Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Rousseau and Lord of the Flies


In my reading I try to keep up with the anthropological discoveries that pertain to our species evolutionary history.  And in doing so I can’t help cringing at the political positions that maintain theories that our anthropology doesn’t support.  For example, the political influence of Jean Jacques Rousseau which can hardly be overestimated.  He threw out the idea that men were born evil and needed the church and forgiveness to lead legitimate and wholesome lives.  He proposed instead that men were born good and subsequently became evil because of faulty education.  Such teachings as “spare the rod and spoil the child” were subsequently considered barbaric.  

Evolutionary anthropology gives no support to the idea that men were born good.  They were born animals that became more and more potent until in the last 300,000 years ago they became the apex predator here on earth.  In very recent times, the last 15,000 years or so, men have adhered by force and teaching to religious and common legal practices.  When other species (aside from viruses and harmful bacteria) were no longer a serious threat to our existence, we had to learn to get along with each other, at least within towns and later in cities and nations.  We have not yet extended that practice to the world.

But that we are in keeping with Rousseau’s teachings all born good and only become evil through poor teaching there is no support that I can see.  Think of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.  We as a species are capable of entertaining the anthropology of Golding’s novels while at the same time supporting modern educational practices consistent with Rousseau’s teachings.  And regardless of evolutionary discoveries, in practice any parent or teacher will today be on thin ice if he or she attempts to use harsh discipline to curb the bad behavior of a recalcitrant child.  We retain in stead, the Romantic views of Rousseau.