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“Why Don’t You?”

March 6, 2011

On February 2, 2011, a.k.a. Groundhog Day and the “Snowpocalypse” of 2011, The White Stripes officially called it quits in a statement on their website.  Many people, including myself, have shed red, white, and black tears as a result of this news.

How does this relate to Political Science 101?  Well, it doesn’t really.  However, the duo’s break up caused me to listen to their music a bit more frequently than I would have otherwise.  As a result, I discovered that one of their lesser known songs (below) called “Instinct Blues” (off of their fifth album, Get Behind Me Satan) relates to Hobbes’ and Locke’s ideas on the state of nature;  it may also relate a wee bit to Nietzsche.  If you dare to take a listen, I would like to warn you that this song is not “good” in the sense that it is easy to listen to.  Honestly, its rawness may very well damage your eardrums permanently.  (I personally happen to enjoy it, but there is a reason you have never heard it on the radio.)  Regardless, here it is:

Every worm that’s under your shoe,

and every bird and bee in the jungle too,

and everything in the ocean blue,

they just happen to know exactly what to do.

So, why don’t you?

– Jack White III

Granted, I doubt Jack had this topic in mind when he was writing this song, but it is still interesting to consider:  why can’t human beings just “get with it” as he so fervently screams?  Why do we even need “political theory” to figure out how to organize ourselves?  All of the other animals get along just fine without it.  What makes us so darn special?

Hobbes, I believe, would say that we are all similar to the other animals in the state of nature.  There are no common goals, everyone is working for his/her own welfare.  There is no absolute ruler keeping the “wild” humans in the state of nature in check.  Life is “nasty, brutish, and short” without government (Wootton p. 159).  He would tell Jack, “Yes, we are like animals, but do we really want to live like THEM?!?”

Locke, on the other hand, I think, would disagree with Hobbes where he (Hobbes) claims that no humans work for the well-being of the other.  Locke was quite religious, so he would claim that God instilled in humans special characteristics that separate them from the other animals;  Locke would possibly claim that it is feasible for humans to naturally want to help each other (that is, of course, if we weren’t marred by original sin).  Locke would reply to Jack, “We USED to know how to act without government, but then we ate that gosh-darned apple!”

Nietzsche would probably agree with Hobbes on this but would add a little Darwinism to the mix.  Everyone is working for his/her own genes to be passed on to the next generation.  Survival of the fittest.  There is no charity.  The strongest survive.  That is all.  Nietzsche would probably say nothing to Jack White.  He may simply decide to have a silent conversation with Meg.

Works Cited

*Wootton, David, ed. Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. 2nd ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2008.

White, Jack.  “Instinct Blues.”  Get Behind Me Satan.  V2 Records, 2005.

*{The general ideas / broad statements in this post regarding the political theories of Locke, Hobbes, and Nietzsche are all a result of reading Wootton’s work (cited above).}

2 Comments
  1. nehajain permalink
    March 11, 2011 10:23 PM

    I, too, was devastated by the breaking up of The White Stripes, so I’m happy you took the time to write this post. I really enjoyed reading it and think it brings up a pretty important point: why “do” we need an organized “political theory” to help us run smoothly? You do a great job of analyzing the prospective responses of the theorists we’ve studied in this class. I don’t think you were able to decide on one theorist who would agree completely with Jack White, but this was most likely written before we studied Rousseau. I think he would be one to agree with Jack’s statements that humans should “get with it”, and do as they please, more or less. According to Rousseau, the state of nature was a fairly primitive condition with no laws or morals. Humans were left to learn cooperation and adopt laws that benefited them. I feel that this is the idea that the author of the original post and Jack White were aiming toward–humans should not feel bogged down by strict theories, but should be able to make decisions for themselves. I think that Rousseau would agree with this argument.

    • Zack Orsini permalink
      March 14, 2011 12:45 AM

      nehajain,

      Thank you so much for bringing up Rousseau! I couldn’t believe it when I made this post and later discovered Rousseau in the reading as a perfect match for this song.

      Due to the fact that new knowledge has been presented to us both through the readings and through lecture regarding the topic of my post, I would like to add a few things regarding Rousseau and what he would think of Jack’s song.

      As mentioned in lecture, Rousseau converted from Calvinism to Catholicism. At the very least, this indicates that he had a religious background (specifically a Christian one). His ideas regarding the pure beauty of human life found in the state of nature reminded me of something Jesus is quoted as saying in the gospel of Matthew (6:25-27):

      “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (NIV®)*

      In addition to the story of the Garden of Eden, I believe that the above quote influenced Rousseau when he said,

      “If nature has destined us to be healthy, I almost dare to affirm that the state of reflection is a state contrary to nature and that the man who meditates is a depraved animal” (Wootton 383 [full citation in original post above]).

      It is important to note that Jack White was brought up as a Catholic (in Detroit) and was probably influenced by Jesus’ words in similar ways to Rousseau. If Rousseau were to have a conversation with Jack about the song, I think he would tell Jack the following:

      “Rock on, Jack! Keep teaching people how to ‘get with it’ and to stop worrying so much about property. You can count me in as one of the Candy Cane Children.”

      *BibleGateway.com. N.p., 2011. Web. 13 Mar 2011. http://www.biblegateway.com.

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