Are Celebrities Donating to Japan Hobbesian Agents?
After reading Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and discussing his philosophy in depth during lecture and discussion section, a reasonable conclusion is that Hobbes believed in the notion of psychological egoism — the idea that humans are always motivated by self-interest. In the Leviathan, Hobbes wrote that in the state of nature, humans want to obtain power and wealth and want to avoid death. In order to achieve these desires, humans act selfishly by means of self-preservation. Even acts that appear to be altruistic are motivated by self-interest, according to Hobbes. In his book De Cive (“On the Citizen”), Hobbes wrote
“I obtained two absolutely certain postulates of human nature. One, the postulate of human greed by which each man insists upon his own private use of common property; the other, the postulate of natural reason, by which each man strives to avoid violent death.”
In other words, Hobbes believed humans wanted all they could obtain and undoubtedly wanted to avoid death.
With the devastating earthquake and tsunami that recently hit Japan, numerous celebrities have decided to donate money to relief agencies in Japan. It is no surprise that celebrities are garnering support from their fans and encouraging them to join efforts to donate to Japan. In fact, it is widely known that celebrities such as George Clooney, Sean Penn, Bono, Angelina Jolie, and many more dedicate their time to help countries overseas when they are not working. Until recently, I always saw these acts as extremely altruistic and selfless. These famous celebrities were taking time off from shooting films or promoting films in order to fly to countries in Asia and Africa and help local organizations. In addition, some celebrities were endangering their lives. Most recently it was reported that after a trip to Sudan, George Clooney contracted malaria.
However, after reading and analyzing Hobbes’ philosophy about human nature, it began to occur to me that maybe these celebrities are donating millions of dollars and taking pictures with impoverished communities just as a way of publicizing their “altruistic image”. Lady Gaga designed a bracelet with the words “We pray for Japan” in English and Japanese and is selling them for $5.00 online. She is donating 100% of the proceeds to relief efforts in Japan. Blink 182 designed a t-shirt and launched an online auction of memorabilia, of which 100% of the proceeds are being donated to the Red Cross in Japan. Sandra Bullock donated one million dollars to the Red Cross in Japan. Katy Perry is donating all the proceeds from glow sticks sold at her concerts to relief agencies. Even Charlie Sheen has decided to jump on the bandwagon! He is donating one dollar from every $70 ticket sold from his new tour to the Red Cross in Japan. The list goes on and on. It is really great to see how celebrities are using their fame to reach millions of people around the world to join their efforts in raising money for Japan. Julie Whitmer, director of celebrity and entertainment outreach for the American Red Cross, stated in a CNN article
“Celebrities generate media, media delivers awareness, awareness motivates people to help those in need.”
I believe this situation is quite conflicting. On one hand, these celebrities appear to be self-interested because they are promoting their own products in an attempt to raise awareness. On the other hand, many of them are donating 100% of the proceeds from their products to various organizations, thus making their actions seem purely selfless and motivated by noble intentions. Hobbes would most likely argue that these celebrities are selfish agents purely interested in publicizing their good image to the world, thus contributing even more to their fame and fortune. What do you guys think?
To read more about celebrities’ initatives, please refer to these articles:
Garrath Williams article: