Convergent evolution occurs in biological species when two types of organism occupy similar niches, are subject to similar selection pressures, have to solve the same sorts of problems in order to succeed in the tasks that their environments set for them,1 and so on. Thus when two organisms have evolved similar survival tactics, it’s reasonable to draw the conclusion that they’re trying to solve similar problems in the world, that they play a similar role in the grand scheme of being.2
And it’s an undeniable fact that Kerry Morrison and the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance are, against the express will of Jesus Christ, obsessed with discouraging people from giving money to panhandlers directly. Just the briefest glance at any of their newsletters will convince you of this. In particular, see page 7 of the Summer 2014 issue, in which Kerry Morrison asks herself and, by extension, you, the reader, if she should give money to panhandlers (SPOILER: no!). Kerry gives no real reasons at all here or anywhere, so far as we can see.
Admittedly she gives what seem like reasons at first glance, e.g. she asserts that the homeless will spend the money on alcohol and then get arrested by the BID patrol for drinking it in public, but there’s no explanatory force here. Kerry’s the Executive Directrix of the HPOA and thus the big boss of the BID patrol. She is a woman under authority, with soldiers under her; and she says to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes.3 If she doesn’t want people getting arrested for drinking in public, all she’s gotta do is tell her gunmen to stop arresting them. There’s no need to propagandize against giving money to the poor if the goal is merely to arrest fewer people.
And it doesn’t stop with propaganda, either. There are actual machines involved. See, e.g., page 5 of the Summer 2014 HPOA Newsletter, in which Kerry promotes machines that people can put money into instead of handing it personally to panhandlers. This, says she, is “a positive option for passersby to contribute change to help people.” These machines cost $2500 a pop and they’re looking at getting 12 of them. That comes to $30,000 altogether, which is actually about 2% of the HPOA’s annual security budget. There’s some serious purpose at work or the HPOA wouldn’t be willing to spend such an outrageous amount of money,7 but we’ll be damned if we can see what it is. Fortunately, we have an analytic tool that will let us understand everything and then explain it to you!
Obviously human organizations are subject to the same forces which shape biological species.4 If we want to understand what’s motivating Kerry Morrison and the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance to set themselves in opposition to the explicit instructions of Jesus Christ by discouraging people from giving money to panhandlers, we might look for cases of organizational convergent evolution in which the motivating factors are more clearly understood. Amazingly, we have found just such an example!
Historian Claudia Koonz, writing of exponentially increasing state control of all social activity in Germany in the mid-1930s as part of Hitler’s consolidation of his power, explains that “even begging was centralized, as posters admonished citizens to ‘Say no’ to panhandlers and donate instead to the national charity, the Winter Relief.”5 The sign in German shown above admonishes citizens that “Begging is forbidden by the police” and (out of the frame) they should “Give all to the Winter Relief.”6
By 1937 the Nazi government had decrees in place which, according to historians Christopher R. Browning and Lewis H. Siegelbaum, had
extended the powers of preventive detention to include ‘asocials,’ namely those ‘who demonstrate through behavior towards the community, which may not in itself be criminal, that they will not adapt themselves to the community.’ Specifically included were beggars, tramps, whores, and alcoholics…and the ‘workshy’ or chronically unemployed.9
This all laid the groundwork for the Spring 1938 arrest and deportation to Buchenwald of more than 10,000 homeless men in what was known as Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich. And what was the purpose of this action, so we might compare it to the purpose of the HPOA in pushing people not to give money to panhandlers? Well, as always with the Nazis, it’s hard to say, but it was certainly evil and genocidal. And behold the striking parallelism between these programs and their convergent evolution. As Albert Einstein said: quod erat demonstrandum.
- We can hear our high-school biology teacher now, just standing at the front of the room screaming about how evolution is neither intentional nor teleological. We remember, teach, really! It’s just that teleological imagery is too powerful to ignore in this rhetorical context, and it’s not like our lil old blog can do anything to increase the world’s ignorance about natural selection.
- Or, you know, maybe it’s not reasonable. But we’re all pragmatists around here. It’s certainly reasonable for our purposes, innit?
- Cf. Matt. 8:9.
- We’re sure there are any number of idiotic books in the business section of your local airport bookstore which make exactly this point. If there aren’t, there should be, and you’re welcome to our idea to make an easy zillion if you want it. We can’t be bothered with such trivia.
- The Nazi Conscience, Claudia Koonz, Belknap Press, 2003, p.71
- ibid. p.295n11.
- They seem to be soliciting donations for these contraptions rather than spending their own money on them, presumably so that they don’t have to cut back on the number of arrests they make.
- Comparison of these two species cribbed from the Wikipedia article on convergent evolution. Thanks, Jimmy!
- Frameworks for Social Engineering: Stalinist Schema of Identification and the Nazi Volksgemeinschaft by Christopher R. Browning and Lewis H. Siegelbaum in Beyond totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism compared, Michael Geyer and Sheila Fitzpatrick, Cambridge University Press 2009, pp.231-265. PDF available here.
Image of Nazi anti-begging poster belongs to the whole world now by moral right, doesn’t it? We nabbed this copy from the fabulous Deutsches Historisches Museum here. Images of Euphorbia obesa and Astrophytum asterias are released under the GDFL and the CC BY-SA2.5 respectively and are available via Wikimedia here and here. Screenshot from the Summer 2014 issue of the HPOA newsletter is classic fair use, just ask your intellectual property lawyer if it ain’t. Nazi collection can image is via Wikimedia here and is released under the CC BY-SA 4.0.