The Real State of Nature – A Reflection on the 2003 Blackouts
Thomas Hobbes, in his work Leviathan, argues that without a central government or autocratic leader, life would be “solitary, poore, brutish and short.” He believed men had no ability to work together, are aggressive, selfish, and competitive, and that if left alone, everyone would solely be out for their own self interest. Therefore, a sovereign ruler must take over in order to stop humanity from the anarchy that would surely result from allowing humans to their own devices.
I want to tackle Hobbes’s underlying notion that humanity is hopeless on its own. I believe human beings can work together rather than against each other. Rebecca Solnit also highlights this view in her essay, Uses of Disaster. She writes about a professor who, after a hurricane, told her it was like “not quite a street party, but everyone out at once […] a sense of happiness to see each other, even though we didn’t know each other.” The view that tragic disasters bring out the best in humanity was cemented after the New York City Blackouts of 2003.
The Northeast Blackouts of 2003, as the disaster is officially termed, occurred after powerlines owned by Ohio energy company FirstEnergy brushed up against some tall trees and broke, overloading their system. This set off a chain reaction, leading to many cities in the Northeastern US and Canada rendered literally powerless. Personally, I have never seen a community come together and help each other out like New Yorkers did after this event. As Mike Lee, an aspiring writer and New York City resident writes, “I’m deeply proud with my home city. New York City. It survived a major terrorist attack and a blackout. Despite popular opinion, New Yorkers didn’t riot, look, and pillage their own city. New Yorkers didn’t lie down and give up. They banded together like brothers and sisters, cooperating and sharing with one another to get through each crisis.”
This flurry of people helping people during a crisis was not prompted by a government or a sovereign leader. Instead, this is what happens when morality sets in- some actually have a drive within in them to just lend a hand, without concern about whether the favor given will be returned. It is poetic, actually, what happened in New York and all over during the 2003 Blackouts. Thomas Hobbes does his field a disservice making broad generalizations about the state of nature. Instead, we should look to what people actually do when times get tough- help their fellow man.