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College Essays...Scary, or Fun?

A few weeks ago, OSU's spring semester began and to be honest, I was a bit nervous about maintaining my gpa. In order to graduate early, I have to take 6 classes this semester instead of the regular 5, and on top of work, I was unsure of my abilities! You can imagine how stressed I felt when writing my first theory assignment for my Theory of Anthropological Thought class, which my advisor had warned many student fail their first time taking the class. When it came time to read a rather dull article by a social thinker of the 19th century, I dreaded synthesizing the information and having to make something coherent out of it...but alas, I finished the task, expecting a few critiques from my stern dutch professor. To my great surprise, my professor emailed me asking if he could use my writing as an 'excellent example of writing' to show the rest of the class! And so, confidence has been restored and I am ready to tackle this very Anthropological semester :) Here's the writing:

Herbert Spencer, the late English Sociologist and political theorist, speculated that all human societies were driven by evolution in order to become as complex a society as possible. The units of study described in his classic work The Social Organism includes all citizens within a given society, whose functions vary from one another but as a whole contribute to the overall function of this social organism.

In The Social Organism, Spencer focuses on various existential and societal questions, including why social inequality must exist, why some societies are more complex than others, and why people are driven to function as members of the social organism. The mechanisms Spencer uses to explain these questions are describing how evolution determines the complexity of a given society, how social inequality is necessary for societal progress, and how the order of nature ultimately determines the will of the average person.

Like all things in nature, society is indeed driven by evolution. In fact, Spencer states that the complexity of a society is determined by how evolved it is. He uses the example of primitive societies functioning simply, like yeast, while more evolved, complex societies, like that of England, can be compared to the human brain. The inequality between the simple and complex societies can be blamed on the idea of the survival of the fittest, which Spencer believes is evolution’s manner of ensuring the success of a society.

Furthermore, Spencer examines the inequality within the complex society, stating that most people will be a member of the lower class, and only the fittest individuals will have the privilege of being a member of the upper classes. While this may seem unjust, Spencer explains that misery is necessary for the growth of a society, seeing that evolution will eventually remove all misery from society to become a perfect civilization. Simply put, societal inequality reflects the order of nature.

Spencer elaborates on the idea that people are driven by nature, and that the will of man will always reflect natural laws. Humanity as a whole is driven by an invisible force, which is evolution. Spencer states that while inequality exists in every society, it is important to understand that the society would not be successful unless the rulers wanted to rule and the lower classes wanted to be ruled. Hence, every member of the social organism has a function and reflects the will to progress as evolution sees fit.

While Spencer supports the fact that evolution drives mankind, it is important to understand the underlying assumptions he creates within The Social Organism. First off, he claims that some societies are complex while others remain primitive due to the influence evolution has had upon the particular society. While natural factors such as habitat and food sources affect the structure of a society, it is important to note that the complexity of a society does not define its superiority over other societies. Spencer is completely ethnocentric, and believes that Europe is the perfect and virtually only model for a successful, complex society.

Additionally, Spencer assumes that in order for a society to be considered an evolutionary success, it must require a class system similar to that seen in Europe. He fails to recognize that all societies have merit, and that evolutionary success is based on surviving and passing one’s genes onto the next generation. As a whole, The Social Organism helps the reader to better understand what drives man to act as a member of society, though some of Spencer’s assumptions are ethnocentric and elitist.