The Social Contract, II

Earlier in The Chrysalis, I wrote about the current crisis of the Social Contract, and the different responses of various groups to this crisis. It’s something I try to keep a close eye upon, as it is often considered a pre-revolutionary omen, if you will. That is, an existing Social Contract is felt and perceived as no longer responding adequately to new, evolving, or emergent psycho-spiritual needs, so this is what I intend to be understood when I write that institutions are usually the last thing to change during transitional periods, and there is a conflict between those institutions and these emergent or evolving psycho-spiritual needs. This is the process formally referred to as “delegitimisation”. So, let’s review this again.

The “Social Contract” may be more or less explicit or implicit, more or less formal or informal, more or less conscious or unconscious. It may be formally codified in constitutions, legislation, and charters, but also simply as custom and tradition, an agreed upon set of protocols that serve as a map for how people are to relate to one another and their institutions or environment overall that there might be peace and not violence A “criminal” is someone who grievously violates the Social Contract.

The received and existing Social Contract is, as noted earlier, very frayed if not irretrievably broken. While it served to satisfy earlier human psycho-spiritual or communal and political needs, it apparently no longer does so, and the result is disorientation, perplexity, and even social mayhem and social violence.

The existing Social Contract evolved from out of the Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm — and Gebser would say ultimately out of the perspectival consciousness structure. Since the Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm or “world view” is no longer perceived as completely valid or universally true, it follows that the basis for the conventional Social Contract is also undercut. It is not in accord with the new understanding of reality, so there is a dissonance, and this dissonance is working it’s way through the psyche as the problem of “cognitive dissonance” or “21st Century Schizoid Man”. So even though there is a pressing need to articulate a new Social Contract (which some are doing) there is also great resistance to any change in the existing Social Contract, which is called “reactionary”.

When we speak of “transition” or “transformational” ages, then, it implies changes in the Social Contract, and such prior ages where beset with mass confusion, or even neurotic if not psychotic symptoms or aberrant thought and behaviours. The Late Middle Ages are, of course, a reminder of what is involved in such Ages of Transition, for the seeds of the early Renaissance were already planted amidst the chaos and dementia of Late Christendom. The Social Contract then was the Scriptures, and there are plenty of people still today who would like to see a return to those times (like the terrorist Anders Behring Breivik), which would just inevitable recycle the same problems that led to the demise of Christendom in the first place. Likewise for the Islamists.

Social media, we might add, has also altered the terms of the Social Contract, having also thrown into disarray conventional social, political, and constitutional norms. There are many factors in play that result in fragmentation and dissolution of the present Social Contract, and our responses to this have not been all that appropriate or responsible, for the most part, which is why we are barrelling towards a social disaster. (Just as an example, although a strong majority of people in my home Province believe that climate change is happening and that it is anthropogenic, an equally strong majority doesn’t want to do anything about it). So it is not just the personal ego-consciousness that is in disarray, for very often the ego-consiousness is a reflection in the individual of social conditions.

This might be a useful way to reflect on present problems in society. Such crises are, nonetheless, extremely fertile conditions for new creativity and creative exertions. The Renaissance is a classic example which, although it did not last very long, set the course for the whole Modern Era that is now passing away itself, and awaiting it’s own new inspiration and breath of life — the mood that was probably behind the popular play Waiting for Godot.

There are many, many contenders for a new Social Contract. The one that wins out will be the one that is most responsive to the emergent psycho-spiritual needs of the populace, which may not even be consciously known. But the existing one is no longer viable or tenable.


5 responses to “The Social Contract, II”

  1. InfiniteWarrior says :

    Re: the one that wins out.

    Different cultures historically have developed very different forms of “social contracts,” especially of the informal, unspoken variety. (I wouldn’t want to walk into a Japanese neighbor’s house with my shoes on, for example.)

    It’s obviously the “one ring to rule them all,” assimilatory aspects of “globalization” that are wreaking havoc around the world in stark contrast to the more holistic interconnections being forged. I’d have to question whether there ever could or should be only one.

    • Scott Preston says :

      The irony here, of course, is that for you the one that wins out is the one that recognises and respects multiplicity or diversity. The one that wins out is the one that becomes a consensus agreement — even if it’s the famous “let’s agree to disagree” consensus. That also is a “social contract”.

      There are probable worlds. The one that gets actualised in this dimension is the probability that is chosen. The other threads of probability will be actualised in their own “parallel universe”. There is, nontheless, a “meta-cosmos” as it were in which each probable or parallel reality is like a thread in a greater tapestry. In other words, the meta-cosmos is itself a kind of cosmic “social contract” for all probable realities.

      Coincidentally, received this in my inbox while I was writing this up. Pretty expensive to attend, though.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        for you the one that wins out

        The irony is: I don’t recall saying one will win out because I didn’t.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        The idea behind the Many Worlds Interpretation originated with physicist Hugh Everett III in the 1950s. Although it sparked little serious discussion at the time, Many Worlds has recently attracted growing support among theoretical physicists as a way to make sense of what happens during measurements of quantum systems. Out of many possible outcomes, we can observe that only one actually happens. In the Everettian view, all of the other possible outcomes happen as well — they just branch off into other realities.

        Not everyone finds the Many Worlds Interpretation useful or convincing, however. While I was researching this topic, I got in contact with physicist Chris Fuchs at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He had so many outspoken things to say about quantum mechanics that I decided to share his comments in full. In particular, he offers a starkly different way of looking at quantum mechanics, called Quantum Bayesianism or QBism. — Quantum Physics is No More Mysterious Than Crossing the Street: A Conversation with Chris Fuchs

        I still don’t understand how or why quantum states came to be known as probabilities rather than possibilities. But, then, I’m not a quantum physicist. I just find such avenues of inquiry intriguing and enjoy reading about them.

  2. InfiniteWarrior says :

    [L]ongtermism might be one of the most influential ideologies that few people outside of elite universities and Silicon Valley have ever heard about. I believe this needs to change because, as a former longtermist who published an entire book four years ago in defence of the general idea, I have come to see this worldview as quite possibly the most dangerous secular belief system in the world today.

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