City Life: A Modern Hobbesian State of Nature
I lived 7 years of my life in New York City, and now live just outside of its boundaries; in my experiences on the streets of the city, I see absolutely no problem in comparing it to “that condition which is called war”(159). It was briefly mentioned in lecture that the New York City subway stations are a rather obvious example of Hobbes’s State of Nature, with everyone looking to travel their own paths and reach their destination with no concern for those around them, and often at the expense of the smaller people moving in the opposite direction of, say, a mob exiting a train.
The existence of a “state of war” within modern society exist in NYC beyond just the subway system. Have you ever tried to get a cab around Times Square, especially after a popular Broadway show has just ended? Thousands of people swarm around the entrance, and in such a crowd, everyone suddenly loses whatever previous concern they had for others around them, and I have even seen fights break out over who claimed a cab first. Similarly, at the Yankees parade after they won the World Series last season, in order to get a better view of the stage where the players were, I actually witnessed people climbing up the sides of buildings and knocking over the police boundaries, swarming into blocked off areas.
The way that the attitudes of people change so completely in a mob is truly petrifying. Once the laws that are generally applied to all people are no longer enforceable because of the excessive amount of people in a small space, people naturally try to take advantage of the lawless situations to a point where it really becomes a “war of every man against every man”(159). Even the regard for the lives of others seems seriously numbed within a large crowd with a goal or destination. On Black Friday in 2008 in Long Island, this reality was horrifyingly proven, as a Wall-Mart employee was trampled to death by a viciously determined crowd smashing through the doors of the store, seeking the huge annual sales. What’s even scarier about the situation is that someone can be brutally murdered by the unrelenting feet of a mob and no one can be charged for the killing, because the usual restrictions of the law are negated in an uncontrollable crowd. This is not the first or only incident in which someone’s life was painfully ended at the hands of a crowd or some hidden member of a crowd, and it is a clear instance in which the state of nature, as Hobbes defines it, really shines through the shield of civilization.