Chilean Miners in a State of Nature
As I’m sure nearly all of you have probably heard over the past few months, a group of 33 miners were trapped a half-mile underground after their mine collapsed in Chile. The men were trapped underground for a total of 69 days, and for the first 17, they were completely isolated from the outside world. With no laws, no leader, and extremely limited resources, the miners were left in what could be considered a real-life state of nature. Their situation serves as an ideal case study of what really happens when a state of nature occurs in the real world, and is a great way to test out the theories of philosophers like Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau.
The miners, faced with only minimal rations of tuna, canned peaches, water, and condensed milk, along with a few basic medical supplies, easily could have fought each other for the right to consume the life saving resources. However, even facing extreme starvation, they decided to cooperate with each other and form their own mini society instead. They elected a leader, who was to be in charge of resolving conflicts between the miners, as well as the distribution of rations and the final say in important decision. They also chose other leaders, including a spiritual leader who encouraged daily prayer, and a medical leader who had taken a nursing class and could help the other miners. All of the other miners had assigned duties within the society as well. The miners agreed on a conflict resolution procedure that included a required “time out” of separation for the miners to cool their tempers, and a community mediation system to deal with them afterwards.
So, keeping in mind the philosophies on that state of nature that we’ve covered so far, which could explain what happened in the mine? In my opinion, it wasn’t Hobbes’ idea of the state of nature, since the miners never fought or tried to overpower each other for the resources. So what philosophy did apply? It seems to me that what happened in the mine could be explained by some sort of combination between Locke’s and Rousseau’s philosophies. It seems similar to Rousseau’s ideas in some ways because the group did make most of their decisions based on a consensus, and because the men were all actively involved in their society. In other ways, the society resembles Lock’s philosophy because the men did elect a leader who they did permit to exercise some control over things, and who could make decisions without the approval of the group. It’s also similar because the men gave up some of their freedom to secure the advantages of society, including protection of their property and liberty. What do you think? Were the Chilean miners in a state of nature? And if so, whose philosophy applied?