Identitarianism is the new social Darwinism – 06/03/2023 – Suzana Herculano-Houzel

I started the week by learning a new word: “identitarianism”. Yes, I know: what world does my head live in that I hadn’t come across the term yet? She lives in the world of scientific optimism, occupied with dinosaurs and cerebral blood vessels and longevity and surrounded by friends who share with me the vision so beautifully formulated by Fernando Pessoa as “everybody is interesting if we know how to see everybody”.

Questioned in an interview about the Otavio Frias Filho Chair, at USP, which I assumed this year, for my opinion on the “discussion of identity”, I confess that I had to go there and consult university students, I mean, Google. I discovered right away that using this word alone is problematic, because it can refer both to an identity politics, which singles out specific identities, and to the identity movement, which takes the idea to a supremacist extreme. Even so, behind both meanings is the dangerous idea that a group deserves or needs more care and attention than all the others.

The cornerstone of modern identityism is revamped social Darwinism: the damn idea of ​​”survival of the fittest”. The expression was coined by a psychologist, Herbert Spencer, precisely the social Darwinist idealist of the early 19th century, later renamed eugenics – but the concept is there, very clearly, in Darwin’s writings. The problem is that, taken together, “survival of the fittest” are to me the four most toxic words humanity has ever uttered.

A lot of bad things have been and continue to be “justified” based on the married idea, captured by Spencer’s expression, that (1) evolution is progress (2) that happens through a process of survival of the fittest and that, by If so, it would be “natural”, or even “desired”, for only the fittest to survive —or rule, or dominate, or have privileges or anything desirable.

But one need not even go into the moral or ethical merits of the issue to reject it: the idea married at its base is doubly wrong because (1) evolution is only change, not progress, and (2) life is whatever it is. it works – in the physical sense of the word, even, of doing work at the expense of energy (“life is whatever works”).

Identification with a group is a property of any organism with a brain, and that is not the problem. Identitarianism is harmful when it assumes that an identity is “the best of all” —and of course each one considers himself part of that identity. In the context of social Darwinism, identification with a group that is also seen as “the fittest” becomes an instrument of domination.

If evolution was really survival of just something else, it would even make sense, some would say. But it’s not true. Evolution is a celebration of diversity, where no species reigns above the others. Now this particular species needs to realize this.

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