Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Social Contracts

Recently, during a late night conversation about the principles of Gift Culture I was introduced to the philosophy behind 'Social Contracts'. 
In his treatise written in 1762, Jean-Jacques Rousseau speaks about the the 'Social Contract' that any individual enters into with the Sovereign. Rousseau along with several other 18th century philosophers like Hobbes, Locke and Pufendorf state that an individual through this contract is surrendering his 'State of Nature' in return for protection and other benefits from the state.
The 'State of Nature' could probably be equated to an individuals capacity to discern between right and wrong. This code of morality is of course distinct from that defined by the legislature. For eg: The decision to not use plastic might be an individual one, even if it is legally accepted. 

In cases where there is no 'higher authority' that is legislating and punishing guilty parties, we create social contracts within peers. For eg, if a country has a nuclear warhead, it is less likely to be attacked by another nation that has a nuclear warhead. The two countries enter into a contract amongst themselves to not attack each other. 

At an individual level, if a peer is beating me with a stick, in response I pick up a stick myself. The peer is then less likely to continue beating me out of fear.

Vinoba Bhave, through his thoughts on the 'Shanti Sena' brings up an interesting point. He says, that the contract that has resulted in an apparent lack of violence, is not really peace. Peace, must exist without the external threat of violence, and for this to exist, one of the sides must be 'Unconditionally Peaceful'. 

Heavy words these! In our world of Economics, we have some interesting parallels. The concept of barter, or selling goods to one another is a kind of contract that we enter with one another. The belief is that we cannot trust one another, and therefore must 'Get' something in return to justify our giving. 

In circles that work under Gift Principles there is an 'Unconditional Trust' just like an 'Unconditional Peace'. Any person in a Circle of Giving is free to violate the system if he so chooses, but in doing so he puts the entire system at risk which may fail because of his actions. 

The understanding in such systems is that the inner transformation within those serving is strong enough to reach out to the compassion or their State of Nature. That is why, the purity, or inner transformation is so critical within those serving. 

To relate back to our metaphor on violence - suppose we were beating someone with a stick, and the other person was Unconditionally Peaceful. If he was a 'terrorist' or 'criminal' we're more likely to continue beating him until he probably dies. If he were Bill Gates, we might stop after some time since he's creating a certain amount of value for society. 

But what if it were Mother Teresa on the other side? Would it be tougher to continue being violent?

Perhaps that question strengthens the case for inner transformation in our service journeys :)

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