Sunday 15 December 2013

It's all Rousseau's fault

I wrote about violence in fiction in my last post, where I briefly made the case for campaigners who believe that the fictional depiction of violence causes or worsens violence in real life.

Do I need to point out that violence is perfectly natural? Apparently so. Many people believe that movies and video games cause violence. There are even some who believe that atheist godlessness causes violence, and there are others who believe that rapacious capitalism causes violence. And there are some who believe that it's The Patriarchy and the insiduous influence of masculine culture that causes and perpetuates violence, for which (according to one book) we all need counselling.

If only we could be women, then all the world would be nice. Or so it goes.

It's natural to fear violence and to want to keep it at arm's length. To start with, it hurts. It can also kill you, and survival instincts are natural too.

But the idea that violence is some sort of inhuman disease, that it invades us from nefarious influences and upsets our natural goodness, can be put down to the influence of Rousseau.

Rousseau was an 18th Century French philosopher who taught that, in his natural state, Man was a harmonious being, and that it was the artificial influence of society that corrupted him. Rousseau was the one who said; Man is born free but is everywhere in chains. Nature good, society bad, in other words.

Rousseau seemed to believe that ideal societies, of the kind that we should have been reverting to, actually existed. And he wasn't the first.

When the Spanish and Portuguese discovered the New World back in the 15th Century, many sea captains wrote approvingly of those charming, loincloth wearing natives they encountered, so free of the vicious strife and toil they had left behind in Europe. Thomas More was moved to write the classic book Utopia on the strength of these accounts, and groups of European idealists sailed out to start up their own utopian communities in the tropics, at one with nature and at peace with each other.

It was all bunk. The utopian communities perished, consumed by the harshness of nature that these civilized ladies and gentlemen had forgotten existed, and the noble natives were only peaceful because they were in awe of the Europeans in their huge ships. In reality, they were involved in endemic tribal warfare and lived a precarious existence, as was proved when they all died of the smallpox the Europeans had brought with them.

But the myth of innate goodness remains. Education, apparently, is the key. Give people good influences, rather than bad influences, and niceness will blossom.

People like me (and Josh Whedon) are therefore part of the problem, because it's our influence that's causing all the trouble.

I'm not just a person with a sick mind, you see. I also possess the power to manipulate your very soul. Can you feel my influence? It's magic, I tell you. Look into my eyes.

Or don't, because honestly it's all bollocks. Orangutans fight each other, and they've never seen a Tarantino movie. Dolphins fight each other, and they've never played Grand Theft Auto. Rabbits fight, and they've never read Fight Club. They also shag a lot, and they've never read Lady Chatterly's lover.

We search desperately for Utopia still, and seek to cleanse society of all the things that we think are preventing it from becoming ideal. But Utopia is not only a myth, it's a lie, and the campaigns against violence (and the 'wars' against drugs, poverty, inequality, et al) are simply campaigns against human nature.

Fight against human nature all you like, but really, there's only ever going to be one winner, and that's nature itself. In the past, people learned to live with it. Maybe we should too.

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