The world we live in possesses an abundance of virtuous people, as well as those with a total lack of morality. However, in situations in which survival comes into question, all principles are thrown out the window, and those who are perceived as morally profound during typical endeavors have the tendency to bring out their inner evil and do whatever they deem is necessary to survive. In a state of anarchy, total lapses or morality are very prevalent. In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes eludes to the greedy tendencies of humans during chaotic times by saying, “… If any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their end (which is principally their own conservation, and sometimes their delectation only) endeavor to destroy or subdue one another.”A quintessential example of this proclivity was delineated through the disastrous Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana.
As the hurricane devastated almost the entire New Orleans metropolitan area, hordes of people were left homeless or dead. There was a total loss of institutional control, and anarchy ensued. Bloody street fights became a typical occurrence, and survivors got into fights often to the death over seats on vehicles intended to take them to a safe location. Hobbes theory is relevant in New Orleans since these people desired survival, and knew that their chances would vastly increase with the removal of others. At this point, they totally disregarded any moral agendas, and did only what they needed to do to survive.
However, Thomas Hobbes theory underestimates the will power of those who are willing to put their lives’ in jeopardy to do what they believe is right. And by this, I believe that some people are truly selfless. There have been several incidents in which parents have put their lives in jeopardy in order to spare the lives of their children. Another example people utilizing their inner selflessness occur when analyzing some of the bystanders’ reactions to the bombings during 9-11. As the twin towers tumbled over, bystanders had the option
to flee, and save themselves from a second attack that could have potentially occurred. Instead, numerous survivors elected to dig deep within the ruble and ash in an attempt to spare the lives of those in danger. This act of selflessness totally defies Hobbes reasoning. These people did not let the chaotic, state of nature, situation defy their logic. Their instinctive reaction to the tumultuous situation was not to preform the selfless act of putting themselves before those in danger. Instead, their morality prevailed, and they did what they believed was the right thing to do despite the fact that the repercussions could have potentially been fatal.
What I was attempting to show in this post is the difficulty in analyzing Hobbes state of nature today. In many cases, such as the instance of Hurricane Katrina, I agree that people can in fact act in a Hobbesian state of nature. However, I also see selflessness of people and believe that some people have true goals of being good.