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A North Quad State of Nature

March 31, 2011

Please bear with me if you don’t know what I’m talking about, but if my predications are correct, there’s a huge chance you’re about to groan and think,  She’s right: rush hour at North Quad is very much representative of Hobbes’ state of nature.

We’ve all been there: 1p.m. or 5p.m. (or at both times) on any given day, inside of that new, large dining room.  The lighting creates a warm ambiance, encouraging new relationships to be formed and the fostering of old ones.  The food is what I like to consider “gourmet dining hall food.”   And the best part?  It’s served on clean, classy dishes that aren’t exactly large enough to fill you up, but they’re perfect for stacking so you can go back and get serving after serving (most of the time without feeling guilty!).  The people working are always friendly and accommodating, especially if you have a friend who always insists on making special orders at each of the pick-up stops.  And for some reason, the cookies always seem to be so much warmer in North Quad, too.  Well, I guess the grass is always greener on the other side of campus.

So you must be asking yourself, if this building is so special and its food so phenomenal, why would Hobbes consider its meal time a state of nature?  Well, you see, I’m not the only freshman to have expressed my love for North Quad- in fact; many of the students that actually live in North Quadrangle are upperclassman who are downright annoyed at the feeding frenzy at the above-mentioned times (mostly because of us annoying freshman).  And that’s exactly what it is: a frenzy.  A downright battle- every man for himself.  Students come from all campuses, all walks of the Diag, and from any given class in order to get a table.  You see, it’s not a matter of will you get a meal or not- you inevitably will.  North Quad stays on top of its game and generally serves whoever it can, as soon as they can.  But it’s more a matter of whether or not you and your friend(s) will get a seat.  If your best friend doesn’t leave class 10 minutes early to save a table, good luck.  There’s hardly ever an open table.  And a pair of seats not being used is even hard to come by during rush hour!  It really is every man for himself.  I can personally testify that I have seen people eating on the ground before, tray on their lap, friend by their side…no open seat in sight…

Just think about it: Hoobes would agree!  Everyone there is serving their own interests: their hunger.  Or need for social interaction (once you become a regular, everyone at rush hour becomes a familiar face).  Everyone is a little vain in this regard, because everyone thinks it’s their dinner they’re eating and that they should have a table waiting for them when they get there.  The others?  Let them sit on the floor- for now, I need this seat.  But at the same time, you tend to fear the others.  When you walk in and actually think you have a shot at the bar stools off to your left, you notice a few coats scattered there but no attendant.  Do you take the seats and act innocent when the occupants come back?  What would they do?  Or if you’re flying solo, and notice the one loan seat being kept warm by a backpack in the middle tables, is that seat being saved?  Or is it that it is open, they would just rather not have a stranger eavesdrop in on their conversation?  Do you care?  Because this tray is getting heavy and your patience is waning.  Should you ask them?  And of course there’s the issue property of regularly wanting what we can’t have: everyone always wants those circle tables when they come in with a big group, but when it’s obviously in use, we get jealous and sometimes maybe even a little bit frustrated….Are you beginning to see the connection?

Perhaps you still don’t believe me, perhaps you don’t agree.  Maybe you look at this dining hall and think of Rousseau over other philosophers: you see teamwork.  When you’re a regular at North Quad, all that means is that you realized early on that you absolutely must ban together to survive.  If not, what, are you supposed to show up at rush hour and simply stumble upon a table?  It doesn’t happen like that, as much as we all wish it did.  If you get rid of all of those icky, psychological forces that could severely hurt your place in the food chain, like pride or simple self-love, you’ll have no problem creating a system within your group that works and that eventually becomes an efficient way to spend your time at North Quad.

So which is it?  If you happen to stumble upon North Quad at 5p.m. any given day of the week, keep in mind these two theories.  Will you see an animalistic in nature feeding time?  Or will you chose to see teamwork, groups of people who have come together to share a meal?


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9 Comments
  1. Justin Kucera permalink
    March 31, 2011 3:46 AM

    This is the most creative and enjoyable post I have read on this entire blog. I’ve only been there one time… it was 12. That was enough for me to realize I never wanted to go through the hassle of trying to find a seat. My experience was more of a teamwork type atmoshphere though. People moving tables and chairs in order for you and your friend to be able to sit with each other. But I also had some Hobbseian moments: shoving my way to the front of the drink machine and basically sprinting to grab an empty chair. One time at North Quad was enough for me to know that I had enough state of nature for one year.

  2. Pierre Gerondeau permalink
    March 31, 2011 2:09 PM

    I agree with the first comment that this was a really interesting and creative post. I too have only eaten once at North Quad this year, because my experience was definitely a Hobbesian state of nature. There was a mad rush to get in, and you have to be very assertive to actually get through the lines and get a meal. Perhaps I should have heeded Burke and stuck with my normal tradition of eating lunch at South Quad, where it is easier to get food and get a seat. Burke says that tradition should be followed and that reasoning is collective over time.

