Monday, June 1, 2020

The Broken Social Contract

It can sometimes seem like cops are everywhere, especially when you are speeding or roll though a stop sign, but at best there are around 700,000 sworn cops of various kinds in America. There are probably around 350 million people living here, so that works out to around one cop for every 500 people. Where I live it is not unusual for weeks to go by without seeing a police car, unless someone hits a deer. Most of the time you could drive 100 mph up and down my road with no fear of getting a ticket. Somehow we manage to survive and get along. It is not simply the threat of someone calling the cops, we just co-exist in a mostly peaceful manner.

Why? Why do people obey the laws when no one is looking?

The answer is both amazingly simple and unfathomably complex. We live with a mostly unwritten social contract. I don't mow the lawn at 2 AM because it is rude and also I don't want my neighbor to mow the lawn at 2 AM. I stop for every stop sign, even out in the country (although maybe not a complete stop), because I likewise trust that other drivers will also stop for stop signs. When someone is driving like an asshole, I don't shoot them because I have to trust that eventually the police will pull them over and of course the flip side is that I often drive like an asshole and don't want people shooting at me. I know when my neighbor is at work but I don't raid his fridge while he is working (mostly because he drinks garbage beer).

Our social contract includes far more significant agreements.

For example, we agree to abide by the results of elections because we trust that the election process is run fairly. People who are eligible to vote in our elections can do so with minimal effort and basic processes are in place to ensure that people who aren't authorized to vote in our elections don't. We trust the integrity of the vote counting process, believing the vote totals are reflective of the actual votes that were cast. We have had peaceful elections and the peaceful transfer of power for hundreds of years. When a leftist President-elect Obama was sworn in, a sort-of conservative President George W. Bush handed over the White House and departed. Eight years later, a populist President Trump was sworn in and President Obama shook his hand and left. I am sure Obama and Trump can't stand one another but they accepted the decisions of the election, even as questions swirl about Obama's attempted interference in the 2016 election.

What happens if we no longer feel we can trust the results of an election? Then we start to wonder why we need to abide by the decisions of those elections. That is the whole point of the Russia election tampering hoax. No one in the media or the Democrat party seriously believed the accusations but those accusations were used to de-legitimize the election of Trump and undermine his authority as the legally elected President. Later the lingering effects were weaponized again to "impeach" Trump over something else that was completely unrelated. It was all politics. If we allow essentially universal "vote by mail" and ballot harvesting, I have no confidence in a free and fair election following. People in America managed to vote in person for hundreds of years, long before the advent of cars and public transportation. The idea that we have to allow a process that has no safeguards to ensure that only eligible voters are the ones casting a ballot is preposterous and would negate a significant portion of our social contract.

When you have a transparent scheme proposed like universal voting by mail, it undermines our confidence in the elections. Somehow people in the 18th century managed to show up in person to vote but people in 2020 can't because of the 'rona? The vote by mail scheme is an example of the "never let a crisis go to waste" mantra of the Left. While they are slowly winning the war by demographically replacing white Americans, it is too slow for their taste and the more rabid members of their fringe are getting antsy. People like Pelosi and Schumer don't want to have victory in the form of a permanent electoral majority in their grasp only to see it snatched away by some young whippersnapper jumping the gun. So they are trying to accelerate the process. Not to mention they are simply terrified that Joe Biden is going to implode in real time during a debate and that will hand the election back to Trump.

Another major cornerstone of the social contract is a just legal system.We have a high level of trust, bordering on a religious faith, in our legal system. We rise when a judge enters the chamber and refer to him or her as "Your honor". Witnesses swear a solemn oath to tell the truth before they testify. Agreeing to serve on a jury is implied when you register to vote. We all believe that if we are wronged or accused of wronging another, we will be on one side or another of a trial that is ultimately decided by a jury of our peers.

Every single person in America understands that the system is slow and it is imperfect. On very rare occasions, an innocent person goes to jail and far more commonly guilty people go free. The justice system is an imperfect system made up of imperfect people and it is intentionally skewed toward the defendant. The idea of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt means that the burden is overwhelmingly on the prosecution to prove their case while the defense only has to provide reasonable doubt. That is why we find people "Not guilty" rather than "Innocent". An important distinction.

