Solnit and Blindness
In her article “Uses of Disaster”, Rebecca Solnit suggests that even in time of disaster, human beings have a good side to them. She argues that they have a lightened attitude, perhaps a smile on their face, and the warm generosity of helping others. Although this may be accurate in her accounts from the San Francisco earthquake, her theory is proved exponentially wrong in the 2008 thriller Blindness.
I make reference to a movie in this situation (though it may seem slightly odd since a movie might not be the best parallel to real life disaster), in order to follow with the theme of Halper and Muzzio’s “Hobbes in the City: Urban Dystopias in American Movies.” The movie Blindness is in fact a dystopia and one that shows the greediness of the human population.
A quick synopsis of the movie: There is an epidemic of white blindness spreading through a city. The people contaminated are to be isolated from the rest of the population. The main character, a woman, has a husband who has been infected by the blindness, but she herself is not blind. She pretends to be blind and goes to the isolation site with her husband. There, she bands together with other blind people to help them survive. The government is not patrolling the grounds whatsoever, and madness, rape, brutality, theft and murder ensues in the building. Eventually, the diseased break out and the rest of city has become blind. People are killing each other on the streets and stealing food from others. The trailer is attached, though the vulgarity and brutality of the dystopian situation is not rightfully shown.
Solnit argues that according to Hobbesian state of nature (which she feels is not accurate), people in disaster would panic, where people “trample one another to flee, or loot and pillage…” (pg. 34 of her essay). In Blindness, this Hobbesian state of nature does indeed exist, but what does not exist is people helping each other out, or working together to keep everyone safe and alive. Solnit mentions how a survivor of the San Francisco earthquake argued, “that even the selfish, the sordid, and the greedy became transformed that day [of the earthquake]” (pg. 33). The blindness, however, shows otherwise for a different disaster.
In a dystopian society, like the one that emerged as a result of the blindness epidemic, civil society fell apart. In lecture we learned that Hobbes argues that a powerful state and government is necessary for domestic life to be safe. Solnit argues that civil society, even without a strong government, would be sufficient enough to keep domestic life safe as everyone would help to keep others safe. Blindness is a key example of a society that turned into disaster with lack of a strong government, and in the face of disaster.