Can intellectual advancement lead to a general regression in our existence? Both Rousseau and Virilio deal with this question, but in very different ways. Rousseau examines this question in the broadest sense, by back tracking to the origin of intellect. Virilio, on the other hand, speaks of a very specific type of intellectual advancement, namely-the invention of a long range nuclear missile. Both would agree that intellectual progression can be advantageous to the human race, but whether or not the advantages outweigh the disadvantages is questionable.
Rousseau argues that man existed in a ³natural state,² where he had basically no intellect. The ³natural man² did not speak, own property, or interact with other humans. This independent man, knew only compassion and how to survive. With intellect came evil. ³But by nature, man is good, self sufficient, compassionate to others when they do not threaten him, and incapable of pride, hatred, falsehood, and vice, society, precisely because it develops man¹s faculties, which corrupts him.² ( Rousseau, p. 20)Through the birth of property, man began to calculate and think. He saw what his fellow man had that he didn¹t, and became jealous. Now since man was able to see the nascent inequalities amongst each other, many evils arose. Rousseau makes it clear that mankind was better off without intellect.
Virilio point of view on the matter can be inferred. He does not feel that man is better off in this ³natural state.² He is a twentieth century writer, who feels that technology is an overall good thing, but there are some very serious repercussions from certain technological advancements. In his essay he explains the negative repercussions of a long range nuclear missile. Since this missile can reach across half of the world in an insignificant amount of time, distance begins to disappear; if an enemy can be destroyed a few thousand miles away instantly, than it doesn¹t matter how far away the enemy is.
Peace, as well, is sacrificed with the creation of such a fast and destructive weapon. Virilio argues that we are never really in peaceful coexistence with the countries in the world, because any country¹s major city can be destroyed in a matter of minutes. A hundred years ago, it would take a country lots of time of preparation to attack an enemy, but now with some launch codes major cities can be destroyed in under fifteen minutes. How can we ever feel at peace if there is relatively no time or distinction between peace and destruction. Virilio also believes that ³the more speed increases, the faster freedom decreases.² (Rousseau, p. 142) He uses an example of the Cuban Missile Crisis. he says that the reaction time to a missile, launched from Cuba, that the political leaders had was fifteen minutes. Today, it would be under a minute, so they had no choice but to automate the decision. We lose the freedom to have certain choices, that there is no longer any time for or room for human error.
The connection between these two writers might not be clear. Rousseau speaks of intellect in general, an Virilio speaks of certain technological advances ,but they both question the overall benefits of certain revolutions that come along with the intellectual advances. Even though they may not agree on whether or not a ³natural state² of man was better, they both feel that there are serious problems with intellectual advances.
If we really examine our lives, are we better off with all this technology and intellect than man in his ³natural state?² Yeah, sure we have air-conditioning, better means to travel, longer life expectancy, and much more. At the same time we, have more pollution, more diseases, and more crime. Rousseau compares the ³natural state² of man with animals because that is the closest thing to it that he can observe. He makes an excellent point when he says do you ever see an animal commit suicide? Has all these advances made the human race happier?
Both the two of these writers, one might think that along with intellect comes, basically all vices in the world, a decrease in freedom and peace, but that¹s not the end of the story. Even Rousseau acknowledges the benefits of advances of the human mind. ³I admit, however, that the evil is not as great as it could have become. By placing healthful herbs beside various harmful plants, and by placing within several injurious animals, the antidote for their wounds, eternal providence has taught sovereigns, who are its ministers to imitate its wisdom.² (Rousseau, p. 59) Even though he does acknowledge the benefits, he still feels overall man is in a worse state than that of the natural. ³But here the effect is certain, the depravity of our souls have been corrupted in proportion to the advancements of our sciences and arts toward perfection. ³(Rousseau, p. 39)
Virilio and Rousseau make it clear that any advance is the human mind leads to a radically different way of life than before. It can lead man out of a natural and independent state, to a world where all men are interdependent, and collectively conquer nature¹s obstacles. It can transform a world once perceived as enormous to contract by the ³juxtaposition of every locality, all matter.² (Virilio, p. 136) Along with these revolutions come new rules. How man is to deal with these revolutions, is a great challenge.
The human mind has great capabilities attached with great responsibilities. With intellect man can kill, but man can also heal. The choice is ours what we make of our powers. Rousseau could be right that we entered a world of vices, but we also entered a world of happiness. The natural man knew nothing of sadness or happiness. With these advances comes a choice to better our lives or not. I believe that intellect has added meaning to our lives, and technology has bettered our lives, but that doesn¹t matter. What matters is we have the power to better our lives through our minds, and use our ³developed faculties² to transcend the ³natural state.²
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