The Social Contract Needs an Upgrade

Humans without a social contract would be like a bunch of squirrels, each acting independently to survive. The social contract increases production of goods and services by defining roles of leaders and followers and facilitating, specialization of labor, economies of scale, rule of law, and subsequently trade.

The social contract distributes (or maldistributes) these excess goods and services among individuals or groups. It designs or sanctions the physical, social, or economic competitions that determine these distributions. It channels the formation of status (hierarchy) among kin, sexes races, those that share values, customs or location.

The social contract protects the status quo of the organization. Possessions belong to the last person who took them buy force and then to successive individuals that used the rules of the social contract. Our existing social contract does not allow for the Native Americans to get their land back.

The social contract protects the individual from the tyranny of the powerful; for example the Hammurabi Code.

The social contract has been a moving target. Elements have been removed; slavery subjugation of woman and privilege based on royalty, and mysticism. It has added elements; Roman law, magna carta, bill of rights and wisdom determined by science.

Social contract laws are two edged swords. They grease the frictions of social interaction and they limit personal freedom. For example, with traffic laws, people at intersections, give up some personal freedom to gain additional wellbeing.

The social contract has had uneven success. While producing extra goods and services, and allowing more people on the planet, it has also created greater inequity than ever existed among squirrels, and wasted more of the earth’s resources and production in social conflict. For example, the squirrels never emptied an oil reservoir or used flame throwers to burn an invaders nest.

And one more negative contribution of the existing social contract. While providing good short term guidance to civilizations its long term guidance has been fatal and if unchanged will be fatal to ours.

For example, the earth’s resources, those that have supported us and facilitated our elevated wellbeing are in steep decline. The social contract offers little assistance in decreasing humankind’s footprint to keep it in balance with the declining delivery of supporting resources.

Soon the remaining resources will be able to maintain only a small percentage of our present infrastructure. They will be able to feed only a small percentage of today’s population. Without a large decrease in the human footprint we should expect a large die-off and reduction in wellbeing for the survivors.

Furthermore, the present social contract does not reflect the speed at which this tragedy will unfold this century. The trial and error mechanisms for adapting to cyclic floods and droughts, which are an integral part of our social contract are not very intelligent practices for non recoverable decay, like climate change, mined out or salinated soil, less rich ore deposits, or empty oil wells.

Maybe it’s again time to look at the social contract and see if “adding-in” new elements and “subtracting-out” old elements will help avoid tragedy.

The basis for these changes should reflect reality. Calculations show, (baring some unforeseen technological break through both in identifying a new energy source and transitioning civilization to it) the earth’s resources will be able to support a global population of only 50 million people in the year 2100. (a)

It seems that the social contract should adopt new guidance elements that help make the transition to a lower population, smaller infrastructure, and sustainable and peaceful design.

No blind-to-the-problem-person will like what I am about to propose as new social contract elements. They solve a problem that for him or her does not exist. The new social contract elements take away rights they have always had, to gain avoidance-of-problems-benefits which are abstractions that exist just over their time and space horizons.

So what are these additions to the social contract that will address this rapid decline in supporting resources, rapid increases in scarcity, rapid increases in social conflict and rapid destruction of the environment?
       1) civil control of births (b)
       2) civil control of stratification of wellbeing.
       3) sharing ownership of the commons with future generations.

I realize the ideas above provide only the context for changes in the social contract. More detailed proposals for the three changes, and how to implement them can be found at the SKIL website. For pointers to relevant work within the site. (click here)


   SKIL Notes Position Papers

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Jack Alpert
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SKIL            Stanford Knowledge Integration Laboratory

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The Human Predicament and What to Do About It     Feb. 2012

Overpopulation Means Civilization Collapse            Aug. 2011

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