  3. John D'Adamo permalink
    March 31, 2011 2:22 PM

    This post was incredible. I, like Pierre, have only eaten in North Quad but a few times due to the Hobbesian state of nature that persists. The first time I ate there back in October, there wasn’t a seat to be had because people were still scoping out North Quad in general- the newness of it, the ambience, the classiness of the place. And so I definitely witnessed a Hobbesian state of nature in that it was every man for himself. I actually saw a dispute break out because one person took another’s seat. It almost came to blows. That’s how intense it was. The second time, however, was a much more amazing experience because it was during Spring Break, so everyone was away. There were plenty of open seats, and I had a sensational breakfast. I’ll definitely go back next time most students aren’t around, because the food and atmosphere really are the best on campus.

    While there is definitely some Rousseau-based teamwork and strategy that occurs, there is no doubt in my mind that the place can be a downright feeding frenzy, and so I agree with cfbeckman wholeheartedly.

  4. Zachary TeBeau permalink
    March 31, 2011 8:56 PM

    Hahahah this is very true.

    I wouldn’t go as far to say that it is a true representation of Hobbe’s State of Nature but is definitely pretty close. The people in there are for sure every man for themselves. I have been bumped and shoved a few times while eating at the northquad caf.

  5. Emily Slaga permalink
    April 1, 2011 8:45 AM

    This was so much fun to read! However, I can’t really relate because the handful of times I’ve eaten at North Quad, it hasn’t been quite like you described. Yes, it’s always really busy and may be hard to find a seat, but that’s because there aren’t enough tables for everyone. I haven’t seen it as cutthroat as you describe though. I always see groups of different people sharing tables, willing to share that extra spot at their table. I’ve never seen anyone refuse to share a spot or hog a much needed seat with their backpack. So I don’t think it’s too Hobbesian. People seem to understand that they’re lucky to get a table and will share, looking out for their fellow wolverines.
    But maybe I’ve just been lucky the times I’ve been there!

  6. Paige Robinson-Frazier permalink
    April 1, 2011 1:50 PM

    I really enjoyed your post! I liked how you brought the alternative view about Rousseau and teamwork. The only thing I would like to disagree with is the fact that you called the dining room large (minor detail, of course). But I think part of the reason it is Hobbesian and chaotic is becase it is so small.

    I would like to make the same argument about the libraries on campus. It seems to me like there is almost always (except for maybe Friday nights) battles to get a good table and I find it most frustrating when people leave their stuff there for hours just to save the table. That’s the Michigan difference, though, I guess :)

  7. Laura Ratner permalink
    April 1, 2011 7:50 PM

    This was a great post. I completely agree with your depiction of North Quad. I eat there all the time and usually at the times you mentioned. North Quad is definitely a place where it is every man for ones self. People get in fights over seating, trays, plates, silverware, and food every time I eat there. You have to push your way through the crowd to get the food you want and to even have a chance at sitting at a table, let alone with your friends. The food and ambiance is most certainly worth the hassle, but as you suggested, going at any time other than the peak times would be beneficial for a more positive North Quad experience.

  8. alexqhe permalink
    April 1, 2011 10:39 PM

    North Quad is most definitely a microcosm of a Hobbesian state of nature. I choose to eat there once a week because I have a class relatively close to it, but since it’s at peak hours, the lines are long and the cafeteria is crowded. It seems to me like the second you walk into the door, all signs of civility are gone. But even just a foot outside the doors, and normalcy returns: people will hold open the door for you upon entering the cafeteria, but they’ll trample all over you to get a seat. It’s very much the same as the Bursley-Baits route during peak hours — trying to get on the bus during the dead of winter is even worse.

    Eating at North Quad is definitely worth it, though, despite having to fight through the crowds! Mojo is a pretty good alternative as well. Come on, U-M, give those of us having to live on North Campus a comparable experience!

  9. Khushi Desai permalink
    April 4, 2011 12:46 AM

    I really enjoyed reading this post and the application of the Hobbesian state of nature to our everyday life. My two best friends and I have a 10-11:30 lecture at MLB every Tuesday and Thursday, and every time we get out early there is a massive flow of people to NQ, looking for a seat to eat in. You really do get the feeling of “one man of himself” when everyone around you is swarming to get a table! Personally, I follow more of a Rousseau’s teamwork approach to finding a table as we split up and cover the entire cafeteria until one of us texts each other that we found one.

    One thing this post reminded me of was Mill’s argument against marriage based on the roles of men and women. I thought it was funny that somehow, when we are all looking for a table in NQ, the guys somehow always think that they are the only ones who can find a table. Even if we find one at the same time, the girls of the group always have to move to the one where the boys are sitting. Mill argues that women are expected to fit the role of “submission, and yielding to the control of others,” which I have seen many incidents of. I think this is just an interesting connection I saw!

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