Sunday, March 21, 2010

Mama Bean is down with the social contract

If you knew a surefire way to get out of paying any speeding ticket, what would you do? Would you go speeding around the roads, flouting traffic laws and safety, because you knew you could get out of punishment?

Why do we follow the law? What is its purpose? If you knew you could avoid the consequences of disobeying the law, would you break the law on principle, or obey the law - on principle?

I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know how the legal profession defines the purpose of Law. I see Law as the set of rules that allows us to live together in society. We are social creatures; our survival, health and prosperity work better in community. Alone we have weakness, together we accomplish much, etc. etc.

Law is a social contract, that we agree to follow. We do this because, in order to benefit from living in society, we are responsible for following society's rules. Following the law could be seen as kind of voluntary - you can simply not sign up for the contract. But then you also forfeit the benefits, right? And sometimes, one of the benefits is living freely.

For example, let's say you don't sign up for the part of the contract that says we don't kill each other. And you go kill someone. Anyone has the ability to kill another person, and I guess the right to do so, except that it's counteractive to living together harmoniously. So then the group identifies you as someone counteractive, and maybe dangerous, to living with other people, and you get removed from society.

But that's sort of an extreme example. Let's go back to speeding tickets. You can choose to not sign up for the part of the contract regarding traffic laws. You can speed around as much as you want. I have been known to speed on occasion okay way too often it's a terrible habit. It's our right to drive as fast as we want. But driving too fast can be dangerous to other people on the road. So the group identifies speeding as counteractive to living with other people, and creates a punishment to deter people from doing it. If you do it anyway, you get a ticket.

What's my point? I forget. Oh! You don't have to pay the ticket, you could choose not to sign up for that part, too. And in fact, there are ways to circumvent these things. But why? Not speeding is a good thing. Being safe, and living nicely with each other is a good thing. Yes, the social contract is voluntary, but it's also (generally) reasonable. Just because you can get around the law, just because it's voluntary, doesn't mean you should get around it, doesn't mean you should opt out.

I guess I just kind of believe in the social good. I don't have much problem signing up for society's contracts, because I like other people, and I like living together harmoniously. I like feeling safe and productive and prosperous. I don't mind paying my taxes. Like, sometimes 30% feels like a lot, and sometimes the math hurts my head and my pocketbook. Until, y'know, those taxes pay for my midwifery care, or pay for the cops patrolling my neighborhood, or pay for the paving on my highway to work. I don't have to pay taxes, none of us have to pay taxes. Really, the whole tax system was implemented as a way to pay for WWII, and we've all just kept going along with it kind of voluntarily, because it pays for shit to get done. So I do pay my taxes. I'm down with the contract.

AAAaaaAAAaaaanyway, that's my little socialist diatribe. Politics are another form of social contract. We agree to governance because it helps us live together. And really, any group gathering together has its own political structure, has its own contract for members to accept (or reject and leave the group.) Church congregations have politics, and most people don't like it, and the waters get muddied by our religious ideas of being nice to each other and following the higher calling of God's Divine Purpose or somesuch. But yeah... church politics. They happen. And it gets rough.

Clearly, these are not lenten musings, I just felt like writing about them today. My internet deprivations have, oh let's say, FAILed. I'm doing fine with the water drinking, though I'm not sure it's inspired many deep and meaningful thoughts about God. But my church is on my mind. Church politics and dynamics. Because I'm comfortable with social contracts, I'm comfortable maneuvering within them, and this makes some parts of politics and stuff fun for me. Kind of? I enjoy playing with the language of Community. I like making words that help us help each other.

My church is on my mind. This lenten season has been a season of limbo for us. There is potential for change, and even growth, if complacency doesn't win. We are navigating the social contract. We don't have to, we never have to. It's always our right to walk away. But I think we should. We should play. I don't know what Easter is bringing, but I expect good things. I think when we play well with others, when we're down with the various contracts, we can expect good things.

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