“Lions, and Tigers and Banks Oh MY”: Social Darwinism and the Notion of “Too Big to Fail”

“Lions, and Tigers and Banks Oh My!” 

Social Darwinism and the Notion of “Too Big to Fail”
Within nature the slow elk almost always falls prey to the hungry lion or tiger. Can the same be inferred of humans and the “artificially” man-made structures of society? Herbert Spencer postulated that it could. Spencer coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” and spawned the term “Social Darwinism.” Both are still widely accepted and used in many circles to justify why the “haves” are successful and the “have-nots” are not. This Eurocentric style of thinking has shaped the very foundations of our society by shaping and molding perceptions of individuals at all class levels. At the lower class levels it supposedly justifies why these poor souls can never progress up the class hierarchy. At the higher class levels it is used to justify the status and prestige associated with what C. Wright Mill’s suggested are the “power elite.”  (According to Mills the “power elite” consisted of high ranking individuals in important political, military, business and banking positions.  On frequently occuring occasions positions on boards of governors overlap, blending the responsibilities and allegiances of these “power elite.”)  Altogether, Social Darwinism is skewed, in that what Darwin actually stated was not “survival of the fittest” but “survival of the best adapted.” This monumental error seems not to matter considering history has regurgitated this fable in various sayings such as, “Only the strong survive,” or “It’s a dog eat dog world out there.”


Nature is far different from man’s creations like bureaucracy, the state, modes of production, and stock markets. The hierarchal structure we are indoctrinated into accepting as “natural” contrary to “artificial” creates inequalities at birth that hinder or prohibit the lower socioeconomic classes’ ability to compete with those of the upper classes. This is the main distinction between animals “surviving” in nature and humans “surviving” in social society.  

To me, Social Darwinism, seems to justify an ideology of arrogance and superiority for those being born to the upper 1% of the United States over everyone else. A prime example, as my title eluded, was the recent bailing out of AIG, Fannie/Freddie Mac, and several of the major transnational banking institutions in 2008 by the United States’ Congress. “Too big to fail” was the chant and rant in the national and local newspapers, flying straight in the face of Spencer’s “survival of the fittest” ideology. I fin it ironic and more than a little unnerving that such a notion as “too big to fail” could even be suggested, let alone embraced. When the mortgage-paying home owner, in their quest for the “American Dream,” was suckered into a variable rate loan with obscene interest by predatory banks, subsequently defaulting on the loan and being forced to file bankruptcy, there was no “bailout” offered. For more on the illusion that is the “American Dream” watch this clip from comedian George Carlin:  Trillions of taxpayers’ dollars were allotted to AIG and many of these transnational banking institutions to stave off the supposed collapse of our economy. I believe it is essentially important to remember that some of this TARP money used to bailout these corporations came from these very same home owners and their families through future taxation. The hypocrisy in this revelation is too much to fathom! Social Darwinism was used to justify many of these home owners filing bankruptcy while in the same breath, used to justify why we must provide over a trillion dollars to the banking and insurance industries to ensure their survival. Social Darwinism emphasizes the “fittest” will survive although, by recent accounts, if you are “too big” and begin to drown, a life preserver is thrown your direction while all your smaller competition drowns. I suppose the monopolization of the banking industry by a few transnational banking institutions is a latent function of the “too big to fail” bailouts. The contradictory standards that emanated from the bailouts of the few at the expense of the many only reinforced the hidden ideology of superiority that Social Darwinism teaches.  


~ by jrparrott on May 3, 2010.

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