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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Hobbes's "Brutish" Life Scenario Just Keeps On Ticking -- Must We Let It?

When the mother of philosopher Thomas Hobbes was pregnant with her son in the late 16th Century, she got some frightening news.

In early 1588, Mrs. Hobbes received word that a ferocious monster called the Spanish Armada was on its way to destroy her home, England.  So traumatized by the impending storm--and not knowing that her country's famed fleet would annihilate the Spanish--she gave premature birth to Thomas on April 5th.

"My mother," reflected Hobbes,  "gave birth to twins: myself and fear."

It's easy to get overwhelmed with pessimism, watching humanity's never-ending production of war, conflict, and unspeakable suffering.

Start with the Lagash-Umma War of 2525 B.C., where the victor erected "Stele of Vultures,"  a charming stone monument featuring carvings of the birds feeding on enemy corpses.  Pass through the next several thousand years of countless bloodbaths, working all the way up to today's spotlighted killing fest in Afghanistan.

No wonder the prematurely born Hobbes came up with his famous line about life's "nasty" and "brutish" nature.

Another powerful Hobbesian insight was this:  "I put for the general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death."

On war, his view was unequivocal:

"To this war of every man against every man, this also in consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the cardinal virtues."

Force and fraud.  Or rather, first the powers-that-be provide fraud an irresistible ad campaign and then unleash all the merciless force to their hearts' content.  Moreover, lots of victims pile up not just from "hot wars," but "cold" ones, terrorism of all stripes, economic oppression and enslavement, on and on and on.

Borrowing a title phrase from Led Zepplin's classic (visions of WW I bombing, naturally), almost invariably "the song remains the same." 

Many thanks to my Facebook friend, peace activist Sue Thompson, for sharing this outstanding short video graphically capturing the syndrome.

Painful as it is, keep in mind the obvious first step out of the Hobbesian Horror Shop is this "if you know" part.  Tragically too many people don't.

Or don't want to.  These kinds of things "will never happen to them."

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