An Evolutionary Christmas Tale:
Musing About Scrooge and the Conservative Male Mind ©
William A. Spriggs
Origin, Dec., 1997
Updated, December 2010
"We choose this time because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices..." Charles Dickens
As I watched, once again, the televised showing of the 1950's movie
classic, A Christmas Carol, the movie stirred fond remembrances of reading for
the first time, on paper, the passages from the classic Charles Dickens work. I remember
today the strong images left on my young, impressionable mind affecting forever
my future thoughts. With the season beckoning, the nights growing longer and
colder, I reached once again for the book from the others that I prize dearly
and settled in near the fire.
There was Ebenezer Scrooge, in all his miserable and self-centered righteousness. Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone. Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and Sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. As I do with most things I ponder these days, I placed the Dickens's fictional classic into an evolutionary perspective. The incredible visual description of Scrooge left no doubt in my mind that the Scrooge represented in the old text could easily be replaced in reality today with those who believe in the Nature only side of the Nature-Nurture debate.
They are predominately male, but not exclusively so; they believe in might-makes-right; that the weak need to be lead as a parent leads a child; they also believe that money is good for rich people and bad for poor people because money ennobles rich people, making them strong as well as wise, and that money corrupts the poor, making them stupid as well as weak (Louis Lapham). In 2004, they are the Neo-Cons found in the highest places of American government who believe that we should strike first with our power and might to forestall any potential threat - and be damned whether we are right - and be damned to anyone who thinks them wrong. They are the Machiavellians, born of the Medieval Italian city-states, who capture chaos by the neck and restore order through the rule of the iron fist. There is no doubts in my mind that the aggressive male behavior evolves from our primal ancestors, where being "king of the hill" meant defeating all male challengers to win the right to mate with any female they desired.
These pundits, know-it-alls (and throw in a few scientists), trumpet that the harsh, unforgiving, and selfish determination of the genome that composes our human DNA drives all events in our lives to the total exclusion of our cultural heritage and religious teachings. They righteously believe that they are biologically predetermined to rule our lives and others because of their, what Steven Jay Gould calls, biological determinism. Part of this inherent belief in the biological superiority of one's own race, gender, or nation, comes by merely evaluating the resources of others less fortunate and labeling them as inferior. This ranking others solely on the basis of their resources is what I call: Comparative Resource Evaluation. Call it Poverty Sucks, Social Darwinism, or even, "I got mine, and you can't have any of it." As the progressive economist John Kenneth Galbraith once wrote: "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."
In this modern, precise world that demands authenticity, one can not just proclaim this biological determinism by one's self; one must back these endeavors with solid, empirical evidence. One sure way to do that is to find those in the scientific community willing to substantiate these biological proclamations by the offering of grant monies to support their studies. Well, it all works like a well-oiled machine. The word is spread that resources are available from conservative think tanks, and those desiring the money to advance their careers bend the facts just enough, which in turn, leads to the successful bending of the conservative memes that somehow echo the convictions of the money supply.
"Rubbish, you say?" See what happens if you attempt to bite the hand that feeds you. The evidence floods out in gushing amounts and we are almost convinced of its accuracies. Yet something gnaws at our logic and eats at our soul that something just does not fit right. It is sort of like the cigarette companies funding studies that find cigarettes can not be proven to be addictive. We all know the truth, yet because of the contradicting evidence we fail to reach conclusive closure in our legal system. In the avalanche of "correct" evidence from the dominate controlled mass media, the great unwashed can form, what used to called, false consciousness: "The holding of false or inaccurate beliefs that are contrary to one's own social interest and which thereby contribute to the maintenance of the disadvantaged position of the self or the group." (J.T. Jost, Political Psychology, 16, p. 400).
Don't get me wrong here. I do not believe that what is occurring is deliberate or a great conspiracy. I strongly sense that what is occurring, is innate, and to the advantage of the lucky variant in maintaining its status. But, while doing so they somehow find no sins or weakness in their own mirrored images. Is it morally right? That's a judgment call for philosophers. In my own opinion it is nothing more than a formal, detailed excuse to cover their greed and lack of empathy. It helps to assuage the pain of looking the other way when help is requested from others below their social rank in order to obtain or retain resources for themselves, their clan, their village, their race, or their nation. Altruism is a fatal flaw in the theory of natural selection; ignore the flaw and the theory stands to embellish one's greed as natural. One must not confuse the true altruism of Christ with extended kin-selection or in others of similar phenotype.
What is occurring is an innate mechanism that I have called, The Resource Retention Rule: Those who have the advantage of surplus resources will do all they can to retain those resources as it greatly produces the advantage for the successful passing of one's own genes into the next generation. (Read about the Social Dominance Theory) Put another way: "It's the Golden Rule," Those who have the gold have a distinct social advantage over others less fortunate and get to make the rules. Those less fortunate, must follow the rules of the gold tenders and are at a less advantage in our modern society and thus, the dominates feel, at a genetic disadvantage. The old, primate rule of the "fittest," has been replaced by those who are the "luckiest." Evolution is not about Survival of the Fittest, It's Who Leaves Behind the Most Children.
As I continued to read the Christmas tale, two gentlemen appear at Scrooge's place of business and, as was their mission before him that day was to ask for donations for the poor that holiday season. They tell him of the great want in the world and that the poor would rather die than reach out for help because of their pride. Scrooge replies that he gives enough and that the poor should: "If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population." Does this have a familiar ring to it when we return to legislative debates on the topics of welfare assistance and affirmative action? The words are noble about self-reliance, but their outcomes really mean that they just want the poor to go away and be of little burden to those that already have the resource advantage.
