Social Contract Says Touch Your Toes
During this series I avowed that persons, irrespective of their private ideals, interests and purposes, are cowed (whether by choice or otherwise) into a form of social compliance according to the culture and law of the land. (For example, if I wish to forgo convention and take my morning coffee at the local bakery in my birthday suit, I will be arrested and incarcerated. It doesn’t matter if I can provide a compelling counterargument for why it’s a good idea; it doesn’t matter if I have a firmly-held belief in nudism; it doesn’t matter if I conscientiously object to the imperious subjugation of identity through social contract. The prevailing cultural expectation of the land is that we call 9-1-1 when people do that. The end.)
But my avowal took a decidedly compliant appearance in attitude—its mood was accepting, approving, fatalistic. This can only be described as miscommunication. The third and final question I pose in the first part of this series reads as follows:
“Do individuals hold a burden or obligation to observe prevailing cultural expectations, despite whether they may or may not be disclosed?”
There are at least two sides to the phenomenon whereby a person is made to comply, a schism whose foundation is in choice—will, really, since even in absence of choice the will exerts its influence. Conventionally, a person may agree to comply or disagree. Extraconventionally, a person may or may not realize the question of compliance has been posed, the expectations of others, the extraneous environmental characteristics. See: mind-blindness, mentalization deficit, etc. Innumerable, dendritic forks emerge along the path towards a behavioral theory.
There is a poster positioned directly behind the loveseat I’m sitting. And the prevailing culture of the room (basement) in which I am writing this post regularly enforces the violation of six of the rules on this board. This, while the legal culture of this building purports to uphold each of these rules (though I have never seen anyone questioned on these bases, except myself for a display of affection). The prevailing culture changes with each floor. If I go upstairs to the main floor, there are shops and a cafeteria. That’s where I was accosted for a passing kiss. If I go upstairs again, I find convention halls, administrative offices, student services, and a third, distinct prevailing culture. Note that on this board in the basement there is no clause concerning barefootedness, while I have been challenged for being barefoot no less than six times. I have never been challenged for being barefoot in the basement, only on the ground floor. A woman now lounges in warm repose in her lover’s arms near the television fondly looking into his eyes as I write, his hand stroking her smooth cheek and it presses into his hand. This is the same woman who told me to “get a room” when I hugged someone two months ago. On the face of it, there seems to be inchoate madness prevailing. Is it even possible to grasp what is expected of me? Even with an apparent guideline or charter for appropriate behavior, a person can easily slip through the cracks and find themselves failing to uphold their end of the bargain within culture.
And I suppose that brings me full circle. My “end of the bargain.” Social contract. Oh, if the dead might remain dead. Hobbes has come knocking at my door and I’ve turned him away. I Locke my door, I Kant fucking take it. Get thee hence, I say, and now there’s a policeman on my step with a report about an altercation. Compounding the problem of unstated expectations interleaved within stated expectations is the moral imperative of social contract. From Oxford, social contract is “an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits, for example by sacrificing some individual freedom for state protection.” Read: social contract is an implicit demand and system of expectation among all members of society to obey one another to maximize reward and minimize risk.
Not only does the will decide whether it has any intention to follow through with the prevailing culture, it also weighs out the risks and rewards of compliance. If the risk is mild, the reward may outweigh it. Enter right: Ethics, purveyor of behavioral systems.
Obligation is itself an ethical word. It connotes moral failure or success, because to shirk an obligation is wrong, and to fulfill one is right. Even in its dry definition, you have words like “morally” and “legally” girding it in terrifying significance. If I accept an obligation, I subjectively bind myself by the fulfillment of it and accept the consequence of failure in all its dirty implication. But if I refuse an obligation, do I eschew moral assessment? For example, if Someone says “You have to keep your word,” but I say “I am not obligated to keep my word, and on this basis,” have I sidestepped the entire question of ethics? The subjective and objective experience suddenly clash. Subjectively, moral significance has gone the way of the bird: up and away. But if that Someone insists there is an objective basis for keeping my word which is not subject to my agreement with it, I must determine if he is correct. And if he is, there may still be an ethical basis for my keeping my word and a moral consequence for breaking it.
If this isn’t a postmodern quandary, I don’t know what is. It seems that unless there is an objective moral basis for something, one can easily escape moral burden by refusing one’s own obligation to behave morally. And this is my conclusion: Without an objective moral basis for behavior, all behavior will pattern itself after risk and reward. If there is an acceptable risk with an acceptable reward, various behaviors will blossom. All behavioral systems will conform, ultimately, to the influence they have upon the survival of the self. Miniature cultures and societies will crop up and develop in the midst of competing ones, subsuming weaker ones according to their power, and create arbitrary systems of behavior which favor the fulfillment of various behaviors which have acceptable risk and reward. Such behaviors, becoming entrenched, become the law of the land and give birth to new systems of risk and reward.
The subjective basis for behavior molds, shifts, adapts and transforms whenever expedient. It knows no imperative other than the fulfillment of the Self, and is indifferent to the failure of the Other to fulfill. In great terror of this reality, men bereft of objectivity go forward and create the ultimate compromise: social contract theory. Rather than attempting to glean for the Self only, the Self sacrifices the least amount to gain the most so that the Other is a shareholder in the fulfillment of the Self. Rather than a despotic insistence upon the survival of myself, attempting to imprint my own views, my own culture, my own expectations, my own philosophies, my own religion upon others, I instead sacrifice some of them so that they can remain intact; with the sole caveat that in remaining intact, they do not trample my fellow man.
By this system the margins of inequality between desired expression and actual expression in each individual narrow, and the fulfillment of the individual increases. Despots and slaves vanish as their extremes are pared away and their common interests are supported. Instead of life being nasty, brutish, and short, it becomes tolerable, almost respectable, and a bit longer-lived. The acceptable mediocre, the pleasant middle-road, and the minimally frightening way of life becomes the only socially acceptable way of life.
But I reject this system of behavior. I propose an objective standard. I propose that behaviors emanate out of prime directives and immutable laws. If they don’t, the only chance we have at any quality of life is found in our obedience to our fellow man; in refraining from loving our lover, in abstaining from expressing to the fullest, in eschewing the pursuit of happiness, in imputing the despotism of the king to the consensus of the neighborhood. We Westerners so loathed the concept of a ruler we neglected to notice when our children made demands of us, when our next-door-neighbor provided the rubric we obeyed in society, when our teachers, long forgotten, directed the zigs and zags of our paths with inviolate permanence. We have become slaves to the will of every man, and graverobbers all, feeding off of the words of dead men.
During the composition of this post, I listened to [Killer be Killed] by [Killer be Killed]. A coming-together of some of the heavier heavy-weights in modern heavy metal, Killer be Killed features groovy grunts from Max Cavalera of Cavalera Conspiracy, sonorous bellows from Troy Sanders of Mastodon, and neurotic harmonies and screeches from Greg Puciato.
I am not free from bias, of course. I only checked this album out because of the above. These are some of my favorite musicians, performing in one of my favorite genres: groove metal. Reminiscent of Pantera but with a three-pronged, multi-faceted vocal delivery, this album confidently demonstrates what Pantera rarely achieved: emotional intelligence and harmonious sonic pleasure. Despite the mathy, proggy reputation of its songwriters, Killer be Killed play a straightforward set, and this is an easy album to jump into.