A Leviathan in the wild

I have a feeling that when Hobbes was a child he got beaten up by a radical anarchist and nobody dealt with it. In order to deal with that childhood trauma he has written a book that could essentially stand the attacks of anyone who doesn’t want to be ruled. To be honest there are simply so many ideas presented in this book that I spent the majority of the time  retreating into myself and making ridiculous metaphors about leviathan crocodiles. I have a lot of questions that I felt like I could not come up with a sufficient answer for, so i’ll just write them here. Like The Prince, I found myself disagreeing on some points of Hobbes argument on the “no…that couldn’t be” basis. Morals do matter to Hobbes, but he approaches them in a way that is just as systematic as any other Hobbesian machine. In the end I was glad he did this, because morals have always been some of the most difficult  things to work an argument around. Strangely enough, seeing human emotions and ideas explained into a machine was actually quite comforting. In some senses, Hobbes is actually very similar to Plato. Everything must be governed strictly, and even if they don’t like it, it is for your own good. Where they differ is with the idea of the leader, and this is where my first question arose: Although Hobbes believes we need a ruler, good or bad, he also talks about universal rights. Is there really nothing we as society ought to do about a bad king, or one that presents us with acts of sudden and violent death that we apparently have a right to not experience? Really, it seems to me like Hobbes idea is not very different from any we have today at all. When people have a revolution, we are temporarily reducing ourselves to a state of nature, although if we are smart, we will have a new preferable leader ready, because we surely need a ruler no matter what. Today, all our electoral policies can, at their bare essentials, be seen as nothing more than an attempt to avoid a state of nature. BUT, if actions are not unjust or just by nature, than how can one tell what is a good leader? I understand that a “good” leader isn’t part of Hobbes argument, however, I still think it is important to understand how his system would work, or… is working today. I have no doubt Hobbes was an atheist. It is almost impossible to separate a genuine belief about how we were made with how we as men should act on earth. He did it though, and I thought he did it well. In short, I agree with what Hobbes is saying. It’s true. Do I like why it’s true? Not sure.

Robinson Crusoe: Ideology

It has been said that every piece of art/media ever made somehow has an ideological standpoint. If it doesn’t change your way of thinking, it could well be reinforcing certain aspects of a dominant social ideology. While reading Robinson Crusoe, that idea is what I thought about the most. After being bludgeoned over the head with the ideas of “proper” religion, “proper” expansion, and “proper” gathering of material goods, I am quite sure that, whether intentionally or not, this book is reinforcing the primary first world ideology of the time, that of the good industrious god fearing capitalist.

One of the most obvious and tiresome ideas was that of God and Providence. All of Rob’s problems apparently come from the fact that he is too forward thinking for God, and does not do what he is supposed to do, which is essentially to sit at home and do nothing. God does not approve of an adventurous mind. This is interesting and sort of goes against my theory in a way, because England was just starting to become active on the whole colonialism scene, and you’d think that the books written in that time would reflect that, instead of providing a sort of warning against it. However, I think the book goes on to deal with this by making Rob happiest in one place doing nothing. Funnily enough this place that he has built starts to look a lot like the home of an industrious, god fearing capitalist. Only once he has made his home as similar to what as “regular” as he can, and only once he starts praying and beginning to really acknowledge the glory of God, only then does he start to be really happy again.

Concerning progress and the amassing of material goods: even though Rob eschews money for it’s lack of value, there is still a tremendous focus on obtaining and hoarding things, as well as building and expanding. In fact, the way Mr. Crusoe goes about his business surviving is a very capitalist method, and I do believe that if this story were written by a Brazilian anti capitalist or something, there would not have been such a focus on making the perfect homestead and then expanding across the island and becoming lord and ruler through industry. This book is written in such a way to promote the idea of “build lot’s of stuff and you will succeed.”  I wouldn’t necessarily say that is good or bad, especially since reading it in this day and age we are already deeply indoctrinated with capitalist- consumerist ideas, he he.  But it is something to notice, in any case.



