What’s a social contract?

I’m convinced that not many people have really considered what the social contract is here in America, much less why it was formed or the circumstances for which it was designed. Depending on where you grew up and what type of school you went to, you may not even have heard of the term.

Social Contract: An implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits.

Implicit: implied or understood though not directly expressed

It’s understood that the laws we make don’t cover everything. They couldn’t. But there is a social contract that is the unspoken heart and ethos of every society. Ours began with the understanding that we get to build our own lives. On top of that is the understanding that as humans- social creatures- there is a basic level of kindness that we expect from each other, a basic level of care for members of the tribe. Nothing extravagant, far beyond the bounds of human dignity. But there is baseline of care that exists in established human civilizations. We don’t throw old people out into the cold to die once they can no longer be productive. We don’t treat children as adults in the court system. We ban certain substances that are thought to be widely harmful (i.e. meth). We agree to a system/routine/rhythm of life that allows humans to work to build a comfortable live. Note that I said comfortable, not extravagant.

Social cooperation is what builds societies. Without that [implicit] cooperation, we don’t really have a civilization. To me, this point is so foundational to the world that I live in, I don’t see how anyone could miss it!

Elizabeth Warren speaks my language.

But since it seems so many people haven’t been educated on this theory of organized societies ( or haven’t thought about the logical conclusions of a social contract), we get things like this:

How stoic of you.

His sheet says: I am a former Marine. I work 2 jobs. I don’t have health insurance. I worked 60-70 hour a week for 8 years to pay my way through college. I haven’t had 4 consecutive days off in over 4 years. But I don’t blame Wall Street. Suck it up you whiners. I am the 53%. God bless the USA!

Now, there’s a lack of thought involved here. Granted, we are a country of masochists, to a large extent. We like to bitch about who works the hardest, and how only the hardest should survive. But somewhere in the past, we as a society decided on a social contract with rules like: there shall be a weekend for people to rest, there should be a minimum amount of vacation time per year for people (who are not mules or indentured servants) to enjoy themselves, we shall not work children to death in small rooms for over 12 hours per day just because their parents can’t afford schooling (which wasn’t always free). We had an understanding about the society we wanted to create.

On a side tangent: if you’ve never thought enough about the social contract and the good of overall society to see why educating children is indeed a community affair that benefits people without children, then just stop reading here- you won’t get the rest of this blog anyway.

Back to the Marine.

While he has certainly worked hard, I think he is completely missing the point here. Does he really embrace and want to live in a society that is so ruthless, hard and unbending that you have to work 70 hours per week just to get by? Do we want to live in a society where working that much doesn’t get you health insurance? Does it mean you don’t deserve a decent life if you can’t work as hard as a well-trained U.S. Marine?

Somehow, the people that live off the wealth created by hard-working guys like this have convinced us that the social contract should be replaced by brutal social competition- a never ending competition where only the toughest should survive and everyone else should wallow in their poverty knowing that their inability to live a decent lifestyle is a direct result of their moral laxity. The people who control the wealth have convinced us- BECAUSE IT IS IN THEIR INTERESTS TO HAVE US BELIEVE IT- that absolutely everyone who is not rich is just lazy or didn’t try hard enough. It’s a good way to keep the masses from rebelling against the people who they see making hundreds of times their salaries (if they have a salary at this point).

The entire point of the original American Dream was to create a society where you could live a certain life WITHOUT having to nearly kill yourself or stick your kids in daycare so both parents could work to afford just the basics. That IS a social contract- an understanding of a quality of life that people in a society agree is the basic minimum that should be within reach of people willing to work for it. The American Dream is not about become filthy rich- it’s about being able to build a life with your family without killing yourself or constantly living on the edge of bankruptcy if someone gets sick. Right now, that really is a dream for most Americans, this writer included.

Surely we as a country can agree that the real American Dream deserves to be defended. The American Dream that says if you do an honest day’s work, you get decent pay- enough to build a life of security with. We shouldn’t be settling with ‘getting by’ on working our asses off with no health insurance or vacation. If we do the work to build a great society that is the envy of much of the world, then the people who are busy building it should have a share in the wealth and comfort they are helping to create.

Don’t try to tell me that everyone who is rich deserves their money. There is a rigged system in place. If the people that did the most important work were actually the ones making the most money, then it wouldn’t be hedge-fund managers in crisp suits flying around in private jets, it would be teachers and policemen.

Our social contract has been shredded by the financial elite in order to benefit themselves. They’ve recreated the company store, and are selling us our own sweat back at an 80% mark-up, then telling us we should feel lucky they are around to run things.

I think it’s time we reexamined our current understanding of the social contract and proactively draft a new one to reflect the American Dream as it was truly meant to be.

(falls off soap box)


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