Trump’s social darwinism

Really enjoyed this article from Chait last week:

Social Darwinism is a philosophy that treats the market as a perfectly efficient and moral mechanism for allocating wealth. Just as natural selection favors those species best adapted for survival, the theory goes, capitalism rewards the smartest and most deserving among us. It is the intellectual scaffolding, constructed by writers like Ayn Rand and various Austrian economists, behind the vision of conservatives like Paul Ryan and David Koch. Trump may not have read up on the theory, but he understands it viscerally. His father, Fred, inculcated his son with the unshakable belief that his own greatness would lead to enormous wealth.

Trump’s boast in Iowa about the “great, brilliant business minds” in his administration communicates a great deal about his innermost beliefs. “I love all people, rich or poor,” he explained, “but, in those particular positions, I just don’t want a poor person, does that make sense?” The richest people in the country are, by definition, the most brilliant and well qualified. Trump rejects the notion that circumstance, luck, or social advantage might play a role. In a 1990 interview, a more candid time, Trump expressed his belief that being born into poverty would not have arrested his rise. “The coal miner gets black-lung disease, his son gets it, then his son,” he told an interviewer. “If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines. But most people don’t have the imagination — or whatever — to leave their mine. They don’t have ‘it’ … You’re either born with it or you’re not.” …

Social Darwinism is the tissue connecting this shady conduct with the Republican Party’s highest policy priorities. Conservatives believe programs that tax the rich and benefit the poor illegitimately meddle with the natural and correct distribution of wealth produced by the marketplace. The Republican health-care bill — both what passed in the House and what Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has brought to the Senate — confers a nearly trillion-dollar tax cut that overwhelmingly benefits the wealthy. That appears to be its sponsors’ primary consideration. Secondarily, it strips away an equal amount in Medicaid and middle-class insurance tax credits.

Conservatives have little difficulty applying the logic of social Darwinism to justify punishing the sick. Vice-President Mike Pence explains that the administration’s health-care plan supports the promotion of “personal responsibility.” Kellyanne Conway implies that only an unwillingness to work would cause an able-bodied adult to have trouble affording health care: “If they are able-bodied and they want to work, then they’ll have employer-sponsored benefits like you and I do.” The Republican plan, explained Alabama congressman Mo Brooks, will reduce “the cost to those people who lead good lives. They’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy.” Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, allowed that while people who “get cancer” should have a “safety net,” “that doesn’t mean we should take care of the person who sits at home, eats poorly, and gets diabetes.”

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Photo of the day

So, I’m visiting my sister’s house on the Potomac River in Colonial Beach, VA.  Swans came up to the dock for food right at sunset.  I ran to get my camera (Canon G7x) while the kids threw them bread.  Hard to pick a favorite, but I’m pretty pleased with this one.

And this one:

The nature of addiction

Great stuff in the NYT on the latest research on addiction and how it changes your brain.  The good news: you can change your brain for the better by changing to a more positive environment.  Bad news: a stressful environment makes your more prone to addiction:

Michael Nader at the Wake Forest School of Medicine showed this in a study of monkeys and cocaine. When monkeys are moved from an individual cage and housed in a group, some become dominant and others assume a submissive role. For those that become dominant — meaning they get more attention, more grooming and more access to food and treats — this is a positive change. They now have more D2 dopamine receptors and are less interested in self-administering cocaine. But for submissive animals, the group setting is a stressful change, and they respond by increasing their use of cocaine.

Strikingly, the effect of environment is easily reversible: Stress the dominant monkey by returning it to a solo cage and its D2 receptors will drop — and its taste for cocaine will increase. In other words, simply by changing the environment, you can increase or decrease the likelihood of an animal becoming a drug addict.

The same appears true for humans. Even people who are not hard-wired for addiction can be made dependent on drugs if they are stressed. Is it any wonder, then, that the economically frightening situation that so many Americans experience could make them into addicts? You will literally have a different brain depending on your ZIP code, social circumstances and stress level.

The last important component of addiction is access. No matter how stressed you are, you obviously won’t become a drug addict unless you’re exposed to drugs. The same goes for compulsive overeating.

I feel quite confident that I’m very high in D2 receptors.  I suspect I’m lucky in that I was probably born with more than my fair share, but I’ve certainly also benefited from a great environment for most of my life.  And, since I’m a good liberal, I’m not going to judge those with stress and fewer D2 receptors who suffer from addiction.  Here’s a thought– public policies that help, rather than punish (thereby greatly increasing stress)– addicts.

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