Hobbes has a methodical and mechanical view of the universe and world; however, in this mechanical view there seems to be a metaphorical “screw” loose. Hobbes argues in The Leviathan that in a state of nature, devoid of government and laws, mankind is in a “war of all against all.” His argument is based upon what he views as man’s natural tendencies and actions. Hobbes asserts that mankind has “a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death.” (Wootton 2007) Due to man’s insatiable appetite for more power, possessions, and honor and the natural limited amount of resources on the planet Hobbes deduces that there will always be conflict because “the way…to the attaining of [man’s] desires, is to kill, subdue, supplant, or repel” (Wootton 2007). Therefore, in total, Hobbes argues that in the state of nature every natural man is against one another because they have unending desires and resources are scarce. Hobbes then deduces that the reason men make societies with governments and laws is to facilitate peace because an untimely death is the consequence of the state of nature’s perpetual war.
I, however, disagree with Hobbes conclusion about the natural inclination of men towards violence. I believe that the establishment of commonwealths actually facilitates more violence rather than less. It is true that humans have a “fight or flight” defense mechanism, biologically, that promotes survival, but this mechanism is a vital, or involuntary, reaction and is produced only through provocation. Furthermore, Hobbes argued that voluntary actions, like violence, are only committed with sufficient appetite or aversion. In this case, man’s appetite for more power drives his violence towards his fellow man.
I believe that contrary to his belief humans are naturally nonviolent because violence is a learned behavior, not a natural one. The development of language and laws and social conventions after the establishment of a commonwealth actually facilitate more violence. Robert H. DuRant, vice chair of pediatrics at Wake Forest University School of Medicine says, “the strong association between exposure to violence and the use of violence by young adolescents illustrates that violence is a learned behavior.” (Winston-Salem 2000) Humans are not naturally violent but rather they have to learn by some means how to be violent. Jennings Bryant and Susan Thompson explain that “this is especially true for young children who identify with the characters they see on television and try to imitate them.”(Bryant, Thompson 2002) No better evidence for this associative learning is seen than in Albert Bandura’s pivotal psychological experiment involving Bobo Dolls. Bandura set up an experiment with three separate rooms of children. The first room watched a film of an adult hitting and beating on the inflatable Bobo doll violently. The second watched a film that showed non violent behavior, and the third watched no film. When the children were later put into rooms with Bobo dolls, “the children who had seen on film the Bobo doll being battered were not only more aggressive…but actually copied the violent behaviors they had witnessed.”(Bryant, Thompson 2002) It is thus obvious that violent behaviors are only caused when provoked or taught rather than existing in nature.
Further evidence for the fact that the state of nature is not a violent one and that the establishment of societies increases violence comes when studying violence in war. The development of war as a means of country conflict resolution only developed after the development of societies and the movement away from the state of nature yet wars are undeniably the most violent development in the history of the earth. However, when studying the largest war in history, WWII, we see that according to Army historian Brig. Gen. “In World War II, U.S. soldiers with a clean shot at the enemy, actually shot only 1 time out of 5.”(Haddock 2006) This evidence proves that there is a psychological disposition for humans to kill one another. More evidence of this fact comes from Konrad Lorenz, Nobel Prize winning psychologist, who says “we have a built-in defense against hurting a member of our own species.”(Lorenz 1966) In his book On Aggression Lorenz argues that species develop psychological barriers to prevent themselves from killing one another. The military, when statistics like the afore mentioned 1/5 shooting in WWII, implemented tactics like combat simulations and behavior modification drills in the hopes of breaking down or rewriting man’s natural disinclination towards killing. The result of this training can be seen in the increased report of shots fired at opponents in subsequent wars, like the Iraq or Vietnam wars. However, along with these reported higher shot ratios we also see increased psychological disorders of the soldiers returning home. Of soldiers returning after the Iraq war, “20 percent were diagnosed with psychological disorders” and of those returning from Vietnam “15.2 percent of all male veterans…and 8.1 percent of women” returned and were diagnosed with a psychological disorder. (San Francisco Chronicle, 2005)The demanding of the military to kill is in such a conflict with human’s natural instincts that it leads to psychological brain malfunctions.
Finally, when non-western and isolated societies and tribes are examined, the closest thing to the state of nature still existing, we see further disinclination towards violence. Tribes without western influence that have remained isolated for centuries when finally found are of particular interest to the world. They give a view of what life was like in those long dated days without governments, technological advancement, and modern institutions. These tribes are found on remote islands like those in the pacific, or deep within isolated mountain ranges in Asia , or deep within the confines of the Brazilian rainforest. These tribes do exist, in fact CBS recently reported “One of Brazil’s last uncontacted Indian tribes has been spotted in the far western Amazon jungle near the Peruvian border.”(CBS 2008) When these groups are finally found researchers love to examine them to get a more realistic view of what our own ancestors must have been like. When violence becomes the topic of interest we see “studies over the past century have found that half of the tribal societies studied had little or no violence against women, against children, or among men.”(White Ribbon Campaign 2007) Because societies in the “state of nature” had no recorded history, we cannot see what violence was like for them but the closest modern day example proves that these societies were most likely non-violent just like their modern day cousins.
In conclusion, the violence in a state of nature must have been minimal. Infants and isolated groups of people, the two least effected by our current societies and standards and thus most indicative of natural man, both demonstrate that humans are not naturally violent. Furthermore, institutions like war show that there exists a natural disinclination towards violence, the opposite of what Hobbes suggests. In The Leviathan Hobbes argues that commonwealth is the only way to escape the violence in the state of nature but there is more violence due to commonwealth. With the establishment of states and countries we see violence furthered. Through war, one of the most used policies in the history of established governments, we see violence encouraged and fostered. Also, through societal and cultural establishments we see violence further incorporated. Popular television shows and movies teach violence through imitation. Even our cultural constructions of masculinity and femininity promote violence. For men, they are encouraged to play violent sports in “productive” ways. Sports like football, wrestling, boxing, and the increasingly popular Ultimate Fighting all promote and teach violence. For these reasons I believe that violence is not stopped by the creation of commonwealths, it is perpetuated.
Bryant, Jennings, and Susan Thompson. Fundamentals of Media Effects. New York: McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages, 2001. Print.
Epstien, Jack, and Johnny Miller. “U.S. wars and post-traumatic stress disorder.” San Francisco Cronicle 22 June 2005. Print.
Haddock, V. (2006). The Science of Creating Killers: Human reluctance to take a life can be reversed through training in the method known as killology. The San Francisco Chronicle. 8/13/2006
Lorenz, Konrad. On Aggression. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974. Print.
“Tribe Found Untouched By Civilization – CBS News.” Breaking News Headlines: Business, Entertainment & World News – CBS News. 30 May 2008. Web. 14 Dec.2009.<http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/05/30/world/main4137506.shtml>.
White Ribbon Campaign. Web. 13 Dec. 2009. <http://whiteribbonday.wordpress.com/>.
Winston-Salem. “Violence Is A Learned Behavior, Say Researchers At Wake Forest University.” Science Daily: News & Articles in Science, Health, Environment & Technology. Web. 13 Dec. 2009. <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/11/001106061128.htm>.
Wootton, David. Modern Political Thought Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Company, 2008. Print.