After putting down Rosseau’s Discourse on Inequality, I’ve come to the conclusion that while I disagreed with a great deal of it, I still found it interesting and enjoyable. What I really loved about the entire argument is that half of the entire text’s focus on Man in his natural state is completely off-topic from the Dijon Academy’s initial questiont. Yet we’re spending a great deal of time studying and analyzing a thesis that was once deemed completely irrelevant. So who knows, maybe taking a few liberties with our thesis’ for some of our essay questions isn’t such a crime after all, eh Jon?
Anyways, what really stuck in my mind was how much Rosseau idealizes the concept of a “savage” man. It’s very easy for him to romanticize a period which predates all written history, right? It’s touching to envision mankind as humble, and peaceful without war and murder. While it may be compelling today for it’s connection to Darwin’s theory of evolution and our relation to animals, it still lacks what we and the Discovery channel deem as life “within nature.” To simplify both this blog, with little relevance to the text, let me contrast Rosseau’s vision of primitive man our closest living relative, the Chimpanzee.
Now while Rosseau believes that without civilization and language to support it, complicated emotions like jealousy, hatred and envy are impossible to convey. Rousseau believes that art and civilization corrupt man from his peaceful, non-violent and simplistic ways, to which I reply “Bullshit”. Chimpanzee’s are capable of demonstrating all these complex emotions, to which Rosseau would believe that not even primitive man were capable of. I once did a project on Jane Goodall’s travels to Gombe National Park in Tanzania and learned about her discoveries among the chimpanzee’s living there. She would recall witnessing females of the troupe discovering other females bearing offspring from the same male chimp (In other words “Baby Mama Drama”. This would lead to the females brutally attacking and murdering the infant offspring as a means of no gains other than retaliation representing what some would call jealousy or hatred. Furthermore Chimps and most animals are far from peaceful.
While animals may be majestic, enchanting beautiful etc., the truth is they can sometimes kill without hesitation. Rosseau believes that man would never purposefully murder another in the wild, he would only clash for resources or females, with little resentment afterwards. Wrong. A long time ago I told by a zookeeper that a man foolishly feeding a chimp had unintentionally led to a brutal murder. In the wild there is always an alpha male among the chimps, a position not too different from tyrant. In this way there is a very simple hierarchy that applies to all members of the troupe. The alpha male always eats first, and get’s his “cut” or potion of the meal. End of story. Now this isn’t too different from mankind’s invented tax system isn’t it? Maybe the IRS is simply natural. By feeding a chimp a small snack it led to what many would call a crime. This particular one attempted to circumnavigate this system and (selfishly) eat this acquired food for his own without giving his due’s to our tyrant chimp. Now it wasn’t long before the alpha male discovered this act, and proceeded to grip the younger chimp to the local reservoir pond and drown him in front of both his troupe and a crowd of spectators. Why did he do this? To assert dominance, and demonstrate clearly what is “his” and what is owed to him by all. Rosseau believes that this complex assertion of property and taxation requires several levels of development with language and cultivation. I guess for chimps it’s simply innate, as it most likely is for us.
It’s easy for Rosseau to embellish and romanticize the alternative to civilization. Life is complex in society, we often find ourselves wishing for better alternatives to slaving away at our job to buy food and furnish our houses, only to be robbed by the tax-man. We often wish that life were easier and things such as love and mating were simplified at times, to which we fall to the fallacy of believing the “grass is greener” on the other side of the fence. Animals and Man, no matter what state, are complex and emotional creatures with common problems. Life outside of society’s walls offer a simple life, but comes at the cost of watching family members die of disease, starve and freeze during harsh climate conditions, and being abandoned without hope when something as simple as a knee fracture, or broken bone could mean certain death. Let’s all not fall for a simplified and enticing theory. Civilization may have fostered it’s own complexities and cumbersome conditions, but life’s a lot easier in here then out there in the cold where anything and everything goes.