According to Hobbes, the state of nature for mankind is a state of constant warfare, where everyone fights against each other in order to survive. Therefore, it is necessary to set up a society where everybody agrees to a contract that limits their freedom but gives them protection. Hobbes’ view on mankind is a very low one, but we must admit that we do have qualities that make us that way. However, I believe that at any rate, basic human nature is good, and not in any way relating to the savage beast described by Hobbes. What makes us savage creatures that live in constant warfare is the human instinct called fear.
A toddler who has never seen a lion or a tiger would have no fear of it. We know this because of stories about babies who are raised by such animals. The idea of fear is not in our nature, it slowly comes into our minds as we age and learn about the dangers of this world. We are taught to not speak to strangers and not open doors for strangers, lest that they be bad and harm us. These teachings create suspicion in our minds. Since we are told all the time that other people could potentially harm us, we come to see people as potential enemies, and we treat them with suspicion. We do not openly express our fear, but we also don’t open ourselves completely to others either. This is what created the state of warfare that Hobbes described. Because of the hostility all people were taught to see in one another, there is no way for anybody to be sure that he/she is safe, unless of course he actively “removes” what he/she deems threatening, and by doing so he/she becomes threatening to others.
There is a way which we can overcome this fear which has been implanted in our minds; it is through interaction and familiarity. If we assume that people are basically good, once we are no longer plague by the fear that others might harm us, we will be able to see more clearly the true nature of mankind. Only then can we trust others and make friends. Interactions are the best ways to clear up our fear. Interactions allow us to understand the thoughts of one another, by listening to another person’s words as well as sharing your own; we are creating a bond between us and them. This is the key towards empathy, which is thinking from someone else’s perspective. Once we have empathy, we would realize that others are living in the same fear as we are. With this realization, we could disperse our fears towards that person and show him/her that there is no need to have fear. When both sides drop their fear, friendship, and in some cases love will develop, this is the redeeming quality of mankind that disproves Hobbes’ view. When people are with their friends, they are not in a state of warfare; instead they are in a state of cooperation. No one is working for their appetites only; they are working for the good of the whole. Security and safety is guaranteed just as in a society. However, since a group of friends is not a society; it means that society is not the only way for people to live in security.
However, at large, the group of friends will still be in war with other, similar groups, which means that the human population at large is still in a state of war. This seems to point out that society is still necessary. But in fact, even if societies are established, this state of warfare is still not eliminated, for each society would still be at war with one another as they fear each other’s power. This means that true peace will never be established on a large scale, as long as the idea of fear in being taught to us (and it must be taught for our self protection). The best we can establish are small, partial peace between groups of friends, in tribes, and in a society.
So, is fear the source of all our evil?