Siding with the Underdog

Reading Trouillot and listening to today’s lecture brought me back to a time in my life where I had significantly less homework and significantly higher marks: high school. Ah, how I remember it! Like it was just last year I was roaming the halls and getting away with procrastination. Oh, wait! It was…

Anyways, Silencing the Past reminded me of something my good old History 12 professor said at the very beginning of the very first class of the semester before we started to learn about World War I and whatnot. He said: “History, my friends, is written by winners. What I’m about to teach you is quite possibly a lie.”

After having read Trouillot, this notion makes much more sense to me than it did before. Especially as it applies to the larger scale, such as with countries and revolutions and wars involving many people. But, I still don’t know if I would completely agree with the idea. Perhaps this is true of the way things were in the past – and I use the term “past” carefully in relation to this text – when people valued the glory and fame that came along with being the winner and looked up only to those at “the top of the food chain”. Going back to high school again, we learned about Beowulf in English 12 , and how he was so well respected and revered exactly because he never lost to anyone… ever…

However, I do believe that there is a certain romanticism in being the underdog which would make people interested in hearing the loser’s story as well. Let me take an example from daily life, and yes, I do mean almost daily. My brothers often fight with each other over little things like who’s going to do the dishes or who is smarter or faster for their age. Other times, though, they fight over bigger things, and it does occasionally get physical. Whenever these bigger fights happen, it is always the older one who “wins”. Always. But it’s also always the older one who gets ranted at by my parents and blamed for letting things get out of hand.

As the victim, my parents (and me too, I’ll admit) tend to hear my youngest brother out and give his story precedence over the older one’s. Because he is younger and weaker, his suffering seems more valid than the other’s, and the so-called history is written by the loser whom we are inclined to feel sorry for. Obviously, this is extremely annoying, and I’ve had it happen to me about a million times as well when it was myself vs. either one of my brothers. Ask any older sibling. This seriously happens every single time. And parents always listen to the younger kid.

I wonder if it is like this in real life sometimes as well? If we don’t sometimes pay closer attention to the loser’s story simply because they are the loser? I think that as we have become more open to different people and different cultures, we are also more open to feeling empathy for individuals of another heritage, language, and race, and are more likely to inquire into what their side of the story is too. I wonder if a modern individual could go back in time and “rewrite” history, would they bring back something entirely different than what has been thought of before? I think so.

Maybe not entirely different, but certainly less one-sided. Or maybe even more so, but in the opposite direction.

Does Hobbes think we’re evil?

I think that many people may be too quick to label Hobbes as having a pessimistic view of human nature. But, obviously, I do not blame them.

Hobbes is pretty explicit in his presentation of humans in the state of nature. He states that “during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, and such a war as is of every man against ever man” (pg. 76, ph. 8). The life of humans in a natural state is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (pg. 76, ph. 9). Basically, in Hobbes’ opinion, “primitive” humans have a natural tendency towards chaos, because they are each only looking for what is best for themselves, and will do whatever is necessary to secure this – things that we from a modern perspective may consider unthinkable.  But is this bestial image of humanity evidence enough to claim that Hobbes believes we are naturally evil?

I personally do not think so. Hobbes, to me, is not a pessimist, but a realist. The logic behind his argument pretty much makes sense: in nature, people do what they do because they want to survive. Just as we cannot call a shark evil for killing and eating seals, we cannot call a person evil for killing another person if they are threatened by them or if doing so will benefit them in some way – it is only nature that they shall want to survive and thrive. Men (as in mankind) are each guided by their own passions, desires, inclinations, etc. which are “in themselves no sin” (pg. 77, ph. 10), and “no more are the actions that proceed from those passions, till they know a law that forbids them” (pg. 77, ph. 10). It proceeds that justice and injustice are imagined concepts that exist only in describing the position of an action relative to the laws created by a sovereign and upheld by society. There is no good or bad in the state of nature.

Though it may be somewhat of a stretch, one could even argue that Hobbes is actually pretty optimistic about the human condition. He comes up with an entire set of natural laws that describe what humans would be theoretically inclined to do – that is, make contracts of peace with each other and give up their bestial rights for the sake of being protected by a higher power. Human rationality makes us strive away from chaos and toward safety and order – what we may call society – of our own voluntary decision.

Poor Hobbes. I feel as though he was always quite misunderstood 🙁

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