Friday, April 19, 2024

Hobbesian Revivalism

Thomas Hobbes is creeping back, mulishly, into the contemporary mainstream discourse.

This has to be in part to do with the seeming success of the Chinese super state which embodies many of his central ideas, and perhaps also because of our own local Leviathan, Nayim Bukele, with his own oh-so-slightly mafioso state-level protection racket.

The funny thing about the state of nature is that the people who perhaps exist closest to the edge of it are those who have long lived within the most apparently ordered societies, as this clip from contemporary Cuba appears to illustrate.

In my formative experiences in this region (not so contiguous), nations like Costa Rica, Belize and Cuba appeared to have found ways of lifting themselves out of the morass.

The first two now number amongst the most violent in the hemisphere. As for Cuba I remember a rather painful experience at the end of my maiden visit. The moment I was back in Guatemala I felt profound existential pangs from what I had left behind: apparent social solidarity and an absence of some of the most toxic collective pathologies which prevail here, like envy and the self-defeating kinds of faux individualism.

Belize in the 80s was a former British crown colony with high levels of literacy and apparent social cohesion, “comfortably badly off”, I used to say without intent to cruelly patronise, but even then there were early signs of how the state of nature might eventually re-assert itself.

I vividly recall spotting a fairly primitive Mayan dwelling in the north where a family were gathered within viewing content delivered via the dish on their thatched roof. The superhighway and smartphones would perhaps finish the job.

Just being literate and relatively sophisticated in a place with material limitations easily revealed by insistent global media would never be enough. And so it has also been with Cuba, in spite of the desperate efforts of the state there to choke off access to all other imagined communities and resentments.

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