Why is it critical to understand all the implications related to distinguishing between intuition and the intellect? The work of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and its subsequent influence will help answer that question. Let’s begin by setting the context. The nineteenth century Western worldview was dominated by an almost worshipful attitude toward science and the closely associated human intellect. Humankind was the superior animal gifted with the capacity for “reason.” Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published in the middle of that century (1859).
How Darwin’s theories or at least ideas attributed to him were used to justify the behavior of the false self illustrate the importance of our worldview in determining human behavior. Darwin’s suppositions related to human evolution had an enormous influence on Western institutions and both individual and collective human behavior. “Some used Darwinism to attack organized religion; others used it to justify racism, imperialism, and militarism [and unfortunately] his ideas were misunderstood and misapplied by others who sought to justify man’s inhumanity to man.”[i]
No matter what the intellectual achievements of humanity might be, in P-B they will often be expressed in a self-destructive way. “Herbert Spencer, for example, in his ten-volume Synthetic Philosophy (1860-1896), in which he coined the phrase Social Darwinism, applied Darwin’s findings to virtually every aspect of human society. Spencer stated that within a society groups compete with each other, and superior groups naturally dominate inferior groups. Thus, Social Darwinism maintained that exploitation, nationalism, bigotry, and racism had been validated by science.”[ii] Social Darwinism entered the human narrative and provided the rationale for some of the worst human behaviors for the following hundred years.
Social Darwinism could be used to support the seeking and consolidation of power in competitive capitalism. John D. Rockefeller, an American industrialist, wrote that big business was “merely a survival of the fittest, the working out of a law of nature and a law of God.”[iii] With the sanction of both God and science the robber barons could justify the greed of the security energy center as well as the exploitation of laborers and illegal business tactics as politicians looked the other way with a hand under the table.
The most tragic expression of Social Darwinism was in nationalism and imperialism wherein the inferior Other became the victim and the scapegoat for the worst projections of the false self. “One of the earliest racist writers, Arthur de Gobineau, in his Essay on the Inequality of the Human Race (1853-1855), proclaimed the superiority of the white races.”[iv] People of color around the world as well as Jews, Gypsies and Slavs in Europe could now be targeted and exploited with Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” as justification. Some experienced the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as the triumph of human reason while others experienced the Holocaust and Hiroshima as the fruits of the human intellect. All of humanity continues to experience the unrelenting expression of the false-self survival strategy.
Our over-reliance on the human intellect may be our undoing. “Knowledge comes to seem an end in itself, and then we gobble it down without stopping to realize that it’s Iago [whispering in the ear of Othello]—or that anonymous writer of the Wikipedia entry—who’s serving it up to us, and that wisdom sometimes depends on seeing how much knowledge doesn’t know and how much every day is shaped by unexpectedness.”[v]
Social Darwinism was not a product of either Darwin’s or Spencer’s intellectual insights. It was an expression of the deep-seated fear inherent in the worldview that values the mindless accumulation of material wealth, the pursuit of illusory sensory pleasures, and the exploitation of the weak and defenseless to acquire power that quickly fades like the mirage that it is. Humanity could have avoided much of the worst of our suffering in the last two centuries if we had listened more to the compassionate voice of our “heart” and less to the seemingly rationale observations of the “head.”
[i] Magill, Frank N. [ed.]. Masterpieces of World Literature. New York: Harper. 1989, page 619.
[ii] Ibid., page 618.
[iv] Ibid., page 619.
[v] Iyer, Pico. “What Do We Know?” The New York Times. January 1, 2017, page 7.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.