Should we trust the 'social contract?'
By: John Kennair
| Posted: Saturday, Aug 24, 2013 06:00 am
“Do what I say, not what I do!” We are all familiar with this dogmatic and hypocritical adage. It is the basis of the authoritarian order of our society. It is how we have learned to become such a compliant culture. We may grumble about perceived injustices, or the abuse of power by authority, but we will not openly question them, preferring to let another stick their neck out, to take all the risk. There is a subtle fear of authority.
If one doubts this, think about how we react when a constable approaches our car; when we walk through customs or border control; when we file our taxes or answer the census report. When we come face to face with authority, we feel nervous even though we know we have done nothing wrong. So why are we showing signs of fear? Because we are taught to be submissive to authority.
We are constantly reminded that that very authority is there to protect us. This is the very essence of the social contract. We give up true freedom, that idea that nothing binds us, in order to have protection from what Thomas Hobbes called the state of nature. We implicitly fear, therefore, of being ostracized from society if we fail to be compliant.
This is the basis of order in our state-centric world. It is hierarchical, with power and authority being at the top, and the rest of us at the bottom. But within our system of statehood, authority can only hold its power legitimately if we grant it that power.
We do not think that could happen here, but the recent floods in southern Alberta should remind us how quickly a military can be deployed to create order. In the 1970s, the Canadian government did this very thing during the FLQ crisis, which horrified Pierre Trudeau how easily this could be done in our democracy. There may be good reasons for martial law, but it should remind us how truly fragile our democracy is.
We look at the corruption in other countries around the world, and we think that things like that could not happen here, but then we see incidents in the news of corrupt public officials padding their expense claims. We hear and see examples of the police committing brutal acts upon citizens, and we know that they will be exonerated, because it seems the system must back our ideal of order, condemning the victim for their own mistreatment.
All of these acts undermine our confidence, our trust, in this system of authority, and yet it seems little is done about these wrongdoings: a brief exposure in the media, but little more afterwards. Those in authority will do little to restore our faith, hoping the whole affair will blow over, because we say and do nothing about this, scared to demand better from those who hold the public trust. It seems we are subjected to a deafening silence.
John Kennair is an international consultant and doctor of laws who lives in St. Albert.