Human Roadkill

Wang Yue, October 13th, 2011

Collateral Damage: From Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Human Roadkill in Two Easy Steps

Late on the afternoon of October 13th, 2011, as shoppers milled about a local market in Foshan, Guangdong province in southern China, a lone toddler strayed into the narrow street. Then, in a scene more horrifying than anything Hollywood could stage, a white van approached, struck the child, paused as if the driver knew he’d hit something, then lurched forward, causing the rear wheel to pass over the child’s limp body as the van continued on its way.

Pedestrians and cyclists strolled past the bleeding child, some swerving slightly to avoid her as one might avoid a pothole. Then, sickeningly, a second van approached, ran over the helpless child, and continued on its way. A full ten minutes after the first hit-and-run impact, an older woman picking up trash noticed the child, pulled her out of the street, and called for help. Two year old Wang Yue died four days later.

When a surveillance camera video of the ordeal went public, some Chinese soul-searching ensued. “The Chinese citizens have finally arrived at their most immoral moment!” one Chinese national said. But while nothing can excuse the appalling display of apathy, we might extend the Chinese a measure of grace for confusing the responsibilities of individuals, family, and government in a thoroughly Communist state such as China. In fact, apathy and neglected children are precisely what we should expect from a society built on the theories of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a prime forerunner of Communism.

Enlightened Philisophe, Deadbeat Dad

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Born in Switzerland in 1712, Jean-Jacques Rousseau lost his mother at birth and was abandoned by his father at age ten. At age fifteen, he left Geneva and wandered Italy and France for more than a decade. Like any bohemian, as he roamed, he pondered philosophy. A thoroughgoing non-conformist, Rousseau rejected his Calvinist upbringing with its ideas about sin and divine revelation and adopted instead a Universalist approach to religion and a humanist view of innate human goodness.

But even a beatnik bohemian runs up against the exigencies of life. Rousseau’s most influential work, The Social Contract, opened with the now famous line, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Describing himself as subjugué, which meant ‘dominated’ or ‘under the yoke,’ the restless philosopher wanted to be free to create his own identity, to follow his own road, but he was at every turn hindered by social ties, by the expectations and conventions of society.  To achieve his highest potential, Rousseau concluded, man must throw off all of these “chains.”

And throw them off he did. A look into Rousseau’s private life reveals what probably really drove his “philosophy.” In his thirties, he became the lover of Thérèse Levasseur and assumed the burden of supporting her large family. Though they did not marry until much later, she bore him five children, each of whom he pressed her to deposit on the doorstep of a local “foundling asylum.”

Deadbeat Dad, Father of Statism
But the fallout from Rousseau went far beyond his five orphaned children. Rousseau’s writings gave birth to the modern concept of political revolution, inciting in turn the French (1789-1799), Russian (1917), and a series of Chinese (1911-1976) Revolutions, all of which are now known for the rivers of blood and stunning national catastrophes that followed them.

The expressions of Rousseau’s ideas took different forms in the different nations to which they spread, but one thing they had in common was the elevation of the state to the role of supreme liberator of the people and ultimate authority and caretaker over them. A perverse inversion of the original American understanding of liberty – which valued and recognized inherent human rights that the state may not transgress – Rousseau’s view of liberty is the diametrical opposite. As Nancy Pearcey explains in How Now Shall We Live?, to Rousseau, “freedom meant liberation from the forms and institutions of society – family, church, class, and local community.” And the state would and should be the liberator. “Each citizen would then be completely independent of all his fellow men,” she quotes Rousseau, “and absolutely dependent on the state.”

Rousseau, who went on to write about education and child-rearing, heartily defended both his virtue and his actions concerning his infant children. “How could I achieve the tranquility of mind necessary for my work, my garret filled with domestic cares and the noise of children?” He summoned Plato as his witness, for by transferring his responsibilities to the state, “I thought I was performing the act of a citizen and a father and I looked on myself as a member of Plato’s Republic.”

The Epic Failure of the Paternal Liberator State
Some father. Only the firstborn of Rousseau’s children had the minor dignity of a cipher-card inserted in his clothing. All were unnamed, and it’s unlikely any survived childhood. Records from the institution showed that fewer than one in five of its charges lived to age seven.

And some “Republic.” As Nien Cheng notes in her beautiful autobiography Life and Death in Shanghai, the Chinese translation of ‘Communism’ means ‘sharing property.’ But while Communism and its softer version socialism begin with the idealistic premise of shared property, they always lead to neglect and worse. For what no one in particular owns, no one in particular takes responsibility for.

Wang Yue, died October 17th, 2011

Tragically, the principle sometimes extends to children. On the afternoon of October 13th, 2011, Wang Yue became one more casualty of what happens when everybody is “absolutely dependent” on the state.

This article first appeared in Salvo 20, Spring 2012.

