Perhaps beset by the anxieties plaguing those who live through deeply traumatic times, the 17th century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes famously wrote, “the life of man in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” It is, he argued, only out of a deep desire for security that individuals leave the unfettered freedom in this hypothetical state to enter into a civil society. According to social Darwinists, however, you’re not in luck if you think you’ll get any warm feelies in a community — just the opposite.
Researchers have found that people who perceive social relations in general Darwinian terms tend toward various personality traits not conducive to positive social engagement. In a recent study, co-authors, Piotr Radkiewicz and Krystyna Skarżyńska concluded that “naïve social Darwinists,” those individuals who view society something like a competitive jungle where everyone’s main drive is to survive, have “a vision of social life that is unfavorable for building a cooperative, helpful, and relatively egalitarian society.” Those who exhibit Competitive Jungle Belief (CJB), also known as social Darwinists, were shown to admire power, desire dominating and exploiting others, express hostility, and endorse a ‘means justify the ends’ outlook toward pursuing their goals. At the same time, however, they revealed low self-esteem and a fearful posture in close relationships.
The term, “social Darwinism” has dark roots. Thinkers in the 19th and early 20th centuries adapted the Darwinian theory of evolution to social relations, using natural selection as a means of, among other things, justifying beliefs used to oppress certain groups of people. No longer considered a scientific theory, the term has been re-purposed to group people whose beliefs align with the view that only the fittest survive.
One question for interested neuroscientists is how to study the brain and associated biochemicals for connections between beliefs and brain activity or states. For example, the study showed that males are more likely to hold the Competitive Jungle Belief, which could find its source in how the brain processes testosterone. For now, psychologists can apply the findings at both the societal and individual levels to better understand societal dynamics.