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Homo Homini Lupus

October 27, 2010

While doing a reading for my animal behavior class, an introductory Biology course, I cam across this phrase in regards to Freud and human emotion- “homo homini lupus”, meaning “man is wolf to man”. The first though that came to mind after reading that phrase…Hobbes.

In my animal behavior course, we learn about how people have evolved to be selfish. Our inherent goals are to carry our own genes on to the next generation, and do all that we must to achieve this goal, even if it means fighting with our own species. This all reminded me so much of Hobbes’ state of nature, except Hobbes does not relate human selfishness to spreading one’s own genetics, but to one’s desire for power. It struck me how similar Hobbes’ state of nature and nature of man are so similar to the theories put forth by my animal behavior class, especially as I do not like Hobbes’ cynical view of man and do not wish to draw any comparisons.

I do not believe the phrase “homo homini lupus”, but, rather, I prefer to lean towards Rebecca Solnit’s argument in “The Uses of Disaster” that we tend to band together after times of crisis and help each other. Her article especially struck me from my own experiences. I did a service project in New Orleans post-Katrina, and I was struck by how giving and dedicated each New Orleans native I met was towards rebuilding their city. Everyone I met maintained a profound trust in the city and in their neighbors- there was no mention of looting, or selfish acts post-Katrina. Everyone banded together to rebuild and help. My particular project worked towards rebuilding a school that had been destroyed in the hurricane, and four of the volunteers I worked with were twenty-year-olds who had attended that school and had come back to do their part in helping. They had moved back home from New York City to help. I was in awe of the utter LACK of a Hobbesian state of nature, and I was so pleased with that outcome. I prefer to think the best of people (I prefer to believe that Hobbes’ state of nature is all wrong), and I loved Solnit’s article and how she refuted Hobbes’ argument. It’s a good feeling to experience or read about situations in which people do not act selfishly, or in competition for power or resources, but instead work together towards something greater and more universally beneficial.

Homo homini lupus? I think not.

  1. cwatson872 permalink
    October 28, 2010 2:20 PM

    I’m surprised that is this is one of the first times I’ve heard biology and evolution in this course when discussing human nature. Reading these thinkers I often forget about the developments made in the natural sciences over the past 150 years, and I also forget that these thinkers obviously didn’t have access to the scientific information we have today.

    So, while I know this wasn’t really the main point of your post, just mentioning that area of concentration was just sort of an interesting reminder about context and perspective. I just wonder what Hobbes, Locke, etc. would have to say about human nature if they lived now, with the many of the concepts of modern science available to them.

  2. Madeline Smith permalink
    October 29, 2010 1:41 PM

    You definitely make a good point, and it sounds like you’ve had a great experience. However I would bring up the possibility that banding together and cooperating are perhaps in ones best interest? I’m not saying that that’s the only reason people would be good and kind to one another, but it’s very possible that the best option for them at the time was to cooperate.

  3. jungle12 permalink
    November 2, 2010 8:55 PM

    I agree that post Katrina there was a lot of support to help the people/community that was affected. However, I got a little confused on Solnit’s ideas and how they are related to real life today. On a normal day one will do what one wants to do (self-interest) and probably won’t do anything else unless one is completely satisfied with what they are doing. And I noticed that when there is a tragic event/natural disaster, then people are willing to help. For example, helping the victims of Katrina. But how come people wont help each other out other wise? If there is no natural disaster, will people sill be willing to help out others? It seems like not. So yes in the short run Solnit is correct with how people behave however, Hobbe’s theory is more accurate.

  4. ann900 permalink
    November 6, 2010 1:18 AM

    I completely agree with your argument in that there is a lack of Hobbesian state of nature. Hurricane Katrina and September 11, 2001 are great examples of how the community banned together to help one another, but what about the daily events that occur that show the community’s support of one another? I feel that people forget about charities because they are not mentioned in the news on a daily basis or because they were not “national disasters”. The search for cancer cures and other diseases as well as the support for third world countries, the homeless, and troubled children are donated to on a daily basis. Anonymously and selflessly. Why? Because people care.

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