Rousseau-watch.

[Updated below]

Paul La Farge has his character refer to him as a ‘creepy pervert’ in his short story for the New Yorker this week, before attacking his theory of freedom. He also writes:

The husband is not trying to pick anyone up. His wife will be back in an hour or two, and besides, who would dream of picking someone up with Rousseau? Of all the authors you could try to pick someone up with, Rousseau is probably the worst. Or maybe Kant.

Scandalous!

Strangely, though, I think Elizabeth Kolbert’s piece on kids Spoiled Rotten has even more Rousseauian themes. She contrasts the discoveries of anthropologists concerning the childhood work ethic in the Matsigenka tribe of the Amazon with the lazy brats that plague the West:

[B]y the time they reach puberty Matsigenka kids have mastered most of the skills necessary for survival. Their competence encourages autonomy, which fosters further competence—a virtuous cycle that continues to adulthood.

The cycle in American households seems mostly to run in the opposite direction. So little is expected of kids that even adolescents may not know how to operate the many labor-saving devices their homes are filled with. Their incompetence begets exasperation, which results in still less being asked of them.

Rousseau, of course, makes sure in Émile that his model human spends his early years outside civilisation, concerning himself only with fulfilling his basic needs independent of any parental pampering.

[Update: I’m ashamed to admit the ‘creepy pervert’ comment rang no bells for me. Aveek explains. Google ‘Rousseau, masochism’. Heh]

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