Editorial: Who deserves to live?

Graphic Adam Gibbard

It is exceptionally clear that not all people are created equal in the eyes of our society. 

Race, gender, class, national origin and physical ability often serve as determining factors for what is deemed ‘acceptable’ long before we are even cognizant of the world around us.

Five centuries of the Western colonial project have created global systems of categorization and dehumanization, notably on the pseudoscientific basis of race science. These faulty categories have served to create classes of undesirables ripe for exploitation.

A collective term for various pseudosciences used to justify policies of forced sterilization, ethnic cleansing and genocide is Social Darwinism. These beliefs have led to people—most often people of colour, the poor, those suffering from mental illness and others deemed sub-human by those in power—being ignored or eradicated.

“The redundant population [...] must be repressed by occasional famines,” wrote English economist Thomas Malthus in his 1798 work An Essay on the Principle of Population. He wished to control how poor people procreate through methods now described as eugenics.

Malthus’ heavy philosophical impact on English society inspired Social Darwinism, aiding in its enactment into British Imperial policies of the 19th and 20th centuries. Even as Darwin himself was creating his theories of evolution, right-wing hardliners in England were weaponizing his allegedly neutral empirical scientific method to enact the dehumanization of millions.

Concepts like “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest,” when applied to the complex fabric of humanity, have led to a collective othering of those deemed unfit for survival in a harsh world where only the so-called worthy can survive.

The notion that we need to compete for resources to survive crumbles as soon as we realize that there are already enough resources for all. They are just being hoarded by the wealthy, ruling class.

Government policies coated with rhetoric of the “survival of the fittest” were made even more visible at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. People who had certain health conditions or were elderly were left to die. They were deemed unimportant and thus undeserving of the time and resources necessary to keep them alive.

Billions in funding are donated annually for certain illnesses like cancer treatments, creating movements to fund research. In spite of this, some of the most prevalent illnesses in the Global South like leprosy, rheumatic fever, and trachoma kill millions every year, despite treatments being available. Some cost less than your morning coffee. 

The mass social inequity propelled by this ideology has left many without resources to afford basic necessities from housing to food and medication. From overcrowded emergency rooms in Montreal to underfunded refugee camps abroad, the impact of Social Darwinism can be felt everywhere.

When we initially began working on this special issue months ago, we could have never imagined what would unfold in the Gaza Strip over the last three weeks. It is beyond heartbreaking to hear the Israeli government dehumanize, degrade and massacre thousands of civilians. Despite this, The Link has never shied away from discussing difficult topics in difficult times.

The Death Issue’s purpose is to create a space for people to grieve and reflect on their values and relationship with life. We want to thank everyone involved for sharing their personal stories and reporting on how members of marginalized communities mobilize through their grief.

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 5, published October 31, 2023.