The Subway: a Hobbesian State of War
I was visiting my sister in New York City over spring break just a few weeks ago.
After losing myself in the illuminating lights and fluorescent colors of Grand Central Station’s famous ceiling, I found myself taking the subway to 2nd street. Before I even stepped foot on the train however I took notice at the chaos taking place around me. Women and children pushing and shoving other families to get to their destination, competing against others to get to their train car first. I myself experienced this adrenaline rush as I was past by a man near sprinting to get as far ahead in line to swipe his metro card to avoid the wait. A blanket of anxiety coated my body as I began to sprint towards my train in fear that the doors would close leaving me lost and defeated by those that had reached it first.
In Hobbes’ state of nature, we are at war with a familiar species, ourselves and every day people around us. He felt that during times when laws and guidelines were absent, every person has the right to do whatever it takes to preserve their own liberties of life.
In a place like the subway, laws and strict rules aren’t necessarily enforced, it is every man for himself. It is without doubt a state of war. Each and every person is striving to find what Hobbes considered peace, in this case it’s simply an act of making your train. Competing against others knowing that they all possess the same goal, willing yourself to run faster than those next to you, or find a seat before them. One is constantly trying to defend themselves from others, as if everyone is an enemy who seeks to abuse and diminish your natural rights.
I never realized it until I took a step back and stopped thinking about my own needs. As I gazed into the crowd I could see that no one was thinking about anything but themselves. Aside from the noise of the subways screeching by, and the rustling of feet, there was no communication amongst people. It was a sight of individuals unknowingly at war with each other, a crowd of people willing themselves to defeat and compete with everyone around them. The subway presents in interesting case, it shows people’s morals when no specific guidelines are given towards how to act. Each and every person acts for themselves and only to benefit their intuitions and needs. No one takes into account the rules and restrictions by which they live in any other instance of life. Instead people act recklessly and solely for their own good. When there are no constraints people are only focused on there own liberties, and likewise have no concern for other’s pursuit of their natural rights.
This may seem like an odd proposition, but that is only because it is something never expected or truly analyzed. It is just an act of everyday life. One where people expose their inner morals and lack of interest in other people’s needs. It doesn’t have to be televised to be considered a state of war. There doesn’t need to be violence or a declaration for a course of action. No dictators or generals have to be present. Rather a crowd of people all fighting for their own selfish needs. Competing for the preservation of one’s liberties against those around you. The subway is a modern day representation of a state of war. It is a real-life example that is never recognized because people never take the time to realize how they are acting. They proceed without hesitation and are determined in their course of action without anyone intruding upon their path.
Next time you’re running to catch your train, or sprinting to cut the line so you can swipe your metro card, think about where you are and how everyone is acting around you. Odds are no one will be focusing on your problems, rather they will be fighting to preserve their necessities in defense from you.