Live or Die – The Social Contract

The nature of humanity is confined to the mechanics of the human experience in its environment. We are creatures of the Darwinian model – driven environmentally and genetically through the process of natural selection to maximize individual performance in the provision of asset goods that will promote existence at the highest level possible.  We want to live and live well. We are driven by an intractable necessity to resolve those physical and mental conditions that place constraints on our opportunities and acquisitions that reinforce our sustainability.

This is not a unique condition. All organisms are subject to the simple fact of the universal nature of living creatures; that all creatures require energy to function, that said energy is external to a creature’s physiology, and that a creature must therefore seek, acquire, utilize or consume said asset goods.

The descriptor for such a hostile environment is the word scarcity, and we’ve already covered that subject, to some degree, in my earlier post. Now, to add a little more before I get to the subject matter of this post.

A second characteristic to this universal condition is that asset goods are always available at levels that require a creature to compete for those goods.  Asset goods are limited; always. Existing organisms face limited resources of relevant, usable particulars that are crucial for the accomplishment of its survival and continued existence.  In other words, things are rough; things are in short supply, there’s insufficient provisions by which a creature might experience life as one more of supply than demand.  As a result, one must contend in an environment that lacks copious and accessible resources; forcing a creature to engage in the consummate, continual, and unchanging task of competition for the very asset goods by which one exists.

All animate creatures of this planet must seek, gather, and consume in order to exist.  This is the normalcy of being alive.  We take it for granted.  We wish it to go away. We are who and what we are precisely because of the tension inherent in being alive in a world of scarcity. 

Fascinating that scarcity is literally the only platonic form that one can say actually exists in our physical realm. Scarcity is the only perfect state. As a result, we have submitted all of our capabilities as an intelligent, rational creature to the cause of ameliorating this condition.  It is the singular effort we make as a species.  There is nothing else we do other than to encounter scarcity on the playing field of existence with the hope to place it behind and away from us.

Scarcity is the procreative parent of the human, social condition. You do nothing that is not some reaction to the condition of scarcity.

Now, humans are notoriously puny animals when compared physiologically to a wide range of other animal species. It is by our intelligence that we have gained the advantage over all animals on Earth, and it is by our evolving, adaptive behaviors of sociality that we continue to rule our domain. The work of asset provision – at least for humans – resides in our sociality, for such work is most productive when performed in concert within groups of people; each person playing a predetermined role. As the sole purpose of such work is to live, and live as well as possible, for as long as possible, there is a natural quid pro quo contract embedded within this cooperative work. The distribution of provisions to those who perform the work of asset acquisition is metaphysical to human existence.

For there to be this social work of asset provision, there must exist sociality; known as communications between individuals and between groups. If the individual, who is always a member of a group, and the group itself recognizes cooperative, conformed work and are voluntary to that work, then it follows that the communications or “language” used in work performance are validations of the individual’s participation and role authority in asset acquisition. This brings about the quid pro quo contract I noted earlier.

Quid pro quo simply means: something in return, or an equal exchange.

Every act of communication is always an act of personal validation; without exception. The sole reason to communicate – whether by verbal means, the written word, or physical action – is to promote one’s own existence and purpose within one’s environment. All other considerations regarding a communication is always secondary; including acts of altruism.

In a universe defined completely by scarcity, for any individual to ward off the ills of scarcity, they either need to live the life of a reclusive forager/hunter in unincorporated lands, or choose to rely and become part of a social group, thereby providing some degree of viability, stability, and potential flourishment. As the latter has learned from infancy, to do this successfully, one must conform to cooperative activities within the social group.

It simply follows that participatory validation is an act within the unconscious nature of a society. As such, it emerges from what is known as culture. No, I do not mean society. I mean culture, and for there to be culture, there must be an explicit and/or implicit social contract in working order.

Quid pro quo is the anecdotal manifestation of any social contract. We have certain assumptions held closely within our genetics that pertain to how we are to treat one another throughout our social existence. These unconscious assumptions took root over a protracted period of time and evolution of our species as we entwined ourselves with one another; forming into societies that were necessary for our survival.

Plato, in Book II of, The Republic, has stated the problem of human nature better than most and I must refer to it here. I’ll try not to let Plato ramble too much.

