The Social Contract

What is a Social Contract? This definition is taken from Wikipedia: “Social contract arguments typically posit that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority (of the ruler, or to the decision of a majority) in exchange for protection of their remaining rights or maintenance of the social order.” Thomas Hobbes, a British Philosopher of the 17th century posited in his book, “Leviathan,” that without social order life would be, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Basically meaning that if there were no laws, humans would have the freedom to do as they pleased. This may sound great but when you consider that that could include, rape, murder, theft, etc., it loses its appeal. Therefore most of humanity has given up the freedom to do these things in order to have the protections and benefits that the society in which they live afford. Further broken down it means that I agree to follow the laws of my state and country in order to receive the benefits that my state and country offers. That’s a social contract. Most people agree to the social contract on the idea that others also agree. A society built on the idea that only some of the people have to live by the rules usually will not last. History bears this out.

Thomas Hobbes

A social contract is an abstract thing. No actual contract exists. It only exists as a theory because we agree to it. So what happens when the contract breaks down? When some citizens are afforded rights, benefits, or protections that others are not? Basically the whole fabric of the societal system starts to come unraveled. An obvious example of this is the Civil Rights Movement. There were different rules for whites and for people of color. As I said earlier, the idea that makes a social contract work is that everyone agrees to the contract. When some under the contract receive benefits that others do not, or have to live under separate rules, the contract doesn’t work. And when the contract doesn’t work it loses its effectiveness. Society breaks down. The civil rights movement affected the entire country. Even in my little white town in Minnesota, we were affected by it. We saw the riots on TV. We saw the marches. We saw the speeches, and the protests. When people do not receive the benefits of the social contract they are living under they begin to wonder why they should still have to live by the rules. Social disorder ensues. In order for the social contract to be balanced, people need to be convinced that doing so is good for them. People of color obviously knew this. Civil disobedience helped convince white people that it was in their best interest to change the laws. If they don’t want people rioting in the streets they need to make some changes.

Detroit, 1943

The Gay Rights Movement is still going on today. The idea is the same, that the social contact is unfair for some. What surprises me, and I suppose it shouldn’t, is that after so many years of living in society many people still think that rules should be different for some than for others. And the ones who do think this way are obviously the ones who will benefit more from the imbalance. In every social movement you find the same scenario, people aren’t asking for more rights, they’re asking for equity in rights. Gay people don’t want to be treated better than everyone else, they want to be treated the same. It is amazing to me how hard some people will fight to keep their exalted status over others. What makes a person feel that they deserve more or better than others? I know all the arguments and many of them have to do with religious belief. People of color were touted as inferior races and the churches supported this idea. Gay people are seen as immoral or unnatural and the churches support this as well. Many religious people believe that the laws of their god supersede the laws of man. That idea attacks the social contract because not all people agree.

The question that arises for me is, when will people learn? Will they ever learn? In order to have a social structure that works, equity needs to rule. Fairness and moderation in all things. In what will become known as, “The Trump Years,” we can see this idea of equity being attacked again. The idea that some people deserve more or better is rearing its ugly head and eventually it will be subdued, but how bad it will be is still unknown. What damage our society will suffer will determine how society is shaped for the future. Will it lead to civil disobedience? To rioting in the streets? What will it take to right this imbalance in the social contract? Only time will tell.

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Division

With all the news lately about our president and the GOP trying to divide the country by race, it has got me thinking about division. The conclusion I have come to is that we are in fact, a divided country, by choice. We are. The problem being, we don’t think about that very much. We think about the problems of racism, bigotry, homelessness, religious fundamentalism, and all the other things plaguing the U.S. today and many of us find it appalling, but are we not contributing to it ourselves? Do we in fact separate ourselves on purpose? I’m going to say we do, most of time unconsciously.

I am white. My ancestors were North and West European. French, German, Irish, Scottish, and a few others thrown in. Here’s how I have separated myself from others, not like me. Most of my friends are white. Most of my friends are straight, like me. Most of my personal friends are men, like me. None of my friends are homeless, or fundamentally religious, like me. Most of my friends are not big drinkers or partiers, like me. Most of my friends are liberals, like me. None of my friends are wealthy. The people that are my personal friends are mostly, like me. And most of my personal friends are also like me in these same ways. And their friends, and their friends are also mostly like them. We are a divided nation.

I have a few friends who are gay. I’ve had two or three friends who were black. I’ve never had a Native American friend. I’ve only casually known any Hispanic or Asian people. I don’t have any friends who are conservative politically. The fact is we gravitate to what is familiar, to what is comfortable. Because we like being comfortable. How many white people go to gatherings or party’s where most of the people are black? How many white people live in mostly black neighborhoods? How many of our friends are not born here? Most Muslim’s friends are Muslim. Most Christian’s friends are Christian. I could go on but I think you’ve got the picture.

We like being comfortable. We like the familiar. Not that we’re opposed to having friends who are different than us, we just don’t. We unconsciously separate ourselves into groups that are like ourselves. And I’m not picking on white people here. We all do it. The point I’m trying to make here is this: Do we in fact, contribute to the bigotry in our world by doing that? I don’t think I’m a bigot. I don’t hate or dislike people who are different than me, But I also don’t go out of my way to include a lot of people who are different than me. And I think a lot of people will find that they are like that too. So again, are we contributing to the bigotry that we see by being the way we are? Why don’t I have a lot of friends who are homeless? Why aren’t a bunch of my buddies heroin addicts? Why don’t I have a bunch of black friends? Why don’t I hang out with Muslims?

So when our president tries to separate us by race or religion or what ever else he tries, are we not already there? When he says that most of the immigrants coming through our Southern boarder are rapists and criminals, how many of them are close personal friends of mine so that I know he’s not telling the truth? This is why a lot of people fall for Trump’s rhetoric. Because they are separated from groups of people who are not like them enough that they don’t know that he’s full of shit. They don’t know that he’s using their ignorance of other people against them for political control. It wouldn’t take much to tip some people over the line from not thinking much about it to outright fear of others. A lot of people are already there.

I guess a solution would be to integrate our lives with the lives of people who are not like us. Get to know them better. The more you know, the less fear you have and fear is a great motivator. One thing our president is good at is manipulation. He knows exactly what you’re afraid of and how to use it against you. I don’t really know what kind of solutions will work best in trying to make a better world for us all but at least this gives you something to think about. If we can be honest with ourselves when we look at our lives deeper, we can find solutions.