It's been a long time since I studied philosophy, and I have no intention of trying to explain the nuances of the concept of the social contract in this post. But, given that it is the Fourth of July, it seemed like an opportune time to muse a bit on the way in which we interact and support other humans.
The essence of the social contract is as follows: "Social contract theory.... 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. " (Source--Social Contract Theory) To form society, people agree to be governed, and to not always advance only their own selfish interests. They agree to "all just get along."
One of the most stirring speeches I ever heard was when the late congresswoman Barbara Jordan delivered the keynote address at the 1976 Democratic Convention. You can read her words here, but nothing can replace hearing that stirring sonorous voice ring out again and again as she asked: Who then will speak for the common good.
1976 seems like ages ago--far more than 3 decades. It seems like centuries ago. Barbara Jordan's call for the common good has been replaced with disciples of Ayn Rand who advocate a heartless sink-or-swim approach to human needs. These voices dominate the political discourse today.
During the Republican primaries in this election cycle, we heard various candidates asked questions about whether we have any obligation to mutual support--say, as in the concept of health insurance. In one instance, a candidate was asked a hypothetical about a young man who chose not to purchase health insurance and then becomes sick. The question was--should we (i.e. society) just let him die. What was really stunning were the loud yells from the audience crying out--YES, LET HIM DIE.
Now that the Supreme Court has determined that the Affordable Care Act is "constitutional" we see the sides lining up again. The presumed Republican nominee is vowing that "what the Supreme Court didn't do, I will do on my first day as President." How sad--that to appeal to a segment of the electorate we have a man who accomplished, while governor of a state, the very kind of affordable care approach now ensconced in what has been dubbed Obamacare. That's not a flip flop on Romney's part--it's a loss of his soul.
How did we get here? When these UNITED States were being formed, the best minds at the time began the document on which rest all our laws with--WE, THE PEOPLE.
I hear various people yelling about "freedom"--as though the definition of that word is that no one can tell anyone what or how to do anything. Freedom? I'd say that's anarchy.
Here's a little rabbit side trail--I am struck with the irony that many people who identify themselves as conservatives disdain the theory of evolution. And yet, these same folk seem perfectly content to practice social Darwinism--survival of the fittest is just fine.
OK--we're back. I ascribe to a philosophy that we are all inter-connected. We all have a responsibility to the other--we are our brother's keepers. John Donne captured the sentiment of our inter-connectedness with his famous Meditation XVII--"any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."
Oh, and if you really want to celebrate what the Fourth of July is all about, go read Barbara Jordan's speech.
Here endeth the sermon.
Photo from http://www.aboutflags.com/blog/