= or ≠ — Discourse of Inequality by Rousseau

Power + Prejudice + Discrimination = Oppression (what I learnt in Sociology class).

For the most part, I understand what Rousseau is talking about (I think…). Inequality is generated by society in that it brought people together and therefore created moral inequality in addition to natural inequality, and reinforcement of moral inequality further enhances the disparities of natural inequality, creating a dominant and subordinate relationship with one in power and others without power.

The idea that the independent savage man is better off than the interdependent civil man both makes sense and does not make sense to me.
On one hand, the independent savage man would not suffer from inequality in that they are isolated and alone with no dominant oppressing figure and therefore better off, whereas the interdependent civil man is subjected to inequality due to the mechanics and hierarchy of society and therefore worse than the independent savage man.
On the other hand, how can advancing in being a social society be regression? Yes, inequality blossoms within every societal garden, though I’d like to think society has helped human kind progress in some way as a social being to help the species develop, slowly gaining more knowledge along the way.

Inequality and equality is weird, and so is our society. We want equality over many many different things, but there will always be people in power and inequality will always exist. Do I think we can lessen the inequality gap between people? Yes. Do I think it is possible to eradicate all inequality? Only if we decide to disband society. In the end, we progress with knowledge and in enhancing our lifestyle and livability as a species, but do not progress in our search for individual progression outside society, for we are and always will be constructed and encased by society.

Suitable quote (?):
“Like chaos in a glass cage” — Melissa Marr

Read 1 comment

  1. I agree that there are many ways in which living in civil society seems better than being the independent “natural” human being. Remember, though, that Rousseau doesn’t say the natural human being is the best state; he thinks that “nascent society” is the best. And nascent society has some interdependence. People come together to hunt, perhaps to make huts and boats, etc., but they don’t rely on each other to the extent that we end up doing later.

    How do we become deeply dependent on each other? Partly through division of labour–people can no longer provide most of what they need for themselves, but need to specialize in their work and then trade their goods. So we depend on others for our material existence. The rich depend on the poor to help them, to do their work (Rousseau says) and the poor depend on the rich for jobs and sustenance. We also depend on each other through the development of what Rousseau calls “pride”–which is a sense of living mostly in the eyes and esteem of others, being continually worried about how you appear to others, what others think. Rousseau says in the last couple of pages that natural humans lived for themselves, and today we only live outside of ourselves, in others’ view of us. To me, this means we have to continually work to try to get others to think well of us, and this is partly important because our very existence can depend on it (getting a keeping a job, for example).

    Though there was a little of this sort of dependence in nascent society, Rousseau says, it was very minimal compared to the degree to which it exists now. And this dependence, coupled with differences of wealth, is one of the main drivers of inequality.

    But I do agree that there are some good things in civil society; Rousseau may have been emphasizing the bad for rhetorical effect, or he may have truly thought that whatever is good is outweighed by all the bad (or is not really good after all–remember, for example, how he says that medical care is not necessarily a good advancement because we need it mostly because we have created our own diseases and infirmities with our lifestyle?).

Comments are closed.