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Solnit and Blindness

October 13, 2010

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.


  1. Taylor Fields permalink
    October 14, 2010 2:39 PM

    I have not seen the movie, but after watching the trailer and reading your summary, I disagree (respectively) with your conclusion. You state ‘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.’ You contradict yourself however, when you describe ‘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.’ Isn’t this an example of people helping each other out to help them stay safe and alive? From the trailer, it depicts this women as trying to help the inflicted, trying to protect them from the good.

    I think the problem is were considering Solnit’s ideology that we help each other out on too broad of a scale. After 9/11, everyone banded together, without a strong government to tell them to do so. This movie is an example of Solnit’s idea, just on a micro scale. Without any government, this women attempts to help and save those admits a crisis. While I think it COULD be argued this movie breaks the rule, I don’t think the argument would win.

  2. Vidya permalink
    October 15, 2010 12:54 AM

    I would have to disagree with your conclusion as well. Solnit’s point applies to real life, which is nothing like in the movies, since the movies exist simply to entertain us, especially a movie like this one. I know you acknowledge that a movie is not a good parallel to a real-life disaster. However, I think it is too far of a stretch to even compare.
    But if we were to imagine our own society in this scenario, how would people react? It’s true that many of the outcomes might be the same; blindness could lead to panic, disorder and chaos, in turn leading to inhumane behavior. But there is an extent to everything, even the humanity of people. You can only be pushed so far until you simply cannot act human. In the real-life scenarios Solnit describes (9/11, the San Fransisco earthquake of 1906), she is talking about those affected by the aftermath of disasters, not those experiencing the disaster themselves. And these people suffer from heavy financial loss, the loss of loved ones or maybe serious injury to themselves or those they love. The scenario depicted in the movie blindness is one of a worst-case scenario: people without government or order, without the ability to see and therefore trust, and without their families or homes. They are literally left with nothing but a constant fear and mistrust (the Hobbesian state of nature). With fear and mistrust comes paranoia, violence, despair. It is the circumstance which would drive people to such a state. However, there has never really been a disaster in the history of humanity that has taken away everything that every human being has, and hopefully there won’t be. But if there ever were, I wouldn’t blame human nature for turning into chaos. In conclusion, could this state of society ever be possible? Probably. But is it because that is our natural state? Probably not.

  3. October 16, 2010 10:56 PM

    I understand the point you are trying to make through this post, but I am not sure that I agree with you. You are right, the two articles you discuss in this post take contrasting views. However, the key difference between the articles if the imagined situation, movies, versus real life experiences. The “Hobbes” articles discusses moive societies in which people obey an all-powerful sovereign who acts as a totalitarian dictator, illustarting Hobbes’ state of nature theory. On the other hand, Solnit is referring to real-life natural disasters and the way in which people come together to form community. In this post, you are trying to compare Solnit’s argument to an imganined situation, the movie “Blindness.” Therefore, I am not sure you can make this accusation because it is a scenario that illustrates the writer or director’s view of what would happen, not what actually did happen. Had you used the example we saw in class, where people in New Orleans were robbing each other after Katrina, I think this would have been a stronger point. Ultimately, I am just unsure that these two situations are comparable.

  4. ann900 permalink
    November 9, 2010 10:58 PM

    Can you imagine what our lives would be like if this is how the public had reacted to September 11th? Or the San Francisco earthquake. Or the volcanic eruption of Mt St Helens. Any disaster. Our lives would have been chaos. Or still chaos maybe. Because we are reminded on a daily basis when we see an American flag, cracks in the ground, or mountains in the distance that people came together those days. They abandoned their selfish ways to become one.

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