“They say that to do injustice is, by nature, good; to suffer injustice, evil; but that the evil is greater than the good. And so when men have both done and suffered injustice and have had experience of both, not being able to avoid the one and obtain the other, they think that they had better agree among themselves to have neither; hence there arise laws and mutual covenants; and that which is ordained by law is termed by them lawful and just. This they affirm to be the origin and nature of justice…”[1]

Perhaps this is a bit disorienting to you. How, of sane mind, would one observe injustice as good? Plato lived 2500 years ago; a time when such perceptions might have had more reason. He was really referencing his words back to a time when humans had little knowledge of social living; a time when other beasts ruled the Earth, and the human state of mind yielded a life that was, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.[2]

Think of it this way… Work, the type of work that acquires asset provisions, is long, hard, and subject, quantitatively and qualitatively, to all types of causal agents. You spend hours gathering berries, edible roots, grasshoppers, and maybe a rodent or two so you might feed your family and live another day. You sense an accomplishment. You have some reason for a temporary fix of happiness, but the work was hard and exhausting. That’s one way to go about life.

Then there’s the alternative. You lie about nonchalantly on a hillside all the day long, watching others go about their work in the valley. As sunset approaches, you pick out your provider, approach unseen, and kill him or her from behind with a stone axe (which you stole earlier). A bounty of provisions are yours. You sense an accomplishment. You have some reason for a temporary fix of happiness and the work was easy and idyllic.

Which is the life that is good and which is the life that is bad? This is what Plato refers to, “and so when men have both done and suffered injustice and have had experience of both, not being able to avoid the one and obtain the other, they think that they had better agree among themselves to have neither…”. Of course, and in due time, the perpetrator of the murder finds him or herself murdered through an act of revenge by the victim’s family and friends. That’s how it goes, and thus the Social Contract was an inevitable necessity. Think of the Golden Rule.

The species, Homo Sapiens, has been working on this social contract for some 300,000 years. As it has always been a social animal – by the fact that it minimally requires a male and a female for the progeny of the species – the human has faced the many problems of survival. What we call injustice is but one of many, but it is central to the development and maintenance of a stable family unit and the scarcity demands that enforce the structure of a society. 

In order to be part of a society, have a role authority there within, and participate in both the acquisition and distribution of asset provisions, there had to be fundamentally fixed within human nature a social contract whereby each one of us understood that injustice – both giving and receiving – was more than just impractical, but constituted the greatest threat to the stability of the society to bring about the resources for human survival and hopeful flourishing.

It is this social contract that is the foundation of any and all societies that function successfully, and the greater the force of the social contract on a society, the more stable the society, the longer it lasts, and the more rewards to its participants; an enduring happiness.

This contract, this pact, this commitment, this bond, this guarantee is so important to humanity that it has been ritualized across the spectrum of human behaviors; moving from the conscious on into the unconscious. From Japanese tea ceremonies to Catholic Communion, from celebratory parades to ship launchings, from weddings to funerals, from the Starbucks’ coffee cup to the MAGA hats, from competitive sports to competitive wars, from the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize to the Portuguese Order of the Tower and Sword, humans have enshrined the manifested, conscious rituals of the Social Contract into every aspect of their lives. As to unconscious reverence for the Social Contract, one might consider how people line up at queues, take turns going through doorways, converse in turn, and volunteering oneself to another’s emergent needs to the point of death; to name but a few..  

Now, it would be sensible to note that the Social Contract exists within a society. The physical manifestation of the Social Contract, held between all humans, is what we refer to as society. It is the see and be seen world. Society is the set of evolving beliefs and practices that constitute the entirety of human expression. Society is the evident validation of human communications that form a basis for human existence. Society is that part of ubiquitous change or evolution that we refer to as natural selection, or the continual emergence of human behavioral variants that compete for validation within any social group. Society is our conscious world.

There is another world, though, one that has no direct physical manifestation, cannot be seen with the naked eye, constrains the forms of emerging, human behavioral variants, defines communications, and is unconscious to human perceptions and actions. I’m referring to culture. The Social Contract exists and operates as culture.

“Culture predates society, as it evolves before consciousness.”[3]

This quote, by the playwright David Mamet, cuts through the normal hyperbole of human indulgence in temporal sociality and establishes a link to the primordial aspects of human evolution. Clearly running afoul to much of academia and the normal interpretations of culture – and there are many – I do not view culture as the arts, the religions, the traditions and customs, the foods, nor the governments. These things are of societies and constitute the values, goals, and practices of a society. Culture lies underneath society; it is responsible for the society and represents those characteristics of human essence, as a genetically-defined creature, that molds the nature of the Social Contract. Culture is the governor or regulator of a society that works to balance the immutable Social Contract with the mutable and evolving character of a society, so as to promote maximum efficiency. All conditions of the society originate and emanate from culture.

The sole reason humanity is here today, in the form it is in, is due to the Social Contract. Some might consider this a success; some a failure.

