Parallel To Rousseau?
As I was reading through the second part of Rousseau’s “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality,” I found there are many similarities between Rousseau’s conception of his state of nature and material that I have learned in anthropology. For the record, I am not saying that I agree or support Rousseau’s conception of this state of nature. Rather, I am stating that there is evidence supporting this foraging state of lifestyle as shown through anthological observations and research.
While formulating the foundations of inequality, Rousseau follows the path of men from their natural state. As he describes how society progressed from a state before society and the development of reason, Rousseau mentions an evolution into a foraging type of lifestyle. As the human race progressed faster and faster, men found tools and built huts (397). He characterizes this state as, “the period of a first revolution which formed the establishment of the distinction among families and which introduced a kind of property…” (397). These people lived together and enjoyed conjugal love/paternal love. He claims, “Each family became a little society all the better united because mutual attachment and liberty were its only bonds”(597). Women watched over the household while the men acquired their common subsistence. Men and women enjoyed a great amount of leisure time and life was simple. Due to evolution, this state of nature changed. However, through my studies in anthropology, I think I have found a modern comparison of this lifestyle: the !Kung San.
The !Kung San are nomadic hunter-gatherers the live in the Kalahari Desert in Northeastern Namibia, Africa. The semi-arid region in which they live features some trees but is mostly brush and grass-covered low hills and flat spaces. Rainfall during the wet season varies from only five to forty inches. Temperatures during the winter are frequently below freezing, but during the summer are well above 100F. The !Kung San adapt to their unfavorable environment.
They are characterized by a foraging lifestyle and have little contact with the outside world. In my anthropology class, our professor claims that this group only does 15 hours a week of work for subsistence (equating to 2 hours and 9 minutes a day). The rest of the time members of group either socialize or take up other hobbies. Everyone is treated as equals, and try to avoid disputes at all times.
In Part 2 of his “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality,” Rousseau summarizes similar characteristics. The parallels between these two groups are limitless. Of course there are discrepancies, but overall I think that there are a lot of parallels between this nomadic group and one of the phases of Rousseau’s discourse. I’m not sure exactly what the implications that this suggests are, but at least there is some validity/examples of Rousseau’s conception. The !Kung San are a secluded society, and live a natural lifestyle. Maybe Rousseau’s conception is more valid than we all thought.