Rethinking Social Darwinism in America
Maybe we’re not going to demonize the poor or the guy who lost his house as much as we might have 15 years ago.
Andre Dubus III is an American writer of fiction and memoir. His 1999 novel House of Sand and Fog lounged for 20 weeks on The New York Times’s Bestseller List in 2000 and 2001 and became a feature film in 2003. His 2008, based-on-real-events novel The Garden of Last Days explores the final days of one of the 9/11 terrorists, who chose to spend them indulging in the sins of the West. His 2012 memoir Townie is a profound meditation on the nature of violence. Born in 1959, Dubus obtained his bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Texas. Before succeeding as a writer, he worked odd jobs as a carpenter, bounty hunter, and bartender.
I’m actually fairly despairing about the times we live in on many levels. I think there’s more shame in being poor than there ever was. I think we also have a cultural dynamic of blaming the victim: if you’re poor and you’re struggling, you’ve fallen out of the race, then there’s something wrong with you. There’s a real social Darwinism going on now.
What is Social Darwinism? It says that those who are on top deserve to be there, and those who are on the bottom deserve to be there. It is the philosophy of the rich. I think there’s a hopeful side, though. So many people are struggling because of this swindle that’s been perpetrated against the American people by a handful of casino operators on Wall Street. I think that this may be a good thing, at least on a social awareness level, that maybe we’re not going to demonize the poor or the guy who lost his house as much as we might have 15 years ago. That can only be a good thing.
I do know that if you’re raised in the country poor you never really feel like you’re invited to the party. And I think there’s a part of you that never quite let’s go of that shame. It’s interesting, I’ve met a lot of wealthy people in the last few years. The ones who seem to wear it best are not the ones who made it, but the ones who were born with it. I think that says something.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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