Innocent until proven guilty. No double jeopardy. A trial by a jury of our peers. The right to confront our accuser. The right of due process and to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

That flawed process is still far better than what you get in most of the world but it is in real danger. Going all the way back to Rodney King, we are increasingly seeing people getting tried twice, de facto double jeopardy, by Federal "hate crimes" charges being brought by the Feds when a local justice system "fails" to deliver the desired outcome. More recently we are seeing the spectacle of trial by social media outrage and it ought to disturb anyone who cares about the rule of law and the delicate balance our justice system tries to maintain. Multiple district attorneys declined to charge Travis and Greg McMichael in the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. Then it hit social media and now both are charged, locked up without bail and facing murder charges. The outrage continued so a black prosecutor has been brought in and of course the Feds are lurking in the wings in case a local jury "fails" to find the McMichael's guilty. James Fields is another example, the idea of a man who hit a woman with his car leading to her death being sentenced to life plus 419 years is ludicrous. You wouldn't get that for murdering several people in cold blood.

I am reasonably confident that if I get in trouble with the law in my local county, I will get a fair trial from my peers, even if I don't like the outcome. Because that is true and because I believe the law will be applied fairly to everyone, I trust as best I can the system we have in place. But if I don't believe that? Maybe you take matters into your own hands, maybe you follow the old saying they have up in northern Michigan about troublesome bears: Shoot, Shovel and Shut Up.

The legal system works because we all have a reasonable confidence that it does. Have there been mistakes made? Yep. In the past were there injustices committed toward blacks in courts? I am sure there were. But in general, across this nation for most of our history, the law works as best as any system of laws can work and, this is important, it mostly works for most people. Yes, super rich people can afford the best legal teams and get away with more than an average person but someone like me gets the same treatment as a black woman or an Asian man.

Another critical aspect is the whole "American dream". Our social contract includes an unwritten law that if you obey the rules and work hard, you can have a good life. The home with the white picket fence, backyard barbecues with friends, a car in the garage and the occasional vacation. It might seem pedestrian compared to how professional athletes or pop stars live but it is better than how all but a scant few percentages of the world population live. Likewise we know the best way to avoid poverty: stay in school through high school, don't have a kid out of wedlock and avoid gathering an arrest record. Do that and you probably will be OK, violate that and you are almost certain to be poor the rest of your life.

These are just a few examples of how our social contract used to work and it worked more or less for everyone. There were hurdles and barriers for a lot of people and there are some people from rich families that didn't have to work at all but for most people it worked.

It isn't working anymore.

Our social contract is a terribly fragile system and it relies heavily on parents teaching it to their children and people having both a common culture and relatively high trust levels. Right now we are seeing first-hand that the social contract is broken and no longer has much meaning. We don't even agree on the basics anymore.


Last weekend was something we haven't seen in a long time, perhaps ever. Cities burning, riot police shooting tear gas, stores looted, cops attacked and police vehicles burned. I live way out in the country but even still I looked at my standard precautions for protecting my family and decided to get into the safe for something....more robust.

But even before that, we were divided yet again between the (mostly "conservative") folks who want to get back to work and try to salvage the economy and the (most "liberal") folks who want to leave the entire nation on lockdown until there are no more diseases of any kind.

Before that we had an "impeachment" and the nation was divided over those who thought Trump was a Russian agent and those who thought the whole thing was a farce.

That has all just happened in the last six months. With an election in less than six months, do you see any scenario where things don't get a lot worse?

The fragile social contract that held America together for over 200 years, with a few notable exceptions, is gone. We are not a nation of the people, by the people and for the people. We are a bunch of tribes fighting for territory that share a common postal system.

Without a social contract, without even so much as a generally accepted set of cultural beliefs, who are we and how are we in any sense a nation? I tweeted last night...


...and that is something I have been saying since shortly after Trump was sworn in. We are headed for a calamitous break-up and the only thing that prevents mass bloodshed is if we somehow manage to dissolve the union before it comes to that point. There is no path forward where the United States survives and trying to hold it together is just putting duct-tape on a sucking chest wound.

The few adults we still have in the room need to start talking about this and now. 350 million people who hate half of that population and vice versa is a recipe for a disaster unseen in human history.

1 comment:

  1. Great article. And that's where we're headed, and I'm not sure that there's an off ramp.

    ReplyDelete