State of Nature: Natural Disasters

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.

New Orleans, Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina

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

9/11 First Responders

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.

3 thoughts on “State of Nature: Natural Disasters

  1. I completely and fully agree with your post, it is true, there are truly good and moral people in this world who will sacrifice themselves for others. I think however, that Hobbes would make one of several claims though in defense of his theory. Firstly, much like democratic theory, his claim of people’s selfishness applies to the majority. Like all rules in nature, there will be exceptions and outliers that tend to defy logic and preconceived rules. Hobbes would therefore likely claim that these people who do respond in kindness and selflessness are the anomalies of society and cannot be relied upon when considering humanity as a whole. Also, Hobbes would likely make the claim that these people, in doing good and sacrificing themselves for the greater good, are deriving a sense of joy and righteousness from it. Personally, I disagree with such a claim, as I believe that people are inherently good, but this is Hobbes that we are talking about here. He would probably determine that, because these moral individuals were at least finding satisfaction in their own goodness in their final moments, they were still acting selfishly to a degree. The question then comes down to this- is there such a thing as a selfless good deed?


  2. I could not agree more with your blog post. As you said, Hobbes believed that people do what is best for them on a personal level, but in modern society this doesn’t hold true in all cases. While I feel at certain times people need to and have the right to put themselves first, there are also many people who are selfless and willing to sacrifice their safety and well-being in order to help others. Furthermore, I think this mentality varies from individual to individual. By this I mean that some people are innately selfish while others are innately selfless and giving. It is just scary to think that some people are so selfish and immoral that they are willing to hurt others for their benefit, such as in the case of Hurricane Katrina. While this is an extreme example, it is definitely not an isolated event. On the other hand, it amazes me that some people are willing to risk their lives for complete strangers. It’s just crazy to think about the two extremes in regards to the nature of people.


  3. Your post is very interesting to think about. It is remarkable to think that there are people in this world who would risk their lives for total strangers. When the towers fell I think everyone was in a state of shock and did what they naturally felt compelled to do. However, (sorry to be a bit cynical) I think that those people are the exception to the “rule.” The”rule” being that in a time of terror and destruction people flee. It is VERY atypical for someone to run back into a burning building to help people or to dig through rubble and risk injuring themselves for someone. I commend all the firefighters, police officers, etc. whose job it is to serve others and be there when people are in need. It is difficult to justify as to why someone would want that to be what they do other than they are truly selfless and live their lives for others.


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