Black Friday as the State of Nature

When wild animals are domesticated there are still instances where they revert to there former selves. For example the white tiger Mantecore, who performed with Siegfried and Roy 2,000 times, attacked Roy in 2003 leaving him partially paralyzed. Much like Mantecore Americans revert to their state of nature every year on Black Friday.

Shoppers storm in when the store opens.

Shoppers storm in when the store opens.

Thomas Hobbes describes people in the state of nature as equal in mind, strength, and hope, and their life as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Leviathan). While shoppers may not be equal in mind and strength, there hope of good deals can be equal and extreme. However as in the state of nature there is not enough of what people want to go around, on Black Friday stores (often on purpose) do not have enough supply to meet demands. This in turn leads to competition and the creation of enemies. Working retail Benjamin Norcross of the University of Texas at Arlington witnessed this:

“A lot of things happened in the store with crazy people. Different fights broke out around the store, over DVDs, and stuff. One lady fought another lady over some hand towels that were really cheap. They were screaming at each other and holding the same one. It was just a mess, over cheap hand towels.”

Why did they do this? Hobbes attributes quarrels to three things: competition, glory, and diffidence. For those ladies the glory of being the one to get the hand towels was likely the motivation for their quarrel. In 2012 at a Tallahassee, Florida Wal-Mart competition for a parking space escalated so far that two people were shot. That same year a gun was pulled at a Sears in San Antonio, Texas and a woman was robbed at gunpoint at Best Buy in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (Black Friday Violence).

Now people fear for their lives Black Friday shopping. This places the shoppers in a state of war according to Hobbes. His state of war does not necessarily include active fighting, but occurs when one fears for their life. Here we see how life on this day is nasty, brutish, and poor. It is also solitary because when everything is competition and resources are scarce every man is for himself, even when the resource is something as trivial as a hand towel. Even children are susceptible to the consequences of this state, as one man referenced in the above video left his child in the car while he went off in pursuit of a bargain.

Black Friday can also be related to the state of nature as defined by John Locke. In Locke’s state of nature people have freedom but are reigned in by a higher power. In his state of nature there does not have to be complete chaos (Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government). The higher power here would be the retailers, which set store hours, what is available, and often restrict how much of an item people can get. Additionally shoppers can make the day more orderly by observing safety suggestions such as those put out by the Los Angeles Police Department, which include practicing patience and concealing one’s purchases. However in my opinion most Black Friday experiences will be more like the state of nature according to Hobbes.

So for all of you bargain hunters and savvy shoppers out there watch out this November 28. You may think you are simply entering a store, but you may instead encounter people as close to the state of nature as they might get in today’s world.

Hayley Nakos

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3 thoughts on “Black Friday as the State of Nature

  1. I really enjoyed this blog post, and thought you a couple really good points. It is sad to see that consumerism and the desire for some new technological device can motivate people to abandon all dignity and revert back this de-evolutionary form. I would extend this even farther than just Black Friday however; I think that this lack of courtesy and moral compass can be observed whenever there is something that more than one person in our society wants. In fact, it has gotten so competitive that I wonder if it merits consideration as a sport under Huizinga’s definition that we have been using throughout this semester.

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  2. I would have to agree with you. I believe that Black Friday is similar to Hobbes state of nature which is similar to the idea of war. The chaotic atmosphere of Black Friday brings up this idea of everyone for yourselves while being under the governmental figure of the store itself. It’s almost like for this one day, there is a “purge” where the people over take the government and create chaos within the state of nature.

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  3. While I found your post amusing and believe it raised a few good points I am going to have to disagree with its primary focus. I do not in fact believe that on Black Friday human beings resort to their state of nature mentality. While people tend to get a little crazy, the entire frenzy is fueled by special deals and occurrences that are an irregularity. Therefore, if Black Friday is not an accurate representation of consistent occurrences I do not believe how people behave during it tells us about their internal nature. Rather, it tells us how people behave when taunted by absurdly, unusually low prices on highly desirable goods and services.

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