The Tempest

The way in which all of our texts continue to hit us over the head with the same themes from different angles is actually something really valuable. Whereas I used to think that one could categorize books by their human ideas (e.g. “this book is about justice. This book is about alienation” etc.) I’ve come to realise that these themes, these ideas of justice, monstrosity, sight, power relations, etc. are unavoidable in any book. They are human issues and therefore part of everything we read or write. Perhaps the course was engineered this way, but in The Tempest I particularly notice how all these ideas roll into one play, and in doing so continue to raise a whole bunch of questions.

First of all, the big idea of justice. Prospero seems to have a very subjective view of what is just. I don’t know how Plato would feel about it but I know he would be very dissapointed in how easily it wavers and changes. Prospero is outraged and indignant at the way he was betrayed and cheated by his family. He calls this unjust and expects the audience to agree. His justice is hypocritcal though, particularly in the way he enslaves and treats Caliban the “monster” as well as his enslavement of Ariel until it suits him to release him. Sure, Ariel owes him something (releasing him from the claustrophobic setting of a trees interior) but it doesn’t change the fact that what is just to Prospero is the same thing as what benefits Prospero. And he gets away with it too, just because there is no one, no higher power or contradictory force, to decide what is just or not (other than Prospero himself)

Concerning the treatment of Caliban: he is treated like he is a monster. Is he? Caliban is an interesting character in The Tempest. I find him to be the most interesting. Prospero and Miranda expect him to be honored by their treatment of him, as though the way they taught him human speech and mannerisms are the only thing that brought him up away from a primal cave-like existence. But I wonder if it was his birth necessarily that made him monstrous or whether or not he has become monstrous through his oppression. I think the character of Caliban and the extent of his monstrosity is going to be something important to the discussion of this play.

A couple years ago I watched a film adaptation of The Tempest, never having read the actual play before. I liked it and thought it was well done and all that. Reading the play now I notice some fairly serious differences that I thought were curious. The film followed the script exactly, and was very similar to the original play, except for a few things. Prospero was a woman, a witch instead of a wizard, a duchess instead of a duke. I know this is no film studies class, but it is still curious that a modern adaptation should make this change. It changes everything! It becomes a play about motherhood instead of fatherhood, and a whole plethora of other gender issues arise. The film approached it as a “strong woman against malicious men” angle. Caliban was also an african american, the only one in an all white cast. I don’t know how relevant it truly is, but I thought it was interesting.


Machiavelli: More Machinery

The thing about Machiavelli is that although I don’t want to agree with what he is saying I do, wholeheartedly. The one key difference between Machiavelli and Plato is that Plato sees men as they ought to be, while Machiavelli sees men as they are, and works with that. I think if one wanted to learn how to understand the flawed mindset of mankind in order to dominate it this would be the book for them. Although the general theme of this book (power at all costs) made me feel uncomfortable, Machiavellis insights on politics, loyalty, and human priorities were depressingly accurate. He knows it is “easy to persuade people  of something, but difficult to change their minds” He knows that men fear punishment more than they honor obligation. Etc. Etc.

He knows all this is “just so” and therefore works it into his plan for an ultimate ruler. The truly uncomfortable part is when you realize the whole doctrine is only trying to continue this idea of self interest. What I mean is this: Machiavelli encourages his ruler to only look after themselves. Even when he encourages this leader to do something for his people, or to be noble and to make agreements, it is only ever to strengthen his position as a ruler. In doing this, Machiavelli seems to forget that the role of a ruler is to ‘look after” his people. Similarly,  killings and deceit are just another part of his system that maintains power. Slaughter and generousity are really no different from each other in Machiavellis eyes, they are each just a tool you can use to achieve the same goal. He recommends you have selfless advisors, but these advisors are here to serve you best. There seems to be more focus on simply staying in power and being “great”, rather than doing something significant for your people.

Because of this focus on the individual ruler and individual success, it is obvious that no two good rulers could coexist. If both were as good as Machiavelli hopes, they would expand across continents until they met each other, and according to Machiavellis ideas, one would always eventually find a way to get the upper hand over the other. That’s just the “way it works” So what Machiavellis plan or rule book would ultimately lead to is a massive dictatorship over a massive empire. World domination even.  If a populace was that big, would all the rules of a perfect leader still apply? Or would some of them erode on themselves and begin to act the other way? Power is a scary thing.