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Memories of the 28th Century

Rewriting the Social Contract

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“Social Contract theory, nearly as old as philosophy itself, is the view that persons' moral and/or political obligations are dependent upon a contract or agreement among them to form the society in which they live.” From the article on “Social Contract theory” in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

The idea to Social Contract doesn’t often come to mind, but it’s there in the background most of the time, but it has come up a few times recently in regard to the 2016 Presidential election. There are some people in the Gary Johnson camp who profess not to accept the Social Contract. Making such an assertion while campaigning for a political candidate is a contradiction that suggests to me that they don’t understand what is meant by the Social Contract. The concept described by that term underlies most governments and has done so for a very long time. I don’t know whether the great apes have Social Contracts, but tribal organizations operate under Social Contracts, and I think that has been the case for more than two million years.

Simply stated, the Social Contract means that individuals will obey the rules of a social (political) group as long as the group acts according to accepted standards. Humans have been living according to that for a long time, but it appears that Donald Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton have problems with it. Clinton appears to have skirted the law to a great degree, and, while the email thing may not have violated any explicit laws, it did violate the Social Contract; that simply is not how things are done. Trump appears to have played with the rules to a great degree, including about a half dozen bankruptcies, neglecting to pay contractors for work done, and various other things of that sort. Maybe he decided to emulate his friends in organized crime who live by a different set of rules. The society in which we live is complicated, and some people have made rules for themselves, and then tried to apply them to everyone else.

Even worse are people who think that they should be able to move into a different society and retain their old social regulations. When in Rome do as the Romans do was a fine way for people to act for thousands of years, but migrants from Syria and Africa want to hauls their Middle Eastern or African standards into Europe with them. And many of the people who have moved to the U.S.A. recently have acted similarly. That’s not the way it works. If you want to live within a society, then you have to responsibility to follow the rules of that society or to accept the punishment.

Differences in values and customs are why the U.S.A. did not combine all of the states into a single entity. There are separate states, because there are different customs, and the same is true in Europe and Asia and Africa. Those who do not feel comfortable in one country should move to a country where they fit the customs and laws, or the laws and customs fit them.

One problem that governments have with the Social Contract is that there are attempts to broaden the coverage of the Social Contract; things that had been acceptable cease to be acceptable. One simple example of that is with prohibitions of drugs of various sorts. I recall reading that Thomas Jefferson commented that Americans would never put up with requirements for prescriptions, when he heard that had been set up in France, but he turned out to be wrong; I have looked for the quote, but I can’t find it, so it might be spurious. Other examples include land use regulations, tax laws, and fire arms restrictions. The Libertarian Party would rather eliminate all bans on victimless crimes, and that would be a good start, but making certain that laws were enforced uniformly is also necessary.

But there are people in the Libertarian Party who contend that their personal rights are superior to the Social Contract. If one chooses to live in a society, then the implicit acceptance of the Social Contract exists. If you don’t like it, then leave, or if you are patient, then you might try to change the rules. It is that simple. There are many things about the U.S.A. that I do not like, and if that list gets too long, then I will leave, but until (or unless) that happens I am living under the rules that exists. There are some problems with that, because some of laws are invalid, in violation of the State or U.S. Constitution. I was thinking specifically of “civil forfeiture” in that regard. There are other laws and departments in the federal administration that are also invalid, but they aren’t quite as vile and extreme as “civil forfeiture”.

Please note, that even though I find some laws vile and repugnant, I am willing to accept the Social Contract in general, because it provides me with structure within which I can do something about the repugnant pseudo-laws, in addition to providing a general structure for society.

Here in the U.S.A. there is some need for the Social Contract to be revised, so that it will operate better for most of the people. We can’t expect that everyone will ever be completely happy with the Social Contract; there are laws that are appropriate to some people that are not appropriate for others, and there are some people who simply can’t fit into society. But people who have accepted the Social Contract should receive the benefits of that. The rewriting can start by cutting out unnecessary parts and move on to making punishments fairer and more reliable. Few things are more annoying to law abiding citizens than to find out that a criminal has evaded punishment. If we decide that people will be treated the same, then we can establish simple flat income taxes that will ensure that people will pay equal shares of their income in taxes. That will mean that income will have to be defined more carefully, and adjustment to income will have to be eliminated.

We also have to ensure that there are no laws that give privileges or immunities to some people but not to all, and that means that all laws that discriminate have to be eliminated, and that doesn’t mean that certain classes of people should get something that is not shared by all. All laws must be blind to color, sex, age, disability, and every other characteristic that anyone can think of. The ADA is discriminatory as much as laws that required segregation by race were.

Outline of history of Social Contract