’s a connection there or something…