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.




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