Continuing, the ghost of Jacob Marley now appears before Scrooge in an attempt to spare him the same fate as he of drifting in a state of ghostly purgatory and finding no peace. His greatest lament was that in his present ghostly state he sees Want and Need all around him, yet he is unable to change the fate of mortal humans. "Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raised them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode!" Marley tells Scrooge that he will be visited by three spirits and scorns him if he fails to learn what they have to teach.
The first spirit appears and announces that he is the spirit of Christmas Past. He was a strange figure of an old man, yet reduced to the size of a small child. Although his head was covered with long white hair as someone old, the face was childlike and had not one wrinkle. The ghost whisked Scrooge away to his past and then we see the joyous scene of his sister Fan coming to rescue him from his harsh boarding school and the mean headmaster. His father has had a change of heart and wanted him home for Christmas. The spirit then takes Scrooge to the warehouse where he apprenticed under Fezziwig who sat royally upon his high desk to rule those below. It was there that he saw himself and others in preparation for the great Christmas party to be held and all those who would arrive and make merry. Then in a flash we are witnesses to Scrooge as a young suitor sitting next to a young and beautiful women named Belle. She and Ebenezzer were betrothed, but Belle was tearful and was in the process of breaking off the engagement. "I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you." Scrooge replies to something of the effect that poverty is a much worst fate. Needless to say, Scrooge spent the rest of his life alone and counting his money.
The second spirit to appear before Scrooge was the ghost of Christmas Present. A large, lumbering giant of a man draped in simple green robe bordered with white fur. On his head he wore no other covering than a holly wreath. The ghost takes Scrooge to Bob Cratchit's house. You will recall that Cratchit was employed by Scrooge as a clerk on less than minimal wage; not to mention hostile working conditions. There was Tiny Tim in his corner spot by the fireplace with his crutches by his side. Poor Tiny Tim, a poor soul with the wrong gene mixture not meant long for this life in our harsh and unforgiving world of the strong and healthy winners; soon prey to the predator of social insignificance. The spirit admonishes humankind, and in particular Scrooge with these memorable words: "Will you decide what men shall live and what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live like this poor man's child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!"
As the spirit was ready to depart, Scrooge could not help but notice that there was something moving under the ghost's robe. When Scrooge enquired, the spirit opens his robe and two small children appear. One a boy and the other a girl. Scrooge asks if they are the spirits, and he replies: "They are man's. And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased." I still wonder at that passage. How insightful that Dickens, who had no formal knowledge of biology or primatology could know that the male gender could spell doom for humankind unless its present behaviors are reversed. Perhaps, the failure to answer why humankind is so violent really falls upon the failure of male scientists to see the obvious mechanisms of their own gender in the mirror. The female gender does not march off to war.
The third and final ghost of Christmas appears to Scrooge and frightens him the most. The ghost of Christmas future was a dark and eerie figure draped in an all black robe and the only part visible from the dark figure was a pale hand from one sleeve. The ghost spoke not one word, but just pointed to Scrooge's future. When Scrooge is shown the harvest of his deeds -- an unattended tombstone cluttered by weeds, Scrooge can not bear to see the truth of all his empty and selfish years. He gets down on his knees and clutches at the robe of the ghost and begs for another chance. "Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead, but if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say, it is thus with what you show me!"
In an instant, he awakens and finds himself clutching at bed curtains from his bed. He realizes that it is morning and hears the sound of church bells proclaiming some significance to the morning.. He swings open a window and shouts to a small boy below and asks him what day is it. "Today! Why, Christmas Day!" Scrooge was besides himself. He realized that he made it to the next day and was: "...merry as a schoolboy....and giddy as a drunken man."
What Scrooge was feeling was the brain chemical mix of neuropetides and reconfigured consciousness. It is here that we humans can focus inward to change the memories and convictions that have ruled our past lives. It is also at this point that we make the conscious decisions to change our future outward mechanisms that can affect our fellow humans. The transformation that touched Scrooge with the discovery of this innate gift of altruism buried deep inside his soul is a most important lesson. It flows through all living things and is particularly strong in humans as we process the power to increase or decrease its potential; we are connected to one another in a vast web of time, space, and physical laws. How we treat our fellow humans with the sharing of our surplus wealth could ultimately change our entire planet. Don't worry, I am not advocating that it should be taken from you by a government and then distributed to the poor willy nilly. I am saying that you must give it willingly to receive the gift that Scrooge felt inside his soul.
I find it most ironic that Dickens and Darwin were both alive and writing during the same time period in England. (There were born only three years apart; Darwin was born in 1809; Dickens was born in 1812, however, Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol 16 years before Darwin published The Origin of Species). Darwin was born of wealth, and Dickens was born of humble parents whose father was thrown into debtor's prison when Dickens was only 12. I, at least, can see where their respective cultural environments would have a tremendous impact on their writings. I ponder to no end that there must have been more than just coincidence for both of these English nobilities have their works survive for more than 150 years; both from the same time, cultural, and political womb; both having tremendous effect on our societies today. I will leave that irony to philosophers and great thinkers.
If only we had ghosts of Evolutionary Past, Present and Future available on call that could visit some social Darwinists and political conservatives to see our evolutionary past, our present society through evolutionary lenses, and the dim prospects of our future unless "we depart from certain ends." This Evolutionary Christmas Tale has been about Money, Greed, and Altruism. Money and greed are the chains of our ghostly past genetic slavehood. Altruism is the future of our enlightened minds through science, religion, and cultural awareness. Trust me, I've been to the Mountaintop and I can see the Renaissance coming toward us from the distant horizon.
Origin: Dec. 10, 1997
Updated: November, 2008
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