The West is over. I don’t want to live here anymore. I want to live someplace with a social contract. It matters less what the contract is than that it exists; a social contract is legible. You can work within it, even if you’re not satisfied with it.
“A social contract?! How quaint and offensive!” say the people of the West.
Because of course the line on social contracts these days is that they are like unicorns or cerberi, mythological, made-up things that really stand in for other truths that we don’t want to confront, like “privilege” and “power.” The general belief, well-internalized, in the West right now is that the social contract is a fairy tale told to blacks and women so that they could be stolen and raped.
All there ever was, and all there ever will be, is power, and if someone comes to you with a social contract, street smarts says to tear it up and shoot them in the face, because they are playing a con on you. They are trying to steal your nads, as they always were, because there is no such thing as a social contract, only raw power.
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Here’s the thing. A social contract, like all things social, is:
(1) Socially constructed. It is real to the extent that it is held by the culture and by individual belief and behavior to be real. Like a birthday party. Are we having a birthday party right now? Depends on whether everyone in the room agrees that we are, and whether we’re doing the “birthday party” things. If we all agree that it’s a party, and we are doing birthday party things, then by god, it’s a birthday party. If four out of six people in the room say that it’s not a birthday party, it’s just a regular Saturday, then the remaining two may be free to go off and declare “our own little birthday party,” but the majority will snicker at them, and the house will not have that all-encompassing “birthday party feel” about it. For social things—like social contracts—to be real, people have to believe and act as though they’re real.
(2) Objective and external to individuals. If we all claim to be having a birthday party, but we all sit quietly in different corners and do our own things, and the words are never mentioned again, then we are likely not having a birthday party. Because there is no objective reality to the party that matches the individuals’ imaginations of the thing. There must be objectivity to a birthday party; objectively observable, consensus behavior to construct it and give it reality. But if we do do the things of a birthday party—if there are plates and singing and cake and so on and everyone in the house who is asked says that “yes, this is our birthday party” then any objective observer would report that such a party is taking place. It is not just about subjectives; it comes about as an objective, exercised fact about and embodying the consensus and synchronicity of the subjectives.
Social facts are like that. They are the objective consequences of subjective submission, in consensus to an emergent social order and reality. We cede parts of ourselves to join the collective and call, by consensus, an agreed-upon reality into being.
If the tenor of a culture is to deny the reality and fundament of a social contract, and instead to reify power as the basic dynamic inherent in social activity and reality, then in fact, they are right—there is no social contract, there is only power. Social reality is what we, as social beings, agree and act as though it is. That doesn’t make it any less real. In fact, because we are its subjects, that makes it more real.
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It’s tough to tell whether pure power is a cultural value that is being embraced intentionally (“I want to live in a socially Darwinist world”) or whether this is naïveté on the part of the public (“the powerful tell me there’s only power and that I’ve been had, so anyone who says that there may be something like consensus without ulterior motives and scams is lying”) but in fact that’s where we are.
The fact that so many embrace Libertarianism—which is ultimately nothing more than Social Darwinism embraced by people that can’t make connections between axioms and the logical outcomes and inconsistencies that follow from them—and the cult of the self/selfishness/self-realization/self-power (now often dressed up as “Eastern mysticism” in a deep affront to the highly communitarian philosophies of Eastern religions and traditions) suggests to me the former.
In short, having seen a few too many cheats at “social contracting” over the years, the public has subconsciously decided that social contracts are bad deal and never were embraced by others (i.e. there wasn’t any consensus, and all good-faith actors involved failed to constitute its reality), and are thus to do away with that particular social reality and set of beliefs and habits entirely. Tired of being “cheated,” they prefer now to risk going it alone by constituting instead a kill-or-be-killed society in which “self-realization” and the individual subject are king. This is both the fault of the cheaters along the way, and the fault of poor education and an impoverished culture that perhaps pursued materialism at the cost of forgetting about socializing their children with an awareness of The Virtues and of humankind’s history of utter brutality under pure power conditions.
But in any case, the West is now kill-or-be-killed as a cultural matter, and social contracting has indeed become pure fiction at the moment, while pure power is a deep consensus and constituted reality. This is more true on the left, particularly the SJW left, than on the right, but indeed it runs deep on both sides of the aisle.
And the West has yet to understand that it’s signing its own death warrant; once you dispense with social contracting and buy into pure power, you’ve set a new constellation of social conditions up for yourself that do, in fact, have consequences. People who are living comfortably with the remnants of social contracting culture haven’t quite caught on that ISIS, Putin & co. welcome the change with open arms as they have already been here for a while—and can now join the consensus with the world more unified than it has been in some time about the nature of social reality. Not to mention the fact that they are rather more practiced at kill-or-be-killed and pure power than Westerners imagine is possible or are prepared to cope with—being as poorly educated and bad at understanding the causal nexus and foreseeing likely outcomes as they are today.
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And whose fault is it all? Our own. Power is seductive whenever one has the advantage. And to seize the advantage—is to reify power without reflection about what happens once one doesn’t have the advantage. It has been a chipping away at one social reality and a reification of another, over time.
Sure, the Left would blame the Right (it’s the fault of the men, the whites, the religious folk, etc.) and the Right would blame the Left (it’s the fault of the economic and cultural Marxists) but at the end of the day, these positions are facile sophistry. Both of them reify power and undermine contract in the very act of their being made. The very statements and bitterness about not having power are the acts that give power to power.
Meanwhile, I’ve heard many academics in the social science academy blame Foucault. Is it all his Fault? Why would it be? What particular power did he have over anyone that everyone didn’t in fact cede to him? There is a general inability (shocking amongst social science professionals) to recognize that social reality is socially constituted, and that to acquiesce to Foucault’s argument is to, by concrete acts, give it empirical embodiment ex post facto. Neat bit of social engineering, Foucault. Your argument tricked people into producing its evidence in response. Those few that do recognize the constituted nature of social reality but nonetheless embrace Foucault’s view seem to have skipped over the fact that this is the interior social milieu that Foucault experienced, that he was, in fact, one very fucked up and miserable dude, and that to embrace and reconstitute at scale his own internal mapping of the social is to leave us all living-as-Foucault going forward. Not my idea of a good time.
So why did you all do it? Are there just that many petulant, fucked up people in the world, who really think that much more of themselves and the advantages they’re likely to have in a pure power world than is reasonably justified?
I suppose, having known more than a few academics, I ought to answer my own question.
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A reckoning lies ahead, though somewhat farther down the road than the death and fragmentation of the U.S., which is coming Real Soon Now. Somewhere in these pages, around 2000-2002 I once said that I saw another 50 years for the U.S. before it collapsed into another civil conflict at worst, or into consensus dissolution at best, resulting either way, in the long, long term, in three nations (if we survive that long in a warming world).
Sticking to that prediction. That gives us until about 2050. The wheels will start to come off before then, but I’m guessing that by 2050 we cease to operate as a generally recognized and legitimized Westphalian body with a federal center of power known as the United States of America. It’ll be one more once-cherished, rather useful social reality gone.