Rousseau’s Dark Vision: Civilization Corrupts, Not Cultivates, Humanity

In “On Science and Art”, Rousseau only expressed his thoughts on the disadvantages of civilization. He must have felt that this alone was not enough. Civilization corrupts customs and ultimately corrupts people. Therefore, it is necessary to analyze . This is the work he did in “On Inequality”. He tried to prove that people are born good and their deterioration is entirely caused by the social system.

Rousseau believed that human nature contains two aspects, both of which exist before reason. One aspect is self-love, which is concern for one’s own preservation and happiness. Another aspect is compassion, which is a natural aversion to seeing any sentient creature, especially our own kind, suffering. It is actually an emotion that puts oneself in the shoes of the sufferer and empathizes with them. Compassion is a natural emotion that existed before humans could use any thinking, and it also shows signs of it in some animals. Compassion is the root of all social virtues. Even if a person does not know any moral maxims, as long as his sympathy has not been extinguished, he will feel guilty when he does evil. Because of compassion, everyone is concerned not only with preserving themselves but also with each other.

In the state of nature, man has only these two natures. After entering society, people acquire some bad qualities that are not part of their nature, and therefore become bad. There are mainly two bad qualities. The first is greed for enjoyment. People in the state of nature only seek self-preservation, and desires beyond self- preservation are the product of society. In the early development of mankind, due to the invention of technology, people had more leisure to arrange various comfortable and enjoyable activities for themselves.

Rousseau said that this is the first yoke that people unintentionally put on themselves, and it also prepares the initial source of pain for future generations. Because enjoying comfortable activities is not only debilitating to the body and mind, but once it becomes a habit, it makes people almost feel no fun at all. Therefore, people’s pain when they are unable to enjoy is much greater than their happiness when they enjoy it. Enjoyment does not necessarily mean happiness, but people who cannot enjoy it will actually feel pain.

Among the early technological inventions, it was metallurgy and agriculture that caused the change from barbarism to civilization. ” The things that civilize people and make them decline at the same time are gold and silver in the eyes of poets, and iron and grain in the eyes of philosophers. ” The inner states and lifestyles of barbarians and civilized people are completely different. Barbarians only love peace and freedom, and just want to live an idle life freely, while civilized people, because they are greedy for enjoyment, work hard all day long, and even work to death.

Due to the peaceful and languid lifestyle, civilized people’s bodies and minds have deteriorated, their strength and courage have been exhausted at the same time, and they have become prone to illness, timidity, and servility. The difference between savages and civilized man is much greater than the difference between wild beasts and domestic animals, for although nature treats man and beast alike, man arranges for himself many more enjoyment activities than for his domesticated animals. , making human degradation more significant than that of domestic animals.

The second is self-esteem. Rousseau emphasized that self-esteem and self-love should not be confused. Their nature and effects are completely different. Self-love is a natural emotion, while self-esteem is an emotion that arises in society. Rousseau used self-esteem as a derogatory term, referring to a person who values ​​himself more than anyone else and cares whether others value him or not. Self-esteem in this sense is based on comparing oneself with others to see who attracts more public attention. In fact, a large part of it is vanity. Certain natural differences, such as beauty or ugliness, strength, or physical agility, which were once unmatched, now become causes of pride or inferiority, envy or contempt.

Rousseau said that this is the first step towards inequality and the first step towards evil. The disorder caused by these new factors finally destroys the innocent happy life of human beings. In the state of nature, self-esteem arising from comparisons between people does not exist. The civilized man is concerned with being respected among others, while a savage lives happily in solitude in the forest.

Barbarians will engage in violence to compete for food, but they will not resent being slighted or seek revenge for being insulted, because contempt and insult do not exist for people who do not know how to evaluate the other person’s opinion of themselves. The qualities we admire have no value in natural man. What is the use of beauty where there is no love? In an era without writing, what is the use of intelligence? What’s the use of being shrewd to those who don’t trade with each other? In short, savages have no concept of power and fame and just live , while civilized people live in the opinions of others and care about what all the rest of the world thinks of them, so they are in constant fear all day long.

Rousseau concluded that all this is enough to prove that most of human misfortunes are caused by humans themselves, and if we can always maintain the simple, simple and lonely lifestyle arranged by nature for us, we can almost completely avoid these misfortunes . The state of nature in which barbarians live is the true youth of mankind. All subsequent progress is only superficial progress in the direction of personal perfection, but actually leads mankind to the decline of the whole.

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