Should we toss out grandma?

Social Darwinism peaked from behind the curtain and waved hello, taking its cue from President Donald Trump’s March 22nd tweet: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”

The implicit message: The strong and healthy will only stand still for so long; the weak and the sick better catch up. It’s steeped in nihilistic Social Darwinism, whose advocates usually guise their canons in the language of free enterprise and nonintervention and deregulation: Let market forces prevail and all will be well. But the tweet liberated them. They were free at last to proclaim their unvarnished, survival-of-the-fittest world view. Some framed it as grim realism (“most can’t bear hearing this, but …”). Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick even offered himself as a martyr (“No one reached out to me and said, ‘as a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ … And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”). 

The discredited 19th-century philosophy, which has been seeping back into the American psyche for decades, applies theories of natural selection to human society: Might makes right in this pitiless universe. The era’s robber barons and captains of industry employed it to enforce 12-hour work days and paltry wages. They thumbed their noses at Matthew 25:31-40:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” 

Nuts to that sentimental nonsense, say the self-characterized realistists. We gotta come back to Earth and breathe the dirty air.

Sample Attorney Scott A. McMillan. He boldly tweeted on March 23:

Notice McMillan’s assumptions: The sick and the elderly carry a huge price tag (they’re “generally expensive to maintain”) and fail to do their bit (they’re “not productive”). Don’t count the moments grandpa bounced little Emily on his knee or grandma told Joey she’d beat up the monster under his bed (thus ridding him of those nightmares). We can’t measure such trifles in billable hours, so they don’t count. Human beings are economic cogs; worth is always measured in dollars.

Classical Christianity, of course, says that’s twisted. We possess intrinsic worth because we’re made in God’s image. Money is made to serve the human community, not vice versa. As Russell Moore says: “Each human life is more significant than a trillion-dollar gross national product. Stocks and bonds are important, yes, but human beings are created in the image of God.”

Not in this world. Competition amid scarcity is always the name of the game. Laura Ingraham of Fox News played into that ethos with this tweet, written a few hours after McMillan’s:

Can’t we harness our thoughts and channel them toward synergy? Maybe we’ll ask different questions: “How can medical and government wonks cooperate to save our lives and our pocket books?”

No. That’s not realistic. The lions and hyenas are snarling over a carcass on the drought-riddled plain, and we carnivores better grab our chunk of meat before it rots. And watch your back. Every friend’s a potential enemy. It’s rich versus poor; weak versus strong; young versus elderly; and doctors versus government officials.

Fortunately, other influencers see the glaring logical flaw. US Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), hardly a fire-breathing Sanders’ disciple, tweeted this:

In other words, the competitive ethos spells practical economic doom.

She’s not alone. Some of the most eloquent voices come from the center-right (classical conservatism roots itself in Edmund Burke’s philosophy, which valued community). The Bulwark’s Alan Cross, a Southern Baptist pastor, wrote a post entitled, “Our Parents Are Not Expendable.” He says:

As a Christian, Jesus tells me to love my neighbor, who in this case includes the business owner who is looking at his company going under, the waitress who just got laid off because her restaurant closed, the immigrant laborer who was fired last week as his factory cut back—and our parents and grandparents who cannot now leave the house for fear that they will catch this disease and die a gruesome death in a short period of time.

If we’re not willing to go to war with this virus and fight for all of them, then we’ve already lost.

To which I say, “Amen.”

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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern


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One Comment on “Should we toss out grandma?”

  1. Joe Delahunt Says:

    The apparent logic of Russell Moore’s comment about a single life weighed against a trillion dollars would lead us to say we should spend a trillion dollars to save a single person, or let our economy collapse to save a single life. You seem to want to say we can have both. Unfortunately the reality is we aren’t able to do both in the way we would like. We can do our best, but we will always have to split the difference somewhere. Where that somewhere is, is the problem of policy. In that regard I don’t see Patrick and McMillan as being on the same page. Patrick is not a Social Darwinist, McMillan clearly is. Patrick is indeed raising the question of where the somewhere is (so is the President in his ever so articulate way). I think we have to think a little more deeply about the consequences of the poverty that will result from a depression. We know that poverty for a host of reasons is accompanied by shorter life spans. Poverty is a killer. And how much worse a killer it would be in a society that has radically diminished resources to deal with illness. So there are legitimate reasons for asking what an optimal policy would be. Do we really want to save one life by throwing millions into poverty, which we know will lead to a great many deaths.I don’t know the answers. But we can’t approach the answers if we won’t ask the question. It isn’t a question of whether or not to love our neighbor.The question is how best to do so.


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