When advocating for the rights of disabled people online, one of the most offensive retorts I have come across, on multiple occasions no less, is “survival of the fittest”. If what essentially boils down to a death threat wasn’t so troubling, the gross misunderstanding of evolution would be enough to give me an aneurysm. That’s why I decided to dedicate an entire blog post to go into just why the notion that disabled people should be allowed to die off for the benefit of the species is so ridiculously wrong, because apparently modern society is extremely deficient in morals.
In the case of evolution, fittest is not always a literal term. While back in the good ol’ days being able to outrun a lion was distinctly beneficial, we soon learned that out-smarting the lion was a far easier and more reliable method of not getting eaten. We built traps and made weapons. We learnt which plants were useful as poisons, and which ones were remedies. We organised ourselves so that each group had healers, hunters, warriors, builders, and parents, in a far more complex way than even the largest colony of ants. We built civilisations. We became society. In short, the traits of intelligence and adaptability were our “fittest”, and it is these traits which we evolved to maximise. And where, I ask you, is the evidence that disabled people are lacking in intelligence and adaptability?
In fact, a very compelling case could be made showing that disabled people are among the most adaptable on the planet. After all, in a world quite literally built by and for the able-bodied, disabled people are usually left to figure out the logistics of how they will go about their day on their own. We are often left to find our own solutions to problems, taking what resources we have and making them meet our needs. According to the science, we are not so unfit as to warrant eradication from the gene pool.
There are also several other issues with this inaccurate use of survival of the fittest, primarily that it relies on disabled people not reproducing, but also that it completely fails to take into account that most disabilities are not governed by genetics alone. Many disabilities are the result of physical injuries, and then there are cases like mine. While perhaps how my body responded to the meningitis was partially governed by genetics, the initial exposure was purely environmental. That’s not even touching epigenetics, the influence of environmental factors on the genes themselves.
If the scientific arguments aren’t enough to convince someone that spouting “survival of the fittest” whenever they know they’re losing a fight is wrong, there is always the ethics.
Going on a slight tangent (bear with me); if humans are alleged to be inherently better than other animals (a debatable point in and of itself, but those who quote “survival of the fittest” tend to believe this too), then one of the distinguishing features that makes us superior has to be society. Society is a lot more complicated than simply the aggregation of vast numbers of people; society is a complex amalgamation of incompatible beliefs and behaviours that, somehow, thrives by using the wide range of experiences to find solutions. Society is allowing each individual to use their strengths safe in the knowledge that their own weakness will be somebody else’s strength. In my case that weakness is an inability to walk far, but my strength doesn’t require me to even stand; I just need a computer, a word processor, and some caffeine. Without a society balancing the strengths & weaknesses of individuals within the population, we are no better than animals.
At the end of the day, telling people that the world is better off with them dead is just rude. This same perception that we are not fit enough to live leads to our deaths when it is deemed that it isn’t worth the resources to keep us alive. We are fit to survive; the only thing that needs to die is the ableist notion that we are not.