Are we evil? do laws exist because we are evil? The “Hobbseian deal” with the state.

The last post I raised the question, are we rotten to the core? And I tried to think about it through the movie Cube, and with Victor’s Frankel memoir of his experiences in the Holocaust, and his psychological theory that he developed through it. I claimed that both, in their own separate ways, show us that maybe we are rotten in our most basic level of consciousness.

The big question then is, “what is human nature?” are we good or bad? Will humans eat each other alive if given tough enough circumstances? Or can we keep our civilized selves even in the most horrific of realities? There were several times in the history of the nation-state, which the police force went on a strike. In those days, people just went to riot and steal and break into places. The pictures are quite vividly displayed in movies, or when there are riots in places that the police is “too afraid” to go into. But, on the other hand, we can see little acts of humanity even in the direst of a situation. Like people sacrifice themselves for the better good or put their lives at risk in order to save another.

Thomas Hobbes was a philosopher, and he argued that we are bad, and because we are bad, we need some kind of a strong authority that could control us, limit our freedoms and be a deterring force to deter us from doing bad things to each other. It will prevent people from hurting each other because it would be so powerful that it will uphold the laws for us and take from us the right to retaliate.

Hobbes argues that in a natural state, Nature-state, humans are animals. He claims that human beings are relatively similar in their capabilities. Meaning, there isn’t any individual that alone, could not be overcome by a group. No one is too smart or too strong to be better in the long run from a group of people. For Hobbes, that means that if people are relatively similar in their capabilities, that means that they have more or less the same desires and interests. That leads to competition because resources are scarce, there aren’t enough for everyone, so it leads human beings into a life of struggle, fear, jealousy and a free for all war with each other.

You might say that this is nonsense, so Hobbes will ask you, if it is nonsense, then why do you lock your door? Why don’t you leave your bag unattended in the street? Why are you afraid when you have to go through a dark alley at night? Because human beings, are not someone you can trust because of this natural state of competition or war among us. In many dramas like Game Of Throne, House of Cards and so on, the repeating motif is “can I trust X?”. Check how many times this issue of trust is being raised in these dramas and real life.

Hobbes says that to get away from this nature-state, we need a powerful leader, that will uphold the law for us. That means that if someone steals from me, I can go to that leader and his institutions, and they will take care of it for me. Only the fear that the police will come, deter people from doing bad things. This is the “hobbsian deal” we have with the state, as we give it a monopoly over the use of violence. We are not allowed to use force, only the police or army (in many cases) do.

So, one can argue that the the fact that we need laws, police, and organized violence, is a sign that human beings are not that bad, and they created these institutions in order to lead a better social life. But it can also show us that maybe we are that evil, that we need these institutions at all. Because if we were good in nature, than we wouldn’t need this complicated system of laws, nations and violence to begin with.

But this is one part of the limitation of “theory”. Not all humans are bad, and not all humans are good. It depends on so many factors, that perhaps we cannot figure out what conditions or variables will make an individual into a bad person or a good person. It sounds ridiculous to try to come up with an equation “abusive father + poor education – supportive adoptive parents – good friends X 20 years = a good person”.

It might depend on the time or the place, or even both. Today’s Germany is not the same as it was in the 30s and 40s. A person that lives in a third world country will see things differently from a person that lives in the First world, and so on. But without trying to generalize things, we cannot deduce general patterns and understand anything.

Follow this line; it means that Hobbes, that lived in a time of a civil war in England and was exiled, saw the world in these colors. Maybe if hobbies were to live in today’s world he wouldn’t think that our nature state is as he claims it to be.

 

 

 

Are We Rotten To The Core? Movies as Thought Experiments Vs the Holocaust.

In humanities, we cannot run experiments, Let’s say, replacing Hitler with another leader and let history run its course and observe what will happen. The closest thing we have for experiments is art.

“Cube” is a movie from 1997 (I give some spoilers so if you plan to watch it be careful). Its plot is quite a weird one. A group of human beings was put inside a vast maze, that consists of many rooms. In some cases, these rooms have traps, and the human group needs to navigate its way out safely. The main point of this movie, if you saw it and noticed, is that the most dangerous thing for the members of the group, was not the traps and the maze itself, but the other members of the group, as other human beings were the main reason why people died in this movie. They killed each other way more often than the traps did.

*SPOILER*

In the end scene of the first movie, there is only one guy who makes it out alive. This guy seems to suffer from Autism, and his behavior is not something we would consider normal. The group encounters him and soon debates as if in this situation, live or death one, they need to help him because he might slow them down, as it is hard to communicate with him, which might raise the chances of falling into a trap. Some argue to help him because he is helpless, some argue against it.
In the end, it turns that they need to calculate complicated things as part of a trap, and he, the autistic guy, can do it and do it almost instantly. Thus he can help the group and find the way out. In the end, people die off, mostly from other human beings, due to conflict, group politics and so on. In the final scene, the autistic member is the only one who made it out alive.

It is as if the people who made this film wanted to criticize human nature and show us how cruel we really are. First, they argue through the movie, that human beings in life or death situations reveal their true nature, and will do anything to survive. They will kill, rob, steal, take advantage of other people, deceive and cheat others. In this movie, Cube, the autistic one, is the antithesis of this human nature. He is pure, he has no intention to harm anyone else, and this movie, as rewards this pure and innocent behavior, makes him the only one to survive, like saying that he Is the only one really deserved to survive. This fact in this movie indicates that if good people exist, they must be irrational or lack the standard capacities of human conscious, otherwise they will end with this “human nature.”

*END OF SPOILER*

Many other films tackle this idea that when human society falls, laws and governments crumble, this true nature of human beings takes over, and we end up in situations like “mad max,” “Waterworld” and many other dystopian movies, of course not something we want to live in.

But the question remains is, is this human nature? Are we really programmed like that? Are these “thought experiments” – movies, really tells us how human beings would behave? In the end, there are one or some people, who come up with these hypothetical situations, and they out of their own life experiences, beliefs and convictions, tells us what that situation would be like, and how human beings will behave in it.

But, there were real situations of that sort in human history, and it seems that people behaved to some degree, as these dystopian films predict. The book “Man’s Search For Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy,” Victor Frankl tells us about his experiences in the Auschwitz concentration camp in the Holocaust. Frankl was a Jewish man, who was carried to this camp trying to escape death. He says in this book that the good men and women didn’t make it, that the best among us, didn’t make it. Those who stole food from each other and were selfish had the better chances to survived.

But of course, these are not the only cases. In many places, like in Ghetto Warsaw, even in great deprivation, made schools, concerts, theaters and so on. On the face of it, there was no real rationality to make these, it had nothing to do with the survival of the people, and actually, it was a waste of energy. But, I guess that people, by doing those activities tried to preserve their humanity, in an environment that took humanity into one of its darkest hours.

I will keep poking this idea in future posts; this is not over. What do some philosophers have to say about human nature? And how postmodernism argues against the notion that human nature is solid because of human nature change in different cultural and physical environments.