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A short story in which the author has a hypnogogic conversation with J.-J. Rousseau and gets him to change his mind.

Last night I had a dialog with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and in the course of our discussion I touched on cognitive biases. I thought that debiasing was necessary if two people from two distinct and widely-separated historical periods were going to have an intelligible conversation where each was on a level footing with the other (me “on the level” with a genius? Yes–be kind to yourself, gentlemen: do not forget that even Rousseau had his critics). He was also a Luddite who said “a third of children die before they reach their eighth birthday. Why tamper with this law of Nature?” (Aren’t you glad we did?). So I thought I’d better let him in on what’s what and allow some of that infamous, shameless self-love of his to pour out of him like air from a deflated lung.

Towards the end of our colloquium Rousseau became wistful and despairing, and when I asked him what was wrong he turned to me and said he missed the past, where things were simpler and men, for lack of knowledge, we more gay and content. But at this he caught himself and paused, and he looked at the ground for a moment; his eyes shook as though ensconced by warring parties and after a brief interlude of silence–during which he was rigid, motionless, as though his consciousness had been transported outside of his body to the time in the past that only he of us two was privvy to and which stood in such feeble contrast to the present that it pained and demeaned him–after this queer reverie he rose his head and spoke with the once-proud, fatal tone of a wounded military general, whose armour is pierced and who lays dying atop a hill surrounded by his many lifeless comrades: “Man was born in chains, and everywhere thinks himself free.”

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