Jean-Jacques Rousseau: A commentary still relevant today?

Firstly, to all my avid readers, let me apologize for my brief delay in posting this week’s upload. My cousin was over yesterday; she is moving indefinitely to Nicaragua (I am so jealous) and therefore some farewell celebrations were in order.


Either way, I digress, now onto the main topic. Rousseau. Some love him, some hate him, I find myself, like many others, stuck in the middle. While I disagree with Rousseau’s idea that the nascent man was superior to the civilised one, I find myself shockingly inclined to agree with him in respect to that many, if not all of the prevalent sins and human vices found today are a direct product of our assimilation into societal life. Take for example, the line: “the body of a savage being the only instrument he knows, he puts it to all sorts of uses of which our bodies, for lack of practice, are incapable; our equipment derives us of that strength and agility which necessity obliges him to acquire.” (82)

Upon initially reading this line, my thoughts instantly turned to our society’s crippling reliance on technology. Escalators and elevators in nearly every building and the notion of driving 5 minutes to buy milk from the corner store amongst other things have rendered many of us incapable of using our bodies physically for longer than several minutes. Being able to hide behind the virtual walls of a computer has led to many members of the younger generation unable to function in a real life conversation. On a psychological level, no longer are people content with what they have. The surplus of information and consumer demand leads companies to upgrade and out date their products almost instantaneously after they are released. Another more personal example, is my need for a calculator to do even the most basic arithmetic, as I have relied on one for so long.

While I am aware that Rousseau’s philosophy goes well beyond this notion of the savage man being more content and more fit to live in this world, I still find it chilling that a line like the one mentioned above, can still hold so much relevance, almost 300 years after it was written. Are we truly changing as a species, or are we stuck in the illusion of change; the same downward spiral that has indeed plagued us since the genesis of society?

1 thought on “Jean-Jacques Rousseau: A commentary still relevant today?

  1. Nice reflections on how Rousseau’s arguments may still have relevance today. Of course, the production of new things every few years is partly driven by our desire for new things, and partly driven by a capitalist economy that requires that we buy new things rather than using the old ones for a long time, in order for the economy to grow. But there’s no doubt that many of us love having the next new thing continually (that fits me, for certain).

    This makes me think of what I can no longer do because I have relied on some form of technology to do it for me–for sure a calculator means I don’t have to do things in my head (and I’m woefully bad at remembering times tables), I no longer pay too much attention to directions when I’m going somewhere b/c I just rely on the map on my computer (and then when I get to the place and there is no network connection I’m screwed for getting back home), and being able to stay warm inside all the time has really messed with me for being able to be outside in the cold for very long (others seem hardier about this…I’m a big cold hater). Numerous examples come to mind. I agree that Rousseau is probably right on in this!

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