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2 Comments on “Human Roadkill

  1. You blame everything on “communism”, but it happened in the good old USA several months earlier earlier.

    What’s scarier: The slaying, or the bystanders who heard and did nothing?
    By Petula Dvorak, Published: Washington Post. October 31, 2011

    Fake blood? Latex masks? Watching “Halloween 3” reruns with buttered popcorn popped in trans-fats?

    Nah. Let me point you to something that will truly scare you — and it’s not another Herman Cain campaign ad. It was the testimony given in a Montgomery County courtroom last week.

    Geniuses working at the Apple store in Bethesda heard bone-chilling screams, grunts and thuds coming from the Lululemon Athletica shop next door to them one night last March. The manager even got another employee to walk over to the wall and listen for a while, just to assure her that, no, she wasn’t just hearing things.

    In case you want to think they demurred, red-faced, after realizing what they’d heard was after-hours loveplay or iron-yoga poses, the Apple store manager testified that unnatural human sounds were accompanied by a woman saying: “God help me. Please help me,” and “Talk to me. Don’t do this.”

    Still not sure something bizarre is going on?

    The Apple store manager, Jana Svrzo, told police: “I heard someone say, ‘Stop, stop, stop.’ And then, ‘Oh God, stop.’ ”

    Hmm. What to do when you hear something like this?

    If it were a horror movie, the Apple employees, gorgeous and scantily dressed, would follow the scary noises down dark corridors and get killed, too.

    If it were the reasonable, civilized society we believe that we occupy, the store employees would call 911 and tell the dispatcher that, maybe they’re being silly, but they are hearing something unusual next door that police might want to check it out.

    Instead what they did was nothing. Nothing at all.

    The noises on the night of March 11 came from a horrific killing. Svrzo and her co-worker were listening to Jayna Murray, who worked at Lululemon, suffer 322 wounds. The sounds were hammer, knife, wrench, rope and metal bars making contact with a human being.

    Wait! There was a security guard at the Apple store that night. What did he do? Pose for an iPod ad, apparently. He was tuned out and heard nothing, ear buds firmly in place.

    Nobody did anything. And Jayna Murray died.

    The video of a Chinese toddler being hit by two trucks as witnesses did nothing spurred international debate about China’s character. Perhaps it’s a nation whose moral fiber is decaying because capitalism has grabbed hold of its soul, we pontificated.

    And yet, here we have a chillingly similar situation in downtown Bethesda, where Brittany Norwood, her attorneys conceded, killed her co-worker at a fancy yoga-wear store in a stunningly brutal way.

    I don’t know why Svrzo and Ricardo Rios didn’t call police. Post reporter Michael Rosenwald tried to ask them in an elevator outside the courtroom, but they wouldn’t speak to him.

    I can imagine they’ll be forever haunted by those sounds and what they turned out to be.

    What really frightens me is that they are not alone in their indifference. Banita Jacks killed her four children and no one seemed to notice. What happened to her neighbors, family and friends, who thought something was wrong, but didn’t seek help?

    It’s a long-known effect, commonly known as Genovese Syndrome, after the woman named Kitty Genovese who was stabbed to death outside her apartment in Queens almost exactly 47 years before Murray was killed.

    According to accounts at the time, the attack on Genovese lasted about 30 minutes. The victim screamed and begged for help while dozens of witnesses ignored her cries. The attack spawned an entire brand of psychological research that has been validated time and time again.

    I spent two decades as a reporter prowling crime scenes where witnesses didn’t see anything, didn’t hear anything and didn’t know anything. The fear and self-preservation instinct that fueled their behavior is almost understandable.

    But two people who work at Apple? Not really in mortal danger of retribution in a dark alley.

    The commentary on this case went seriously anti-Apple in some instances, with folks vowing to stop shopping at store where iDon’tCare seemed to be the ethos.

    Maybe Jayna Murray would still be alive if the same folks Allison Klein wrote about in February — bystanders who chased down two teen muggers after they’d beaten a 59-year-old man in Anne Arundel County — had been shopping in Bethesda that night.

    Perhaps we can find those two heroes and have them hold court at the Apple Store Genius Bar, teaching Americans how to dial iGiveadarn on their iPhones.

    E-mail me at


  2. What a dazzling piece of useless pontification, Dvorak. You artfully rail about the ills of a society that can produce these evils, but don’t bother to question whether there might be a solution out there somewhere, let alone getting into what it might look like.

    As to your question “What’s scarier: The slaying, or the bystanders who heard and did nothing?” the answer is the latter. And the reason is that the depraved indifference displayed by some bystanders leads to many, many instances of the former.

    What’s behind this depravity? Could it be a lack of moral grounding? Could it be that these bystanders, like Rousseau, were never taught that their freedom ends where their neighbor’s life, freedom or property are threatened?

    The point of Terrell Clemmons’ piece was not to bash communism or blame it for such indefensible behavior, but to question what it is in us all that can lead to such unthinkable horrors – “rivers of blood”.

    It has a name. And there is a way out. But you are not the least bit interested in knowing what it is. Indeed, most of us are not.

    And that is the reality of which we should be most afraid.


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