A Few Notes on Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality

by Yvy Truong

I’ve been so behind on my blog posts, it’s terrible! This is a draft I had from last week but I never got around to publishing it. Terrible, I know!

Thinking back on Friday’s seminar there was a question that I found interesting and I’m still thinking about it here and there. The question was, why does inequality exist, how does it exist within today’s context, what can we do about inequality, and can we be equal?

And I’m thinking and thinking and thinking and… Why are we unequal? Well Rousseau believes in society there are two types of inequality, one being biological (some people are born more strong, more fast, more etc., etc., than others), and social (discrepancies between people through class structure, ownership of property, etc., etc.,). And I believe in Rousseau’s Discourse he focuses more on he social aspect of Inequality. Through repeated interaction we began to compare ourselves to one another, realizing we were lacking in some way or form and when we began owning property, we saw the “Have’s” and “Have-Nots”. However, prior to that there was marginal “in between” stage (the part right between Savage man and Nascent man) where people living together were happy because they did not yet compare themselves (Nascent Society, where Rousseau talks about it almost as the Golden Age of Humanity).  Then right after came the downfall which led to ownership, slavery, government, etc., etc.,


So how does it exist within today’s context? In a lot of different ways. There are disparities within our own country, on a global scale, etc., etc., and as terrible as it may sound, I don’t think that those disparities can fully disappear. Granted, there are things that we are actively involved in to close that gap (and that gap surely has grown quite a bit), and I think it’s good how we are actively involved in those efforts, but I think there will always be this level of inequality (and I believe I am talking more in an economic sense though not to undermine that there are social inequalities as well). And I say this because I want to look at the history of Russia during the communist revolution. If we look at communist as the ideology that the state was involved with the modes of production and that people were essentially equal, there was still a lot of inequality and furthermore, the equality that people were under… Well, it was quite poor. So might I then address how we see “equality” . . . I think when we think about equality in theory (and will a little added roses tinted glasses), we see a version of it where there is more than enough and people are happy and full and satisfied. But if we look at the attempts of equality through practice then the image is entirely different. Sure, you can say people were equal (to some extent), but they were equal on the lowest bar. So when I think we want to achieve equality, I don’t think we want to be equal, I think we want more (again, in an economic sense and less so on social equality).


But what I really wanted to get to for this blog post was about what I mentioned in my last blog post. I mentioned a little bit about the movie Midnight In Paris. If you don’t know what that movie is, it’s a film directed by Woody Allen a few years back about this guy named Gil Pender. He’s dissatisfied with his present life, romanticizes the past (wanting to go back to the 1920’s in Paris, the “Golden Age”), and he actually does go back to the 20’s where he meets Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and a love interest, Adriana. Well, some other crazy shinnanigans happens and Gil realizes that the present is the best time to live, that we look at the past so nostalgically because “[the present is] a little unsatisfying because life’s a little unsatisfying”… Okay, well that was a terrible movie summary. I suggest everyone to watch the movie because I did not do the movie justice with that summary. I think that Rousseau is a bit like Gil though. He longs for a past because he thinks it was better and people were better and the climate was better. But the trouble with that (and it’s mentioned in the movie) that if the past becomes our present, we’ll start longing for another past. And it’s true, we might never be satisfied, and I’ll admit, sometimes I’m not and I fear that I might not feel like how I think I should feel… But right now is the only time I know.

Life might not be the party we had hoped for, but while we’re here we should dance.