The purpose of the Social Contract is to provide, 1) equal opportunity to the asset resources that maintain life, 2) equal social representation, and 3) individual protection from breeches in the Social Contract. As you may note, no social contract has been successful in this definition. Humanity, in its essentially self-interested nature, accepts a certain degree of balance between the benefits of the Social Contract and its failures due to individual and group corruption. This is the balance of voluntary and involuntary submission.

Thus comes a brief observation on the term ideology.

In my previous post on scarcity, I noted that Desmond Morris used the term neophilia in describing a central behavior to the human species. Neophilia is ideology.

The general argument is that ideologies represent the human potential for good; that ideologies represent goals for all of humanity to strive for throughout their lives. In this vein of thought, I would have to say that ideology is the force by which humanity pushes back against the forces of universal scarcity. Ideologies are therefore power.

Ideology is the ubiquitous nature of humanity’s initial push against the forces of scarcity. We always, first and foremost, imagine the goal before we settle upon the means by which to acquire the rewards. Ideologies are the hoped for paradigms that specifically exceed human comprehension and competence, yet they are universally credited with all successful practicalities. Humans have a curious, yet very beneficial, quality to their cerebral composition. It’s called imagination. In the end, it is through practical means by which humanity steps forward along its path.

The reason for the Social Contract is simple; the human animal will never be successful as a long-term species should it either operate in a state of anarchy – that’s what human life is without the Social Contract – nor ultimately channel itself into a solitary, non-social, creature. Won’t work, end of story.

Many philosophers have postulated that the Social Contract is about political authority. I might amend that a bit. There is the necessity of an icon, as symbol, or a form of justice; an ideological, perfect form that under and through all human experiences, can adjudicate fairly the standards of the Social Contract. This form must be inescapable; essentially omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Religion makes that claim. Government would like to make that claim; given the fact that it preceded religion as a structure for a social group. Remember, before government and religion could come into focus, there had to be certain principles recognized and used for the successful continuity of any social group. What that form summons itself into – a collective vision by the greatest number of conforming individuals within a social group – can come in various forms; the two most successful being government and religion.  What I am getting at is that sociality is but the means to the Social Contract; government and religion providing humanity with the best answers to our quest for life, since we are, by nature, immutably social.

The Social Contract was a development through complex systems of trial and error, through countless social groups, and over a period of many, many millennia. It was never, as dallying philosophers like to note, a sedition to anarchy; as if at one moment all of humanity were simply beasts, and then, through ceding certain, considered rights of self-rule, became man (one short step to deification).

The reality of being a social animal is that there lies within the genetic manifestation of being human a quality of justice towards other humans. This quality will dominate human sociality to the degree of the stability of the society maintaining efficiency in providing asset resources and protecting all individuals equally. What this means is that a society that demonstrates inefficiencies in provision and inequalities in representation can expect a reduced level of conformity to the Social Contract; i.e. corruption, crime, and other types of breaches in the standards of the Social Contract: vice.

The Social Contract is essentially the aggregation of virtues; which are universal to all societies of humanity. While we tend to focus our references to virtues through religious methodology, that is only because religion within the social groups of humanity was the first and primary means by which the earliest periods of the Social Contract was constructed and habituated through natural selection. In other words, the Social Contract is a genetic construct first and foremost; that being the basic definition of a social animal. It is not chosen, but rather an inherited selection. Vices were delineated in order to provide means of assessing an individual’s failures in adherence to the standards of virtue.

Religion was and is, for the foreseeable future at least, the means by which a society maintains the Social Contract, and thus its own stability and success. In modern societies, it is often noted and understood that religion is becoming less influential across the spectrum of social groups. It will be interesting to observe the quality of the Social Contract if this is indeed a permanent trend, as of this date, there is little, emerging, social structure that can replace the existing Social Contract as a viable means by which a society can maintain a sense of universal justice and fair play amongst its citizenry. If this assertion is factual, then we can expect a period of societal deconstruction. Not a good thought, as all humanity floats on the reality and practicality of the Social Contract. Without it, human society would collapse, and the Earth would move on to its next phase; much like the age of dinosaurs, except in this case, it won’t be an asteroid that finishes us off, but by our own petard. For any continued, long-term success as a society, humanity would have to replace both government and religion, with a third means by which to live.

A final note. Should one opine the belief that the Social Contract is a failure due to its inability to prevent injustice down through innumerable millennia, and should therefore be replaced by another option, I suggest your soup has gone cold.

Anyone have any ideas?

[1] Plato, The Republic; Book II.

[2] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan.

[3] The Secret Knowledge on the Dismantling of America – David Mamet; page 20.

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